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.
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.
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.
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.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. 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.