Technology during WWII... Science

Building the Mulberry harbour

Remains of Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches (Gold Beach) in the Normandy region. Mulberry harbour was a temporary harbour which allowed the Allied invasion of France on D-Day in June 1944. Photo: Reuters   | Photo Credit: CHRISTIAN HARTMANN

At about the time the makers of Superman were creating Krypton, Earth was bracing itself for destruction and damage like never before. For World War II was just around the corner, and unlike the comic book plots, there was no superhero to save us.

The invasion of Normandy (located on the northern coast of France) in 1944 is hailed by many as the beginning of the end of war in Europe. While it was surely a success of manpower, firepower and logistics, it was also a triumph of technology.

Need for a port

The amphibious raid of Dieppe, a French port, in August 1942, showed the Allies attacking a heavily defended port were likely to fail. While this was one of the reasons for choosing Normandy, it also allowed easy access to the French interior.

But then, there was no deep-water port in the intended invasion area, to push large supplies of provisions and facilitate the landing of men in the early stages of the assault to sustain the momentum of the attack. The Mulberry harbour was conceived to address this issue — the British were going to bring their own port with them.

The massive artificial harbour was prefabricated in Britain in secrecy and floated into position immediately after the start of attack on June 6, for assembly off the invasion beaches. Movement of goods were to primarily take place using the Mulberry harbour, until the port at Cherbourg was captured and opened.

Within 12 days of the invasion, two harbours — Mulberry A at Omaha Beach for the Americans and Mulberry B off Arromanches at Gold Beach for the British and Canadians — were built and operational. Each of these, when fully functioning, could move 7,000 tonnes of supplies and vehicles from ship to shore.

All encompassing

Floating on pontoons, called Beetles, each of these harbours had 10 km of flexible roadways code-named Whales. Apart from the floating roadways, the harbours had many other elements, including massive sunken caissons, a line of floating breakwaters and piers where the roadways terminated.

A violent storm that began on June 19, however, destroyed most of Mulberry A by June 22. The wreckage was in fact used for the repair works of Mulberry B, which remained in operation for 10 months, by which time the Allies had defeated the Germans.

As many as 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies landed in Europe for the Battle of Normandy using the Mulberry harbour — a technological marvel, remains of which can be seen to this day.


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 1:48:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/Building-the-Mulberry-harbour/article14388180.ece

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