Although there are many good examples of amphibious operations before WWII and in other WWII theatre’s one cannot look at the subject of over the shore logistics without considering the D Day Normandy landings of 1944 and beyond.
After Dunkirk, and with the Battle of Britain won, thinking turned to the return fixture.
It was realised very soon that a logistics element of unparalleled proportions would be required.
It was also a widely held assumption that the single most significant logistic challenge would be that of ports.
During the First World War, the then Major Bruce White (Royal Engineers) was responsible for port operations and the assembly of a secret military port alongside Richborough Castle in Kent.
It was at Richborough that the first electric cranes were used and development of RORO train ferries evolved.
The Royal Engineers had always had a responsibility for ports and inland waterways
From Winston Churchill;
At the start of WWII, Bruce White (by then, Bruce White MBE) returned to service as a Brigadier, still in the Royal Engineers. He was appointed to the post of Director of Ports and Inland Water Transport. Well before D Day planning had commenced, port repair, creation and expansion was already problem being grappled with.
Because the Channel ports were under threat, damaged by German bombers or being heavily used by the Royal Navy, the country needed ports on the East of the country that could handle maritime traffic from the USA and Canada.
One of Bruce White’s early projects in his new post was to oversee the design and construction of two dedicated military ports in Scotland.
Military Port Number 1 was at Faslane and Military Port Number 2, Cairn Ryan.
Both were impressive constructions; Number 1 having six deep water berths and Number 2, four. They had the full range of road and rail connectors, lighterage, material handling, storage and repair facilities. The port at Faslane is now of course HMNB Clyde, home to the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines. He also ordered 360 harbour cranes from Messrs Stothert and Pitt of Bath(now Clarke Chapman), each prewired for use with a generator if mains power was not available or intermittent. These would go on to provide invaluable service in ports across the world, many still being in service today, such as those at Marchwood military port.
Port Repair Vessels were designed and built for the invasion of Europe in the expectation that repairing ports would be quicker than making them.
The design of these vessels was subsequently used in many theatres, US forces copying the design. In order to provide an area for training and berthing the repair vessels two Port Repair Depots were established, one at the ‘secret port’ at Richborough and the other at Marchwood, near Southampton.
All this experience would prove to be invaluable and it is the bedrock on which the story of the Mulberry Harbour rests.
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