D Day Beaches : Part 5

LINKS to other pages in the FRANCE PART ONE site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

NORMANDY (Honfleur and Deauville)
NORMANDY (D Day Beaches and Bayeux)
DDayArrommulberrytit.jpg - 80252 Bytes

TWO ARTIFICIAL harbours were designed and constructed by the British in World War II to facilitate the unloading of supply ships off the coast of Normandy. These were to be put in place immediately following D-Day. One harbour, known as Mulberry A, was constructed off Saint-Laurent at Omaha Beach in the American sector, and the other, Mulberry B, was built off Arromanches at Gold Beach in the British sector.

DDaymulberrymap.jpg - 101699 Bytes

The Mulberry harbours were two prefabricated military harbours taken across the English Channel from Britain with the invading army and assembled off the coast of Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion of France.

The Mulberries were created to provide the port facilities necessary to offload the thousands of men and vehicles, and tons of supplies necessary to sustain Operation Overlord and the Battle of Normandy. The harbours were made up of all the elements one would expect of any harbour: breakwater, piers, roadways etc. and were pre-fabricated in the UK.

DDay8.jpg - 79996 Bytes

Each Mulberry harbour consisted of approximately 6 miles (10 km) of flexible steel roadways (code-named 'Whales') that floated on steel or concrete pontoons (called 'Beetles'). The roadways terminated at great pierheads, called 'Spuds', that were jacked up and down on legs which rested on the seafloor.

These structures were to be sheltered from the sea by lines of massive sunken caissons (called 'Phoenixes'), lines of scuttled ships (called 'Gooseberries'), and a line of floating breakwaters (called 'Bombardons').

It was estimated that construction of the caissons alone required 330,000 cubic yards (252,000 cubic metres) of concrete, 31,000 tons of steel, and 1.5 million yards (1.4 million metres) of steel shuttering.

Following the failed Dieppe raid in 1942 the Allies needed to consider ways in which to push large quantities of provisions across the beaches in the early stages of an invasion. The British solution to the problem was to bring their own port with them. This solution had the support of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who in May 1943 wrote the following note:
  "Piers for use on beaches: They must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered...Let me have the best solution worked out. Don't argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves." With Churchill's support, the artificial harbours received immediate attention, resources, time, and energy.

DDay9.jpg - 99430 Bytes

By June 9, just 3 days after D-Day, two harbours codenamed Mulberry 'A' and 'B' were constructed at Omaha Beach and Arromanches, respectively. However, a large storm on June 19 destroyed the American harbour at Omaha, leaving only the British harbour which came to be known as Port Winston at Arromanches.

While the harbour at Omaha was destroyed sooner than expected (due to it not being securely anchored to the sea bed), Port Winston saw heavy use for 8 months—despite being designed to last only 3 months. In the 100 days after D-Day, it was used to land over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tonnes of supplies providing much needed reinforcements in France.

A complete Mulberry harbour was constructed out of 600,000 tons of concrete between 33 jetties, and had 10 miles of floating roadways to land men and vehicles on the beach.

Port Winston is commonly upheld as one of the best examples of military engineering. Its remains are still visible today from the beaches at Arromanches, and a section of it remains embedded in the sand in the Thames Estuary, accesible at low tide, about 100m off the coast at Shoeburyness

DDay9a.jpg - 102358 Bytes

An etching of the Mulberry Harbour on a memorial at Arromances.

DDayArrom13.jpg - 70525 Bytes

A preseved section (Whale) of the harbour roadway at Arromanches.(Left and below)

DDayArrom12.jpg - 80333 Bytes
DDayArrom1a.jpg - 90367 Bytes
buttongo.jpg - 7212 Bytes