A User Requirement Document – Piers for Use on Beaches


Before any piece of equipment can be developed or purchased there has to be some form of requirements setting exercise.

A masterpiece of of ‘getting to the point’, this memo from Winston Churchill sets out the requirements for the Mulberry harbour system that would be used for the Allied landings in Normandy.

From May 1942

Piers for Use on Beaches - Winston Churchill Memo
Piers for Use on Beaches – Winston Churchill Memo

To June 1944

Mulberry harbour Arromanches
Mulberry harbour Arromanches

Some might think Mulberry was a relatively simple ‘engineering’ problem but there were many innovative and boundary pushing elements that needed some measure of research and development.

Requirement to deployment in 2 years

FRES, Type 26, F35…

It even took a year to get this into service

A Springer support vehicle is pictured leading a Quad Bike Bike Springer will have a crew of two and the ability to carry a combat load of one tonne. Its role is specifically focused on moving combat supplies from helicopter landing sites into the forward operating bases. Quad bikes are also enable fast & convenient resupply in theatres of operation by towing a trailer.
A Springer support vehicle is pictured leading a Quad Bike Bike
Springer will have a crew of two and the ability to carry a combat load of one tonne. Its role is specifically focused on moving combat supplies from helicopter landing sites into the forward operating bases.
Quad bikes are also enable fast & convenient resupply in theatres of operation by towing a trailer.

Where did it all go wrong?

[A more detailed memo, with thanks to Becket Rankine]

Mulberry Harbour memo

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Outstanding – there may still be a copy of this Memo in the little museum at marchwood.. genius !

KISS. The problem is that too many people have come to look on the procurement and requirements ‘industry’ as the source of their livelihood and organisational status. So there is no structural incentive to brevity and concision. Compare when IBM were paying their coders per line of code written. Unsurprisingly their applications were 10 times as long as the comperable work from a Microsoft coder who was not only salaried but being driven by a then fresh and agile management team.

All large organisations have the tendency to run to flabby bureacuracy. Every army in history begins to develop a cumbersome administrative tail as soon as it is out of the field. Ultimately it comes down to leadership. One of the reasons 14th Army succeded in Burma was Slim’s success in re-organising the logisitcal support in India and badging the whole rear echelon as being part of his fighting force.

In the MoD that leadership must necessarily be political. There is a reson why Churchill’s memo was so terse. He was battling with exactly the same sort of administrativism that we are now. Also don’t forget that by driving hard he often got things wrong. Not just Gallipoli in WW1 but Dieppe, Anzio and others in WW2. Rather more serious in their consequences than Springer.


PE – I had read an opinion that the desperately bad experience of the Canadians at Dieppe caused change that directly contributed to the much better effect on the Normandy beaches; that had Dieppe not been attempted the D-day landings might have been much more bloody for the Allies. While I have no doubt the intent of the Dieppe raid was for it to be a success and that the powers in Whitehall were hit hard by the failure, it may well have been far from a pointless tragedy.


I’m sure you’re right. One of the most priceless qualities is the ability to learn lessons the hard way and still come back fighting strongly. We got taken to the cleaners for much of the the first 4 years of WW2 and still got the job done in the end.

If there is one thing to fear at the moment it is the tendency of our politicians to see a setback and resolve never to attempt any such thing again. In this they think they are reflecting public opinion. I am not so sure. The people at large are much more discerning than a simple poll or vox pop might suggest. Hopefully the fighting spirit will be called forth when it is needed the most.


This one is right in my ball park.

Where did it go wrong? At first it didn’t; it just evolved. Ad the things being procured got more complicated the process of properly defining requirements and aligning them with available technology and budget became ever more important (it’s where TSR-2 went wrong for instance). Compare the number of sub-systems in something like an F-35 to what went into a Hunter (which suffered severe delays and its compatriot the Swift was also a near failure). What has happened since is an ever growing list of regulations, both civilian and military in origin that have to be built into the project.

We also need to be careful, history forgets the vast majority of procurement failures yet they are hardly a new phenomenon. Fighter Command may have had the outstanding Spitfire in 1940 but the Whirlwind all but failed, the Tornado completely failed and the Typhoon failed as a fighter only to come good as a CAS aircraft. During the war itself there were spectacular failures such as the Buckingham as well.

In most cases though the origin of failure is in the requirements definition phase. It only takes on major one to be out if sync with available technology and things start to go wrong very quickly.


Dieppe was anything but a pointless tragedy. In fact it was vital to the success of D-Day, the lessons learned were almost infinite.


Hohum – mostly I agree with you about procurement. Although there have been cases *cough FRES cough* where the issue was less the original definition of requirements and much more the constant and fundamental change of requirement while procurement is grinding at the speed of lice towards delivery. This never-ending churn of the technical target is a consequence (in my opinion) of a process far to drawn out, a process that seems to exist to provide continued employment to the procurement arm and to cover backsides against fallout from dumb decisions in equal measure. In complete contrast I think the Churchill requirement a fine document. It communicates the need and the urgency admirably, scopes the expected solution in approximate terms and demands a JFDI design & manufacture effort. The result was innovative adequate and entirely fit for service – brilliant!

Which suggests that maybe where we are going wrong is in failing to learn enough lessons, fast enough, and retain that memory for long enough.

Selling off the mine protected vehicles after the Balkans being one example. Being prepared to countenance gapping Crowsnest after the lesson of the Falklands being another.

In industry successful CEOs can be in place for a decade or more. By churning our senior leadership every 2 years we are losing a whole heap of experience all the time. Is there even anyone in the General Staff today who remembers what the discussions were in the period 2003-5 about how to fight two sandpit wars at once? Is there even someone on the accademic staff at RMAS who has written it down. Does anyone listen to or consult that resource?

Perhaps we need to be more organised about capturing that knoweldge in an instituional way.

I love clients who keep it brief , as brief a site visit and a walk on the shop floor pointing to a machine and saying ‘I need something that’ll do that twice as fast and with ‘alf the breakdown’s ‘ clients sent from on high :-)


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.


Monkey – generally I found most Users tended to do exactly that – “I want something like the one I’ve already got but without the annoying flaws [long list] and which goes a bit faster and goes a bit further and is better armed and is better protected. And can have the following stuff bolted in [another long list]. Can you do it?” Somewhere along the line that becomes a 400 page document in small type with 10,000 evil sharp pointy requirements in it, many of which say “do in accordance with [reference doc]” in which reference you find another 5000 requirements of which 2000 don’t even apply to the environment let alone the item being procured. No wonder industry had to invent Requirements Engineers.


Re “Not just Gallipoli in WW1 but Dieppe, Anzio and others ”

I give you Gallipoli. Hohum already dealt with Dieppe… What would have happened IF the success of Overlord had been chanced on taking a fortified harbour (how difficult was it to take them even indirectly!)?
– the fortunate side effect was that a future US President was put in charge – the fact that a certain member of royalty, who was removed, then messed up India was a price worth paying.

Anzio was spoiled by the over-cautious and politically minded general in charge. The idea was sound.


Just realised that someone might read my Anzio comment to be about General Lucas. To clarify:

“”another accusation against Clark, however, a much more serious one: that he was incompetent. Here, the allegations range all over the map. He charged ashore too impetuously at Salerno, many say, pushing inland without consolidating his beachhead. He then proved too dilatory and unimaginative in the drive north. Before the Anzio landing, his advice to Major General John P. Lucas was hardly the stuff of the Great Captains: “Don’t stick your neck out, Johnny,” he said. Lucas didn’t, the Anzio landing went nowhere, and Clark relieved him of duty. By contrast, Clark again reverted to being too impetuous. He launched the 36th “Texas” Division in a frontal assault against murderous German fire in a futile attempt to cross the Rapido River. It was an operational disaster that led to postwar Congressional hearings”

– See more at: http://www.historynet.com/mark-w-clark-a-general-reappraisal.htm#sthash.p7BuCaHJ.dpuf

That’s Mark Clark, not Wesley of WW3 fame


The interesting part is Churchills insistence on the floating pontoons inspite of being ‘gently guided’ to use what was called scaffolding piers. A storm did wreck the Omaha beach harbour very soon after but they enough capacity to continue with ‘Port Winston’ only.
Churchill said he first had the idea back in 1917 for a capture of some offshore islands and an invasion of Germany proper.
They tried 3 competing designs in Scotland before settling on a final choice for the floating roadway. Of course having the concrete cassions which floated across and sunk as breakwaters helped protect against the weather

Details details

Chris. An evolutionary approach is preferable to a revolutionary one. Strong leadership is needed to keep the pace of evolution manageable.

One of the major problems is the need to produce a cost benefit analysis (or COEIA in mod-speak) too early in the programme. If you can’t show enough of a delta then the viability of the programme will be questioned every year due to the annual call for EP-wide cost savings (prior to Main Gate). This drives the need for a “revolutionary product” rather than an evolutionary one.

The requirements scrutineers fail to appreciate the universal advantages of longer range, more speed, more weapons and better detection etc and so the COEIA focuses on the silver bullet scenarios that clearly differentiate the new weapon system from the current generation. The UK could have fielded its own armed UAV by now but the COEIA would never have got past the scrutineers because of Reaper which can’t fly in UK airspace or carry UK weapons (huge bill now incoming). Instead we get Scavenger and the UCAS programmes which have delivered nothing and in the case of UCAS may not deliver anything until 2040.


DDetails – fortunately I was far enough away from the way MOD did business to realise they had institutionalised unthinking rejection of incremental product improvement. Oh well.

jon livesey

It’s an over-statement – and a far too common one – to suggest that the UK got “taken to the cleaners for much of the the first 4 years of WW2”. In fact, the UK was fighting a very successful war quite early. Germany abandoned the Battle of Britain, and any real chance of invading the UK, in September 1940. The main phase of the Blitz was over in May 1941, and after that only mostly undefended UK targets were bombed until the Blitz restarted with V-weapons late in the war. In mid-1941, the UK air offensive against Germany began with 500 bomber raids, leading to 1000 bomber raids in early 1942 that dropped 2000 tons of bombs and destroyed 10-15,000 houses a night.

The Bismarck was sunk in May 1941, any notion of surface raiders operating in the North Atlantic was abandoned, and the surviving German surface ships were withdrawn to Northern Waters. The U-Boat offensive never met its objectives, only one convoy in ten was even attacked, and of those attacked the loss rate was ten percent, so 99 out of each 100 individual sailings to and from the UK proceeded without incident. Due to UK/Canadian anti-submarine advances, the chances of a U-boat being sunk once detected rose from 1% in 1939 to 15% in 1943, at which point the U-boat war was mostly over. UK civilians always got their rations, and UK industry was never halted for lack of energy or raw materials. The casualty rate in the German submarine services was eventually 75%.

In the course of the war, the UK occupied about a dozen territories from Iceland, across North and East Africa, and up into South iran. In 1942 the German Army in North africa, which was successful in 1941, was stopped at the first battle of el-Alamein (July) and defeated at the second (October) after which the UK linked up with the US, and also trapped the German and italian Army in Tunis taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners. In 1943, the UK and US jointly invaded Italy.

Apologies for what may seem like carping, but sometimes I think we are all gradually talking ourselves into a re-write of the Second World War which conforms to the “helpless UK rescued by the US” view of history that is so popular in the US. In reality, 1939 was a year with few events, 1940 saw us out of Europe, but also having defeated Germany’s only tentative attempt at invasion of the UK. 1941 was touch and go in North Africa, but much more successful in the air over Germany. !942 saw success in North Africa. 1943 was the end of the submarine war and the beginning of training for D-Day. 1944 was the elad up and D-Day itself, followed by fighting across France and the Netherlands, and Germany’s last campaign in the West in the Ardennes. So in fact, every year had its victories as well as defeats, which is probably why my parent’s generation had a much more positive view of the war than people seem to today.


Ddetails, could not agree more (as a mere outside observer).


Interesting how the Churchillian writing of history is still the only “truth”. History will be kind to those writing it (the original quote is in first person, even more telling). RE:
“was stopped at the first battle of el-Alamein (July) and defeated at the second (October) after which the UK linked up with the US, and also trapped the German and italian Army in Tunis taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners. In 1943, the UK and US jointly invaded Italy.”

Putting in the battles that averaged a million men on each side onto that time line, for perspective:
July the 1st elA; November Uranus
Oct 2nd elA; December, relief effort of Stalingrad abandoned

In the words of Rommel’s deputy (captured and interviewed): what is the significance of what we are doing here when 157 divisions stand in the danger of being cut off (Hitler’s real quest for oil, Operation Blau. The hinge for it (Stalingrad) fell off and the Germans pulled back in a real hurry).

And Husky? Kursk started 5 days earlier, and stalled 3 days later when Hitler started to redirect the elite formations to deal with this (intelligence-based) strategic diversion.


@john livesey – As a military historian and an American soldier I have never held to the idea “…that the UK got ‘taken to the cleaners for much of the the first 4 years of WW2.’″ I will say that much of the success of the British forces after the Battle of Britain was due to the vast industrial capacity of the United States turning it’s attention from civilian production to the production of military items, e.g. Curtis P-40 Kittyhawks, Consolidated B-24 Liberators, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, Martin Marylands and Baltimores, Stuart and Sherman tanks, ships of all types and sizes, ammunition, rifles, machine guns and other small arms.

Gloomy Northern Boy

@Jon Livesey…like you, I’m very puzzled by the tendency towards WW2 Revisionism…as far as I can see in a global war in the industrial age the loser will be the one who runs out of petrol first…and after September 1940 the ability of the Royal Navy – ultimately – to secure the Command of the Ocean…ensured that the Thousand Year Reich was going to meet that inevitable, necessary and well deserved fate. Events on the Eastern Front simply dictated how quickly it would happen, albeit at a terrible cost in human misery.

We effectively “won” the war in the course of that year, simply by deciding against all the evidence that we were not willing to lose it…the rest, however horrible, bloody and long drawn out was a matter of detail. Global wars are won at sea… :-)


Gloomy it was by no means a forgone conclusion that we would win the Battle of the Atlantic. In 1940 we were certainly on the wrong end of the U-boat threat. If we hadn’t managed to turn that around then we would have been the ones running out of petrol.

Gloomy Northern Boy

@Peter Elliot – didn’t intend to imply that I thought it was a foregone conclusion…more that our decision to stay in the war and wage it at sea was the critical moment that allowed the war to be won…and it was based on Churchill’s calculated risk (or blind faith?) that the Royal Navy would – ultimately – be able to secure the Command of the Ocean.

As evidenced by the plans he made to evacuate both the Royal Navy and the House of Windsor to Canada and continue to prosecute the war at sea from there…whilst he himself died “Like a Gentleman and an Hussar” in the burning ruins of Westminster…


Lanny North

I am an American and I must say that without the British America in WWII would have been up the creek without paddle. The brains of the British, Codebreakers, Collossus etc. could not have been created in America. The Mulberry harbors were distained by American commanders and improperly constructed by the Seabees in Mulberry A. We are most familiar with hubris with dominates any entrance into a war. The British, with smaller resources, relied on brain power and deception to wage war with the least casualties. I have always wondered about the lives lost on Omaha where the “funnies” so roundly rejected by American Planners could have countered barriers to the landings. And most of all, the British were able to keep secret for more that 30 years and most of the heroic personage died without one bragging in a pub about their extraordinary efforts.

Lanny North

Dieppe should be viewed with respect to the whole. There were major lapses and cutbacks in the resources required. The same lapses surrounded the mission to St. Nazaire where the Air forces and Naval requirements were cut back to a ridiculous degree. That mission succeeded by the heroism of the common soldier and sailor. The powers in the Admiralty and the RAF failed. Dieppe was doomed by similar failures.