D-Day Invasion: Ports and Logistics


Figure 1.--Here we see a British soldier holding a French boy wounded during the fighting around Le Havre. The location was Pont Léveques, about 14 miles south of Le Havre. Notice how town has been pulverised. Hitler ordered that the ports be held at all cost. The photographer was Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most noted World War II photographers.

The success of the D-Day invasion was in large measure going to depend on the Allies ability to deploy their large supperority of man and material before the Germans could amass the force needed to reduce the bridgehead. Modern warfare requires huge quantities of supplies. This is especially true of the mechsanized units that the Allies were landing. German units could operate on smaller quantities of supplies, but Anerican, British, and Canadian units required enormous quantities of supplies. This was a critical weakness of any large-scale landing--the need to secure a port through which supplies in large quantities could be funneled. One of the criterion that went into choosing Normandy as the invasion site was that two major ports were located in the Normandy area-- Cherbourg and Le Havre. In addition, success at Normandy offered good prospects for securing in good order ports further south (Brest, Nantes, L'Orient, and St. Nazaire). Of course the Germans fully understood the necessity for the Allies to secure ports and thus the major ports were heavily fortified. This would make it difficult for the Allies to seize them and would give the Germans the time needed to destroy the port facilities. The Allies, however, had plans of their own--a secret project known as Mulberry. Aliied planners hoped that Mulbeery could help supply the Normandy briidgehead until a deepwater port could be secured and repaired.

Supplies

The success of the D-Day invasion was in large measure going to depend on the Allies ability to deploy their large supperority of man and material before the Germans could amass the force needed to reduce the bridgehead. Modern warfare requires huge quantities of supplies. This is especially true of the mechsanized units that the Allies were landing. German units could operate on smaller quantities of supplies, but Anerican, British, and Canadian units required enormous quantities of supplies, especially the Americans. The mechanization of the Allied armies was an important element of their offensive capability. That capability, however, came at a cost. They chewed up supplies at a phenomenal rate.

Ports

The need for a port is a critical weakness of any large-scale amphibious landing. The ports are needed so that large quantities of supplies can quickly and efficently funneled. One of the criterion that went into choosing Normandy as the invasion site was that two major ports were located in the Normandy area-- Cherbourg and Le Havre. In addition, success at Normandy offered good prospects for securing in good order ports further south (Brest, Nantes, L'Orient, and St. Nazaire). Of course the Germans fully understood the necessity for the Allies to secure ports and thus the major ports were heavily fortified. This would make it difficult for the Allies to seize them and would give the Germans the time needed to destroy the port facilities. The port garisons were ordered to resist to the end so that the Allies would be delayed as long as possible.

Mulberry

The Allies needed a port, but knew that the ports were the best defended sites on the Atlantic Wall. The Allies had plans of their own--a secret project known as Mulberry. Aliied planners hoped that Mulbeery could help supply the Normandy briidgehead until a deepwater port could be secured and repaired. The sollution the Allies worked out was to bring their own temoprary ports. German aerial reconisance had spotted the structures being built, but had no idea as to their purpose. Churchill was a strong supporter of this project having initially conveived of it in World War I. Work on the Mulberries began August 1943. British shipyards employed 20,000 workers around the clock to build 150 concrete structures 200 feet long by 60 feet wide, by 60 feet high. They were hollow cement blocks, called Phoenixes. The idea was to lay them end to end to form two giant breakwaters that would form a temprary harbor until Cherbourg and other harvors could be cleared. One was for the Americans and the other for the British. Tugs tow the completed Phoenixes from the shipyards Lee-on-Solent across from Normandy. The tugs on June 4-5, 1944 began towing the Phoenixes at 3 or 4 knots towards Normandy, about 90 miles away. The Phoenixes began to be positioned on June 7, only 1 day after the initial invasion. This was an enormous job because each Mulberry consisted of 75 Phoenixes. The completed Mulberries were about 1 mile long, and stood about 30 feet above sea level at low tide, 10 feet above sea level at high tide. This allowed for seven Liberty cargo ships at a time could tie up at a Mulberry to unload their cargo into landing craft. This was an enormous improvement on trying to unload the Liberties directly into the landing craft. Further extending the artificial harbor were 89 derelict ships. These ships were able to reach Normandy under their own power where thery were sunk to create a Gooseberry or blockships. These breakwaters calmed the waters inside the harbor making it much easier to land supplies. Next came Lobnitz Pierheads which were in essence giant upside-down tables 60 feet wide and 200 feet long. They had 4 huge steel legs which were dropped down into the sand to secure them. The the "tabletop" was then adjusted to the water level. Seven Lobnitzes side-by-side created a 1,400 foot-long pier. This permitted the LST's and Liberties to unload directly into trucks. Finally "Whale causeways" or steel pontoon bridges which connected the Lobnitz Pierheads to the shore were towed from England on barges. Bombardons or narrow steel floats 200 feet long which were moored outside the Mulberries to help break up the incoming waves.[U.S. Maritime Service Veterans.] The American Mulberry harbor at Omaha Beach was destroyed, in part because it was not assembed with sufficint care by a huge storm which hit Normandy on June 19-22. The British Mulberry at Gold Beach which was assembled with more care was damaged but survived. The Allies were able to utilize the harbor at Cherbourg to a limited extent beginning June 26.

Capturing the Ports

There were twonport of any importance in the Normandy area. The Americans moving off Utah Beach managed to quickly seal off the Cotentin Peninsula and then move north to Cherbourg. This took priprity over the drive into France because of the need to obtain a deepwater port. The German garrison surrendered within only 2 weeks and without a mjor fight (June 27) and a few days more to secure surrounding Grman positions. Le Harve proved a much tougher nut to crack. The German garrison as Hitler had ordered held, even after the British crossed the Seine. German resistance did not end until most of France had been liberated (September 12). By this time the Allies were moving toward the borders of the Reich. While the Allies had the ports, they were so thoroughly wrecked by demolition crews that the Allies still had to depend on supplies being landed on the beaches. Here Operation Pluto was a vital assett.

D-Day Beaches

The Allies hoped to secure at least one deep-water port that coukd be used to bring in supplies. An American division in combat needed 650-750 tons of supplies a day. Ports were neded to efficently bring in the supplies needed on that scale. The Germans did a good job of holding on to ports and destroying the facilites before the allies took them. Thus the allies had to bring in much of their supplies over the beaches. The Americans lost their Mulberry within days because of a powerful Channel storm. The Briyish were mire careful in assembling their Mulberry. And it weathered the storm. But for months the Allies had to rely on the beaches, escpeciaaly the D-Day beaches. this was because France was not liberated untilnausut 1944. Thus the Allies only had access to other beches in September 1944. This was about the same time that some of the ports began to come on line. This was also when the Allies seized the critical port of Antwerp. The Allies managed to seize Antwerp intact, but the Germans were able to prevent the port from being used because of positions in the Sheldt Estuary. Supply shortages because the Allies were still using beaches meant that Eisenhower only had the supplies for one final 1944 offensive. He gave the available supplies to Montogomery forperation Marget Garden. He chose Montgomery in part becuse Hitler coukd still hit London with V-2s laynvchd from the Netherlands. Patton was outraged. The failure of Market Garden meant the War would go into another year. The Allies were only operational for a short periods, when the Germans struck for the second time in the Ardennes. The objective was Antwerp. With the failure of the German Bulge offensive, the Allies now with operational ports begn a massive buildup. The Allies forces moving toward the Rhine would have no supply problems when the war-winning crossing of the Rhine began.

Red Ball Express

The main problem for the Allies after landing in Normandy was logistics. For the Allies to move inland they needed supplies abd supplies in large quantities. Anmerican units in particular had long logistical trains. Andc the furtherthe Allies moved from the Normjandy invasion beaches, the more serious the problem became. The Americans set up major supply depots on the Normandy beaches. Unloading supplies in a beach, however, was a major problem and much slower than at a developed port. Mulberry was a mahor assett, but not the same as having a functioning deepwater port. Cherbourg and La Harve were the first ports seized, but the Germans had thriughly wrecked both harbiors, so the Normandy beaches had to ne used for sime time. The problem became not only how to unload thecsupplies, but how to get supplies inland to the front-line fighting units. The Germany and France replied primarily on the rail system. Roads were used primarily for local deliveries. The NAZIs had begun to build Autobahns, but this was a novel experiment at the time, even in America where cars abd trucks were much more common. The Allies could not use the once marvelous French rail system because as part of the lead up to D-Day, they had largely destroyed it. The only possibility was to move the supplies inland by truck (mostly duce and a halfs) over the existing road system however poorly develooed. The road system was not suited for such massice traffic, but the Allies had to make do. The Red Ball Express was set up to move the supplies forward. Major supply terminals were opened in Oarus, Bryussels, and Liège and then on to the front. The trucking route at first ran through St Ló, but as the Allies brought the French ports and eventually Antwerp back on line, more routes were opened.

Operation Pluto

Operation Pluto (Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean) was a British World war II operation to get fuel to the Allied forces after D-Day. It was a joint effort by British engineers, oil companies and armed forces. They constructed oil pipelines under the English Channel between England and France. Arthur Hartley, chief engineer with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company mastermined the operation. His idea was to adapt submarine telephone cable. Allied forces mechanized on the European continent required a tremendous amount of fuel. Ports were a problem. Getting the fuel by pipeline eased the port bottleneck. Pipelines also aleviated reliance on tankers. Thre were ange of problems with tankers. They slowed by bad weather, required ports, were vulnerable to U-boats, and were bdly needed in the Pacific. The first Pluto pipeline was laid from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg, about 70 miles. Later a second, shorter line was laid from Dungeness to Boulogne, only a 30 mile crossing.







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Created: 2:11 AM 4/30/2006
Last updated: 2:10 PM 3/4/2016