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Operation Overlord and D-Day

Building a secret port

The majority of the work for the Mulberry project took place in Southampton, although 26 bases around England contributed. The work was kept secret, a very difficult task with over 20,000 workers ultimately involved in the construction nationally. One local person recalls his father working on the project ‘They didn’t know what they were building, they were just building concrete barges but for what they had no idea.’  Any movements of parts for the Mulberry Harbours were performed in small amounts and often under smoke screens to stop them arousing the interest of German reconnaissance ‘planes. 

In September 1943 construction began at the George V dry-dock of the Bombardons. Then in October the work commenced in Number 5 dry-dock on the Phoenix sections. Later, Whale pontoons were delivered from all over the country to be fitted with the Spuds that were being manufactured near the port. Most of the port’s wet berths, those that weren’t full of landing craft, were given over to completing the caissons. Over 1000 workers were employed in Southampton to work on the Phoenix elements alone. In April 1944 over 200 workers were drafted from around the country to come to Southampton to join the effort. Included in the Mulberry project was the building of motorised pontoons codenamed ‘Rhino’. Their purpose was to transport military vehicles straight from ship to beach. Each one had its own tug, and 39 sets of each were constructed near the King George V dock in 1944.

[10025] Mulberry Bursledon

magnifyMulberry pontoons being delivered

Further work was carried out at Lepe Beach and on the Beaulieu River, with the semi finished components then being brought to the port for assembly. Miles of the Crocodile floating road were assembled at Marchwood military port after the steel units were brought from around the country by road and rail. 

The national contribution to the Mulberry Harbour project was an enormous drain on the country's resources of manpower and materials on what may be viewed as a civil engineering gamble. Once completed the Mulberry Harbour components were moored off Selsey Bill in Sussex and Dungeness in Kent until they were needed.


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