The 100-meter-long British destroyer HMS Keith, shattered by the impact of a bomb, has been lying at the bottom of the Dunkirk Strait ever since it sank in 1940.
It sank during Operation Dynamo, and hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were rescued by sea from advancing German forces.
Now, a World War II warship appears on geophysicist Mark James’ screen in brightly colored 3D, vertical slice by vertical slice. historic england.
James joins a group of archaeologists investigating the remains of a battle that still lurks beneath the waves.
British government agency Historic England has joined France’s underwater archeology agency DRASSM in searching for shipwrecks dating back to the Dunkirk evacuation.
Multibeam sonar sends sound waves down to the ocean floor, and “can create really nice 3D models of the ocean floor, wrecks and debris,” he said.
“It’s quite an emotional feeling to see someone’s remains reflected on screen,” he added. “You can see how great the human sacrifice was.”
Although a large ship, Keith will “disappear bit by bit,” said DRASSM archaeologist Cécile Sauvage, one of the leaders of the search, which began on September 25.
By exploring this shipwreck now, both countries can “preserve the memory of these ships and the history of humanity behind these shipwrecks,” she added.
“Miracle of rescue”
brought to the big screen Critically acclaimed 2017 film directed by Christopher NolanOperation Dynamo was conducted from May 26 to June 4, 1940.
Surrounded by Nazi German forces in northern France, the Allied forces abandoned everything and began a large-scale evacuation.
Over the course of nine days, 338,220 soldiers (mostly British, but also 123,000 French and 16,800 Belgian) were crammed onto warships, trawlers, ferries and tugboats. , evacuated on ships of all kinds.
According to the BBC, Winston Churchill, who had been British Prime Minister for just 16 days when the evacuation began, called it a “miracle of deliverance” in his famous 1940 “Fight on the Beach” speech. report.
The shortest route from Dunkirk across the English Channel to the safe harbor of Dover is 60 miles.
However, the road was within range of German artillery that was already stationed at Calais.
“Between 1,000 and 1,500 ships of all types crossed the river,” of which 305 were sunk by “collisions caused by artillery fire, enemy torpedoes, mines, and even the panic surrounding the operation,” the search mission chief said. said archaeologist Claire Destank.
According to Dunkirk-based historian Patrick Odon, about 5,000 of the soldiers who escaped drowned.
“It’s very moving.”
The three-week search by two archaeologists and two geophysicists was carried out by quartering the English Channel to search for the lost ship, and was the first search of its kind in French waters. This was the first attempt.
Volunteer divers had already cataloged the wreck site, and scientists were tasked with checking the site and comparing it with archival data to strengthen identification.
The crew set sail from the Keith in the autumn sun and headed to a French cargo ship a few yards away, also along the keel.
The Douaijan was traveling from Algeria to unload cargo at Dunkirk before being requisitioned to transport 1,200 soldiers.
Claire Detanque said the ship hit a mine and sank just after leaving port.
She pointed out the spot on the sonar screen where the mine struck, still visible more than 80 years later.
“It’s very moving when you learn the history behind it,” she says.
This campaign enabled archaeologists to clearly identify 27 Operation Dynamo shipwrecks. Three more have been discovered, but given the extent of the damage, detailed inspections by divers will be necessary next year.
Historic England reports that another “19 features have been studied, three of which appear to correspond to the location and features of previously undiscovered ships lost during Operation Dynamo.” ” he said.
Sauvage said their aim was to “determine and know the location of debris more precisely,” and “particularly if there are construction projects, such as wind farms, that could destroy the debris.” “We need to better protect them,” he said.
Plans to build turbines in the sea off the coast of Dunkirk have been in the works for several years.
Another advantage of the survey, Sauvage added, is that it allows us to return to the headlines of a “key milestone” in the history of World War II, which is far less familiar to the French public than to the British public.
D’Estanes believes the shipwreck represents “305 stories from history.”
Dr Anthony Firth, Head of Marine Heritage Strategy, said: told the BBC Some of the ships were so heavily loaded with troops that they would have sunk “within minutes” and many lives would have been lost.
“No doubt a lot of people were caught up in Dunkirk. Most of them survived and returned to Britain and carried on the nautical history, which is obviously a very good thing,” Firth told the BBC. “For some people, the family story had a devastating element to it in Dunkirk, and it certainly still resonates with people today.”