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.

caissons sthampton large_000000-2

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.

caissons 2 large_000000-2

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

b pier head large_000000-2

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)

causeway large_000000-2

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.

block ships large_000000-2

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.

caissons large_000000-2

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.

b unloading large_000000-2

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

Tennant group 800px-thumbnail

 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.

Advertisements

Bridging the Forth

“If I were to pretend that the designing and building of the Forth Bridge were not a source of present and future anxiety to all concerned, no engineer of experience would believe me. Where no precedent exists, the successful engineer is he who makes the fewest mistakes.” Benjamin Baker.

fb 1887

1887

One specially noteworthy feature about this in-all-respects-wonderful bridge is that the cantilevers …. have been built steadily out from the piers without any even temporary support from below. These mighty segments of steel arches have been built out into the air—into empty space…. Day by day fresh sections have been added on, the workmen perched on any convenient projection performing their duties at a giddy height above the flowing water. There was no scaffolding. Steam cranes were run on tramways out to the end of the finished portion of the cantilevers and then the steel plates to be next riveted on were hauled up from punts floating in the estuary below.

fb may 88

May 1888

fb aug 88

August 1888

It is a curious thing that there is seldom so much wind at the top of the bridge as lower down. When it was too strong to work on the lower members, the workmen used to go to the top for shelter. “I went up on a breezy day this week,” writes a contributor, “and on the platform on the top of the cantilever pillars, 570 feet high, there was scarcely a breath of air. So soon as you get above the cliffs which confine the Firth at its narrowest point, the wind distributes itself, and what is a fresh breeze at the water’s level is only a faint zephyr at the top of the structure. It is a pity that when the bridge is completed the hoists which carry you soaring up, with only a couple of wires to steady the cage, must be removed, for a charge to see the view might produce a useful revenue.

fb 1889

Early 1889

fb june 1889

June 1889

The greatest engineering work of its kind, and perhaps of any kind, the world has yet seen completed one of its stages on October 10th [1889], when the south cantilevers of the Forth Bridge—those between Queensferry and Inchgarvie—were successfully joined. Advantage was taken of the fine day to carry out this interesting and delicate operation, which had been delayed by recent cold and storms. At the last moment there was a gap of three-quarters of an inch between the bolt holes, but by means of hydraulic jacks and by lighting a fire of naphtha waste in the trough of the girder, the necessary expansion was secured. Mr. Arrol struck the first bolt, and the rest were immediately thereafter driven home.

It is of interest to record that the three engineers who created the Forth Bridge are all self made men. Sir John Fowler, who is in his 73rd year, was born at Sheffield. To him London owes its under ground railway system. Sir Benjamin Baker, although still young, has carried out important works in Canada and at the Cape. Sir William Arrol was originally a piercer in a Paisely cotton mill, and when he received the freedom at Ayr the other week he mentioned that 30 years back he entered the same town a poor blacksmith in search of employment. In 1868 he started in business in Dalmarnock road, Glasgow, with a capital of £85 saved from his wages. With this he bought an engine at £18, and a boiler at £35. For some time his staff consisted of himself and a workman. Seventeen years passed away and his staff numbered 4300, engaged on the Forth Bridge.

fb 1890

1890

“It is now seven years, or nearly seven years, since the foundations of this bridge were commenced, and until two years ago we had to endure not only the legitimate anxieties of our duties, but the attacks and evil predictions which are always directed on those who undertake engineering work of novelty or exceptional magnitude. When I was carrying out the Metropolitan Underground Railway I was told it never could be made, that if it was made it never could be worked, and that if it was worked no one would travel by it. M. De Lesseps, of the Suez Canal, was warned that if the canal was made it would be quickly filled up with desert sand, and the harbor of Port Said would be filled with Nile mud….. It is very curious to watch the manner of retreat of these prophets of failure when results prove they have been mistaken”. Sir John Fowler at the opening ceremony, 4th March 1890.

Text has been edited from various newspapers of the time. Images were produced by Valentines. The letter card that provided the first five was “bought at the Forth Bridge from Miss Ewart’s Ferry Tea Rooms”. The ferries continued in business until the road bridge opened in 1964. A third bridge was added in 2017.

The Forth (Rail) Bridge still carries up to 200 trains a day.

Pioneers at Brooklands

aeroplane at brooklands

One portion of Aerodrome Brooklands showing motor track. No hangers shown although plenty up the other end.

The banked race track at Brooklands in Surrey, England, opened in 1907 and was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world. The land inside the track was used by pioneer aviators for their flying experiments and became an aerodrome in 1909.

The message on this old postcard has no signature or date but the mention of “plenty” of hangers suggests a date of about 1912 when there were several flying schools based there.

I can only guess at the aircraft’s make and model. All suggestions welcome.

The Great Air Race

air race 1934On October 20th, 1934, the eve of the Air race from England to Australia for a £10,000 prize, the King, the Queen and the Prince of Wales appeared at Mildenhall, where mechanics laboured to have the machines ready for the start at 6.30 the next morning. Seconds were so precious that special permission was asked for repairs to the D.H. Comet (flown by Cathcart Jones and Waller) to continue while the Royal party were shown round the sheds. The Queen – behind whom stand Mr. and Mrs. Mollison – had never stepped inside an aeroplane until this visit to Mildenhall.
‘The Reign of H.M. King George V’, W.D. & H.O. Wills. 1935.

The Comet in the background is ‘Black Magic’ flown by Jim and Amy Mollison. This was considered the race favourite but they were stopped at Baghdad by a seized engine.

DH88 Comet 2The third day of the great air race from Mildenhall (England) to Melbourne (Australia) for the MacRobertson Trophy given in connection with the Victorian Centenary celebrations finds the leaders, Scott and Black, in their D.H. Comet, actually in Australia and more than half-way across the continent to Melbourne, their arrival having been announced at Charleville, Queensland, 787 miles from Melbourne, at 8.42 a.m. Australian time. This is a magnificent performance.

Douglas DC2Some hours behind Scott and Black flies the majestic Dutch Douglas [DC2] airliner, piloted by Parmentier and Moll, and carrying three passengers. It is reported to have reached Darwin this morning.

The record of comparative freedom in this race from serious mishap to pilots has been broken unfortunately by the tragic deaths of Baines and Gilman, the first an Englishman who learned to fly in New Zealand and the second a New Zealander born and a popular officer in the Royal Air Force in England. They met disaster in the Apennines in Southern Italy. Their machine crashed and took fire, and both were burnt to death. [Corrected later to “killed on impact”.]
‘The Evening Post’ (Wellington, N.Z.), 23 Oct 1934.

United Press Association—By Electric Telegraph—Copyright. MELBOURNE, October 23.
DH88 CometBefore the gaze of a great crowd C. W. A. Scott and T. Campbell Black crossed the finishing line on Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, in their red de Havilland Comet, and claimed for Britain the £10,000 prize in the MacRobertson Air Race. The great race finished in torrential rain, at 3.24 p.m., Mr. Scott’s time for the Mildenhall-Melbourne journey being 70 hours 54 minutes, or 1 hour 6 minutes less than three days. After passing the finishing line the aeroplane went on to land at the R.A.A.F. depot at Laverton. One hundred and fifty thousand people gathered at Flemington to witness the finish of the race, despite the ominous clouds of an approaching thunderstorm.

As the Comet swept into view, swooped down and crossed the broad calico line of the finishing mark the crowd burst into cheers. The Comet rose, circled again, then swept away towards the landing ground at Laverton 10 miles away.

Interviewed, Scott said:— “A dreadful trip. That’s praising it. Neither of us had a wink of sleep. We had to be on the job all the time. We were feeling done in on the run down, but are better now we are here. We thank the people for the marvellous welcomes on our progress through Australia. We are jolly glad we have arrived. We received the scare of our lives when the port engine stopped, and prepared our lifebelts. The last two and a half hours to Darwin were a nightmare. Had the two engines kept going the race would have been mine earlier.”

At Charleville when the aeroplane was overhauled by mechanics for the last stage to Melbourne, it was found that a sticking exhaust valve on the port engine was causing the trouble.

CometMr. Geoffrey de Havilland said: “Scott and Black have done better than we expected. The machine was hardly ready for such a flight. There wasn’t time to try it out thoroughly. Actually it only had fuel consumption tests during the first hop to Bagdad. A little more time would have enabled us thoroughly to test the Comets and ensure that all three reached Australia. As it was, the Mollisons and Cathcart Jones had bad luck, but some of their troubles could have been avoided had we had more time.”
‘The Evening Post’ 24 Oct 1934.

Newspaper reports have been edited for length.

Scott’s Comet, ‘Grosvenor House’, is still flying as part of the Shuttleworth collection and the Mollison’s ‘Black Magic’ is being restored at Derby.

Launching 534.

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Mauretania.In 1905 the Cunard Steam-Ship Company embarked on a three-ship weekly mail service by ordering Lusitania and Mauretania; a quarter century afterwards work began on the first instalment of a two-ship service.

A 4½-day crossing [of the Atlantic] had to be the target, but such an increase in speed entailed a ship nearly 60 per cent larger than [Bremen] the German record-breaker. The cost of such a vessel would be enormous, but it would be possible to ‘turn her round’ in a week so that she and a sister could do the work previously performed by three. The Cunard Company therefore decided to build one 4½-day ship to replace Mauretania, follow her up with a second, and then retire Berengaria and Aquitania. The keel of the first was laid on December 27th, 1930. No name was allocated and she was referred to by her works number, ‘534’.

Building of ‘534’ began at an unfortunate moment, for the early 1930’s brought one of the worst depressions shipping has ever known. The Cunard Company was compelled to conserve its financial resources and suspended construction on December 10th, 1931. After an interval the British Government offered to lend £3 million on very favourable terms to complete ‘534’ and a maximum of £5 million to build a consort, on condition that the Cunard should amalgamate with the White Star Line. There was no practical alternative to acceptance.

Queen Mary launchWork was resumed in April 1934 and the ship was launched on September 26th of that year. Many names, including Victoria, had been suggested, but the hull slid into the water as the Queen Mary.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, 1952. [Abridged].

“I am happy to name this ship ‘Queen Mary‘.” Having bestowed her own name on the great vessel, formerly known as “534,” Her Majesty the Queen launched the world’s largest liner on the Clyde on September 26th, 1934. A quarter of a million people in Messrs. John Brown & Co.’s shipyard watched the huge shape gather momentum, cleanly take the water, and send a white wave foaming over the opposite shore. The King (who is seen with the Queen acknowledging the cheers as Their Majesties approached the launching platform) described the liner – the first built for the combined Cunard-White Star Fleet – as “the stateliest ship now in being.”
Caption on a cigarette card (above) issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1935.

Queen Mary 30s-3

A company postcard from the 1930s.

Queen Mary 50s-2

A Cunard postcard after her service as a troop ship in WWII. White Star was dropped from the company name in 1947.

 

Cross Creek and the Incline. Part 2.

Incline train

Passenger train with three Fell engines on the Remutaka Incline. Te Papa collection.

When the rail line to Wellington via Cross Creek and the Remutaka Incline closed in 1955, all buildings were removed from the settlement and the land was placed in the care of New Zealand’s Forest Service, now the Department of Conservation. Cottages at Cross Creek and Summit stations were auctioned off and transported to new locations. A signal box became a shop in Featherston (best icecreams in town), until a recent fire ended that chapter. The track quickly returned to nature. Siberia embankment became saturated through lack of maintenance to its drainage system and, in the course of one stormy night in 1967, slipped into the valley below.

Heritage and history weren’t high priorities in the forward-looking 1960s and most people were probably happy to see the end of a transport system that was slow, antiquated and dirty – imagine the smoke from multiple steam engines in narrow tunnels! But attitudes change with time.

Fell engine H199, the last of its kind, was rescued from the Featherston children’s playground in 1981. Over the next eight years it was restored to its former glory by a dedicated team of volunteers and housed in a purpose-built museum that has won awards and attracted visitors from all over the world. Department of Conservation staff cleared the old track of gorse and scrub and opened it to the public on 1st November 1987.

R_Siberia 1-2

Where the Siberia embankment once stood. Opening day 1987.

R_Siberia 2-2

The blocked drainage tower is on the right. This is the roughest part of an otherwise easy track.

R_The Summit-2

Approaching Summit station after negotiating the long, dark Summit tunnel.

The track was originally intended for walkers but, with the invention of mountain bikes, has since become part of the much longer Remutaka Cycle Trail.

R_tunnel

Bring a torch.

R_long straight

Information panels have been installed at various points of interest. This was the longest straight on the contour-hugging route, all 274 metres of it!

Cross Creek now (March 2018).

R_shelter

This modern shelter is the only standing structure in what was a bustling, noisy railway settlement for 77 years.

R_inspection pit

 Inspection pits from the engine shed remain. Cast iron brake blocks on engines and brake vans were changed here after every round trip.

Natural vegetation has returned to the hills after years of fires started by sparks from the steam engines (see top photo).

R_ferns

It seems incredible that, back in 1870, a surveyor hacked his way through this landscape and decided it would be a good place to build a railway.

Cross Creek and the Incline.

Cross Creek, about forty miles north-east of Wellington, is on the railway line at the foot of the Rimutaka incline. The settlement consists of a railway station and enginesheds, and a number of railway employees’ cottages, with a schoolhouse and master’s residence. It is seven miles south of Featherston, where the settlers get their stores, etc.

mp.natlib.govt.nz

Cross Creek station yard, [1910s] National Library of New Zealand. Reference Number: APG-0147-1/2-G.
View of Cross Creek station yard, with the end of the Rimutaka Incline visible at the extreme right. Railway houses are seen on the left of the railway track; a locomotive, and items of rolling stock. Taken in the 1910s by A P Godber.

The place is so situated amongst the hills that in winter it gets only about an hour’s sunshine in the day. The hills around, once heavily wooded, now present a partially cleared appearance. Cross Creek runs through the settlement into Lake Wairarapa.

mp2.natlib.govt.nz

Cross Creek railway yards – Photograph taken by Albert Winzenberg, Between 1897-1899. National Library of New Zealand. Reference Number: PAColl-4307-001

The Rimutaka incline, which is the steepest piece of railway line in New Zealand, extends from Cross Creek railway station to the Summit, a distance of nearly three miles. The grade is one in fifteen, and the line winds round the hills to the Summit, sometimes with rather dangerous curves, till it rises from 273 feet above sea level at Cross Creek to 1144 feet at the Summit. The railway here is constructed on what is known as the Fell system, with an additional central rail.

Incline train 2

A mixed train with four engines on the Incline. Te Papa collection.

When a train reaches Cross Creek from the north, the ordinary engine is detached, and a Fell engine for every eight loaded waggons and van, or every four carriages and two vans, is attached. These engines can each draw a load of sixty-five tons up the incline. An incline van with special brakes is also hitched on. The train then proceeds up the incline at the rate of five miles an hour….. The centre rail is gripped on each side by wheels revolving horizontally underneath the engine. There are two pairs of these wheels on each engine, pressing in towards each other.

Inc_engine 2

This Fell engine was built by the Avonside Engine Co. Ltd. at Bristol, England in 1875. Two horizontal wheels can be seen between the rail and the piston rods. These gripped the centre rail at a pressure of 3 tons per square inch. The Fell was, in effect, two engines in one frame and made a distinctive sound – a double chuff.

When descending, the centre rail is gripped between cast iron blocks fitted under the engine [and brake vans] so as to press towards each other. The friction is so great that, after taking a heavy train down, these blocks are so worn that they have to be replaced. A workshop with a stock of these blocks is therefore part of the plant at Cross Creek, and fitters are kept to replace the blocks as required.

The ascent is made in forty minutes with a passenger train, and the descent in twenty minutes. In two places where the train crosses deep gullies, the line is protected by high wooden fences to break the force of the gusts of wind that at one time, before this means of protection was devised, blew part of a train over the embankment. [September 1880. Three children killed, another died of injuries later].

Inc_siberia

Windbreak fences at Siberia embankment. Photo: Burton Brothers. Te Papa collection.

The line is now, however, well secured against such possibilities. The only inconvenience suffered by passengers is the rather awkward dip of the carriages, and the delay in getting over this three miles of country. The Fell system was first tried on the Mount Cenis line in Europe, but is not used elsewhere in the world, as far as is known, except on the Rimutaka incline.

Text: Extracts from the New Zealand Cyclopedia 1897.
Note: the spelling of ‘Rimutaka’, which has no meaning in the Maori language, was officially changed last year to ‘Remutaka’, which means ‘sitting down to rest’.

The Incline route closed in 1955 after modern engineering technology drove an 8.8km tunnel through the mountains. Fell engine H199, which supported track gangs laying the line in 1878, was there again to help them rip it up 77 years later. Then it was donated to the people of Featherston where it sat in a children’s playground for the next 20 years, slowly rusting away. The other five engines were scrapped.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.

To be continued.