Amateur historian unearths Nazi battery
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By Stephen Adams
Last Updated: 2:28am GMT 05/01/2008
An amateur British military historian has unearthed a vast underground Nazi gun battery complex thought to have caused carnage during the D-Day landings.
Gary Sterne, 43, discovered the huge "Maisy Battery" after he found a crinkled map which fell out of an old pair of US serviceman's trousers at a military memorabilia fair in Stockport.
Gary Sterne discovered the Maisy Battery, an extensive installation "the size of four football pitches"
It turned out to be an invasion map for Omaha Beach, which included an area marked "area of high resistance". Mr Sterne, a publisher and collector, believed that this could show the "lost" Nazi gun emplacements, which became buried by nature after the war and could not be located.
Experts were divided about the battery's location and most believed that the area where Mr Sterne was looking was nothing but fields. But after travelling to Normandy to search for himself he stumbled across an entrance to the complex in undergrowth.
He said: "It sparked my curiosity, because that area was previously thought to be just fields."
He discovered an extensive installation "the size of four football pitches", including bunkers, offices, a sizeable field hospital - minus its roof - and housing for 155mm cannon. Trenches surrounding the buildings stretched for a mile and a half.
Within hours of the landings on Jun 6, 1944, at least 2,000 Allied troops are thought to have died. In the days that followed, until the Maisy Battery was captured on Jun 9, hundreds more lost their lives. Mr Sterne said he thought shelling from the battery contributed heavily to Allied losses. It was finally captured following aerial bombardment with 2,000lb bombs.
The Omaha landings and the loss of life that resulted was dramatised in Steven Spielberg's 1998 blockbuster Saving Private Ryan.
The infrastructure of Maisy Battery remained largely intact
Despite being bombed heavily itself, the infrastructure of Maisy Battery - or Grandcamp Maisy, as it was also known - remained largely intact. However, over the years it was lost as nature took hold, and it remained buried in French soil for more than 60 years.
The Germans had built a decoy gun emplacement overlooking the area and the location of the real guns which blasted the beach remained unclear until Mr Sterne's find.
The father-of-two from Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, has bought a house close to the battery and subsequently spent thousands of pounds buying the 40 acres covering the site from 32 different landowners. He then spent two years excavating the site.
Mr Sterne has also contacted veterans of the US 5th Ranger Battalion, who confirmed that they took Maisy Battery from the Germans. They also revealed that they found $4.2?million worth of French francs, which was shared among the men.
Mr Sterne now plans to open a museum on the site.
The battery will be featured in a documentary for a BBC Timewatch programme, Bloody Omaha, which will be presented by Richard Hammond and broadcast on BBC2 tomorrow at 9pm.