In December 1943, construction commenced in the UK of components for pre-fabricated artificial harbours to be sited on the coast of Normandy for the supply of Allied forces to be landed in ‘Operation Overlord’, the invasion of Europe which started 6th June 1944.
It was initially thought that a workforce of 30,000 people would be needed to build these components, however at peak effort, 45,000 people were employed nationwide in building the diverse parts.
The different units had a variety of code names eg ‘Phoenixes’ which were concrete caissons; ‘Bombardons’ were steel tanks and ‘Gooseberries’ old ships used as breakwaters.
At Wivenhoe, two ‘Whales’, pier heads were built on the marshland area, now known as Old Ferry Marsh, adjacent to the upstream Wivenhoe shipyard. Some of the concrete crane bases and rail-lines used in their construction were visible until at least 1986.
These two pier heads were made of welded steel with concrete infill and were 200 feet long and 60 feet wide. the mould depth at the sides were 10 feet. There were equipped with 4 ‘Spuds’ or legs at the corners. Each Spud leg was 89 feet long with ‘feet’ 4 feet square. On these Spuds, which were operated by electric winches with reduction gearing, the ‘Whale’ could be raised or lowered to compensate for the tide.
Two Mulberry Harbours were actually assembled on the French coast, one for the American beachhead and one for the British at Arromanches.
Despite the American harbour being wrecked by heavy weather after 4 days use, the Harbours played a vital part in the success of ‘Operation Overlord’. In the first 6 days of use of the British Mulberry, 326,000 troops, 54,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of supplies were handled.
Note: Wivenhoe Town Council arranged for one of the new roads in Old Wivenhoe Quay to be named Mulberry Harbour Way in memory of the construction of part of the Mulberry Harbours at Wivenhoe. Mulberry Harbour Way is about 100 metres east of where the ‘Whale’ Units were actually built.