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Mulberry harbour at Arromanches

The D-Day landings would never have succeeded by just employing 'same old, same old' tactics and thinking. Innovation was critical to success and few things were more innovative within Operation Overlord than the creation and installation of two ‘Mulberries’ off the Normandy coast.

These artificial harbours were built in the United Kingdom, created in hundreds of pieces in the greatest secrecy prior to the invasion. They were then towed across the channel on D-Day where they were quickly pieced together to provide the Allies with an absolutely vital port where they could land the necessary supplies.

Jim Radford, a fifteen-year-old galley boy aboard the rescue tug Empire Larch, remembered towing across blockships on D-Day and taking the first steps in the construction of the British Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches.

The busiest harbour in the world

"There was a terrible gale on 19 June which destroyed the American Mulberry Harbour at Omaha but ours survived. Within a fortnight was operational; a month or two later it had become the busiest harbour in the world."

The busiest harbour in the world

"There was a terrible gale on 19 June which destroyed the American Mulberry Harbour at Omaha but ours survived. Within a fortnight was operational; a month or two later it had become the busiest harbour in the world."

We knew there was no way of getting a port because the Germans had defended all the harbours along the coast so completely there was no chance of capturing a harbour intact. It was essential to have a harbour, particularly in bad weather, so the logical thing to do was bring our own. That harbour at Arromanches was absolutely crucial. Every single piece was towed across, it was done by tugs, about 150 of them.

The blockships, these old hulks that we brought across were designed to be sunk off the coast to make a breakwater. The whole thing was like a giant jigsaw. We had the blockships, these ‘Felix’ concrete blocks and floating roadways, platforms with big posts floating up and down on big pillars. I remember when we were sinking this ship on D-Day there was a tremendous bombardment taking place, lots of debris, dead men and burning landing craft, that’s my major memory of D-Day.

Our job was to nudge these blockships into position and then explosive charges in the bottom would sink them. The thing was all the other ships, the landing craft and all those, once they had landed their troops, they would go back out, where as we stayed close in all the time and we became a target of these German shore batteries.

“Lots of debris, dead men and burning landing craft, that’s my major memory of D-Day.”

One of the blockships we had was an old French battleship. The Germans blew the hell out of that as they didn’t realise it was just an old blockship, they thought it was still a warship. I was on deck helping and I said to one of these Naval gunners, ‘what are all these splashes around us?’, he said, 'that German gun up there is ranging on us’, I said, ‘what do you mean?’ and he said ‘well, he fires a few shells, if the first one is short, he fires a bit further, if the second is long, he shortens a bit, and he usually gets it right by the third time’. Well, I thought, ‘we had just had one either side, we are due for one in the middle now!’.

Fortunately, the German gun layer wasn’t very good, as for about ten minutes there were splashes all around but he never hit us thankfully. That was my first experience of being under fire.

There was a terrible gale on 19 June which destroyed the American Mulberry Harbour at Omaha but ours survived. Within a fortnight it was operational; a month or two later it had become the busiest harbour in the world.

The Stories of D-Day

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