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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

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


published by
William Morrow and Company
New York
1951

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,
please let me know!

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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p78  Chapter VI

". . . an assault of matériel, operated by man."

". . . completing its program of mounting the studies for an Oppian that has been described as an assault of matériel, operated by man."

— Introduction to Omaha Beachhead
American Forces in Action Series, Historical Division, War Department

Whatever the faltering progress of Mulberry, the huge flow of material destined one day to roll across the sand and shingle of the five-mile stretch of Norman beach kept on piling into the ports of England. The stockpile in the U. K. for the invasion, exclusive of basic equipment, was now well into the millions of tons, and already hundreds of thousands of tons were preloaded, waiting for D‑day. Port machinery and dockside space and stevedore labor were crowded to the utmost. Port companies from the U. S. were called into the Bristol Channel and Mersey and Southampton areas to push ahead the job of unloading. In the Duke St. Annex of Selfridge's, the tally  p79 sheets of the Army Transportation Corps grew longer. Colonels Lord, Gaffney, Plank, Traub and McConnaghy wore confident smiles.

The more one learned of this growing mountain of supply that staggered the port capacity of the U. K., the more one wondered about the eventual focus of all this stockpile on the port facility, whose structural elements were even yet to be built.

No matter how one might hope the paper schedules were possible that declared the Mulberry structures would be built, or, in the last resort trust that at some point the highest command would have to recognize that there must be tugs produced to tow Mulberry units, one did nevertheless know the limits of mind and experience of the naval personnel who must accomplish the installation. And human experience, even starting in March, could plainly not be spread so thin or be expert in its responsibilities by a May 1 target date.

As the short days of a London February flicked by and entered into March, the personnel problem of Force Mulberry met its crisis. A group of officers and chief petty officers said to be experienced in towing and handling heavy gear had arrived in London from the U. S. in January. This was the result of Admiral Stark's personal pleas in Washington in December, 1943. This group numbered not more than a dozen men.

The nearest Admiral Stark's visit to Washington had come to securing an expert to head up towing operations had been Comdr. C. R. Dennen, USNR. ​a His experience had been in net and boom defense installations in the U. S. A solid citizen of Gloucester, Commander Dennen had a good seafaring  p80 instinct but was cruelly unsuited to organize his requirements, to analyze his training program or comprehend the vast administrative problems that confronted him. Bewildered and unprepared for an assignment on the scale of Mulberry's towing program — the largest such operation ever considered — it was doubtful how widely his talents could be used. But it was a name to put in a square on the all too vacant organizational chart and he could be useful in establishing towing techniques.

Lt. W. L. Freeburn, USNR, on the other hand, promised to be and was a tower of strength. A licensed master mariner with a real gift for engineering, he was placed in one of the most technical and difficult of all billets, in charge of the Whale units. With unlimited enthusiasm and quickly kindling interest he tackled their complexities. By February he had a skeleton crew of performers in Cairnhead learning what tricks the British knew in assembling and mooring the Whale roadways and the problems they had not solved.

A CEC officer with great cheerfulness and a gift for draftsman­ship, Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Langevin, USNR, prepared the many plans and schedules of equipment, struggling for hours on end to produce drawings of each new piece of equipment or change in harbor layout.

In organizing the blockship end of the breakwater, Operation Corn Cob, Lt. George Hoague, USNR, knew his business and charged forcefully into the business of dealing with the War Shipping Administration on crew problems, equipping the ships with extra antiaircraft armament, provisioning them and seeing that the scuttling charges were properly placed and wired. In fact his operation became so well organized that his group was used as a Siberia in the final  p81 days for officers proved unsuited in critical jobs. With Lieutenant Hoague, it was reasoned, they might be useful and could not prejudice the success of his undertaking.

In charge of Phoenix operations was a huge monolithic man, Lt. Fred Barton, USNR. In private life Barton had been a contractor. His fine gift for getting things done was refreshingly free from the restraints of military courtesy or procedure. For a while he was assisted by one of the CB officers, who finally took refuge in the naval hospital at Netley, suffering from a nervous breakdown.

For the unlovely assignment of handling the outer floating breakwater units, the Bombardons, a veteran of London staff duty was selected, Comdr. L. B. Ard, USNR. An Annapolis graduate, he knew U. S. Naval procedure thoroughly, and from his work in London he knew the British. Commander Ard was also naturally adept in seaman­ship, which was a big help in working with such clumsy objects as the Bombardons.

As an aide to the commander, Force Mulberry, an alert able youngster, Lt. A. Macy Smith, USNR, was discovered in the port office at Southampton.

For port director of Mulberry after it was operational, Captain Jackson of ComNavEu's Shipping Section was talked into releasing his executive officer, Lt. Comdr. Everett B. Morris, USNR. This was a real scoop, which required an assist from Captain Flanigan.

The head of a Dutch communication group, Lt. Comdr. Everard C. Endt, USNR, was captured by Force Mulberry to be its liaison officer to Admiral Tennant, the British Mulberry commander. Lieutenant Commander Endt had no qualifications for Mulberry work, but he was a line officer  p82 unassigned and as such could supplement the gaps in USN knowledge of British development of plans.

While in Washington Admiral Stark had hoped to obtain the services of Lt. Comdr. Edmund Moran, USNR, who had outstanding knowledge of towboating. He had had a long professional career in that field as head of a large civilian towing concern. But at that time, Lieutenant Commander Moran did not feel he could leave Washington, where he was assigned to the Small Vessel Section of the War Shipping Administration, nor did the War Shipping Administration feel he could be spared. Later on, at D ‑ 20, when the difficulties with Mulberry had become obvious in the highest headquarters, Lieutenant Commander Moran did arrive for duty in England with Mulberry.

The process of acquiring officers from other commands by trading, fast talk and various unfulfillable promises was plainly not going to be adequate no matter with what zeal it was pursued.

At a fiery session late in February, on the theory that Force Mulberry would operate the port after installation, Captain Flanigan came to the rescue and turned over the personnel of a team originally intended by the Navy Department to operate a minor captured port. The unit, known as Drew 3, had just arrived from the States at the U. S. Naval Base at Roseneath, Scotland.

Before this generosity of spirit could harden or change, a Force Mulberry representative was in Roseneath interviewing specialists in such recondite subjects as bomb disposal, minesweeping, intelligence, and harbor entrance control for possible billets in fields utterly strange to them. From this group certain officers were picked on the off- p83 chance of a two‑minute interview. They later played significant roles in Mulberry. Among them were Lts. Julius Rubel and Jason Paige, USNR, originally minesweeping and intelligence officers respectively. A group of about ten officers was found who seemed to have characteristics that could be fitted into Force Mulberry's needs.

Various CB​1 units were in the U. K. assigned to temporary construction projects — among them, a naval hospital at Netley and a naval air base at Dunkeswell. They were the natural naval source of manpower for manning and operating Mulberry structures. But they were assigned to Commander Landing Craft and Bases, U. K., Rear Adm. John Wilkes. In spite of Washington's suggestions and the promises of the civil engineer officer of Task Force 122, Captain Coryell, Admiral Wilkes would not release them to aid in construction work at the various Whale sites and to train on the structures in tow and for assembly on the Far Shore. Finally Captain Flanigan talked Admiral Wilkes into agreement. But Admiral Wilkes' reward for giving up the CB's was that Mulberry was placed under his command in spite of all the other crusts of command. In this way he theoretically kept control of the CB's, but Mulberry suffered another severe administrative burden. Commander Collier, CEC, USNR, was designated as prospective administrative commander of the Mulberry CB personnel.

The total requirements of Mulberry aside from construction requirements were: 52 line officers, 9 CB officers, and 539 enlisted men. This minimum estimate was made on 22 March. Of these requirements not more than a handful were on hand.

 p84  Other estimates​2 of personnel made on careful analysis of requirements ranged up to 65 officers and 2,166 men, exclusive of crews of towing vessels.

This personnel problem was never fully solved. It always remained as a deterrent in all phases of the operation. While the complement of Force Mulberry continued to grow by personal evangelism and traditional naval trading techniques, new green officers with no background were constantly being forced into responsibility for which they were unprepared and then confronted with more work than even eighteen-hour days could accomplish.

It is hard to say precisely when this battle in London for adequate personnel, clear‑cut plans and command responsibility seemed fruitless to pursue further. But the hard fact did emerge that with whatever structures, whatever personnel, whatever training, Mulberry A was expected to be built — and on schedule. The written orders said so.

Military life has an abrupt way of settling issues. There is an order, and that's that. It is up to the human to set out to do whatever is written on the piece of paper.

The juggernaut of war was fast making endless London committee meetings academic. It was getting too late to repair the deficiencies. There would not be time to play with words. The iron reality was that the force long ago set in motion heaping supplies into the U. K. was a force that could not be stopped or reasoned with. It even made Mulberry look small. In the undertow of that huge supply wave,  p85 Mulberry's problems were sucked up like so many bits of driftwood.

So, if the idea was to get on with the job with what was at hand, the place to go was the waterfront. The urge to leave London was coupled with an overwhelming desire to cease the bitter struggle to get for Mulberry the recognition it needed, the attention it deserved. To translate the sense of urgency and priority the planners had emphasized into men and materials seemed increasingly hopeless to Captain Clark and his officers in Eight Grosvenor Square.

Even old friends in ComNavEu were growing touchy at the sight of a Force Mulberry officer. Captain Clark's gaunt face and harsh manner cast a grim shadow over the now infrequent cocktail parties which he attended.

This transition in feeling, after all, was a natural part of changing function from staff to operations. Foresight and imagination had had their day. Now was coming a time to move into war.

The problem of location on the crowded waterfront of the south coast of England slowed down the urge to shift out of London. Where would the Mulberry assembly area be? Where would the tows start from? What operational base control them?

In general, U. S. forces, both Army and Navy, had taken the lower tip of Britain from Poole and Weymouth on through Salcombe, Dartmouth and Plymouth to Fowey and Falmouth. Admiral Kirk and his Task Force 122 were centrally based in Plymouth. Every loading slip in these American sectors and all available water acreage had been preempted. No amphibious base commander wanted the huge Mulberry objects cluttering his waterfront.

 p86  From the Channel charts it seemed clear that the shortest course to the assault area would be south from a point just to the east of the Isle of Wight, off Portsmouth. Since a base close to this point would shorten the towing distance, and hence return the tugs on a quicker turn-around schedule, thoughts focused on Portsmouth as a logical choice for Mulberry A headquarters despite Portsmouth being a British assembly area.

British forces, of course, would crowd the Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight area to capacity. Argument waxed hot and heavy. In the deadlock resulting an American assembly area near Portsmouth was temporarily chosen at Portland. A tug headquarters was finally established in the small harbor, with the open sweep of nearby Weymouth harbor for possible later use as a parking area for Mulberry structures.

Commander Dennen and Lieutenant Barton moved into the first USN Mulberry operations headquarters, accordingly, in Portland. It was half of a Quonset hut in the Royal Naval Dockyard.

At this time there were about six old USN tugs of the bird class — including the U. S. S. Partridgeb and the U. S. S. Cormorant — and several YMS vessels operating in U. K. waters for eventual assignment to Mulberry A movements. These were ordered to the new Portland base.

Portland billeting quarters were established in the Victoria Hotel. Personnel scraped up from the raid on Drew 3 were ordered there on 1 April, and at last there was an operations headquarters, however fantastically inadequate.

It soon developed that the Army had designs of a large scale for the Portland-Weymouth area. U. S. Force "O" for the assault at Omaha Beach would assemble and embark in  p87 this area. Mulberry's permanent claim to its new base there was highly tentative. Eventually only the Bombardon assembly part of Mulberry under Commander Ard remained in Portland.

However inadequate the base, however temporary the Mulberry tenure, there was at last a completed Phoenix unit to experiment with.

On 27 February two of the bird-class tugs actually took the first Phoenix unit in tow. In calm water the two tugs worked up to a speed just under four knots. However, the chafe of towing gear, the need for heavier wire, chain, and shackles that arose from this first brief and confused experiment cut short Force Mulberry's joy at seeing the water ripple away from the moving sixty-foot-square bow of a Phoenix.

As a result of this first brief towing experiment it was decided that six men would be required on each Phoenix unit under tow to handle fenders and lines. In the towing schedule it was expected that ten Phoenix units would be under tow at one time, ten being sited on the Far Shore and ten being sailed. With a team of sixty men for each group of ten units, three teams of trained riding and handling crews, or 180 men, would be required.

At a meeting in Norfolk House in March, Brigadier Walter of the British War Office assumed responsibility for placing USN Mulberry personnel and Royal Engineer personnel aboard Phoenix units on tow from building sites to parking areas between 1 April and 30 April for training. These teams on the USN side were to be made up of CB personnel furnished by Captain Coryell from Plymouth elements  p88 of the 97th and 25th Regiment U. S. Naval Construction Battalions.

It was felt that Phoenix sinking teams in addition to the riding teams would be needed to the extent of twenty men on each team. The theory that these particularly critical crews would be given some training seemed doomed to fall far short of its goal. In fact, only two‑thirds of the personnel planned originally were ever produced, even after the negotiations for CB's with Admiral Wilkes were concluded. Of these only the smallest fraction ever had sea trial experience before the actual operation itself.

It now transpired that another problem long foreseen would actually occur as a reality. The Admiralty advised that no moorings for Phoenix units could be produced. The only way out of this dilemma seemed to be to sink the Phoenix units temporarily in an assembly area, where they would remain safely till required on D‑day. The raising of the sunken caissons would be accomplished by Royal Engineers with special pumping equipment built into two Dutch vessels. This pumping equipment would have to be of vast capacity to raise a sunken Phoenix, but the British accepted its provision as a commitment.

Whale training which had been going forward under Lieutenant Freeburn very sporadically in Scotland because of the unavailability of USN CB personnel was now transferred to Portsmouth. In nearby Southampton the Lobnitz piers would be towed from their manufacturing site in Leith to be fitted with their 60‑foot spud legs. Hence Whale and Lobnitz training could be grouped.

But in the Lobnitz training, again both a shortage of structures and personnel for training handicapped progress.  p89 For each Lobnitz pierhead, a CB crew of fifteen men was visualized. But there still were no piers available even at the end of March, and a two‑week further delay in furnishing the first pierhead was anticipated.

This began to look like another insurmountable training problem, for the Lobnitz piers between decks were a maze of complicated Diesel electric hoisting gear. Their skilled handling was obviously essential. The earliest promised delivery date of one structure was placed at 15 April. So brief a time for maintenance and operating familiarization was certainly a hazard of large potential consequence. In the end only one officer and crew were ever even partially trained in Lobnitz operation before sailing for the Far Shore in the actual invasion.

As a disturbing indication of the difficulties of the production in war‑strained U. K., the number of Lobnitz pierheads available for the U. S. harbor by this time had shrunk to six.

Whale bridging equipment was being put together at Richborough and Marchwood. It was agreed that to help speed this schedule three hundred CB personnel would be assigned to Richborough to work on construction and at the same time learn the details of the structures. As completed bridge units were fitted on pontoons they would be floated and towed away to assembly areas.

Each 800‑foot tow train was estimated to require a riding crew of six men. These men again were unavailable.

Two days after the Norfolk House meeting under Brigade Walter, Lieutenant Commander Langevin had been unable to reach the Brigadier by phone or in person. However, Admiral Tennant as RAM/P had now designated two  p90 RN officers to co‑ordinate with the Admiralty Mulberry's growing towing responsibilities — Commander Silcock, RN, to deal with Phoenix units and Commander Kitkat, RN, to deal with Whale.

About this time also a highly co‑operative and sympathetically inclined officer in charge of Mulberry tugs for the British side, one Lieutenant Commander Vaughn, RNR, appeared on RAM/P's staff as a towing expert. He further helped the Mulberry A liaison officer, Lieutenant Commander Endt, pick up scraps of information about tug movements which in turn gave clues to training opportunities. Lieutenant Commander Vaughn later was to prove invaluable in his always honest, if impolitic, revelations of acute tug shortages and allocations.

In the middle of March, seven of the YMS "towing vessels" which the U. S. had promised arrived. The number of ocean-going tugs had grown to eight. The U. S. Army had six small 85‑foot harbor ST tugs it was willing to allocate to Mulberry.

These tender ST's, vessels of 750 hp., were manned by civilian crews, signed on in the States for non‑combat duty. The tugs themselves were inadequately equipped. They had one 800‑pound anchor, but no hawse pipe and no cable nor any windlass with which to weigh an anchor once down. They had no compasses and no charts. Most of the civilian crews had virtually no towing experience. Some of these same tugs later on, while under control of the Army, lost their way so completely as to fall into enemy hands off the Channel Islands, many miles off their course. But they were at least tugs.

Three more U. S. Navy and six U. S. Army ocean tugs were  p91 supposed to be en route to the U. K. from the U. S. Thus twenty-four of a needed huge fleet of tugs were all that could be counted on for the present. Portland's docking, fueling and repair space to handle the vessels now based there was already inadequate.

Leaving the U. S. area of Portland for a British area such as Portsmouth was not a wholly welcome idea. Force Mulberry was an unwanted orphan, even by its flag brothers in an American area. The prospect of dealing with the King's Harbour Master, the NCSO,​3 and the many necessarily time-consuming British procedures in a principal British Naval base and dockyard was certainly not attractive. But in the spirit of facing facts, orders were requested and issued creating a U. S. Mulberry training and assembly headquarters at Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight area at Peel Bank. British Mulberry B followed suit and also settled in this area.

Much to the startled chagrin of C‑in‑C Portsmouth's operations staff, there was a meeting in early April at the Portsmouth Tactical School Building. Here Mulberry's staggering berthing and mooring requirements were made known. It seemed again strange and remarkable to the USN officers that Mulberry requirements should come as such a shock and that its overriding priority should take so much persuasion when all plans clearly set them forth.

While accepting the inevitable with as good grace as possible, C‑in‑C Portsmouth felt that the accommodation of the large Phoenix units in the Isle of Wight area in water of suitable depth was really impossible. So while he undertook to provide an area for assembling the seven and a half  p92 miles of Whale bridging units, the Lobnitz pierheads and the tugs in the area off the Isle of Wight, the Phoenix units were pushed out into the cold of the open Channel, at nearby Selsey Bill.

What would happen in the event of an E‑boat enemy raid or a storm in this unprotected area, no one would discuss. There simply was no answer.

On 16 April Captain Andrewes, as Deputy Chief of Staff for C‑in‑C Portsmouth, called a meeting in the Tactical School at Portsmouth to consider the overwhelming demands for fueling, berthing, supply of boatswain gear arising out of Mulberry requirements. At this meeting came the first realistic facing of the actual situation.

One influential member of British Administrative Staff had sought to dispose of the problem of a tug supply depot by creating a headquarters ship out of old S. S. Aorangi, an idea beloved by the administrative captain whose fascination might be traced to the simple desire to be on a ship again.

At this time thinking about tugs had changed from how many were required to how many could be secured. Estimates eventually ranged from 130 to 152 tugs assigned to Mulberry.

A sea tug capable of towing large Mulberry elements was a reasonably large vessel with a crew of up to twenty people. Supply and maintenance of tugs in any such number as proposed for Mulberry with their needs for repair, fuel, water, spare crews, supplies, extra towing wire, were prodigious. How any such fleet could be served by coming alongside one merchant ship seemed to the USN personnel present hardly possible to propose to responsible officers. At the most six  p93 tugs might be so served; not fifty and certainly not one hundred and fifty. A shore depot of some sort would have to be established. Meanwhile to the consternation of some, the S. S. Aorangi was designated by C‑in‑C Portsmouth to act as tug supply depot.

Diligent research by the U. S. Force Mulberry staff for a tug base continued, however. An abandoned signal tower on top of a cinema at Lee‑on‑Solent was discovered. It faced the outer harbor of Portsmouth and would be a strategic control point for the coming large fleet of tugs. While the blessed Aorangi idea could not be killed, assignment of this tower was fortunately affirmed by C‑in‑C.

In a report of this meeting the U. S. Mulberry representative's words indicated a repetition of some of the frustrations of London days:

While concern of your representative was to avoid the overall situation so far as possible and concentrate on arrangements for USN vessels, the USN interests are inexorably entangled with utter lack of imagination and visualization of responsibilities of the whole which seems to beset this operation wherever one turns.

Even with the tug anchorage area off Lee‑on‑Solent, with signal facilities installed in the tower and the cinema theater used for storage, the actual water area involved could still not handle more than sixty tugs at one time and these on short stay. This meant scattering the fleet with attendant difficulty of control.

To meet the tug refueling problems, the British offered facilities in Southampton. To envisage use of the thickly crowded narrow Southampton Water by tugs seeking to refuel  p94 in the heavy traffic near D‑day was almost unthinkable, aside from the serious waste in tug hours incurred by bringing them all the way around from Selsey Bill, where their Phoenix tows would be.

Supply, as could be seen from the proposal of Aorangi as a tug headquarters, had not been thought through. But the communication burden loomed as an even greater source of confusion and delay. The facilities assigned were utterly inadequate. As the U. S. report of a Portsmouth meeting observed:

Communication has not been thought out at all. They seem not to have thought of telephone lines. Selsey must be able to talk to the tug base at Lee to call for tugs — and communication with Whale Bridging on Peel Bank must be established. This factor is not mentioned in the minutes, but private inquiry of Captain Sinker (Signal Officer) at Southwick​4 indicates the matter has not been brought up at all and equipment is short.

As the whole business of Mulberry came down to the short strokes, inadequacies long anticipated in London were arising and many new ones besides. Basically most of the difficulties were due to inherent shortages. Resourcefulness in devising substitute measures was hampered by the same old obstacles of security having cloaked the true dimensions of the Mulberry enterprise. If security had not concealed the issues, then the bewildering chain of command — through having by‑passed necessary people — made for ignorance of needs.

As the Portsmouth report plainly reflects in its conclusion, there was much good will on the British side:

 p95  I do not mean to convey that these C‑in‑C people are uncooperative. Far from it! But it is shocking that the forthcoming problems were not more clearly presented to them weeks and months ago. We shall find some way to deal with each item. A better lot I've never worked with. But the time is too late to make more than homeward-found patchwork of a job that is crucial.

For a Mulberry A operations and staff headquarters,​5 two small offices in a shack next the latrine on the North Wing of the Admiralty House were cleaned out. One telephone line was run in. When communication requirements outran the capacity of this single telephone line, one could walk across the grass quadrangle to the accommodating signal Wrens in the Tactical School Building and write a dispatch in pencil longhand for telegraphic transmission when traffic permitted. In the later stages of work in Portsmouth it was often quicker to take a jeep ninety miles to London than attempt to use the busy wires.

Early in April the development on the U. S. side that has been touched on in connection with the CB personnel problems occurred. Adm. John Wilkes, USN, was set up as Commander 11th Amphibious Force, Task Force 127, with his headquarters in Plymouth, and Mulberry A received a new layer of Naval command by being placed under Task Force 127 as Task Group 127.1. This really separated Captain Clark from his staff and the new operations center in Portsmouth.

To continue the battle for men and material and to write his final operational order so they would phase into the assault plans, Captain Clark, with only his chief yeoman and  p96 his aide, Lt. Macy Smith, to help, went to Hamoaze House in Plymouth.

Here in Plymouth he had to deal with Admiral Kirk as Task Force Commander 122, Admiral Wilkes, his new intermediate Task Force Commander, and Admirals Hall and Moon as naval heads of the assault areas at the two American beaches. In a normal week in the spring of 1944, appeasing his bosses and consulting, integrating, and informing assault area commanders and planners could be managed in two to three days of the week. A night ride to Portland made possible a visit and inspection of Commander Ard's Bombardon group.

An early morning start to Portsmouth came next, where it could easily take a full day to get up to date on the latest problems there. There was tug headquarters at Lee-on‑Solent to check on and likely a visit with RAM/P to plead for more structures for training; some time with the communications personnel at Fort Southwick, on whom in the operation so much would depend; a visit to Selsey Bill to hear the latest grim details on the Phoenix assembly area. The CB's on the Isle of Wight had problems that usually needed discussion. This left a little time for conference in London with various elements of the U. S. Army, Admiral Stark's XII Fleet staff, and the Admiralty. Lieutenant Hoague might value some hours with him on his work with the ships for Gooseberry.

As D‑day approached RAM/P did not hesitate to order his American subordinate in for conference at any time, while Admiral Wilkes insisted on his presence on complete tours of inspection. Captain Clark's time was cut into such  p97  small fractions that it is fair to say he hardly had time to digest any one problem thoroughly.

Underneath all of these chain of command contacts he found the pervading idea that Mulberry was not needed and that it could never be really completed. If allowed to develop, this cynicism could easily undermine the pending pleas for personnel, tugs, ships and equipment.

Only the Ahab-like figure of Dayton Clark could have lived through such a schedule, kept the principal details sorted out in his mind. For administration and operations in the Portsmouth area, which included Southampton, Isle of Wight, Peel Bank and Selsey, he could rely on his deputy commander of Force Mulberry. In the Gooseberry and Bombardon operations he was fortunate to have junior officers capable of decisions. But the total pressure was bound to fall on him, and the lines began to cut deeper in his face — his manner grew more and more peremptory and abrupt.

Lieutenant Hoague and his Gooseberry Operation stayed in London in the old Number Eight Grosvenor Square headquarters to be near his opposite numbers in the War Shipping Administration and the hearty, ever-obliging Capt. Jim Devlin of WSA, who was delighted at the thought of a combat role for his beloved cargo ships.

By 8 March Lieutenant Hoague had twenty‑six ships firmed for Mulberry allocation, assuring 10,000 linear feet of breakwater against requirements of 9,000 ft. It was decided to fit the ships with ballast, extra 20‑mm. AA guns and explosive charges in their U. K. port of discharge, and after fitting to assemble them in the northern ports of Oban and Methil.

Phoenix progress received a substantial, if belated, forward  p98 step when the second towing trials, on March 6 and 7 with new experimental towing gear invented by the Portsmouth staff, revealed the sensational fact that one tug of 1,000 hp., not two, could tow a Phoenix. Actually a speed of three knots in calm water was attained.

One Phoenix unit in this first March practice drill was sunk on the Brambles Bank. All scuttling valves worked smoothly. After one initial nerve-cracking lurch, the unit remained stable during the critical settling period.

Force Mulberry staff, however, were really quite shaken when a new U. S. salvage tug, with all her salvage pumps aboard the sunken caisson, failed to raise it some days later. There was still no word of the two mysterious Dutch ships with their super-pumping equipment which had been promised to meet this problem.

In March the Phoenix construction schedule for Mulberry A grew realistic. It was reduced from thirty-four to thirty‑one units. The nineteen spares to allow for enemy action were eliminated. Spares seemed essential as estimates of loss from enemy action had been figured at ten to twenty per cent, which seemed conservative. The then estimated capacity of the German Air Force and E‑boat surface forces would find these big, slow targets easy and obvious marks. Several smaller Phoenix units were canceled and intermediate Phoenix scheduled from Stokes Bay had to be dropped from the plan.

These reductions in Phoenix construction schedules called for corresponding changes in Mulberry harbor design. The smaller number of breakwater units could only mean reducing the area of sheltered water.

About this time the Army Transportation Corps as  p99 the result of tests reduced its estimated rate of overside cargo discharge into duckws, barges and Rhino ferries from ten tons per hatch per hour to six tons. The combined effect of these changes was to reduce estimates of Mulberry capacity by 1,000 tons per day below the previous estimated rate.

This fact produced no immediate repercussions from the higher command, in spite of the strictures the planners had laid down on absolute minimum needs.

In the meantime it had become gradually accepted that a date late in May or early in June was now the likely date for D‑day rather than early May. This extra breathing space in the now crowded time period brought some relief to the anxious minds of those concerned.

With Phoenix units actually arriving in the parking area off Selsey Bill Beach and a few bridging units moored on Peel Bank off the Isle of Wight, two YMS's were ordered to Portsmouth to act as Mulberry headquarters ships so that assembly areas around Portsmouth could be promptly visited, tugs inspected and orders delivered without waiting for the signal towers to transmit.

The early days of April brought warm sun and sparkling summer-like weather on the water. The two midget USN ships, with their stores of frozen beef, butter and fruit, rapidly became popular in the Portsmouth area. Various members of the RAM/P staff now moving into headquarters near Fort Southwick, in the hills overlooking Portsmouth, visited aboard and passed on valuable bits of information on construction progress, tugs and plans. The half-starved staff of C‑in‑C Portsmouth, on whose good will depended so much, were willing guests on the morning inspection runs and  p100 always stayed for lunch. The steward's mates outdid themselves.

The highly maneuverable little YMS's were always smartly handled by their young skippers and won appreciative nods from passing British Naval craft in the narrow channel.

Through their ever-full food lockers and beef, generously but unknowingly supplied by the U. S. Army supply depot at Southampton, strong friendships developed. Suddenly hitherto unprocurable chain and shackles, even rare binoculars, appeared from His Majesty's Dockyard storehouse, issued on chits signed by Force Mulberry's most junior officers.


The Author's Notes:

1 U. S. Naval Construction Battalion, the famous Seabees.

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2 ComNavEu letter to ComLanCrabEu 8 Dec. 1943. Letter from CTF 122 to ComNavEu 5 March 1944 put requirements yet to be made available at 68 officers, 1,288 men exclusive of medical, supply and communication personnel.

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3 Naval Control Shipping Officer.

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4 Fort Southwick, in the hill back of Portsmouth, headquarters for ANCXF in the invasion period and for RAM/P's British staff.

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5 For organization and task assignment of personnel in Portsmouth at this period, see Appendix One.


Thayer's Notes:

a Charles Russell Dennen (June 4, 1898 – October 7, 1984). He is buried in Beechbrook Cemetery, Gloucester, Mass.

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b In the earliest days of the landing, the U. S. S. Partridge rescued a sinking LCT, and on June 8 she towed a Whale to Omaha Beach; but about 10 miles from shore on June 11, 1944 she herself was torpedoed and sunk by an E‑boat: 35 of her 90 crew were killed, and many of the survivors were seriously injured. The ship, her history, and her crew are documented in detail, with many photographs and survivor accounts, at USS Partridge Archive and the related and overlapping site linked there, "A Bird in the Deep • The True Story of the USS Partridge".


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