Will the site of Pointe du Hoc in Normandy have disappeared in 20 years?
Threatened by natural erosion and significant human activity (mainly tourism), the famous historic site of Pointe du Hoc could disappear in the next twenty years if nothing is done to protect it.
Photo: D-Day Overlord
April 27, 2019: Will the site of Pointe du Hoc in Normandy have disappeared in 20 years?
Author: Marc Laurenceau
With more than half a million visitors a year, the free site of Pointe du Hoc is one of the most visited historic sites in Normandy. Made famous by the The Longest Day movie, this battlefield was the subject of fierce fighting from June 6 to 8, 1944 between the German defenders and the American Rangers. If the location of the Pointe du Hoc is not ready to disappear anytime soon, this is not the case of its historic site: the bunkers closest to the cliffs are threatened by erosion.
The cliff has eroded naturally and has dropped about ten meters in the last 70 years, eventually threatening the remains dating from World War II. In order to preserve the evocative power of the places and to allow visitors to visit the site safely, the Conservatoire du Littoral (French Coastal Conservatory, owner of the place) and the ABMC (American Battle Monument Commission, which manages it in the context of a Franco-American treaty signed in 1956) considered it necessary to intervene for the first time in 2010 (the result of this work can be seen here – in French). Funding for this first large-scale operation was entirely provided by the US government.
Nearly ten years later, on the eve of the commemoration of the D-Day 75th anniversary, the ABMC sounds the alarm again: a priori, the work done is not enough to fight against all the phenomena involved in the weakening of this historic space. Scott Desjardins, Superintendent of the ABMC in Normandy, told Tendance Ouest reporters on April 25, 2019: “If nothing is done, in 20 years the site no longer exists“. According to him, more work needs to be done, with the integration of new metal structures into the rock as well as the placement of special concrete to stop or at least limit the erosion phenomenon. Another problem identified: the totally open nature of the site. Despite the establishment of visitor paths, the entire site can be visited and trampling facilities increases the fragility of infrastructure. Scott Desjardins proposes that bridges be installed on top of all the remains of the former German artillery battery.
Security work on the Pointe du Hoc site around the shooting direction post in 2010.
To improve the visit of the site despite these new constraining infrastructures, the ABMC proposes to develop an augmented reality device, which should make it possible to visualize the battlefield as well as the bunkers as they were in 1944. Also, in order to answer an ever-increasing use of this historic space, Scott Desjardins is considering the construction of a new reception center and redeveloping the current car park, which is quickly complete during the summer months.
In order to coordinate all the work and the resulting funding (which is essentially American), the ABMC organization plans to propose to France to benefit from the same management status it enjoys in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, namely a perpetual concession entrusted by the French State to the United States. This proposal is not currently recorded but could be the subject of discussions between the American organization and the department of Calvados. The site is free to access and the funds for the consolidation of this historical space being American, Normandy has every interest in accepting this initiative.
Thus, the tourism of memory is brought to evolve in the next years to the Pointe du Hoc. In twenty years, it is not certain that this battlefield can be visited as freely as today, but such is the price to pay so that it can be preserved as long as possible.
General view of the historic site of Pointe du Hoc in the direction of the east.
Photo: D-Day Overlord