Eerie Drone Footage Of The Abandoned Mullberry Harbour

 
View to western phoenix elements of Mulberry Harbour B from Cap Manvieux; Arromanches, Normandy, France.Photo: Хрюша CC BY-SA 3.0
View to western phoenix elements of Mulberry Harbour B from Cap Manvieux; Arromanches, Normandy, France.Photo: Хрюша CC BY-SA 3.0
 
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June 6, 1944. The first day of the Allied invasion of France, beginning soon after midnight, was later to be dubbed the “longest day.” American, British, Canadian, and French armies stormed the beaches of Normandy and parachuted behind enemy lines to clamp onto a region of France that would lead to the liberation of almost an entire continent.

The first day was tough and saw the loss of many lives. But, ultimately, by the end of June 6 the Allied forces were content with their initial victories of capturing most objectives and pushing the Germans further inland.

The pain and suffering of the men who landed in Normandy on that first day would have been in vain, however, if it wasn’t for the forward preparation of the Allied forces. To bite the 50 miles of heavily defended coastline was not enough: they had to hold it.

Supply landings at Omaha Beach, June 1944
Supply landings at Omaha Beach, June 1944

The Normandy coastline was severely lacking in ports sizeable enough to support the invasion of a country. In order to reinforce the iniital occupying Allied forces, temporary harbors needed to be established until a French port was captured.

The time taken to capture a usable port was correctly estimated at three months. The Belgian port town of Antwerp was captured on September 4, 1944 and opened for Allied business on November 28.

From east to west, the Normandy beaches run particularly flat and provide little in terms of natural harbors. During their research of the area, those in command of the Allied forces quickly understood how important it would be to create temporary “pop-up” harbors if the invasion was going to take place in Normandy.

View of the Mulberry B harbour “Port Winston” at Arromanches in September 1944
View of the Mulberry B harbour “Port Winston” at Arromanches in September 1944

Industrial preparations began in Britain from as early as 1943. The men and women working in factories were given a new set of tasks but had no idea what they were making or where the objects were destined to go. News revealing the reasons behind their hard work broke only after the first ships had set sail for the Normandy coast.

Winston Churchill worked tirelessly to make sure the best results were achieved. He knew that in order to be hauled across the English channel, the harbors had be made in manageable pieces, they had to be easy to put back together, and they had to float.

Breakwaters (code-named “Bombardons”), piers (“Whales”), pontoons (“Beetles”), and ship landing wharves (“Spud Piers”) were designed by top British and American minds and then signed off by Churchill. They would collectively become known as “Mulberry” harbors.

Construction of Mulberry Harbours, Southampton, April 1944.Concrete caissons (Phoenixes), to be used as breakwaters, under construction in dry dock.
Construction of Mulberry Harbours, Southampton, April 1944.Concrete caissons (Phoenixes), to be used as breakwaters, under construction in dry dock.

Reinforced concrete caissons (“Phoenixes”) were, perhaps, the most ingenious element of the harbors. Varying in size and weighing anything from 2,000 to 6,000 tons, these giant breakwaters were designed to be sunk and resurrected at a moment’s notice, hence the name.

After being manufactured, the Phoenixes were hauled down to the southern English coastal towns of Richborough and Pagham where they were sunk. They were then refloated and hauled across the Channel towards France on D-Day.

A line of Phoenix caissons in place at Arromanches, with anti-aircraft guns installed. 12 June 1944
A line of Phoenix caissons in place at Arromanches, with anti-aircraft guns installed. 12 June 1944

Kenneth Bungard of the Royal Navy rode atop one of these Phoenixes on June 6. Speaking in a documentary, Bungard described his experience that day. “There’s one thing I’ve never forgotten to this day…the sound of the waves banging against the side of the caissons. It was like a huge drum…boom, boom, boom.”

Although they departed on D-Day, they did not arrive until the following day. As they approached the coastline, Bungard remembered, they saw the occasional explosion as fighting continued in areas, as well as the devastation caused from the actions of the previous day.

Wrecked pontoon causeway of one of the “Mulberry” artificial harbours, following the storm of 19–22 June 1944.
Wrecked pontoon causeway of one of the “Mulberry” artificial harbours, following the storm of 19–22 June 1944.

“We noticed, as we came into Arromanches, the bodies in the water. That was not a nice sight.”

Kenneth Bungard was part of the big flotilla of pieces of the Mulberry “B” (British) harbor set for Arromanches which would be used by the British and Canadian forces. Slightly farther west was the village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, part of Omaha Beach, which was the designated site of Mulberry “A” (American).

In Arromanches, some coastal buildings were systematically destroyed and the concrete sea walls engineered to accommodate the harbor.

A Whale floating roadway leading to a Spud pier at Mulberry A off Omaha Beach
A Whale floating roadway leading to a Spud pier at Mulberry A off Omaha Beach

By dawn on June 9, the first Phoenix was sunk. And by June 15, so had another 115 which completed the harbor’s breakwater barrier, arcing betweeen the villages of Asnelles and Tracy-sur-Mer, east to west respectively. Barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns soon covered the harbor to protect the vital lifeline of the Allies.

On June 19, a storm ripped through the Normandy coastline, tearing apart the harbors. Mulberry “A” at Omaha was destroyed beyond repair. The harbor at Arromanches survived and continued to be used for another eight months. Renamed “Port Winston,” the harbor saw the landing of 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies.

Read another story from us: D-Day Up Close -Dozens of Photos Show the Allies Normandy Invasion

The Phoenix breakwaters reinforced concrete caissons mulberry harbour at arromanches.Photo: Oxyman CC BY 2.0
The Phoenix breakwaters reinforced concrete caissons mulberry harbour at arromanches.Photo: Oxyman CC BY 2.0

Due to the significant usage Port Winston was reinforced, and this remarkable feat of engineering is why it can still be seen today.

 
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