D-Day Wrecks of Normandy by Mark James
D-Day Wrecks of Normandy by Mark James

THERE are four boats to my knowledge currently taking groups to dive the French-coast wrecks of D-Day, but little has been written to help divers experience the best of this famous battleground of June, 1944. That has now changed with Mark Jamess excellent book, D-Day Wrecks of Normandy.
This flexi-cover book is remarkable for three things. First, it is Marks first book. In fact, it is his first-ever piece of writing about his 20 years of diving.
Second, he has managed to tell the story of D-Day clearly and concisely in one chapter, leaving the remaining 190 pages to diving over 70 wrecks that didnt survive the landings or even reach the beaches, out of the 3000 vessels that sailed for France.
And third, the author has discovered so many photographs to illustrate his words, yet has managed to hold the price down to £12 (plus £1 postage and packing)
His guidance for diving Normandy is the sort of basic material that divers will welcome. For example, he points out that there are lots of complicated regulations about diving French waters, especially from RIBs, and that the best way to see these wrecks is to go with one of the English live-aboards, skippers of which will keep you out of trouble.
His advice covers most of the Baie de Seine and the D-Day wrecks that lie there in less than 40m, and mostly in the 20-30m range.
He comments that parts of some wrecks appear completely green in your torchlight. This is due to the vast number of shell-cases that the ships were carrying across to the battle. Brass souvenir-hunters should heed his advice that French law makes it illegal to remove anything from the seabed - including shellfish. Penalties for breaking these laws include impounding the dive boat and huge fines. This will not please your live-aboard skipper!
The wrecks described in the book include a German submarine, the U-390, which was depth-charged out of existence by Royal Navy convoy escorts. Only one survivor in submarine escape equipment surfaced from 38m. The wreckage still stands 4m high in parts.
One of the most tragic wrecks in the book, and one of the biggest naval shipping disasters of World War Two, is that of a U-boat victim. This is the 11,500-tonne, 152m-long liner Leopoldville, which a long time after D-Day was carrying 2200 American troops to Cherbourg. After she was torpedoed, a series of communication muddles caused over 800 troops to drown. It is surprising to learn from Mark James that, after all this time, the US and French governments are still considering whether to declare the wreck a war grave. Diving is still allowed on the wreck, which lies on its port side and is very much intact.
Talking of vessels being intact, those whose experience of D-Day is confined to diving the Far Mulberry off Bognor Regis in Sussex, and searching the wreckage in vain for the system of valves that raised and lowered her, will find out from Marks book where they can go to see the real thing - a complete Phoenix A unit.It is, he says, in 32m, completely intact and standing 13m high. The unit lies north-east/south-west and is a really fantastic dive with loads of fish life and easy access from the top to the inner compartments, which are complete with all the valves....
Kendall McDonald

D-Day Wrecks of Normandy by Mark James, 01332 512651. Softback,£12.