The D-Day Battlefields
The Mulberry Harbours
Although there were two Mulberry Harbours, one at OMAHA Beach and the other off Arromanches-les-Bains in the GOLD Beach sector, I`ve linked this page with the `GOLD Beach - Arromanches` section as this is where many of the huge components can still be seen today. The Mulberries were designed and constructed in secret to facilitate the unloading of transports and cargo vessels immediately after a foothold was secured on the Normandy coast following the invasion.
The need for an artificial harbour was identified following the ill-fated amphibious raid on the heavily defended French port of Dieppe in August 1942 when a mainly Canadian force was massacred on the beaches. With the nearest deep water port to the Normandy landing grounds being at Cherbourg, 50km away on the top of the Cotentin Peninsula, it would take considerable time and effort, and many casualties, to capture the facility and make it operational.
The first three shots on this page show the D-Day Museum at Arromanches and some of the huge Mulberry sections that still lie here. The museum, also known as Le Musée du Débarquement, is the main information centre for the British beaches, having been in operation since 1954, and is worth visiting for the models alone. The superb large-scale representation of a Mulberry harbour runs the full length of the building and there is an excellent working model of the Landing Beaches. Staff give informative commentary in English, French, Spanish, Dutch and German periodically throughout the day.
There are armoured vehicles and artillery pieces outside but the main draw is the large number of remaining harbour sections, most of which are uncovered at low tide with several very close to shore. The pay car park adjacent to the museum is the best one to use when visiting the town but it`s fairly small and spaces fill quickly during peak season.
The Mulberry project was massive and complex with numerous yards and factories throughout the British Isles involved in the construction of the components. One harbour, known as Mulberry A, was assembled off Saint-Laurent at OMAHA Beach in the American sector, and the other, Mulberry B, was created off Arromanches at GOLD Beach in the British sector.
Within 12 days of the landing (D-Day+12), both harbours were operational. Each one, when working as planned, had the capacity to transfer 7,000 tons of vehicles and supplies per day from ship to shore.
Many of the blockships to be used off the invasion beaches as the outer breakwaters (known as Gooseberries) for the Mulberry harbours assembled at Oban, on the west coast of Scotland. The aerial view above shows some of these vessels about to set sail for the south coast ports of England pending the Landings. Above left: Sometime in April 1944, the Tug Neptune, plus one, tows one of the concrete caissons (Phoenixes) from Southampton docks to its assembly point. On reaching the Normandy shore sea cocks on each section were opened and the caissons settled on the sea bed.
Above: A pontoon section at OMAHA.
This declassified map from the US National Archives shows Mulberry `A` and `Gooseberry 2` off OMAHA Beach in great detail. Each of the blockships scuttled to form the breakwater along this stretch of coast is listed. Other clusters of vessels were deliberately sunk at `Gooseberry 1` off UTAH, `Gooseberry 3` off GOLD, `Goosebery 4` off JUNO and `Gooseberry 5`at SWORD Beach, to protect anchorages.
The American Mulberry at St Laurent-sur-Mer.
Above left & right: A "Phoenix" attended by three tugs, is being towed into position at Arromanches to join a line of concrete caissons forming the inner breakwater.
On the right above is HMS Alynbank (F84), an anti-aircraft vessel, which was the first blockship to be sunk to protect the harbour at this location. She was built by Harland & Wolff Ltd at Govan, Glasgow, launched on 15 January 1925 and commissioned on 16 June 1940. The above shot was taken on 9 June 1944.
Arromanches, situated at the west end of GOLD beach, was not attacked directly from the sea on D-Day as it was earmarked for the placement of a Mulberry harbour.
Plus the town had been heavily fortified by the Germans who were well aware of its strategic importance. The assault troops landed further along the coast and approached overland.
Arromanches was liberated by the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, who came ashore further along GOLD Beach and entered the town from the heights of Saint-Côme to the east. It took most of the morning to dislodge elements of the German 352nd Division but, despite naval gun-fire support, there was very little damage to the town itself and only six civilian fatalities.
The original of this painting of the Mulberry at Arromanches is held by the Imperial War Museum.
The above slideshow shows just some of the detail on the superb large-scale Mulberry Harbour model within the Arromanches D-Day Museum. The whole exhibit is understandably encased in glass which unfortunately makes it very difficult to photograph due to reflections, even using a polarising filter.
More shots of Mulberry B at Arromanches. As well as being used for incoming troops, vehicles, supplies and equipment, hundreds of wounded soldiers were brought out via these facilities and returned to the UK on ships for specialist treatment. It wasn`t just British and Canadian forces that utilised the surviving harbour with many Americans, including the US Army unit below. landing on French soil at Arromanches.
It`s easy to stroll out and view several of the huge harbour sections on the beach at Arromanches with many others visible in the distance.
Above: Jeeps and supply trucks head for the shore after being offloaded at Arromanches. August 1944.
Above: Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, KCB, KBE, MVO, Allied Naval C in C; Captain H. Hickling, DSO, RN, Naval Officer in Charge; and Admiral Carnac, DSO, Flag Officer British Assault Area, on the balcony of a shore front house. The Villa d'Arromanches (above right) was chosen as the Naval HQ. Note the unkempt garden and the shell hole in the roof.
The huge harbours were intended to provide the primary means for the movement of goods from ship to shore until the port at Cherbourg was captured and opened to marine traffic. However, on June 19 a violent storm began, and by June 22 the American harbour was destroyed. (Parts of the wreckage were used to repair the British Mulberry.) The Americans had to return to the old way of doing things: bringing landing ships in to shore, grounding them, off-loading the ships, and then refloating them on the next high tide. The British Mulberry helped to support the Allied armies for 10 months. Two and a half million men, a half million vehicles, and four million tons of supplies landed in Europe through the artificial harbour at Arromanches alone.
However, some military experts and historians have since argued that landing men and materiel on the beaches via lines of sunken blockships and smaller prefabricated jetties such as the Americans resorted to at OMAHA, could have been just as efficient while saving a fortune in man hours, the vast cost of materials, and difficulties in transporting the finished Mulberry components to Normandy. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the Mulberries were a remarkable feat of engineering. The shot below shows the line of blockships at OMAHA that survived the storm with LSTs and numerous Liberty Ships close in to shore. Small vessels and barges ferry equipment and troops to and from the beach.
Please bear in mind that all images on this website are Copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark. Any historic photographs from the Imperial War Museum and other organisations`s archives have been used courtesy of a `Share & Reuse` policy and are also subject to copyright restrictions, or are in the public domain.
Below: A US Half-track and section of Mulberry outside the Arromanches Museum.