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Battle of Normandy : the artificial harbors - Arromanches & Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer Battle of Normandy - DDay-Overlord.com  
 
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Battle of Normandy : the artificial harbors

Arromanches and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

 

Why artificial harbors?

At the time of the first days of the invasion, the allied beachhead is to be reinforced at all costs by huge quantities of material: weapons, ammunition, fuel, food, field hospitals, HQs… It thus seems necessary to control a deep water harbor so that transport ships remains indepent from the tide.

Image : Construction of the Phoenix elements in England Construction of the Phoenix elements in England.

But there are only two deep water harbors in Normandy: Le Havre and Cherbourg. These two harbors are far from the landing zones and according to the invasion plan, that one of Cherbourg is to be under allied command only 8 days after D-Day.

During this long week, the beachhead must be consolidated by all means. Mountbatten, a prestigious sailor and english Lord, has the idea of artificial harbors. He accepts the responsability of creating two transportable artificial harbours which can be assembled very quickly on two beaches of Normandy. Code name of the operation: “Mulberry”.

Image : British coastguards in front of Arromanches British coastguards in front of Arromanches.

Mountbatten, with some engineers British and American engineers, decides to study the problem in a time limited. He makes manufactured 230 enormous concrete boxes baptized “Phoenix”. Assembled one by one so as to form a half a circle of 7 km long , these boxes forms a protective dam against currents and storms.

Image : Installation of the piers allowing the landing of the material Installation of the piers allowing the landing of the material.

Thus, the water inside this half of circle is to be as calm as a lake and the ships will be able to come to discharge their cargoes constantly on the floating landing platforms called “Whales” .

These platforms follow the tides thanks to a specific system located at the four corners of the wharves which let the platform go up and go down according to the sea level. Thus, landings are carried out at every hour. The platforms measure 60 by 18 meters.

The “Phoenix” boxes, of variable size and whose largest measure 60 meters long and 20 meters high, are equiped for most of them with an anti aircraft turret in order to protect the harbor from the enemy air raids. The cargoes, once discharged on the platforms, are transferred onto the Normandy beaches by vehicles which use floating bridges. Three platforms are envisaged, including two with a single circulation way for the vehicles.

Image : “Phoenix” elements being surmounted by an anti-aircraft defence turret “Phoenix” elements being surmounted by an anti-aircraft defence turret.

 

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Image : “Phoenix” elements being surmounted by an anti-aircraft defence turret “Phoenix” elements being surmounted by an anti-aircraft defence turret.

All the necessary elements were assembled so as to build two “Mulberries”, one located at Arromanches the other at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. The city of Arromanches is not bombed by the naval artillery on D-Day, and no landing is organized in front of this locality in order to simplify the work of the engineers who had to install the elements of the artificial harbour.

Installation of the artificial harbours

The “Phoenix” pillboxes, the “Whales” platforms and the floating bridges are towed one by one on the English Channel. The tug boats, coming at sight of the coasts late in the morning of June 6, collect disastrous radio reports coming from american soldiers on Omaha Beach. For a while, the men on the ships believe that the landing is a failure.

Image : A Sherman tank use one of the five floating bridges of the artificial harbour of Arromanches A Sherman tank use one of the five floating bridges of the artificial harbour of Arromanches.

At the evening of D-Day in the area of Arromanches which is surrounded by shootings of the infantry and artillery fires, the first boats charged to be scuttled in order to be used as mole against the current (code name: “Gooseberries”) arrive in position. Then, at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer so as at Arromanches, the two artificial harbours are build.

The storm

But the catch of Cherbourg is longer than though. The Allies still use the 2 artificial harbors. A violent storm, on June 19, destroyed the harbor of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer which is not repearable. That one of Arromanches has undergoes many destructions but is easily repearable; it functions during a month, discharging nearly 1.000 of tons of material per day.

Image Destructions caused by the storm of June 19, 1944 Destructions caused by the storm of June 19, 1944.

On June 26 all resistance ceases in the town of Cherbourg but sporadic resistances in the arsenal remain: the engagements end in the north of the Cotentin peninsula on July 1st, the fixings of the harbour installations start immediately and the first transport ship enters the deep water port of Cherbourg on July 17, 1944.

Image: Air sight of the artificial harbour of Arromanches Air sight of the artificial harbour of Arromanches.

For Lord Mountbatten and his engineers, the mission is accomplished, this is to say one of the most gigantic project of the Normandy landing. It required the greatest technical prowess, whose vestiges can be still visible nowadays. Mainly in Arromanches but also at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer at low tide.

 

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