The Dieppe Raid in 1942 had proved that allied troops could not penetrate the Atlantic Wall and were unable to capture a port in North France. The country needed to come up with a way to land troops, without enemy fire. The solution was a structure of engineering genius.
If you take a stroll along Littlestone beach, in the South of England, you will see a strange platform floating out at sea. This is known as the Mulberry Harbour. The harbours were taken to the French coast to act as a temporary dock for allied troops. There are several sections that you can observe along the south coast. These particular sections broke loose on their journey to France and have remained there ever since.
The large ocean ships, needed to transport heavy cargoes and stores, needed a considerable depth under their keels. They also required cranes to off-load their cargo. No French ports provided this clearance, except those that were heavily guarded.
To solve these problems the Mulberry harbours were created. These would provide the port facilities necessary to offload the men and equipment needed to attack France. They were a temporary floating harbour. They consisted of all the elements you would expect of a major harbour, breakwaters, piers and roadways.
An early idea for temporary harbours was sketched by Winston Churchill in 1915. Churchill issued his memo “Piers for use on beaches” on 30 May 1942. He was frustrated at the lack of progress being made on finding a solution to the temporary harbour problem.
Following the Dieppe Raid, it was clear a temporary harbour was needed. Hughes-Hallett had the support of Churchill. The concept of Mulberry harbours began to take shape.
On the afternoon of D-Day on 6 June, 1944 over 400 towed parts set sail to create the two Mulberry harbours. This included all the components needed. Arriving on D-Day several parts were destroyed before they could be put to use.
The problems didn’t end there. Both harbours were almost fully functional, when on 19 June a large north-east storm blew into Normandy. This devastated the Mulberry harbour as they had been designed for summer weather. The worse storm in 40 years destroyed much of the erected harbour. Luckily some harbours along other coasts were better protected and survived the weather.
The port outside Arromanches became known as Port Winston, can still be seen today. It was used consistently for eight months and became the focal point of the allied invasions attempts landing millions of men. Port Winston is famous as one of the greatest feats of engineering to date.
Were the Harbours a Success?
Historians say that although Mulberry Harbours was a success, the vast resources used may have been a waste. American soldiers had managed to land on the beaches without using the makeshift port. However, had the Allied ships been caught in the open without the benefit of any protection, the damage in the American sector could have been catastrophic.
If you have ever walked along a coast and seen a strange object out to sea, it may be a piece of Mulberry harbour.
The Mulberry harbours are an important part of history and World War II that few people know about. Below you can visit the one that I pass most days on my way to work.