US in effort to save legendary D-Day landmark

23rd May 2009, Comments 0 comments

The memorial, located at the site of a fallen German bunker, was closed to the public in 2000 after decades of powerful tides, rain and wind shovelled deep into the rock, raising fears that it could collapse into the sea.

Cricqueville-en-Bessin -- Captured by US Rangers in one of the most heroic feats of the World War II D-Day landings, the cliff top of Pointe-du-Hoc is the theatre of a new battle these days.

The United States is leading an effort to stop environmental erosion from jeopardizing the site on France's Normandy coast that has become hallowed ground for the American sacrifices of June 6, 1944.

US President Barack Obama is to pay a visit to Normandy on June 6 to mark the anniversary of the allied invasion as a new effort forges ahead to stabilise the cliff, on top of which sits a monument and a German bunker.

The Pointe-du-Hoc memorial was closed to the public in 2000 after decades of powerful tides, rain and wind shovelled deep into the rock, raising fears that it could collapse into the sea.

Work to stabilise the cliff is set to begin next year and if all goes according to plan, the memorial site should reopen to the public in 2011.

"This is a memorial to American heroism. It was an insurmountable cliff; only 90 of the 225 Rangers survived," said Stephane Simonet, a historian at the Caen Peace Museum.

Overlooking both Omaha and Utah beaches, Pointe-du-Hoc was chosen by the Germans as the location for six artillery batteries that could resolutely repel any landing force.

For the Americans, it was the number one target of Operation Overlord.

The duty to scale the vertical cliffs and take Pointe-du-Hoc fell to the US 2nd Ranger Battalion, backed by naval and air bombardment.

When it was seized by the US troops on June 6, 1944, the German artillery bunker lay 10 metres from the cliff's edge. Today it sits right next to its steep drop.

The plan is to strengthen the base with cement that will be sculpted and painted to blend into the cliffs. Small stakes will be used for support.

"For the Americans, whose history is not as long as ours in Europe, this memorial site is extremely important," said Regis Leymarie, an official with the coastal conservation authority.

One million people visit the D-Day landing beaches every year, touring the cemeteries and museums or walking along the cliff tops pock-marked with bombing craters from the war 65 years ago.

The United States, which lost between 20,000 and 30,000 men between June and August 1944 in Normandy, is spending between four and six million dollars (3-4 million euros) for the project.

"Pointe-du-Hoc is the obvious symbol of the soldiers' courage," said Daniel Nesse, director of the American war dead cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

"Imagine these men at the foot of a 30-metre cliff holding onto ropes as German grenades rain down."

The project to stabilise the cliff however is not expected to put an end to erosion.

"We will have to look at some long-term plan to preserve the site in the same way that we have been thinking about preserving the memory of World War I after the last veteran died," said Leymarie.

Chloe Coupeau/AFP/Expatica

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