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US landing crafts loaded with soldiers moving towards the Normandy beaches

7 significant shipwrecks from the D-Day landings


The Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944 was a turning point in the Second World War. Within a year, Hitler was dead and his so-called ‘Thousand Year Reich’ lay in ruins.

The success of D-Day came at a tremendous cost - over 4,000 Allied servicemen paid the ultimate price to secure five vital beachheads on the French coasts. Hundreds of ships were involved in Operation Overlord, delivering troops, supplies, ammunition and vehicles, as well as ferrying the wounded away from the battlefield back to England for medical treatment. Several of those ships never made it home over the weeks and months that followed the invasion. Here, we take a look at the shipwrecks of D-Day.

1. USS LST-523

LST-523 was a Tank Landing Ship built in the United States at the Jeffersonville Boat & Machine Co. in Indiana in 1943. Tank Landing Ships were cargo holders capable of delivering tanks and other large vehicles to invasion points along the French coast during the invasion.

LST-523 made three successful round trips to France, dropping off supplies and carrying wounded soldiers back to England. On its fourth trip, the ship picked up men from the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion from Utah Beach before heading for home. Unfortunately, LST-523 struck a mine and was blown apart, sinking in minutes. 114 soldiers and sailors lost their lives; just 28 survived.

Today, the wreck of LST-523 lies 4.26 miles off the coast of Utah Beach between the communes of Vierville-sur-Mer and Grandcamp-les-Bains.

2. SS Empire Broadsword

The SS Empire Broadsword is one of the largest and most visually stunning WWII wrecks off the coast of Normandy. Its four-inch stern gun is still intact and there is live 20 mm ammunition on the seabed. Like the LST-523 it sank after D-Day.

Built in 1943 by the Consolidated Steel Corporation of Wilmington, California, the Empire Broadsword was originally named Cape Marshall. The name was changed after the ship was transferred to Britain as part of the Lend-Lease agreement between the US and the UK.

Empire Broadsword was deployed as a troop carrier during the Allied invasion of Europe. On 2nd July 1944, she hit two mines, sinking the infantry carrier in a matter of minutes. 70 men survived the sinking.

Today, the wreck of the Empire Broadsword lies 27 metres below the surface just over 2.5 miles out from Omaha Beach. The wreck is one of the most popular of all the D-Day diving sites.

3. SS Charles W Eliot

The Charles W Eliot was a Liberty ship launched in the US in May 1943. She arrived on Juno Beach on 26th June 1944. Two days later after unloading her cargo, she turned around and prepared to journey back to England. Four miles out, the ship struck a mine that exploded with such ferocity that it lifted the Charles W Eliot out of the water. The ship then struck a second mine and began to sink.

Efforts were made to tow the stricken vessel out to deeper water to avoid her becoming an obstacle, but a part of her broke off and stayed afloat in the shallows. A German bomber later attacked this section, sending it to the bottom of the sea. Amazingly, all of the ship’s crew were saved and just four people were injured.

Today, the wreck of the Charles W Eliot is a popular dive site. The explosions from the mines and bombing extensively damaged the ship, and she is now not much more than a collection of rusting metal plates and debris that is home to a wide variety of marine life.

4. HMS Magic

HMS Magic was a minesweeper built in the United States in May 1943 and commissioned into the Royal Navy in October of the same year. On 6th July 1944, Magic was deployed off the coast of France when she was hit by a Neger - a small craft piloted by a single man that carried a torpedo on its underside. The Neger gained the nickname of ‘the human torpedo’ because the weapon frequently failed to detach from its carrier, sending both torpedo and man into the sides of ships, thus becoming an involuntary suicide weapon.

The wreck of HMS Magic now lies under 26 metres of water, 9.5 miles out at sea from the small French port of Ouistreham.

5. HMS Durban

HMS Durban was a light cruiser that had been used by the Royal Navy since 1921. She saw service in the Atlantic at the outbreak of the Second World War, and then in the Indian Ocean as part of the navy’s Eastern Fleet, protecting British shipping against Japanese attacks.

In November 1943, HMS Durban returned to Britain and was placed in reserve. She was then chosen as one of the ships to be sunk to provide an artificial breakwater for the temporary port established at Ouistreham. Durban was scuttled on 9th June 1944 and the wreck now lies 11 metres below the surface off the coast of France.

6. HMS Pylades

HMS Pylades was one of 93 Catherine-class minesweepers built in the United States, 22 of which served with the Royal Navy during World War II. HMS Pylades was sunk on 8th July 1944 as she searched for mines near Juno Beach.

Crew onboard reported hearing two explosions coming from the stern, and the captain of Pylades later concluded that these were most likely caused by mines. However, an investigation of the wreck in 2003 concluded that the Pylades probably suffered the same fate as HMS Magic, being hit by a Neger.

7. HMS Lawford

Built in 1943 in the United States and transferred to the Royal Navy as part of Lend-Lease, HMS Lawford was a Captain-class frigate that was converted for use as a floating HQ for the D-Day landings. Lawford was attacked and sunk on 8th June 1944. 37 members of her crew died in the attack.

The official Royal Navy report into Lawford’s sinking was that she had been hit by a torpedo launched from an aircraft. However, an investigation of the wreck by a television series in 2003 concluded that the ship was more likely to have been hit by an early type of radio-guided missile.