Thought I would look at a few of the lesser known aspects of the D-Day landings, before, during and after.
There are so many aspects of Operation Neptune (the assault phase of Overlord) that are worthy of telling but in this series looks at the weather (before the landings), armoured combat engineering (during the landings) and logistics (after the landings), perhaps lesser known aspects but all absolutely crucial.
It is often said that amateurs discuss tactics yet professionals discuss logistics.
After the initial amphibious assault maintaining the momentum and breaking out of the bridgehead required both follow on forces but also a significant amount of fuel, ammunition, food and the millions of other things and army in the field needs to sustain itself.
The Allies would not have immediate access to a deep water port so everything they needed would have to come over the invasion beaches. The failed Dieppe raid had shown the difficulty of attacking a deep water port.
‘Piers for Use on Beaches’
If you don’t have a harbour then the simplistic thinking of the day said, ‘lets build one then’
The simplicity of this belied the complexity and magnitude of the task ahead.
Brigadier Bruce White of the Royal Engineers was the man in charge at the War Office in the Directorate of Transportation and had assembled a list of engineers that might be able to assist when the time came. Early in 1942 Churchill issued his famous memo
They must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out. Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves.
After a series of trials the Mulberry system was chosen.
A number of people were responsible for the Mulberry design including Major Allen Becket of the Royal Engineers who was responsible for the design of the flexible roadways and pontoons. Mulberry was constructed under the management of Bruce White, who continued a successful consulting engineer career until well into his nineties. He died in 1983.
Comprising a number of elements, Mulberry would prove to be pivotal to the ultimate success of Overlord.
GOOSEBERRY were to provide protection and comprised of lines of sunken ships, called CORN COBS whilst still in transit.
PHOENIX was the name given to pre cast reinforced concrete caissons used in conjunction with the Gooseberry block ships to provide a breakwater.
Additional protection was provided by steel floating breakwaters called BOMBARDON
The floating roadways, pontoons and pier heads were an ingenious system that created a stable route onto the beach that could accommodate the swell and surf, allowing vehicles to move onto the beach under wide range of conditions. These were called WHALE, SPUD and BEETLE.
2 complete Mulberry harbours were assembled, Mulberry A at Omaha beach for the American forces and Mulberry B at Gold beach for the British and Canadian forces. Arriving shortly after D day they assembly started in relatively short order. Mulberry A was designed to sustain a loading rate of 5,000 tons per day and Mulberry B, slightly more at 7,000 tons per day. None was expected to last more than 3 months. The fierce storms of late June were a severe test for both Mulberry harbours and Mulberry A was damaged beyond repair. The British Mulberry was reinforced with items salvaged from the destroyed A.
Until Cherbourg was secured Mulberry B was the only means of landing stores for the British. Deprived of Mulberry the US forces resorted to DUKW and Landing Craft, creating a finely tuned system that at times exceeded the capacity of Mulberry B, at its peak about 9,000 tons per day. Mulberry B was in almost constant use for 5 months and in excess of 2 million men, half a million vehicles and 4 million tons of supplies were landed.
Parts of Mulberry are still visible today.
Although there are many comments perhaps the best is from Albert Speer at the Nuremberg Trials.
To construct our defences we had in two years used some 13 million cubic meters of concrete and 1.5 million tons of steel. A fortnight after the landings by the enemy, this costly effort was brought to nothing because of an idea of simple genius. As we know now, the invasion forces brought their own harbours, and built, at Arromanches and Omaha, on unprotected coast, the necessary landing ramps.
Pipeline Under the Ocean (PLUTO) was another inspiring combat engineering concept used by the Corps of Royal Engineers.
Only a single fuel was used for the majority of vehicles of the day, petrol. The invasion force would require significant quantities of petrol on a daily basis and as the invasion forces built up the amount would increase.
Using road tankers fuel handling equipment could be used but this would not be efficient, a larger scale solution would be needed. Sea tankers would be vulnerable and highly tempting targets for any German aircraft or naval vessels.
A pipeline was the obvious answer.
Pipelines for fuel were not revolutionary but these were carefully constructed and not subject to enemy fire. Initial deliberations resulted in a number of different potential solutions. Industry was co-opted and the designers included staff from the Anglo Iranian Oil Corporation, Siemens Brothers, Pirelli, Shell, Burmah Oil and the Post Office. The design effort included the shore handling facilities, the pipes themselves and the means to lay them.
Converted cable laying ships were used in trials but these were inadequate, a telegraph cable being completely different to handle than a large diameter PLUTO cable. Modifications were made to HMS Holdfast to enable the HAIS pipelines to be laid and a large number of tugs and other vessels were used including two additional pipeline laying ships.
The manufacture of the pipe, coupling and other components was a considerable industrial effort, consuming vast quantities of precious commodities such as lead and steel. A small quantity was also manufactured in the USA. As an aid to security the pipes were never referred to as such, the two principal types were called HAIS and HAMEL after their designers and manufacturers. In order to disguise the on shore installations, pumping equipment was disguised as houses and ice cream shops.
HAIS was flexible and HAMEL less flexible, needing a specially developed floating drum to lay.
The first PLUTO pipeline was completed in mid August 1944 from the Isle of White to Cherbourg (code named Bambi) on the coast of France. Additional pipelines were installed as the fighting progressed until a total of 17 were used between Dungeness and Ambleteuse (code named Dumbo). The pipeline also network extended inland.
By VE day over 170 million gallons had been delivered although most of this was across the shorter route. Bambi only delivered a small quantity of the fuel used following the initial assault phase
The following sources were used for information and inspiration