Project Tiger: 3D Models bring D-Day shipwrecks to life

Posted on April 3rd 2013
AN international team of divers codenamed Project Tiger is creating interactive 3D digital models of two long-forgotten shipwrecks which reveal the horrors D-Day tragedy lost in the archives for more than 40 years.
 
Yesterday we told you of the survey operation being carried out by the team of Global Underwater Explorer (GUE) divers led by Rich Walker. Today we complete the story to explain the tragedy and what this survey could mean.
 
The two LSTs - Landing Ship, Tanks - were among a convoy of nine troop carriers taking part in a full-scale D-Day dress rehearsal, codenamed Exercise Tiger, involving all 23,000 US soldiers assigned to land on the Utah Beach, in Normandy.
 
The slow-moving vessels were bound for Slapton Sands, chosen because of its similarity to the French beach, when they were taken by surprise by a patrol of agile German E-Boats on a roving search-and-destroy mission from the French port of Cherbourg.
 
The first torpedo struck LST 507, causing a catastrophic fire which tore through the ship killing many on board. Fifteen minutes later LST 531 was hit, sinking within eight minutes. A third ship, LST 289, was struck in the stern by a torpedo but the crew managed to keep her afloat.
 
Of those who managed to escape the sinking ships, many either died of exposure in the icy waters or sank under the weight of their waterlogged clothes. Others drowned when their incorrectly-worn lifejackets tipped them upside down, trapping their heads beneath the water.
 
Overshadowed by the real invasion of Europe which began less than six weeks later, the tragedy and it became a forgotten chapter of the war.
 
That’s how it remained until the 1980s when hotelier Ken Small published an account of his personal investigations into the incident which began after he found wartime debris washed onto Slapton Sands while beachcombing and set about discovering where they had come from.
Military historian and author Richard Bass, whose own inquiries led to the book Exercise Tiger, said the wrecks were the only remaining physical evidence of the tragedy and the dive team’s surveys could help to resolve anomalies he believes still exist in the official account of the attack. 
While the records stated 749 Army and Navy servicemen died, Bass said his research found the incident claimed a further 198 lives, with accounts suggesting more men had been loaded onto the ships than officially listed in the crew manifests. He believes some of those deaths could have been hidden amongst the casualties of the D-Day landings. There are also suggestions that British Naval personnel could also have been among the casualties.
“This is the first serious research work ever done on these shipwrecks. It could yet provide some interesting twists and could hold the key to unlocking more about the story of what happened,” Bass said.
Having positively identified the two ships and made some touching discoveries, including a gas mask dropped by a soldier during the sinking of LST 531, the dive team will return to the wrecks – which lie 50 metres beneath the surface – this summer to continue the survey work.
It is hoped their records will help to conserve the wrecks in memory of those who died. “They are an important part of our country’s history and the database will provide an accurate reference of what is there,” added Walker, who has been writing a blog about the project.
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