A pair of Phoenixes, and the remains of a third, at Arromanches

Mulberry harbours were temporary portable harbours developed by the British during World War II to facilitate the rapid offloading of cargo onto beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. After successfully holding beachheads following D-Day two prefabricated harbours were taken in sections across the English Channel from Britain with the invading army and assembled off the Omaha and Gold Beach.

The Mulberry harbours were to be used until the Allies could capture a French port. However, it was not until six months after D-Day that the Belgian port of Antwerp was captured that the harbour at Gold Beach was decommissioned. The Mulberry harbour at Omaha Beach had been severely damaged in a storm in late June 1944 was was not used after that.

Aerial view of Mulberry harbour "B" (October 27, 1944)


The Dieppe Raid of 1942 had shown that the Allies could not rely on being able to penetrate the Atlantic Wall to capture a port on the north French coast. The problem was that large ocean-going ships of the type needed to transport heavy and bulky cargoes and stores needed sufficient depth of water under their keels, together with dockside cranes, to off-load their cargo and this was not available except at the already heavily-defended French harbours. Thus, the Mulberries were created to provide the port facilities necessary to offload the thousands of men and vehicles, and tons of supplies necessary to sustain Operation Overlord and the Battle of Normandy. The harbours were made up of all the elements one would expect of any harbour: breakwater, piers, roadways etc.


According to the text, "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965," "Churchill first sketched these technological marvels in a 1917 memo to Lloyd George, and again in 1940." (Manchester, William; Reid, Paul (2012-11-06). The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (Kindle Location 17843). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.)

The actual proposer of the idea of the Mulberry harbour is disputed, but among those who are known to have proposed something along these lines is Hugh Iorys Hughes, a Welsh civil engineer whose initial concept plans, dated July and August 1942,[1] were submitted to the War Office, Professor J. D. Bernal, Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett, and Sir Henry Olivier, a hydro engineer who was recognized for his contributions by Queen Elizabeth.

Winston Churchill issued his famous memo 'Piers for use on beaches' on 30 May 1942, apparently in some frustration at the lack of progress being made.[2] At a meeting following the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942, Hughes-Hallett declared that if a port could not be captured, then one should be taken across the Channel. This was met with derision at the time, but in a subsequent meeting with Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister declared that in 1917[3] he had surmised a similar scenario using some German islands and sinking old ships for a bridgehead for an invasion in World War I. The concept of Mulberry harbours began to take shape when Hughes-Hallett moved to be Naval Chief of Staff to the Overlord planners.

A trial of the three eventual competing designs for the cargo-handling jetties was set up, with tests of deployment at Garlieston, Wigtownshire. The designs were by Hugh Iorys Hughes who developed his "Hippo" piers and "Crocodile" bridge units on the Conwy Morfa, using 1,000 men to build the trial version; the Hamilton "Swiss Roll" which consisted of a floating roadway made of waterproofed canvas stiffened with slats and tensioned by cables; and a system of flexible bridging units supported on floating pontoons designed by Major Allan Beckett, Royal Engineers. The tests revealed various problems (the "Swiss Roll" would only take a maximum of a 7-ton truck in the Atlantic swell). However the final choice of design was determined by a storm during which the "Hippos" were undermined causing the "Crocodile" bridge spans to fail and the Swiss Roll was washed away; Beckett's floating roadway (subsequently codenamed 'Whale') survived undamaged. Beckett's design was adopted and 10 miles of Whale roadway were manufactured under the management of J. D. Bernal and Brigadier Bruce White, under the orders of Churchill.

An Artificial Harbours Sub-Committee was set up under the Chairmanship of the civil engineer Colin R White (Sir Bruce White's brother) to advise on the location of the harbour and the form of the breakwater; the Sub-Committee's first meeting was held at the Institution of Civil Engineers on 4 August 1943.[4] The minutes of the Sub-Committee's meetings show that initially it was envisaged that bubble breakwaters would be used, then block ships were proposed and finally, due to an insufficient number of block ships being available, a mix of block ships and purpose made concrete caisson units.

The proposed harbours called for many huge caissons of various sorts to build breakwaters and piers and connecting structures to provide the roadways. The caissons were built at a number of locations, mainly existing ship building facilities or large beaches like Conwy Morfa around the British coast. The works were let out to commercial construction firms including Balfour Beatty, Henry Boot, Bovis & Co, Cochrane & Sons, Costain, Cubitts, French, Holloway Brothers, John Laing & Son, Peter Lind & Company, Sir Robert McAlpine, Melville Dundas & Whitson, Mowlem, Nuttall, Parkinson, Pauling & Co. and Taylor Woodrow.[5] On completion they were towed across the English Channel by tugs[6] to the Normandy coast at only 4.3 Knots (8 km/h or 5 mph), built, operated and maintained by the Corps of Royal Engineers, under the guidance of Reginald D. Gwyther, who was appointed CBE for his efforts.


Wrecked pontoon causeway of one of the "Mulberry" artificial harbours, following the storm of 19–22 June 1944.

By 9 June, just 3 days after D-Day, two harbours codenamed Mulberry "A" and "B" were constructed at Omaha Beach and Arromanches, respectively. However, a large storm on 19 June destroyed the American harbour at Omaha, leaving only the British harbour still intact but damaged, which included damage to the 'Swiss Roll' which had been deployed as the most western floating roadway had to be taken out of service. The surviving Mulberry "B" came to be known as Port Winston at Arromanches. While the harbour at Omaha was destroyed sooner than expected, Port Winston saw heavy use for 8 months—despite being designed to last only 3 months. In the 10 months after D-Day, it was used to land over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tonnes of supplies providing much needed reinforcements in France.[7][8] In response to this longer than planned use the Phoenix breakwater was reinforced with the addition of specially strengthened caisson.[9]

The Royal Engineers built a complete Mulberry Harbour out of 600,000 tons of concrete between 33 jetties, and had 10 miles (15 km) of floating roadways to land men and vehicles on the beach. Port Winston is commonly upheld as one of the best examples of military engineering. Its remains are still visible today from the beaches at Arromanches, and a section of it remains embedded in the sand in the Thames Estuary, accessible at low tide, about 1 km off the coast of the military base at Shoeburyness. A Phoenix unit known as The Far Mulberry sank off Pagham and lying at about 10 metres is an easily accessible scuba diving site. Another unit is aground, now with a broken back, just inside Langstone Harbour, easily visible from either side of the Hayling Ferry pontoons. Another is off the beach at Littlestone-on-Sea Kent, after running aground while under tow on its way round the coast prior to D-Day. A further caisson broke away during rough seas on 4 June 1944 the day before it was due to be towed to Arromanches, and now lies on the sands at Aldwick beach, Bognor Regis, where it is easily accessible at low tide.[citation needed]

Harbour elements and code names

Below are listed brief details of the major elements of the harbours together with their associated military code names.

Mulberry "A"

The Mulberry harbour assembled on Omaha beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer was for use by the American invasion forces. Mulberry "A" was not securely anchored to the sea bed, resulting in such severe damage during the Channel storms of late June 1944 that it was considered to be irreparable and its further assembly ceased.[citation needed]It was commanded by Augustus Dayton Clark.

Mulberry "B"

Mulberry "B" was the harbour assembled on Gold Beach at Arromanches for use by the British and Canadian invasion forces. It was finally decommissioned 6 months after D-Day as allied forces were able to use the recently captured port of Antwerp to offload troops and supplies.

Golden Arrow

"Arrow" was the code name for the port at Arromanches and "Golden" was a reference to the Gold Beach sector.


Corn cobs and Gooseberries (block ships)

Overall aerial view of the Mulberry B harbour "Port Winston" in September 1944

Corn cobs were block ships that crossed the English Channel either under their own steam or that were towed and then scuttled to create sheltered water at the five landing beaches. Once in position the Corn Cobs created Gooseberries.

The ships used for each beach were:

Two of the "Gooseberries" grew into "Mulberries", the artificial harbours.[13]"


Phoenix construction, Weymouth 1944

Main article: Phoenix breakwaters

Phoenixes were reinforced concrete caissons constructed by civil engineering contractors around the coast of Britain, collected and sunk at Dungeness and Pagham prior to D-Day. The engineers were unable to refloat the Phoenixes and US Navy Captain (later Rear Admiral) Edward Ellsberg, already well known for quickly refloating scuttled ships at Massawa and Oran, was brought in to accomplish the task, though not without obtaining Churchill's intervention in taking the task away from the Royal Engineers and giving it to the Royal Navy. The Phoenixes, once refloated, were towed across the channel to form the "Mulberry" harbour breakwaters together with the "Gooseberry" block ships. Ellsberg rode one of the concrete caissons to Normandy; once there he helped unsnarl wrecked landing craft and vehicles on the beach.[14]


The bombardons were large floating breakwaters fabricated in steel that were anchored outside the main breakwaters that consisted of Gooseberries (block ships) and Phoenixes (concrete caissons). During the storms at the end of June 1944 some bombardons sank while others broke loose, possibly causing more damage to the harbours than the storm itself. The design of the bombardons was the responsibility of the Royal Navy while the Royal Engineers were responsible for the design of the rest of the Mulberry harbour equipment.


A remnant of the Mulberry harbour built after the victory at Gold Beach on D-Day.

Mulberry was the code name for the artificial harbours. These were the "Gooseberries" which metamorphosed into fully fledged harbours. There were two harbours, Mulberry "A" and Mulberry "B". The "Mulberry" harbours consisted of a floating outer breakwater called "Bombardons", a static breakwater consisting of "Gooseberries" and reinforced concrete caissons called "Phoenix", floating piers or roadways code named "Whale" and pier heads code named "Spuds". These harbours were both of a similar size to Dover harbour.



A Whale floating roadway leading to a Spud pier at Mulberry A off Omaha Beach

The dock piers were code named Whales. These piers were the floating roadways that connected the "Spud" pier heads to the land. Designed by Allan Beckett the roadways were made from innovative torsionally flexible bridging units that had a span of 80 ft., mounted on pontoon units of either steel or concrete called "Beetles".[15] After the war many of the "Whale" bridge spans from Arromanches were used to repair bombed bridges in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Such units are still visible as a bridge over the Meuse River in Vacherauville (Meuse), as a bridge over the Moselle River on road D56 between Cattenom and Kœnigsmacker (Moselle) and in Vierville-sur-Mer (Calvados) along road D517. A Whale span from Mulberry that was reused at Pont-Farcy was acquired by the Imperial War Museum and returned to England in July 2015; after conservation work the span is to feature as part of the Land Warfare exhibition at Imperial War Museum Duxford.


The remains of the harbour off Arromanches in 1990

Beetles were pontoons that supported the Whale piers. They were moored in position using wires attached to "Kite" anchors which were also designed by Allan Beckett. These anchors had such high holding power that very few could be recovered at the end of the War. The Navy was dismissive of Beckett's claims for his anchor's holding ability so Kite anchors were not used for mooring the bombardons. The only known surviving Kite anchor is displayed in a private museum at Vierville-sur-Mer although a full size replica forms part of a memorial to Beckett in Arromanches.

Spud Piers

The pier heads or landing wharves at which ships were unloaded. Each of these consisted of a pontoon with four legs that rested on the sea bed to anchor the pontoon, yet allowed it to float up and down freely with the tide.

German equivalent of Mulberry

In the period between postponement and cancellation of Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of the UK, Germany developed some prototype prefabricated jetties with a similar purpose in mind.[16] These could be seen in Alderney, until they were demolished in 1978.[16] The remaining foundations for the Alderney jetty formed an obstruction to the commercial quay extension project carried out in 2008-2009.

Daily Telegraph crosswords

Main article: D-Day Daily Telegraph crossword security alarm

"Mulberry" and the names of all the beaches were words appearing in the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle in the month prior to the invasion. The crossword compilers, Melville Jones[17] and Leonard Dawe, were questioned by MI5 who determined the appearance of the words was innocent, but over sixty years later, a former student reported that Dawe frequently requested words from his students, many of whom were children in the same area as US military personnel.[18]


Some troops from the American Ghost Army went to Normandy two weeks after D-Day to simulate a fake Mulberry harbour. The deception was created in such a way that at night its lights drew German gunfire away from the real Mulberries.

See also


  1. ^ "Hughes War Plans - Mulberry Harbours". Kaller Historical Documents. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  2. ^ Think Defence. "A User Requirement Document - Piers for Use on Beaches - Think Defence". Think Defence. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  4. ^ "War Office: Artificial Harbours" (PDF). Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  5. ^ Hartcup, p. 94
  6. ^ Thames Tugs. Mulberry Harbour: British, French and Dutch tugs. Retrieved on 20 April 2009.
  7. ^ staff. Mulberry Encyclopaedia Britannica's Guide to Normandy 1944
  8. ^ Chris Trueman The Mulberry Harbour www.historylearningsite.co.uk. Accessed 25 April 2008
  9. ^ Hughes, Michael; Momber, Gary (2000). "The Mulberry Harbour Remains". In Allen, Michael J; Gardiner, Julie (eds.). Our Changing Coast a survey of the intertidal archaeology of Langstone Harbour Hampshire. York: Council for British Archaeology. pp. 127–128. ISBN 1-902771-14-1.
  10. ^ a b c Morton, Jr, Wilbur D. The Journey Continues: The World War II Home Front. p. 111.
  11. ^ Maritime Administration. "Illinoian". Ship History Database Vessel Status Card. U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Gooseberry 2 (Omaha Beach)". Encyclopédie du débarquement et de la Bataille de Normandie. DDay-Overlord.com. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  13. ^ Churchill, Winston Spencer (1951). The Second World War: Closing the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. p. 642.
  14. ^ Ellsberg, Edward (1960). The Far Shore. New York: Dodd, Mead.
  15. ^ Some Aspects of the Design of Flexible Bridging Including 'Whale' Floating Roadways - A H Beckett
  16. ^ a b Alderney at War. Brian Bonnard. 1993. ISBN 0-7509-0343-0. pp106–108. Alan Sutton Publishing Limited.
  17. ^ "D-Day crosswords are still a few clues short of a solution". The Daily Telegraph. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  18. ^ "The Crossword Panic of 1944". Historic-UK.com. Retrieved 2009-09-27.



Further reading

49°20′51″N 0°38′02″W / 49.3475°N 0.6340°W / 49.3475; -0.6340

  1. ^ Manchester, William; Reid, Paul (2012-11-06). The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (Kindle Location 17843). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.