The Mulberry harbours were artificially-constructed floating docks that enabled ships carrying vital supplies, military vehicles and troops to safely anchor off the French coast, on a stretch of land lacking any safe harbours. They were designed and constructed in secrecy by around 200,000 British engineers in the seven months leading up to the landing on 6th June 1944, and helped soldiers who recall ‘fighting the sea’ at the same time as they battled against the German army.
Construction company Wates Group has now unearthed a series of rare images from its archive of its engineers constructing the harbours in the lead up to one of the most significant moments in the Allied war effort. Wates made a significant contribution during the war building aerodromes, army camps and factories. Having developed a specialty in pre-cast concrete structures, Wates supplied the concrete pier and pierhead pontoons for the Mulberry harbours.
The floating harbours were designed and built at yards and docks across the country including at Southampton, in Mitcham and the West India Docks, before they were assembled at Selsey in Sussex and towed across the channel to Normandy in sections after completion in April 1944.
Wates was among an alliance of British companies that joined forces to build the harbours. Wates was particularly involved in the construction of the concrete piers and pontoons known as ‘Beetles’. While one harbour was destroyed in a storm after just a couple of days, the second was operational for 10 months, making a significant contribution to the Allied war effort. In total, the harbour enabled 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies to land before it was decommissioned.
As the international community marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Wates has worked with D-Day Revisited – a charity established to commemorate the anniversary – to create a film celebrating the harbours and the British servicemen and women who used them. [See foot of page.]
Historian and author Guy Walters said: “When you think of inventions during the Second World War you think of the bouncing bomb, you think of radar, but for my money Mulberry harbours are right up there. They’re a classic example of British ingenuity and inventiveness.”
Wates Group chairman James Wates said: “Wates has a proud history as an innovator in construction, and nowhere is this more evident than our involvement with building the Mulberry harbours. I remember my grandfather [Sir Ronald Wates] speaking to me about them when I was a boy, and I know he was so proud of what we were able to do.”