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Chapter 6

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 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p101  Chapter VII

"We must . . . rely . . . upon technical surprise."

"I put forward my project in very general terms, merely pointing out since the French ports were strongly defended, we could not achieve strategical surprise or even tactical surprise. We must to some extent rely instead upon technical surprise."

— Letter from Rear Adm. J. Hughes-Hallett, Chief of Naval Planning Staff, Operation Neptune

Phoenix tows arriving from the manufacturing sites signaled the Selsey Bill control point by blinker. On the beach in the hot May sunshine, clad in a dirty sweat shirt, stood the immense un‑naval-like hulk of Lt. Fred Barton, USNR, scanning the horizon. Back of him was a concrete dugout with a signal rating standing by his lamp, and back of that on the low shingle of the beach was a summer cottage where SNO​1 Selsey, a retired RN captain, fumed at the choked telephone that was always busy.  p102 Thoughts about the American Naval lieutenant on the beach too murderous for mention burned in his soul.

The sea tugs could not bring the Phoenix and Whale units in close enough for siting in the shoal parking area at Selsey. Accordingly Lieutenant Barton had two U. S. Army ST harbor tugs standing by to relieve the sea tugs. Now in the middle of May tows were arriving night and day. Lieutenant Barton, who believed firmly in action, had taken over from his British superior. There was not a single dispatch boat or even rowboat on the beach for the British SNO to make the shore-to‑ship trip. Lieutenant Barton in spite of British superior command had a monopoly on facilities in that the two tugs were U. S., and for the time being the only signal ratings were U. S.

C‑in‑C Portsmouth conceded Lieutenant Barton's piratical moves in a statesmanlike dispatch dated 6 May: "Intend granting U. S. request to receive and berth all incoming Phoenix units at Selsey."

Lieutenant Barton's triumph was dimmed only by a severe case of shingles, aggravated by the sweat shirt in these warm days and by the impossibility of much connected sleep.

The Phoenixes were towed neatly into a row in shoal water and sunk under the lieutenant's watchful eye and busy signal lamp. The Whale units for Lieutenant Freeburn over on Peel Bank were routed there.

To help him consolidate his position, Deputy Commander Mulberry from Portsmouth sent Lieutenant Barton a dispatch dated 9 May that ten duckws had been requested by ComNavEu from the U. S. Army for use in the Selsey area. Thus ship-to‑shore transport for sinking crews and maintenance  p103 personnel would be at last provided. When three — not ten — duckws eventually arrived, Barton was truly king.

Another signal​2 from Portsmouth promised him up to ten ST tugs. After the civilian tug personnel had worked four days and nights, it had become very hard to induce them to return from Southampton fueling trips promptly. The extra tugs could fill in for the runaways.

Out in the Selsey assembly area, from the converted side-wheeler excursion steamer Queen of Thanet, Commander Silcock, RN, watched over his Phoenix units with a stoic, long-chinned face while Commander Kitkat, RN, nimble and ebullient, kept the tally on arriving Whale units.

An unattached destroyer man, Lieutenant Commander Fintel, USNR, had been discovered by old friends in London and shipped to the Portsmouth Mulberry headquarters for duty. He took over the "operations room" in the Lee‑on‑Solent signal tower, and with one signal lamp and one telephone discovered to his dismay that this was a different war from the one he was accustomed to as he tried to route and control the growing fleet of sea tugs. It was difficult enough to decide what to do in this highly assorted tug fleet, with each tugmaster an individualist of the first water and with Dutch, British, USN, U. S. Army and civilian tugs each having their own peculiar methods.

The third area of Portsmouth operations, a place known as Rester's Holiday Camp on the Isle of Wight, had been offered as billeting quarters for CB's concerned with mooring  p104 and tending Whale units on nearby Peel Bank. The absence of drinking water, bedding and telephone was too minor a matter to bring even a smile of sympathy for CB Commander Collier as he presented his troubles in the miniature Portsmouth Mulberry headquarters office.

Between the area of Portsmouth and Peel Bank off the Isle of Wight, where the miles of Whale bridging were accumulating, and the Phoenix parking area off Selsey Bill, two SC craft — twin-screw wooden sub chasers, the U. S. S. 1329 and U. S. S. 1352 — served as Mulberry flagships afloat. They replaced the YMS's which had departed to Portsmouth to be refitted for minesweeping duty in the assault. Not only did these SC's maintain but they extended Force Mulberry's reputation for hospitality.

A remarkable new trading discovery was made. Gin was plentiful in the British fleet assembling now at Spithead, where the two little ships frequently passed, while frozen beef was not. A very simple bit of exchange made possible an occasional meal with a civilized prelude on the bridge of SC 1352. This touch subdued U. S. Army officers from Southampton who objected to USN theft of their ST tugs. It mollified outraged British harbor officials who objected to CB's bringing a beloved bulldozer over to Peel Bank on a Rhino ferry without noticing harbor traffic signals set against them in the narrow Portsmouth channel. It helped bring forgiveness to the hearts of unhappy staff officers on C‑in‑C Portsmouth staff who missed certain mooring gear overnight.

The popularity of SC 1352 and her young captain, Lieutenant Dieckerhoff, and the 1329, commanded by Lieutenant Stover, as they made their swift rounds each day between Selsey, Portsmouth and Peel Bank, was such that  p105 British destroyers would play "Yankee Doodle" over their loud hailer system as they approached with their blue-and‑white code flags, Mike Able (Mulberry A) proudly snapping at the yardarms.

Problems continued to intensify due to the now complete impossibility of communication. Even with the allocation of six fast rescue boats from the Coast Guard, operations were always getting out of hand. Tugs and tows wandered without instructions till they were rounded up by a Force Mulberry officer in one of the SC's.

In May the communication failure was dramatically demonstrated. A dry run of sailing orders for the D‑day embarkation was attempted by RAM/P from Fort Southwick ANCXF headquarters. Captain Clark came up from Plymouth in an all‑night ride. All hands were alerted, all circuits guarded. But communication traffic was so heavy that no signals were transmitted to the SC flagships until the day after the exercise was supposed to be over!

The day on the water did not relax Captain Clark as he viewed the Whale bridging arriving with sunken pontoons and heard the lamentations of the WSA tug captains, who had been unable to drydock in Portsmouth for voyage repairs after crossing the Atlantic.

However, the one central problem which nobody wished to discuss was the fact that nothing had been seen or heard of the two Dutch vessels that were supposed to contain the pumping equipment of extraordinary capacity to raise the sunken Phoenix. All salvage gear to date had failed to lift them, even after critical buoyancy was reached. The floating of these firmly grounded concrete monsters, even after letting them drain with the falling tide and then closing  p106 their valves to get the full assistance of their buoyancy from the incoming tide, remained an unsolved problem.

Captain Flanigan, in London, by now nearly deafened by the roars of pain from Force Mulberry personnel, gave up replying to messages and memoranda. An emissary from Portsmouth, however, reached him by jeep through the tank traffic now jamming the London-Portsmouth road. As usual, he softened and offered a suggestion. Why not consider raising the Phoenix a salvage problem? It was then agreed that the Mediterranean salvage expert, Capt. Edward Ellsberg, USN, would be summoned from the States, where he was recuperating from the rigors of his incredible months in the Red Sea and at Oran.

On arrival at Selsey a few days later, Captain Ellsberg's quiet and selfless approach to the problem charmed the deputy commander of Force Mulberry and the even more cynical Lieutenant Barton. Tugmasters readily gave Captain Ellsberg fullest co‑operation. By using compressed air hoses to release bottom suction, taking advantage of the tide, and employing every salvage pump and handy billy that could be borrowed or stolen, the Mulberry officers aboard the salvage tug U. S. S. Diver (ARS 5) had the satisfaction of seeing a Phoenix actually rise dripping from the bottom and stagger drunkenly into a floating position. This beautiful sight brought cheer to the weary and dogged men who had conquered all other obstacles in the Selsey battle.

The Phoenix units now were appearing with a new element added. A large circular gun mount superstructure was being placed in the center of each unit, with a 40‑mm. antiaircraft gun on top.

The degree of Luftwaffe attack in the invasion had been  p107 the subject of much hot debate in Norfolk House planning. Estimates ran around 1,200 to 2,000 sorties per day in the assault, not diminishing appreciably until D + 11. Since Mulberry was destined to sail on D‑day and since the slow moving tows would make excellent targets, the appearance of the AA armament on the Phoenix units made the CB riding crews feel a little more comfortable about the prospective Channel passage. Furthermore, in place at Omaha, the Phoenix would create a substantial defense ring around the small craft and prevent strafing and low‑level bomb runs by the enemy on the beachhead.

This new development, however, meant that army gun crews on each unit had to be supported with stores. Over eight tons of ammunition had to be ferried out, then placed aboard. This meant a new burden on the available craft at Selsey and brought forth an irate signal from Plymouth on 11 May; "Coast Guard cutters assigned by CTF 122 are not repeat not to be used as work boats. They are assigned for dispatch duty only." The piracy of the desperate men on Selsey Bill was not confined, it seems, to the attack on Army and British resources.

Other precautions against expected air attack considered by the planners in Norfolk House included smoke ships to blow their greasy clouds over Mulberry. But in the days before D‑day, smoke was tried in the Portsmouth area. It created unutterable chaos and confusion among the hundreds of milling landing craft, tows and merchant ships, effectively blocking all visual signaling from Horse Sand Fort and Spithead signal towers. Smoke was fortunately never tried in Normandy.

About this time it was felt that Commander Dennen had  p108 contributed as much as he could to the towing techniques in Portsmouth. Lieutenant Freeburn, with his great bosun, Ensign Hodge, an old‑time naval character, and two old Navy chief petty officers, had the long lines of Whale units moored at Peel as nearly under control as any human could. Lieutenant Barton's exploits at Selsey were in a class by themselves. So Commander Dennen was assigned to Lieutenant Hoague's Corn Cob Operation up north in Oban with the blockships. This was further made practical by a ComNavEu signal dated 16 May, to the effect that the long-sought services of Capt. Ed Moran, USNR, were now available to take over tug operation. This signal placed all USN, RN, Ministry of War Transport, U. S. Army and WSA tugs engaged in Mulberry operation under his control. Along with his assignment came news of seven new ocean-going WSA tugs released from duty in the States for Mulberry.

Captain Moran's assignment as the overall tug controller was initially felt to be a blow to Force Mulberry, which so desperately needed technical towing experience. While it was an exalted job, with high honor for Captain Moran, real help was needed on the waterfront.

Captain Moran met Captain Clark's urgent plea by suggesting the outstanding New York harbor tugmaster come over, one Lieutenant Commander Bassett. Captain Moran indicated Lieutenant Commander Bassett's limited knowledge of naval procedure, but placed his skill second to none in the world in handling heavy dead-weight objects with towboats. Captain Clark readily agreed, and Lieutenant Commander Bassett was in Portsmouth the next week.

Later on this contribution of Captain Moran's was to rank second only to his miraculous ability to produce large  p109 sea tugs from his former colleagues in the War Shipping Administration.

There was some natural resentment at Captain Moran's late arrival. Had he been on hand during all the experimental work of the assembly period, much time could have been saved and technique vastly improved. However, in one day's visit in Portsmouth, as he nimbly scrambled over the structures and talked to the men on tugs, his trained mind and seaman's eye caught many vital defects in the towing gear and brought forth suggestions that were highly practical and eminently useful.

With the heavy responsibility of all tug allocation, Captain Moran had only brief hours for consultation on the actual waterfront. London and the headquarters of ANCXF at Fort Southwick claimed him until after the D‑day tows were under way. What time he had for actual operations went to the tug operations center at Lee‑on‑Solent, where his experience and quick intelligence proved invaluable to Lieutenant Commander Fintel. By now Lieutenant Commander Fintel had wished good-naturedly a thousand times that he had never been shanghaied into this strange operation. A co‑operative U. S. tugmaster, Major Scott, and a very knowing U. S. civilian towing authority, Mr. Samuel Loveland, were of immense value in assigning tugs in terms of their capabilities.

Captain Clark in the midst of his wearing duties at Plymouth kept reiterating the need to set up on Peel Bank an actual length of bridging connected to an operational Lobnitz pierhead. Actual docking trials, he insisted, must be conducted. The V Army Corps and amphibious commanders quietly assumed all would be well and the structures  p110 would do their work according to design. Captain Clark had the wisdom to insist on a full-scale trial, despite the risk of being photographed by the daily German reconnaissance plane that usually made its way over the Plymouth area in the early afternoon.

But there still were not enough engineers for a trial. Not until after the middle of May was the first operational Lobnitz pier in the hands of its USN crew at Southampton. Captain Clark promptly ordered it to Peel Bank. Looking like a huge water bug with its four retracted spud legs sticking up like giant feelers into the sky, it made a majestic passage down Southampton Water.

On May 23, in plain language rather than code, Naval Commander Western Task Force (Admiral Kirk, CTF 122) made a signal to the various amphibious task force commanders, the 5th Corps, 1st Army, ComNavEu and ANCXF: "Desire immediate full-scale tests Lobnitz Pier using LST loaded with full typical load. CTG 127.1 keep pier assembled. . . . Every effort to be made to establish technique for using pier successfully."

This signal, generated by an obviously desperate Captain Clark through Admiral Kirk, was the first abandonment of the top secret character of Mulberry. From risking a plain language dispatch on to the risk of being photographed by the enemy, Mulberry had come out in the open. The U. K. having been "sealed" — i.e., no incoming or outgoing personnel or mail for a week. Meanwhile with roads and harbor sides of the south coast packed with tanks, vehicles and soldiers — there were few humans on the Island who did not know that D‑day at last was near at hand. The risk was acceptable, although Captain Clark's British superior had  p111 gravest misgivings and would not authorize the trial until it became clear the Americans were going to do it anyway.

By working all night with tugs and flare lamps, Lieutenant Freeburn's men connected two 800‑foot bridge trains of Whale units with a shore ramp at Peel Bank. The USN Lobnitz pierhead was pushed into place at the seaward end of the bridging, with six kidnaped army work boats (MTL's) pushing in the shoal water where no tug could operate.

Notables and high brass, from Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay, ANCXF, himself on down, assembled during the next day. As news of the experiment spread, more and more generals and admirals appeared. Admiral Kirk showed his first real interest in Mulberry.

With the CB's still putting the final touches on bridge couplings, Captain Clark embarked in the British LST with Lieutenant Freeburn and slowly conned her in. The big LST nosed up to the floating ramp on which she must ground her bow.

To the horror of all assembled, it was discovered that, when the tugs and MTL's acting as tugs finally had the LST in position with her bow grounded on the ramp, she could not open her bow doors.

To discover such a fundamental failure at this late date was a bit unnerving. One inevitably wondered — what else?

The bow doors of the LST were trimmed off with an oxyacetylene cutting torch, and after a few hours she got them open. In the meantime, there were so few bollards on the pierhead, and those that were there were in such awkward position for lines to be run, that two tugs had to hold the LST in position.

The critical slope on the buffer pontoon was steep and  p112 the wet reinforcing steel slippery, so that none of the metal-tracked vehicles (tanks, half-tracks, etc.) could make the grade up onto the bridging. To have waited until Normandy to make this discovery would have created a crisis beyond reckoning.

It was eventually found that woven wooden mats could provide the necessary traction, after the personnel concerned recovered from running in circles and the tank drivers from furiously burning up their steel track treads.

The next discovery was that unloading the upper deck of the LST onto the upper wooden ramp on the Lobnitz pier was impossible without cutting away rail stanchions and fittings on the LST.

Tests also showed that many vehicles got cramped in critical turns or belly-bound. This was overcome by painting white traffic lines to show the possible curve for each turn.

The crew operating the complicated machinery of the Lobnitz pier had no manual of printed instructions. Captain Clark pleaded with RAM/P that such manuals be provided as it seemed axiomatic that the proper maintenance and operation of such a nest of intricate machinery could hardly be absorbed by mere inspection.

There was much delay in raising and lowering the pier as the tide changed, and only good luck and a fine mechanical instinct saved the one operational pierhead from destruction. No manual or blueprints, however, were ever produced.

Pages of notes resulted before the tests were concluded. Now, in a matter of days before D‑day, alterations in all LST's as well as in the structures had to be made. It was  p113 not until 28 May that the agreed changes were promulgated by dispatch, and with each day, it seemed, new commands and units to be notified appeared overnight like mushrooms in a meadow.

While struggling night and day to get these modification orders out, Captain Clark was confronted with the need to rewrite many parts of his final detailed operation orders. The strain was plainly beginning to tell on him. It showed in many small ways. Even the most casual orders to his devoted seaman car driver were harshly given. The young officers on the two SC's got stinging rebukes for dust on the overhead. Lt. Macy Smith, who followed Captain Clark about Plymouth plans in hand from one meeting to another, was reaching a mutinous state of mind. He confided to Force Mulberry colleagues at Portsmouth that he expected Captain Clark would never last till D‑day.

Out in Selsey Bill, Lieutenant Barton was struggling to get ammunition hoisted aboard the parked Phoenix units out in the harbor. He had to fight desertion among the tugs stationed in the outer area every night. All available dispatch boats were pressed into use to prevent escape of the unwilling exhausted army tugboat crews at night, while by day they were engaged in ferrying stores out to the army AA gun crews now stationed aboard each Phoenix.

Captain Ellsberg was not too sure of his improvised pumping arrangements. It was a very close thing each time a Phoenix unit was raised. But he kept his worries to himself and each night worked for hours over his calculations.

With Lieutenant Barton's shingles now at their worst, it did not seem that he would last for the operation itself, come D‑day. Some new morale factor was plainly required  p114 to inspire the last ounce of effort he had left. So by dint of much trading and gin a sturdy flagship, a British MFV,​3 was procured for Lieutenant Barton. Once she was delivered to him in the Selsey area, he promptly ordered her British crew off and took charge with his signalmen and USN chief petty officers. Amidst outcries from the British SNO Selsey, an American ensign was run up on her gaff.

The next development at Selsey was a message over Lord Haw Haw's program from Germany "to those USN CB's and soldiers on the concrete caissons off Selsey Bill." The message heard by the none-too‑enthusiastic CB's over their mess hall radio ashore went on soothingly. "We know exactly what you intend to do with those concrete units. You intend to sink them off our coast in the assault. Well we're going to help you, boys. We'll save you some trouble. When you come to get under way, we're going to sink them for you."

The effect of this news was demoralizing in the extreme and there was little anyone could do. Captain Clark made an emergency visit to Selsey to restore confidence, but the CB's remained sure in their hearts that "they were for it," for sure. In the end, the traditional solution to military morale prevailed. Orders were orders — even to suicide. There was always a sufficiently large group who never questioned orders to dampen the ideas of the imaginative.

At Peel Bank, Lieutenant Freeburn found, as had been expected, that the concrete pontoons under the heavy bridging trusses were leaking. Each night now he lost three to six units. It took all his men all day to salvage the sunken pontoons. A despairing signal was sent to Plymouth pleading  p115  for a repair barge, cranes, and extra steel pontoons to help in raising the submerged structures.

There at Peel Bank, too, the security risked by the trial assembly of bridging and piers brought its consequences. Although the Germans seemed never to have fully understood the purpose of the Lobnitz piers or the Whale roadways, they knew these strange objects were in some way a part of the invasion machinery. They made their knowledge of the Peel area known by laying a string of bombs across the Whale units left in position the night after the May 23‑4 trials, as the British had predicted so wisely. However, the damage was slight and Lieutenant Freeburn's men quickly repaired it the next day.

At the Lee‑on‑Solent signal tower, finding that tug control from the S. S. Aorangi was impossible, the British operations group moved in with Lieutenant Commander Fintel, completely overwhelming what little trickle of phone communication was getting through. Visual signals with temporary lamps and couriers were tried. But dispatch boats equipped with bull horn loudspeakers were the final primitive means which the officers at Lee were forced to accept.

About this time, barely ten days before D‑day, with twelve tugs pleading for refit and overhaul before the heavy tows to the assault area started, the entire civilian personnel and all workmen failed to show up at the Royal Naval Dockyards. With bicycles and lunch baskets these tired and uncomplaining men made off to the country with wives, children and sweethearts as if with one accord.

To the startled USN personnel it came as something of a relief to learn from the ever-genial British liaison officer detailed to Mulberry movements, Comdr. Richard Boyle, RN,  p116 that this was Whitsun week end — a matter of three or four days — and more sacred to the customs of the country than even Christmas or Bank Holiday.

In the midst of this confusion and turmoil of the last days of preparation, Captain Clark arrived in the miniature Portsmouth headquarters, dust-stained and weary, on 1 June, with the news that D‑day was at last set for 5 June.

He also brought the news that Force Mulberry survey craft, boom and mooring vessels, command craft — the two SC's — and six tugs would sail D‑day from St. Helen's Roads off the Isle of Wight at 0700. To put a humorous twist on the matter it also turned out that the two Mulberry SC's, whose size and armament were obviously unknown to the British Naval authorities, were designated as additional duty to act as convoy escort to the group of coasters loaded with ammunition for the follow‑up assault wave, Convoy EWC1A. H. M. S. Minster, Brittany, Nerwell, Laverock, Barcombe, Barbain, Barthorpe, Dragonet, Coronatia, Plantagenet and Fossbeck, British bar vessels, were to be used in setting out and laying moorings and coupling bridge trains as required by the plan.

Commander Hunter-Blair, RN, who carried his flag in Minster, was a happy addition to the Force Mulberry staff. The after cabin of Minster was ever ready for a few American "naval types"​4 and under Commander Hunter-Blair's warm and friendly influence, more than one Mulberry staff member was finally won over to liking the Royal Navy's standard drink — pink gin.

For a long time one of Captain Clark's campaigns had been to induce some one of his numerous naval bosses to  p117 allocate a personnel ship to house and feed the CB's of Phoenix sinking teams and Lieutenant Freeburn's Whale personnel. Complaining of the whole underestimation of Mulberry at various staff levels to Commander Hunter-Blair, and citing the lack of a headquarters ship or even a provision for transport of the men as an example, Captain Clark found the Minster at his disposal for the cross-Channel lift.

Having got this side of his personnel lift provided for, there remained the transport of Commander Ard and his Bombardon staff from Portland. RAM/P took care of the lift of the British Bombardon group, but said it was not his responsibility to transport Commander Ard's people. Admiral Kirk seemed equally indifferent. Finally the Admiralty offered two old Thames side-wheeler excursion steamers as additional AA gun platforms. One of these ancient steamers, the Sandown, was fully accepted as an accommodation ship for Commander Ard, in spite of the fact that it was a coal burner with only a three‑day bunker supply.

Commander Ard met this difficulty by arranging for a deck-load of coal to go on the old British battle­ship Centurion, which was to form the outer end of the Gooseberry at Omaha Beach.

Further details of the operation were now finally settled and known.

Blockships would start arriving in the assault area by 1200 of D + 1 for sinking at Omaha and Utah. The first Phoenix and Whale bridging tows were scheduled to arrive D + 2. This, according to all the intelligence Force Mulberry had received, would mean that the job of installing Mulberry A might well begin before the beachhead was secure and while swept channels were still vague and hazardous.

 p118  Detail operation orders and code books were in two sealed, weighted canvas bags, each weighing nearly thirty pounds.

The last four days of bright weather passed in frantic last-minute patchwork and inspection.

It seemed that none of the CB personnel detailed as riding crews or operation personnel for the Lobnitz pierheads could resist loading one extra crane or one extra coil of wire or one extra bulldozer. The job of securing these extra objects and many lesser pieces of gear and equipment so as to be ready for sea, required an ever-watchful eye. Lashing down and securing for sea is an art. With Mulberry CB's it was lacking even at the sea scout level. Many men had never heard of a bowline, let alone a clove hitch or a square knot.

Under the pressure of final preparations, officers of Force Mulberry were rescued from despair by exhaustion. They began to adopt unconsciously the civil servant's traditional view. They would soon leave the assembly areas in other hands. It would be some other Joe's worry to unsnarl the chaos.

Just as Force Mulberry had moved from London with planning incomplete and with that move shed some of the anxiety and foreboding, now they received the combat shots of tetanus antitoxin with a sense of relief. They stowed their steel helmets and gasproof clothing with a sense of fatalistic serenity. Soon Force Mulberry would be leaving Portsmouth. That their course lay toward new and this time possibly fatal difficulty was lost in the relief of moving itself.

One touching remembrance of London came through the heavily choked roads about this time. Two cases of whisky arrived with (now) Commodore Flanigan's compliments,  p119 marked for embarkation on each of the SC's "in case you catch cold."

The weather fortunately remained clear as D‑day approached, continuing the sunny skies of May. But on the evening of pre‑D‑day, 4 June, a gale accompanied by rain set in. Some of the first wave of assault craft were under way for the Far Shore. Seasick soldiers, huddled behind the bulwarks of the crowded landing craft, shivered and stared cheerlessly out at the gray rain-swept harbor. No one gazing at these miserable men could feel much confidence that after days of this, they could ever fight.

Fortunately in time, a twenty-four hour postponement signal was received. D‑day would be 6 June.

On the evening of 5 June the weather cleared slightly. But a high wind and rough sea continued.

At 1900 on 5 June, Captain Clark, his deputy commander, and Lieutenants Paige, Rubel, and Smith decided to try the comfort of a bed in the Queens Hotel for the last night ashore, in an overwhelming realization that sleep might be as vital as life itself in the crowded days to come. Three alarm clocks were set for four A.M.

Notions of sleep were short-lived. At midnight German pathfinder planes flew in through the clouds low over Portsmouth and dropped one Chandelier flare after another over the assembled invasion fleet. The whole scene finally seemed more brightly illuminated than on the clearest midday.

Kneeling by the open window, ready to duck at the whistle of a near bomb, Force Mulberry's staff in the Queens Hotel felt sure that the whole invasion must now be known to the Germans. All element of surprise had surely been destroyed.

 p120  All the various details of the elaborate Mulberry enterprise so carefully integrated with the assault plan would run amuck if the whole fleet were to sail against an alerted shore. The invasion fleet would never have a chance to regroup itself and create a new schedule. In the early morning, the vanguard of the assault force would sail out through the rough channel seas straight into waiting German guns. What else could possibly await them on arrival off the cliffs of the Norman coast now? What was left for the Germans to know? By the time Mulberry arrived on D + 1, the entire assault might well have failed.

These thoughts had the force of seemingly inescapable logic. It was a welcome relief when Lieutenant Rubel dispelled the train of thought by reminding all hands of a new directive that had just been issued that day. All naval personnel were to paint the letters "USN" six inches high on their work clothes, front and back, so as to prevent being confused with the enemy. White paint instead of black, as previously ordered, was to be used.

From somewhere a can of white paint and a brush were produced and the letters were painted over, somewhat shakily.


The Author's Notes:

1 Senior Naval Officer.

[decorative delimiter]

2 "Four U. S. Army ST tugs now assigned to you for receiving inbound units. Two additional will report 13 May to relieve tugs for fuel or stores. Further ST tugs up to ten will be assigned to you as soon as available."

[decorative delimiter]

3 Motor Fishing Vessel.

[decorative delimiter]

4 British naval slang for Americans in naval uniform.


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