Mulberry ‘B’

Continuing from my last post, D Minus One ….

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Harold Hickling was involved with the enormous Mulberry artificial harbours, so vital to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, from the planning stages until his appointment as Naval Officer In Charge, Mulberry ‘B’, in June 1944. A fascinating insider’s account of the whole operation was included in his book ‘Sailor at Sea’ (1965). Here are some excerpts, beginning with his specifications written in 1943. Images from the Imperial War Museum.

“Each harbour is to be approximately two miles long and a mile wide and must be capable of berthing the largest Liberty ships and discharging stores at the rate of 11,000 tons a day. The breakwaters must give protection in winds up to Force 6 (half a gale). Inside the harbour floating pier-heads connected to the shore must enable ships to discharge at all states of the tide…… Each harbour is to be completed by D+14 and is to last for ninety days.”

The various units comprising the harbours….. were to be prefabricated in the United Kingdom, assembled on the South Coast of England, towed seventy miles across the Channel and put down on an enemy coast, possibly under fire, in a couple of weeks. …nothing of the sort on so gigantic a scale had ever been done before….. new and untried devices would have to go straight from the drawing board into mass production. There would be no time for tests and trials.

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Concrete caissons to be used as breakwaters, under construction at George V graving dock, Southampton. © IWM (A 25793)

There were to be five craft shelters known as Gooseberries, consisting of sunken blockships (code name Corncob), to be finished by D-day +4 and were a British Naval commitment. Out of two of them was to grow a Mulberry, the American Mulberry ‘A’ at St. Laurent, the British Mulberry ‘B’ at Arromanches. Each harbour was to consist of:
(1) A floating outer breakwater – code name Bombardon.
(2) A concrete breakwater – code name Phoenix.
(3) An assortment of piers – code name Whale.

It was a strange procession that moved southwards from Selsey and the Solent…. The Phoenix looked like blocks of flats being towed by a taxi, while the Pier heads with their ninety foot high spuds might have been Battersea Power Station taking a sea trip from Ryde; then came sinister shapes, low in the water, making the most awful grinding noises in the choppy sea; these were the 500-foot-lengths of pier roadway though they might have been the Loch Ness Monster.

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Phoenix caissons for Mulberry Harbour off Selsey Bill. © IWM (A 24115)

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A Spud pierhead unit parked awaiting D Day. These were fitted with legs to enable adjustments to be made according to the state of the tide. © IWM (H 39297)

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A section of the roadway being towed into position. © IWM (A 24160)

As each unit arrived off its Mulberry it was pounced upon by small harbour tugs and manoeuvred into its pre-arranged position…. [Lieutenant Commander] Lampen [a.k.a.] the ‘Planter’ took over the blockships and one by one sank them, the bows of one just overlapping the next.

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Block ships for a ‘Gooseberry’. © IWM (A 24683)

By D + 4 the Gooseberry at Arromanches was planted….. Lampen then started extending the Corncob breakwater with the Phoenix. It was no easy matter to hold these 6,000-ton rectangular concrete ships in a tideway with a cross-wind on their high sides, during the twenty-two minutes which, with all flooding valves open, they took to sink….. Yet with skilful handling of tugs and cool judgment our ‘Planter’ placed them not to an accuracy of feet but of inches, while experienced civil engineers looked on at this young sailor, an amateur, with mingled feelings of admiration and professional jealousy…… you couldn’t see daylight between one caisson and the next.

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A line of concrete caissons [Phoenix] forming the inner breakwater. © IWM (A 24168)

On 1st August 1944, we were working twenty-nine ships, nine of which were large Liberty ships; 11,000 tons were discharged on that day….. In addition 5,000 personnel and 600 vehicles were landed. We had reached our target.

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Ships unloading onto a Spud pierhead at the British prefabricated harbour, Mulberry B at Arromanches. © IWM (B 7236)

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 Group of Officers responsible for planning and execution of Mulberry; left to right: Lieut Cdr A M D Lampen, RN [the ‘Planter’]; Capt Hickling, DSO, RN, NOIC Arromanches; Rear Admiral W G [‘Bill’] Tennant, CB, MVO; Capt J H Jellett, RNVR; and Commander R K Silcock, RN. © IWM (A 24857)

General Eisenhower in his official report wrote…..
Through the summer of 1944 the Mulberry and beach installations represented an essential factor in the success of our operation. Without them our armies could not have been adequately supplied in the field. The men who worked them with so much gallantry and devotion deserve the gratitude of liberated Europe for their share in the Victory.

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D Minus One

It was June 5th 1944. In twenty-four hours the biggest invasion in history was due to start, an invasion that had taken two years to prepare and which, if successful, would mark the beginning of the end of the war; if it failed hostilities might drag on for years.

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© IWM (A 24096)

Early next morning, the 6th June, I said to Bill*: ‘They’ll just be touching down, let’s go up on to Portsdown Hill and see if we can hear the gunfire.’

We stood near Fort Southwick on that lovely summer’s morning, looking down on Portsmouth, on the harbour and the ebbing tide with Whale Island in the foreground and the Isle of Wight sleeping in the ground mist across the Solent.
‘Do you hear anything?’ I asked.

Bill strained his ears. ‘Yes, I can hear a woodlark singing.’
Bill was a great bird watcher. And there in the blue sky was a tiny speck happily indifferent to the sound and the fury of two powerful forces coming to grips less than a hundred miles away.

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© IWM (EA 26941)

That evening of D-day, as the armies fought their way into the bridgehead, the first units of the two prefabricated artificial harbours started on their slow and hazardous journey across the English Channel.
‘Sailor at Sea’, Vice-Admiral Harold Hickling C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965.

*Bill – Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant.
Hickling was put in charge of the Mulberry B artificial harbour.
More about that later…

A rough passage

The rules and regulations of the Passengers’ Act, posted in my last, were all very well in theory, as long as the ship went along smoothly. But when sailing ships met storms, as they invariably did, the daily routine of scrubbing and cleaning went by the board. During one voyage of the Hydaspes to New Zealand in 1869 even the surgeon, Dr. Alexander Fox, was felled by seasickness for several days and the steerage class emigrants, battened down below deck, had to fend for themselves.

Mrs Fox recorded in her journal that, when the clipper was running before a gale –
“The seas were breaking over the ship and about 7.30 p.m. in came a great splash of water which rolled all round the saloon …. The water was so high in our cabin that it came over my goloshes.” Another wave lifted the skylight and more water poured in from above.

“…we had not been long in bed when there was a bang and a burst and a great wave of water came rushing down the saloon and into our cabins and everywhere. The frame of one of the stern windows gave way and the iron shutter bent right in….. Sails and huge beams of wood were quickly brought in and the great leak was patched up…. The same squall that brought in the water carried away the main lower topsail. The three men at the wheel were swept away along the deck. Amid the roar of the wind and the seas and the flapping of the torn sail as loud as cannon shots, we could hear the captain shouting: ‘Cut away! Go on! Make haste!’, which was not at all consoling.”

In the morning, Mrs. Fox was told “how the Irish girls had been praying all night, while others cried. Some of the poor emigrants suffer much from the cold.”

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‘Hove to’ by Arthur Briscoe. Te Papa collection (1967-0002-8)

Emigrants were still being transported by sailing ship as late as 1885. Maggie Campbell, writing as ‘Hopeful’ in her book ‘Taken In’, left this memory of the barque Merope when, after seven weeks at sea, the ocean ran “mountains high and the saloon rocked about.” The table rose bodily and the bench seat where the second officer and a passenger were sitting “was quite uprooted, and they were both carried against the wall with a bang, but not hurt.”

“I was terribly frightened, and expected the same fate to happen to our side every moment; the waves came booming down the deck stairs, and it was impossible to keep dinner things on the table such was the lurching of the ship; at times it was horrible, and we felt as if we should be hurled we did not know where. It was impossible to read, or write, or work, and we could only cling to the benches.

In the cabins it was fearful; it was a business to get into bed or undress, or do anything. We were banged here, banged there, and I passed a terrible night, not sleeping a wink, being oppressed with various ills besides the dreadful lurching and swinging of the ship. I had a violent toothache, and – and – a flea! Little terror! to take advantage of one’s painful position in that way – when to light a candle was impossible, so that there was no relief to be found either for tooth or flea. In my despair I vowed no more sea voyages for me except to return to Old England.”
‘Taken In’, by “Hopeful”. W.H. Allen & Co, 1887. Republished by Capper Press, Christchurch, 1974.

Excerpts from Mrs. Fox’s dairy taken from ‘Shaw Savill Line, One hundred years of trading’, Sydney D Waters. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd. 1961.

Bon Voyage

The Passengers’ Act [1849]

The following regulations to be observed on board of passenger ships have been issued by the Queen in Council :-

1. All passengers who shall not be prevented by sickness, or other sufficient cause, to be determined by the surgeon, or in ships carrying no surgeon by the master, shall rise not later than 7 o’clock a.m., at which hour the fires shall be lighted.

2. It shall be the duty of the cook, appointed under the twenty-sixth section of the said “Passenger Act, one thousand eight hundred and forty-nine,” to light the fires and to take care that they be kept alight during the day, and also to take care that each passenger, or family of passengers, shall have the use of the fire-place, at the proper hours, in an order to be fixed by the master.

3. When the passengers are dressed their beds shall be rolled up.

4. The decks, including the space under the bottom of the berths, shall be swept before breakfast, and all dirt thrown overboard.

5. The breakfast hour shall be from eight to nine o’clock a.m. ; provided that, before the commencement of breakfast, all the emigrants, except as herinbefore excepted, be out of bed and dressed, and that the beds have been rolled up, and the deck on which the emigrants live properly swept.

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Dinner on board the first emigrant ship for New Zealand. [Auckland, Star Lithographic Works, 1890] Reference Number: A-109-9584  http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=9584.

6. The deck shall further be swept after every meal, and, after breakfast is concluded, shall be also dry holy-stoned or scraped. This duty, as well as that of cleaning the ladders, hospitals, and round-houses, shall be performed by a party taken in rotation from the adult males above fourteen, in the proportion of five to every one hundred emigrants, and who shall be considered as sweepers for the day. But the single women shall perform this duty in their own compartment, where a separate compartment is allotted to them, and the occupant of each berth shall see that his [sic] own berth is well brushed out.

7. Dinner shall commence at one o’clock p.m. and supper at six p.m.

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The galley of the Duke of Portland, showing passengers being served food from a hatch, with several others waiting their turn and one couple walking away with a full bucket or billy. Pearse, John 1808-1882 : Doings on the Duke of Portland [1851] Gally. Reference Number: E-455-f-010-11 http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=11541

8. The fires shall be extinguished at seven p.m., unless otherwise directed by the master, or required for the use of the sick, and the emigrants shall be in their berths at ten o’clock p.m. except under the permission or authority of the surgeon; or if there be no surgeon, of the master.

9. Three safety-lamps shall be lit at dusk, and kept burning till ten o’clock p.m. ; after which hour two of the lamps may be extinguished, one being nevertheless kept burning at the main hatchway all night.

10. No naked light shall be allowed at any time or on any account.

The regulations continued in the same vein, mostly concerned with hygiene and the prevention of fire on board – washing clothes and airing bedding twice a week, the amount of deck space required for a hospital, no smoking between decks.

There was moral instruction too. Passengers had to muster for inspection at 10 a.m. every Sunday and were “expected to appear in clean and decent apparel.” The Lord’s Day would be observed “as religiously as circumstances will admit.”

21. All gambling, fighting, riotous or quarrelsome behaviour, swearing and violent language, shall be at once put a stop to. Swords and other offensive weapons shall, as soon as the passengers embark, be placed in the cutody of the master.

22. No sailors shall be allowed to remain on the passenger deck, among the passengers, except on duty.

23. No passenger shall go to the ship’s cookhouse without special permission from the master, nor remain in the forecastle among the sailors on any account.

Those last two clauses are probably still in force, they certainly were forty years ago, and I’ll bet passengers and sailors are still trying to find a way around them.

Regulations retrieved from ‘The Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List’, 16th March 1850.

 

 

The new college

Dartmouth as a port of call for liners died hard, but the last line of steamships, the Donald Currie service [Castle Line] to the Cape, went, and now it is divided between being a favourite yachting station and the home of the new Royal Naval College, which, transferred from its picturesque and makeshift old home aboard the Britannia and Hindostan, now crowns the hill and nobly dominates the whole of Dartmouth in the great range of buildings overlooking the Dart.

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The Hindostan, left, and Britannia c. 1900.

The ferryman who puts us across the Dart is full of information and as full of regrets about the Britannia and Hindostan, the new Naval College, and the changed conditions of seafaring life, but with a sardonic smile he thinks the cadets will learn their business as well ashore as they have done afloat. “Why not?” he asks.
“They don’t want no sailors nowadays. There was a time when a sailor was never without his marlinespike an’ mallet. Now they’re all bloody Dagoes and Dutchies in the merchant sarvice, an’ engineers and stoke-hole men, with cold chisels, ‘stead of knives, in the Navy. For a sailor – when there were sailors, mind you – to be without his knife, why, he might every bit as well up’n give his cap’n a clump auver th’yed, so he might. An’ up there” – he jerked so contemptuous a thumb over his shoulder that it was almost a wonder the new flagstaff on the new central tower did not wilt – “up there them young juicers is fed up with ‘lectricity ‘n things no Godfearing sailorman in my time never heerd of.”

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The new Naval College c. 1905, the year that it opened.

Although it is designed in the Paltry Picturesque Eclectic Renaissance or Doll’s House style, with ornamental fripperies and fandangalums galore, the Naval College has the noblest of aspects, seen from down the harbour, or across the Dart from Old Rock Ferry. Planted on the wooded summit of Mount Boone, the long range of buildings, backed by dark trees, sets just that crown and finish upon Dartmouth which suffices to raise the scenic character of the place from beauty to nobility.
‘The South Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper, 1907.

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The Royal Naval College and Dartmouth “from down the harbour”.

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c. 1925.

Updated 22nd March 2019

The training ship system originated during the Crimean War, when the two-decker Illustrious was used for training seamen for the Royal Navy. The superior type of sailor it produced encouraged an extension of the scheme to officer training, for which purpose the three-decker Britannia, lying near by in Hasler Creek, Portsmouth, was acquired as a sort of annexe. Moral objections to Portsmouth as a resort for cadets on shore leave eventually secured the removal of Britannia to Portland, where the social atmosphere was more congenial to parents if not consequently to their sons. Wind and tide compelled the final move to the sheltered waters of the River Dart in 1863.

Extra accommodation, necessitated by the increasing number of boys wanting to be naval officers, was provided by an old teak-built two-decker, the Hindustani [sic], moored astern* of Britannia and joined to her by a gangway. Some shore installations were added, mainly recreational. Then Britannia herself was replaced by a bigger ship taking the same name, the former Prince of Wales [in 1869].
‘Scott of the Antarctic’, Reginald Pound, 1966.

*As you can see in the photograph above, Hindustan was moored ahead of the ‘new’ Britannia, not astern.

H.M.S. President

Coming along the [Thames] Embankment from Westminster, we notice the change on the lamps, which now bear the City arms, and there is a medallion of Queen Victoria where the famous Square Mile begins. On the right we come to the training ship President, which rises and falls with the tide so that sometimes, walking down Temple Avenue, we see it rising up in front of us and at other times hardly see it at all.

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At times we may see an Admiral’s flag flying from this training ship, for every Admiral appointed to the Admiralty for any special work is officially appointed to H M S President, the nearest ship available.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

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You won’t see the President at all now, at any stage of the tide. This WWI submarine hunter, launched in 1918, was sold out of the Royal Navy in 1988 and after several years in private ownership was moved to Chatham dockyard two years ago. Since then a preservation society has been trying to save her from the breakers but, checking their website, it looks like their battle may have been lost and this historic ship will be reduced to scrap. Recent news is hard to find. The society’s last message on their Twitter account was posted in September.

Photos © Mike Warman, 1970.

The Edwin Fox

From ‘Shaw Savill Line, One hundred years of trading’, Sydney D Waters. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1961. (Abridged)

[One of] the many remarkable ships owned by Shaw Savill & Co. was the Edwin Fox, whose hulk, now 105 years old, has been lying for many years at Picton, port of Marlborough [New Zealand]. She was built of the best Burma teak-wood in 1853 in Sulkeali, a province of Bengal. She was laid down to the order of the Hon. East India Company, but while still on the stocks was sold to Sir George Edmund Hodgkinson of Cornhill, London.

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Originally a full-rigged ship, later a barque, Edwin Fox carried troops to the Crimean War, convicts to Australia, and passengers to India.

The ship continued to trade to India and the Far East until 1873 when she was chartered by Shaw Savill & Co. …. After clearing the Channel she was damaged in a gale in the Bay of Biscay. The crew broached some cases of spirits and became so drunk that the passengers had to man the pumps as the ship was leaking badly. She was towed into Brest and there repaired.

The Edwin Fox was purchased by Shaw Savill & Co. in 1875 and during the next decade she made a yearly voyage out to New Zealand, firmly establishing her reputation as a ‘slowcoach’. …. in 1880 she arrived at Lyttelton with twenty saloon, twelve second-class and seventy-seven steerage passengers, all of whom were full of complaints about their accommodation. In the following year she was 139 days on passage from London to Bluff.

Some years later the rapidly growing frozen meat trade gave new employment to the ship.

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In 1885 The Edwin Fox was fitted with refrigerating machinery and, stripped of her rigging but with lower masts still standing, was used as a freezing hulk in various New Zealand ports.

Finally she was towed to Picton under engagement to freeze for the Wairau Freezing Company. In 1899…. she was converted into a coal hulk and loading stage and moored at the foot of the hill on which the freezing works stand. There she lies, a relic of a past era and a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.

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The Edwin Fox in Shakespeare Bay, Marlborough Sounds, in 1983.

This story has a happy ending. Twenty-five years after Mr. Waters published his book and three years after these photographs were taken, the hulk of the Edwin Fox was saved from total disintegration. It is now housed in its own covered dry dock on Picton waterfront, only a few minutes walk from the Cook Strait ferry terminal, and is still a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.
Read full details of the ship’s fascinating career on this page from the New Zealand Maritime Museum.