Monday, August 15, 2011

“The Key to the Liberation of Europe”

The small town of Arromanches is known in the D-Day world for one major (and I mean major) part of the invasion and liberation of Normandy – Port Winston. When the Allies planned to attack the beaches and gained a beachhead, they knew it was essential to create artificial ports to allow for continuous transport of men, machine, and material to France. Since the major ports of Cherbourg and Antwerp were still in German hands, the lack of a port would make the invasion all for naught. Perhapts that’s why the plaque at the Musee du Debarquement (Landing Museum) prominently states that Port Winston (named for Churchill) was “The Key to the Liberation of Europe”.

How did the Allied engineers do it? Ingenuity, old ships, and a whole lot of steel and concrete. Multiple retired naval craft and huge hollow concrete barriers were towed across the channel and sunk parallel to the coast to create a breakwater (think about the breakwater around the port in downtown Milwaukee). Huge steel bridges were transported in and floated on pontoons, allowing vehicles large and small to drive onto the beach and head inland to both battle the Germans and create landing strips and causeways for more movement.

The concrete barriers were nicknamed “mulberries”, turning the two ports (one further west on Omaha) into Mulberry Harbors. The Omaha Beach harbor was destroyed in huge storm two weeks after D-Day, but the one at Arromanches continued to be essential to Allied success until the war moved to the East and Antwerp was liberated. Those harbors were an amazing feat of engineering, and the historic images are awesome. At the site today, you can still see some of the phoenix caissons off the coast – a pretty cool sight.

1 comment:

  1. Chuck:

    You have brought life to historic moments with terrific descriptive, in depth, comments. Your enthusiasm for the trip comes shining through.

    Your experiences and blogs are worthy of a PhD, but I know that that there are other tracks that must be followed. Regardless, your students will reap the benefits of your trip.

    With pride,