Opening the Port of Cherbourg after D Day

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The port of Cherbourg was critical to sustaining the allied invasion force and it was always intended to make use of it, especially as it would allow ships sailing directly from the US to offload without intermediate steps in England.

The Allies assumed German forces would both put up stiff resistance and whilst doing so, create as much damage as possible. Both assumptions were proven to be correct.

The Germans surrendered the port on D+20, the 26th of June 1944, a week after the great storm.

Leading the restoration of the port was the US Army 1056th Engineer Group. When they conducted their first survey, the damage found was considerable.

The German engineers had done about as complete a port denial operation as could have been.

A US Officer described it as;

A masterful job, beyond a doubt the most complete, intensive, and best planned demolition in history

In fact, Hitler awarded a Knights Cross to Rear Admiral Walter Hennecke, the Officer in charge of destroying the port.

The Transatlantic Terminal was completely destroyed, the whole area extensively mined, ships scuttled at dock entrances and quaysides and most of the facilities destroyed with copious amounts of HE.

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A plan was formulated

Scuttled ships would be removed first, quaysides and other facilities repaired, road and rail links restored and munitions cleared.

The Rhino ferries and LST’s continued their sterling work until the quaysides were repaired.

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Although the Germans had made an excellent job of destroying the port they made a rather large error in leaving a significant quantity of steel beams, 1m deep and 22m long. The engineers made extensive use of these to in repairing sea walls and berths.

The first deep draught ship to offload at Cherbourg arrived on the 16th of July but this was by no means anywhere near the full capacity of the port and it would be several months before the port was being used at capacity.

When the 1056th Engineer Group were redeployed from Cherbourg to the Albert Canal area by the 1st of November, Cherbourg was capable of unloading approximately 25,000 tons per day.

By March 1945, the port had been used to land over 2 million tons of stores and equipment.

The rehabilitation of Cherbourg was a magnificent achievement, mostly by the US Army and US Navy, often overshadowed by the efforts on the Normandy beaches.

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One Response

  1. Clearing a mined and booby trapped port would be among the most dangerous / deadly task for even highly experienced sappers / engineers.
    The German engineers were excellent at making places the Allies would soon take, very, very dangerous,
    Making a port you are going to leave, very difficult to use is a given for nay half-way decent army. But they were very very good at it, from WW1 onwards.
    A good while back I did an Assault Pioneer course as a Sergeant, and did a blinds/UXO course straight after. That was scary enough. On any day on the range a company will have several devices that don’t explode and remain dangerous. A fun job~

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