The history we never learned but should have


Arromanches, a small town on the coast was ground zero for the D-Day invasion in World War II.  Since it’s only 20 miles from Britain, the Allies decided it would be easier to build their own port than try to capture one from the Nazis.  So practically overnight this tiny village that had been a fishing village and then turned into a resort in the 19th century became a huge port, Port Winston that gave the Allies a place to supply the troops who would be coming on shore a few miles away.  If you think about 2.5 million soldiers invading, they would need a lot of supplies.  Port Winston allowed the Allies to begin their ultimate push to Berlin and the end of World War II.  So the day after the invasion started, this is how they did it  17 old ships sailed across the English Channel and were sunk so that each bow face the next ship’s stern, forming a sea barrier.  The 500 tugboats towed 115 football field sized cement blocks across the Channel and these were also sunk, creating a 4 mile long breakwater 1.5 miles offshore.  Then pontoon bridges that were manufactured in Britain were set in place so that they moved with the tides and currents.  115 anti-aircraft guns were installed on the bridges and cement blocks to protect a port the size of Dover, the world’s busiest passenger port today.

Eleven months later Hitler was dead.  I had never heard about any of this, and it’s amazing the engineering and will power that went into making this whole thing a reality.  Yes, things had gotten to a turning point for the Allies (more about that in the next posting) though it always amazes me the gaps in my knowledge, especially when WWII is so close to my own experience.  If it was not for these brave people who sacrificed so much I would not be here.

 

Aerial view of Port Winston at the time of it’s completion. It was in operation 6 days after it was started. Decoy aircraft were aloft over the port to fool the Germans.
One of the concrete barriers nearing completion in Britain prior to its installation.
Across these bridges, 54,000 vehicles, 326,000 troops, and 110,000 lbs. of supplies were ferried from Britain to France.
At the museum you can see a section of the pontoon bridge.
A model of one of the concrete breakwater sections towed into place.
Looking south you can see the formidable cliffs the soldiers had to climb and in the distance two of the concrete breakwater pieces still in place.
Unloading supplies from a ship
Remains of one of the bridge sections still in the water and in the distance a piece of the breakwater.
Looking back to the village one can imagine how the people felt at that time (or if they were even still there by the time the Allies came ashore). Not much is said about the people of Arromanches at the time but it looks like many had fled or were in hiding.
Model showing the pontoon bridge and the display included moving water so you could see how it all moved with the tides and currents.
A sand installation on Arromanches Beach by “Sand in Your Eye” to commemorate the 9000 who lost their lives here, entitled “The Fallen”, 2013. It was soon washed away.

 

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