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Chapter 13

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Force Mulberry
Alfred Stanford
[Commander, U. S. N. R.]

published by
William Morrow and Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p194  Chapter XIV

"Flow can be maintained."

"Believe if we can clear chain of command so as to use Ellsberg and get needed cranes barges and salvage gear, one floating roadway and pierhead assembly can be restored. Also will require replacements for many worn‑out personnel. Most urgent we do this but you well know the odds against it. Failing this sure that reinforcement existing breakwater structures can restore essential element of sheltered water and vital flow of stores be maintained."

— Memorandum, 25 June 1944 from Deputy Task Force Commander 128 to Task Force Commander 128

The storm continued into the next day, 21 June. At some time during the morning the LCI 414 and the SC 1329 reappeared. But the bull horn on the SC 1329 was silent.

The problem of saving Mulberry seemed hopeless. During the night more LCT's had piled into the bridging. There were now seventeen, plus barges, LCVP's and small craft, in a tangled, heaving mass working against the structure.  p195 At one point the bridging had completely twisted under the strain till it stood on edge.

The Phoenix continued to disintegrate. The waves inside the harbor rose. The Lobnitz pierhead with its burden of the dead that had been pulled out of the water and its sleeping men survived the night and the following day.

There were no tugs operational, no launches. Nothing could be done except let the storm take over.

Agonized army personnel made their way out from shore, crawling over the twisted roadway to find out what hope there was of getting in ammunition. There was no answer for them except to call the ship in and drive her on the beach in the midst of the wreckage.

Men slept. On the pierhead, in the troop spaces of the LCI, wherever there was a chance of lee from wind and driving spray, they sacked down. It was better not to see the collapse of the whole war. Evacuation, if it were possible, lay ahead. The invasion of Europe was over. The Germans must know the losses. A counterattack would surely start.

During the night of 22 June, the seas decreased in height and the wind went down. The worst June gale on the French coast in forty years came to an end.

During the following day, 23 June, the first comprehensive survey of the damage was commenced.

All the ships in the Gooseberry line had held though some had broken backs. Hundreds of landing craft in shelter there had been saved from sure destruction.

The Phoenix breakwater was 50 per cent intact. The roadways of the Whale bridging could be replaced and repaired, but it would require months of work and new material.  p196 All tows at sea on D + 13 had been lost. Most of the arrivals on D + 12 and D + 14 had been damaged or sunk. In addition to replacing the wrecked structures with spares, much other material in transit had been lost.​1

Captain Ellsberg arrived from the U. K. in the first tug to complete the trip after the storm. The same cheerfulness and constructive cast of mind that had rescued forlorn hopes in the days of assembly at Selsey Bill, now carefully and surely began to see hope at Omaha.

With bright, warm sunlight, the truck lines were beginning to move again. It was easier to imagine something less than an evacuation. Some LCT's, which had borne the heaviest share of ship-to‑beach traffic, were operational. Every available man had been mustered on the beach. Bulldozers dug channels in to stranded craft and they were patched and refloated.

The final estimate showed that of the total force of 650 LCT's, 330 had survived. Others were being salvaged rapidly.

Arrivals of shipping in the area, which had dropped to 57 on 14 June and none on 15 June, rose to 281. More importantly, the German counterattack that might have been so fatal had not yet started.

Captain Ellsberg, however close to the men of Mulberry and however intimate with the characteristics of the structures, was in the military status of a visiting officer. His counsel was unofficial. His reports to Captain Clark, thoughtful  p197 and considered, had begun to rekindle the morale of Mulberry men.

But Commodore Sullivan, USN, was the salvage officer in the chain of command and senior to Captain Ellsberg. After a brief trip down the beach, he condemned the idea of salvaging the structures. There was a possibility, which Captain Ellsberg had advanced to Captain Clark, that enough structures were left plus those still in the U. K. to establish at least one Whale roadway and LST pierhead.

Mulberry men had faith in their machine. They had lived with it and seen it work. They had given through days and nights more strength than they knew they had. They had labored before when the project had seemed hopeless. Obviously some men finally had had more than they could stand in the storm. These could be replaced.

But in the series of meetings that followed, Commodore Sullivan's counsel prevailed.

The Whale roadways that were still usable would be cannibalized and towed to the British harbor. The Phoenix breakwater, however, and the Gooseberry had proved their mission too completely for debate. They would be reinforced with new units from the U. K.

The men of Mulberry A took only perfunctory interest in further effort to argue the case for rebuilding. The job in hand was to preserve the breakwaters and clear the beach.

There was, now the storm tide had receded, substantial protection left in the Phoenix wall. After all, not all the landing craft had been wiped out. Even in the storm tides it had been some protection.

Enough LCT's and duckw's were left to start the supply train.

 p198  Barges were ordered from the U. K. and the U. S. coasters were beached and dried out, landing their cargo directly into trucks at low tide. It was slow, it was inefficient, but the stockpile of stores that had been jammed ashore ahead of the storm was sufficient to offset the temporary drop in tonnage landed.

Colonel Whitcomb arranged a camp for the 108th CB's and Mulberry personnel ashore. Some of these men had from his field kitchens the first hot food in a week.

Life on the beach settled down to improvised methods and growing hope that the Hun high command might in fact have missed the chance to strike.

The question in all men's minds, as a return to sleep, to food, and to dry clothes permitted them the space to think, was — had all their work gone for nothing?

Was Mulberry a failure?

No categorical answer existed then. Perhaps none exists now.

But as the original Chief British Naval planning authority of COSSAC​2 writes some seven years after the fact, "No responsible group of officers could ever have been found to approve the whole Overlord scheme if it had not been for the idea of Mulberry."

The Mulberry concept, then, allowed the invasion of Northwest Europe. One way of thinking could be to say Mulberry's value as an idea alone justified the devotion of the people who served it.

The second substantial fact is that without the Gooseberry, which did stand up, and the help of the Phoenix breakwaters even after their partial disintegration, virtually  p199 all landing craft would have been lost and all unloading at Omaha Beach brought to a dangerous halt.

As for the Whale bridging, that actually was only a failure because of the craft that smashed into it. Perhaps it was wasted, but could the big guns that finally took Cherbourg on 27 June have otherwise been landed in time — as happened in those two fully operational days before the storm? No one can ever finally answer that.

The Whale bridging was destroyed by crashed landing craft primarily, not the sea or weather. Its engineering was sound.

The record of tonnage​3 across Mulberry A by D + 10 exceeded the 8,000 tons per day planned and reached 14,000 tons per day by the end of June. This record could not have been made without sheltered water.

It was not until the ports of Antwerp, Le Havre and Rouen were operational at the end of the summer that the main reliance could shift from the Mulberries and the beaches. Even so the British Mulberry continued on functioning well into the winter.

So — one can only say — in one way Mulberry was a triumph, and, in a narrower sense, it was a failure.

Certainly part of its triumph sprang out of the bodies and hearts and spirits of the men who served it, none more so than Capt. A. D. Clark.

How did he react to the disaster, one may wonder?

Several days after the storm there was served a fine dinner of steak and red wine in the captain's cabin of the SC 1329, in which Captain Clark had carried his flag from England.  p200 Over the good red meat he gave extravagant praise to his men. His manner was calm and as gracious as that of a naval attaché at a court function. He seemed not to care for the sunken structures still grimly visible above the surface of the water. He was interested chiefly in enjoying the steak and making sure the facts of individual heroism reached Admiral Stark and Commodore Flanigan in London. Only in the lines in his face, his white hair and his eyes could traces of the disaster be found.

When the time came to leave the cliffs of Normandy the day after the fall of Cherbourg, CTF, Captain Clark embarked in his SC 1329 for the U. K.

SC 1352 was still crippled from the storm and had repairs to make. She was only able to carry Deputy CTF to a U. K. bound destroyer in the Utah area.

As he climbed the Jacob's ladder up the side of the destroyer, Deputy CTF looked back at the battered and crippled little ship. Her crew of youngsters had all shaved. From somewhere they had discovered clean shirts. All hands were lined up along her rail.

As usual in moments of feeling between men who have survived an ordeal together, there were no words to say.

Deputy CTF smiled eventually at the upturned faces and then turned back to continue his climb up the weaving ladder.

The Author's Notes:

1 Saved by the outlying shoal of Calvados Reef, which broke the swell, and through the fact that it was not quite half completed, Mulberry B survived the gale with only slight damage.

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2 Rear Adm. J. Hughes-Hallett, RN.

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3 Tonnage of cargos unloaded at Omaha and Utah Beaches given in Appendix Five.

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Page updated: 10 Feb 22