extracted from The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany


Developing Beaches and Reconstructing Ports

Once the invasion force was ashore the engineers of the Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group entered upon a three-phased schedule for organizing beach supply operations. The first two phases were tied directly to the tactical situation since they involved setting up dumps on the beaches and later moving the dumps to protected sites as much as four miles inland. The last phase would begin with the completion of the MULBERRY, an artificial harbor to be made of sunken blockships and concrete caissons offshore, providing more efficient discharge of cargoes and men directly from pierhead structures to the beaches at OMAHA via floating roadways. UTAH, with more limited constructed facilities serving it, would continue to receive heavy traffic in men and matériel from lighters, the various landing craft, makeshift Rhino ferries, and barges plying between larger vessels and the beach. Gradually, as captured ports came into service, the logistic load would shift there, and the MULBERRY complex would close down before the autumnal storms interfered with the operation.1 No clear-cut dividing line separated these activities, and, in fact, they tended to overlap each other as shore engineers developed the supply system. While the engineers organized the beaches into administrative subdivisions, providing roads to the water's edge and laying out supply areas just inland, Transportation Corps troops would help unload cargo, move supplies to depots or using units, and control traffic on and behind the beaches. The Transportation Corps would also operate smaller captured ports in the area once the engineers had cleared obstacles and mines and restored dockside equipment and storage space.

The initial dump phase demanded a clear marking scheme for all the beaches in both landing areas. The Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group followed the so-called British World Wide System, extending the military alphabet and color codes already in use on the invasion beaches. By 1600 on 8 June the engineers had subdivided the original Easy Red and Fox Red beaches on OMAHA into two more beaches, Easy White and Fox White. Each sector was marked with large, color-coded wooden panels. For night identification the OMAHA beaches first had lights blinking the Morse code for Dog, Easy, or Fox. When this system caused confusion,


Photo:  Tetrahedrons at OMAHA Beach


the brigades erected signboards with nine-foot-high lettering outlined in colored lights matching the beach names. On UTAH, the 1st Brigade resorted to hanging barrage balloons directly over the beaches, painting them to correspond to the coding of Uncle Red and Tare Green. They added a second red balloon above Sugar Red, opened to the right of Tare Green by the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment.2

During the week after D-day the engineers also cleared the OMAHA beaches and improved the roads running the length of the beach and up through the draws. The men could only cut paths through the debris in some spots. The gapping team survivors from the 149th and the 299th Engineer Combat Battalions joined the group engineers in clearing junk and salvaging vehicles. Bulldozer crews either assisted in this work or leveled the shingle bank, using the stones and wreckage to fill in antitank ditches. At UTAH other German forces withdrawing up the Cotentin peninsula toward Cherbourg kept the beaches under artillery fire for a week after the landings, but the main difficulty in managing supply was the lack of dump space in the low fields behind the beach. Though drainage operations began on D-day in the Pouppeville area when 1106th Engineer Combat Group


units reset the locks there to draw off the flood behind the southern end of the beach, the terrain was still too marshy to support the weight of large amounts of supplies and the vehicles necessary to move them.

Confusion offshore and unbending adherence to the NEPTUNE plan added to the delay in unloading. Until D plus 4 First Army plans called for the discharge of items according to a rigid priority system. But shipping manifests identifying priority cargoes and vessels did not reach the proper hands among Transportation Corps crews or the Navy officer in charge of beach operations. Engineer brigade officers at first joined naval officers and transportation troops in small launches in time-consuming searches for specific ships but later simply took the nearest vessels ready for discharge. The Navy refused to beach LSTs for fear of German artillery fire at UTAH and in the belief that they would break their keels as they settled onto the uneven tidal flats. Once the latter worry proved unfounded, LSTs after D plus 2 "dried out" regularly-the vessels would ground just after high tide, discharge their cargo onto the dry flat after the water receded, and pull off again with the next tide. This method slowed the shipping shuttle between the beaches and the mounting out ports in southern England because it took twelve hours to refloat the craft. Nevertheless, it did more than any other single expedient to reduce the shipping backlog off Normandy and to boost the lagging discharge rates of troops, supply, and vehicles before segments of the MULBERRY harbor came into full service.

The arrival at UTAH on 10 June of the 38th Engineer General Service Regiment, an Advance Section (ADSEC) unit attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, heralded the beginning of the beach maintenance phase of engineer operations. The regiment was to work behind the beaches, removing mines, improving roads and bridges, and draining flooded areas. One battalion had the task of opening a fourth beach, Roger White, to the north of Sugar Red. Blasting holes in the seawall and clearing beach obstacles from the tidal flat, the battalion had the new sector ready for operation two days later on 12 June, but shellfire from German batteries to the north postponed the opening of Roger White. The enemy opposition there also stopped work on the northernmost sluice gates behind UTAH until mid-June, though the southernmost gates, in the area where most of the landings were made, were already functioning when the 38th arrived. On 13 June the regiment could report that all roads in its area were open and passable.3

Beach maintenance dumps of the 5th and 6th Engineer Special Brigades, located along the Isigny-Bayeux road, were ready for operation on 13 and 14 June. By then the fields were clear of mines and, after the capture of Trevieres on 10 June, of enemy resistance except for scattered sniper fire. The dumps were located in a series of relatively small fields divided by hedgerows, small trees, and drainage ditches. The engineers filled the trenches and cut gaps through the hedgerows to allow trucks to move from field to field and to relieve congestion on narrow roads.

As combat troops inland eliminated the last direct German fire on OMAHA on D plus 4, the buildup on shore took


Photo:  Twisted section of Lobnitz piers at OMAHA Beach


impetus from the gradual completion of artificial harbor installations and their protective breakwaters-a line of sunken ships known as a GOOSEBERRY. Naval construction elements opened two 2,450-foot causeways on each of the major invasion beaches by 10 June, the spans at OMAHA coming in at Exits E–1 and F–1. Two days later, when General Bradley stood on OMAHA, the sight of the massive construction off the beaches convinced him that the invasion area had become the major port of Europe.

On 12 June the influx of men and supply still lagged behind the planned figures: just over 17,000 troops landed with 22,869 called for; only 9,896 long tons of supply arrived ashore compared to the 12,700 tons planned; and 2,645 of the more than 4,000 vehicles scheduled for the day arrived. With VII Corps ready to begin cutting off the Cotentin peninsula and isolating Cherbourg, an ammunition shortage, especially in artillery shells, was already developing. Cumulative totals among the various categories of discharge were 88 percent of the planned troops, 73 percent of the supply tonnage, and 66 percent of the vehicles. But on 16 June hopes rose for meeting unloading schedules as the first LST nosed up to the Lobnitz pierhead off OMAHA and discharged its load of vehicles directly to shore via a 3,000-foot "whale," or floating roadway, in just under two hours. Not the least elated was Col. Richard


Whitcomb, whose 11th Port organization was manning the pierheads while attached to the Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group. But the optimism died on the eighteenth, as nature began reducing the American MULBERRY to ruins.4

Unloading slowed to a crawl from 19 to 22 June while a howling Channel storm tore the harbor apart, driving smaller vessels into causeways, pierheads, and whale structures and casting the wreckage ashore in tangled heaps of caissons, coasters, and landing craft. The engineers managed to get a total of 2,557 long tons of cargo out of beached craft during the four days. In several cases, as with the coaster Highware, the men resorted to cutting holes in ships' sides to get at the holds. The more fortunate British MULBERRY, farther east, rode out the storm without extensive damage. The debris at UTAH was not heavy, but the engineer brigades at OMAHA faced the same beach clearance problem on 22 June that they had on the seventh.

Clearance and salvage now vied with the rush to unload necessary men and supply in the days after the storm. All LSTs dried out on the Fox beaches at OMAHA, where there was less wreckage. By using every available LCT, LCM, and DUKW to ferry material from ship to shore, the brigades began to realize a potential for moving supply and troops across an open beach that the planners apparently had not recognized. DUKWs, which had all escaped the storm's effect by hastening ashore to wait out the weather, were invaluable at both beaches. Tonnage figures exceeded the planned daily tables consistently between 24 and 30 June although the discharge rate never caught up with cumulative figures expected. By the end of the month the troop buildup had reached 452,460, roughly 78 percent of the estimated 579,000 that should have been ashore on that date. Supplies amounted to 80 percent of the 360,000 long tons scheduled, and the 70,910 vehicles unloaded were only 65 percent of the 111,000 First Army expected by D plus 24. Despite the lag, the engineers had recovered remarkably well from the devastation of the storm and had sustained operations on the beaches as the fighting moved toward Cherbourg and, south of the beaches, into the hedgerow country of Normandy. In the meantime some measure of help in supplementing the over-the-beach supply operations came with the rehabilitation of several minor ports in the area.

Small Ports Near the Beaches

OVERLORD planning had taken into consideration six minor ports: Grandcamp-les-Bains and Isigny just west of OMAHA; St. Vaast-la-Hougue and Barfleur north of UTAH; Granville on the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula; and St. Malo in Brittany. All these ports were tidal, drying out at low water; even at high tide they could accommodate only small vessels. Therefore, their capacity was not expected to be great, and they were to be developed only as a stop-gap measure to provide some additional discharge facilities until the full potential of larger ports could be realized. All minor ports were to be open by 6 July. (Map 18)

According to the plan of the ADSEC engineer, Colonel Itschner, who was


Map:  Map 18-Minor Ports in the OVERLORD Plan

MAP 18


responsible for opening the ports, the headquarters of the 1055th Port Construction and Repair Group and advance elements of the group's 342d Engineer General Service Regiment were to tackle the repair of the ports in turn, beginning with Grandcamp and Isigny. After rehabilitation, operation of these two small ports near OMAHA would be the responsibility of the 11th Port (TC), attached to the Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group. The 11th Port was also to furnish a detachment to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade to operate St. Vaast, while the 4th Port (TC) was to supervise operations at Barfleur, Granville, and St. Malo.5

Access to Grandcamp, a small fishing port and summer resort about five miles west of OMAHA, was through a fifty-foot-wide channel between two jetties. The jetties extended from the beach for about 350 feet to the port proper, a rectangular artificial basin with a concrete wharf and one quay. From the information available, planners had estimated the minimum high-tide depth of channel and basin at eight feet, making it possible to bring in LCTs and small coasters. Because the little port was so vulnerable to enemy demolitions the engineers were not sure that it could be used at all, but they hoped it could be opened by 20 June, with a goal of 500 tons of cargo daily thereafter. A TC port company, a quartermaster truck platoon, and an administration detachment from Headquarters, 11th Port, were to operate Grandcamp port.

Grandcamp fell on 9 June. Next morning, while the port was still under sniper fire, Capt. Andrew F. Klase of 11th Port headquarters arrived to survey conditions and was agreeably surprised to find that the Germans had done no damage beyond sinking two hulks across the channel. Five wrecks lay in the basin, probably victims of Allied aircraft. Less agreeable was the discovery that the water in the basin and channel was only 41 feet deep. The estimate of eight feet, based on old charts, proved wrong because the port had not been dredged in six years. Nevertheless, Captain Klase began the task of rehabilitation, calling in units of the 358th Engineer General Service Regiment, which floated and beached two of the wrecks and blasted apart and hauled away the pieces of the other five. With help from men of the 342d Engineer General Service Regiment, who cleared the port of mines, underwater obstructions, and barbed-wire entanglements, Grandcamp was ready to operate on 17 June. At the time the only men available to operate the port consisted of an administrative staff of four officers and thirty-seven enlisted men from 11th Port.6

On 23 June the small Dutch coaster June entered the basin-the first Allied ship to berth in a French port in the American sector. Ordered to Isigny, she had entered Grandcamp harbor by mistake, somehow managing without a pilot to navigate the shallow water and treacherous channel and tie up at the quay. As no labor troops had yet reported at Grandcamp, the 11th Port


men left their typewriters and pitched in to unload her, aided by civilians. By the end of the day the ad hoc labor force had put 158 tons of cargo aboard trucks for movement to inland dumps. Despite the successful berthing of the June, coasters could not be handled efficiently at Grandcamp, and only landing craft could be used. Because the basin was too small to permit LCTs to turn around, the best choice was the LBV, a fifty-ton, self-propelled barge able to carry vehicles and supplies. The first came in on 24 June, bringing cargo from vessels anchored off OMAHA. That day the 4145th Quartermaster Service Company arrived to take over unloading, with some continued civilian help. In its eighty-eight days of operations, from 23 June to 19 September (it was the first of the small ports to close), Grandcamp took in 58,382 tons of cargo for an average daily discharge rate of 675 tons, considerably more than the 500 tons expected.7

Isigny, a somewhat more prepossessing port, was a small dairying town on the Aure River near where the river flowed into the Vire about ten miles west-southwest of OMAHA. To reach the port from the sea, ships entered the mouth of the Vire and after about three miles turned left into the narrow Aure, which for three-quarters of a mile formed the port channel. Lined on the right almost continuously with stone quays terminating in a small turning basin, the channel contained two or three feet of water at mean low tide and about thirteen feet at high tide, a depth adequate for coaster operations.

American forces took Isigny on 10 June, and the next day four officers from the 11th Port and ADSEC examined the port. They found that the Germans had done no damage but that Allied bombs had sunk a German flak ship and a barge in the channel, blown part of a quay wall, and put the quayside railroad out of commission. The 358th and 342d Engineer General Service Regiments quickly made necessary repairs, and the first coaster arrived on 24 June with 486 tons of cargo, mostly gasoline unloaded by two quartermaster service companies. In its 114 days of operation, until 15 October, Isigny's average daily discharge was 740 tons.8

On the east shoulder of the Cotentin peninsula the ports of St. Vaast and Barfleur, left undefended as German forces withdrew toward Cherbourg, were in American hands by 21 June. The more productive was St. Vaast, which had an inner and an outer harbor. While the inner harbor dried out at mean low tide, the outer one could be used at all tides and boasted a breakwater that provided an excellent berthing area for coasters and lighters. The Germans had placed mines across the harbor entrance and had sunk fifteen ships in the harbor. ADSEC engineers removed the major obstacles, and the port began operations on 9 July. Between that date and the closing of the port on 16 October St. Vaast averaged 1,172 tons a day-by far the best record achieved by any minor port. Barfleur was found virtually undamaged, with the only major job that of removing mines across the harbor entrance. In three days the engineers had Barfleur


Photo:  Coaster with a cargo of gasoline unloads at Isigny


ready for operation; the port opened on 26 July.9

In late July delays in the rehabilitation of Cherbourg, which was not able to receive cargo until 16 July, brought about renewed interest in all the minor ports. At the time, two of the six ports included in the OVERLORD planning-Granville and St. Malo-were still in enemy hands. ADSEC, therefore, concentrated on improving Grandcamp, Isigny, and St. Vaast and on opening not only Barfleur but also Carentan, which had not been included in OVERLORD planning. ADSEC planners expected to obtain from the five ports a total discharge of at least 12,000 tons of cargo a day and hoped for 17,000 tons after the ports expanded to their full capacity.10

At each port troops of the 2d Battalion, 358th Engineer General Service Regiment, went to work dredging, resurfacing, and improving quays and repairing roads and railroad facilities in the port area. Of these efforts the most important was dredging, and for it the engineers used a French bucket


dredge discovered in the British-controlled port of Courseulles. After repairs, the dredge was put to work at Isigny, Grandcamp, and St. Vaast. At Barfleur, a rocky bottom forestalled dredging and restricted the harbor to craft drawing no more than ten feet. Nevertheless, Barfleur did well in its eighty-four days of operation, averaging 803 tons a day. Carentan was disappointing. A small-craft harbor on the Taute River with a passageway to the sea about three times longer than that at Isigny, Carentan opened on 25 July. But after a series of mishaps, including the sinking or grounding of three vessels in the channel, Carentan closed on 31 July having averaged not more than 300 tons a day.11

At no time did the small ports, combined, approach the 12,000 tons of cargo per day the logisticians had hoped for. Such a total might have been achieved had the ports been developed more fully, but this step was not necessary. OMAHA and UTAH beaches proved surprisingly successful in delivering cargo, and by early October, when autumn storms showed the need for phasing out beach operations, the engineer port reconstruction effort had concentrated at Cherbourg. There, during most of the autumn of 1944, was to be discharged the bulk of the supplies required to support American forces. By 16 October 1944, Grandcamp, Isigny, St. Vaast, and Barfleur had closed down; on 9 November they reverted to French control. By this time a rear area system of base sections was in place under the COMZ command of General Lee, who took over active control of the rehabilitation efforts at the theater level.

COMZ on the Continent

No sooner had operations on the Continent begun than the prospect of a breakout from the Allied lodgment and an ensuing war of maneuver raised the issue of control of the communications zone behind First Army. The eventual command structure governing that area would also affect the ETOUSA chief engineer. Invasion plans provided for the introduction of two interim commands prior to the transfer to France of General Lee's SOS, ETOUSA, renamed COMZ as of D-day. On 16 June the first of these, Brig. Gen. Ewart G. Plank's ADSEC organization, went into operation as planned, running supply affairs for First Army under General Bradley's direct control. At the same time ADSEC's parent command, Forward Echelon, Communications Zone, or FECOMZ, began phasing its advance parties into two chateaus near Valognes, twenty miles southwest of Cherbourg. Here Col. Frank M. Albrecht formally announced the existence of the command on 15 July and awaited Bradley's delineation of First Army's rear boundary, the event that would fully activate FECOMZ.12

Bradley's announcement was not forthcoming. Under NEPTUNE, he was to establish the army rear boundary around


D plus 20, 26 June. The introduction of the Third U.S. Army, scheduled for D plus 41, or 17 July, would necessitate the activation of the US 1st Army Group headquarters on the Continent. On the same day FECOMZ would take over the communications zone from ADSEC, allowing it to advance behind 1st Army Group as the service command immediately to its rear. Dissatisfied over aspects of army supply on D-day and the tactical situation-First Army was entangled in the hedgerows and wetlands of Normandy-Bradley resolved to retain direct control of ADSEC as long as possible. On 20 June, under pressure from the COMZ headquarters still in London, he resorted to a legalism in which he drew a forward boundary for ADSEC instead of a rear boundary for the army. When COMZ took its case to General Eisenhower for resolution, SHAEF decreed the separation of ADSEC from First Army control on 14 July but did nothing about the rear army boundary, leaving the final say in troop and supply matters to General Bradley.13

FECOMZ in the event died aborning. It never fulfilled its role of advance headquarters for Lee's COMZ. It caused considerable confusion during its existence and actually interfered with efficient supply planning although its staff left extensive drafts on the continental system of base sections for future use. Its demise came with the arrival of the entire COMZ at Valognes on 7 August, exactly a month ahead of schedule; Colonel Albrecht's short-lived command simply melded into General Lee's headquarters even as the Allied breakout from the invasion lodgment reached full stride. General Lee rapidly took over 560,000 square feet of engineer-built office space and tent quarters for 11,000 individuals in the temporary headquarters at Valognes. But General Bradley surrendered his control of supply and the allocation of service troops among the field armies, ADSEC, and Lee's burgeoning Communications Zone command only when SHAEF arrived on the Continent on 1 September. Bradley, now the commander of the 12th Army Group with the First and Third Armies attached, thereupon became the coequal of General Lee in the theater organization under General Eisenhower. Though Lee dropped his earlier designation of deputy theater commander, the same command problems that had prevailed for the theater chief engineer in England during BOLERO obtained on the Continent. General Moore's access to the theater commander still ran through General Lee, and commanders of the fighting armies tended to regard Moore as less than a key member of the theater special staff though all engineer work proceeded under his technical supervision.14

The theater engineer's office consisted for the duration of the war of seven divisions under the chief engineer and his deputy. The Administration and Control Divisions performed internal housekeeping functions, coordinating planning, data collection, and personnel affairs. Intelligence Division compiled necessary engineer intelligence on all lines of communications,


ports, and inland waterways and handled all mapping problems, including liaison on maps with Allied forces. The division also kept current on enemy engineering methods, mine warfare and field works that combat engineer were likely to encounter. The Real Estate and Labor Division dealt wit the acquisition of property for military use and hired civilian labor. Theater policies on engineer troop strengths the distribution of engineers within the theater, and revisions to standard table of organization fell within the jurisdiction of the Troops Division. It also handled training and the general technical supervision of bridge building, demolitions, camouflage, water supply, and fire fighting. The Supply Division saw to the engineer logistical line of communications on the Continent and the management of the entire theater depot system and the inventory and stock levels in it. The Construction Division set engineer construction standards and supervised the rehabilitation or building of roads, installations of all kinds pipelines, power systems, and waterways.15 The chief engineer's technical control extended, therefore, to the base sections on the Continent and in the United Kingdom, where all of the former base sections were consolidated into a single United Kingdom Base with subordinate districts.

The base sections that composed the COMZ empire in France began taking shape in July, and new headquarters opened as the need arose in the liberated territory. As ADSEC began the rehabilitation of Cherbourg, on 21 July General Plank established in the city the Cherbourg Command with all the prerogatives of a base section. On 16 August it became the Normandy Base Section, encompassing the Cotentin peninsula. Though the command's existence disrupted the OVERLORD plan to phase into the city one of the existing base section commands held in readiness in England, those staffs were later assigned to other section commands. Brittany Base opened on 16 August to oversee the smaller ports of that peninsula, and a short-lived Loire Base existed from 5 September until Brittany Base absorbed it on 1 December. The capture of Paris triggered the installation of the Seine Base Section in the city, where Headquarters, COMZ, also moved in early September amid considerable controversy since it occupied some of the best hotel accommodations in the city. After some administrative confusion over their missions, the last two sections evolved as Oise Base Section on 3 September and Channel Base Section a week later. Oise Base was responsible for territory east of Paris and up to the rear boundary of ADSEC as it moved forward with the field armies. Channel Base concerned itself with the Channel ports from the D-day beaches eastward but centered its attention on Antwerp once that city was wrested from German control.16

Essentially complete by the end of October, the base section organization nevertheless underwent boundary and organizational modifications and major shifts in emphasis through the end of the war. Another base section arrived in southern France with Operation DRAGOON to handle the Rhone valley main supply route.17 As the war drew


to a close, Normandy Base Section had progressively absorbed Brittany Base and taken over the Channel coast from Brest to the 21 Army Group boundary. Channel Base remained responsible for American supply and administration in what was a British rear area, where British forces retained a small enclave in Normandy Base Section incorporating their original D-day beaches. The port of Cherbourg in the meantime had developed into one of the principal points of entry for American forces and supply.


Combat troops fought their way into Cherbourg on 26 June. Next day, Col. James B. Cress of ADSEC and commanding officer of the 1056th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group set off with Navy and Transportation Corps officers to inspect the city's crescent-shaped harbor. It was divided by a breakwater into an outer harbor, or Grande Rade, and an inner harbor, or Petite Rade. At the center of the inner harbor lay the Quai de France, jutting out into the roadstead beside the Darse Transatlantique, the famous deepwater basin the Germans had built between 1923 and 1935 as a World War I reparation. Here, in peacetime, the largest ocean liners docked. On the Quai de France was a huge railway station with a great vaulted roof, the Gare Maritime, which provided transatlantic passengers with speedy rail service to Paris. (Few travelers lingered in Cherbourg, for it was primarily a naval base of little interest to tourists.)

A naval installation occupied most of the western side of the inner harbor. Between the naval base and the Quai de France the ADSEC officers saw a small seaplane base, a bathing beach (the Nouvelle Plage), and a narrow channel leading inland to two basins in the center of the city, the Avant Port de Commerce and the Bassin a Flot, where in peacetime most of the cargo handled at Cherbourg came ashore. The eastern side of the harbor, beyond the Darse Transatlantique, was the least developed. It consisted merely of open areas known as the Reclamation and the Terre Plein, bounded by a long sloping seawall where the water was quite shallow at low tide.

Although the advance party found no demolition in the Terre Plein and Reclamation areas, the great transatlantic dock area was a shambles-the most spectacular evidence of the "exemplary destruction of the harbor of Cherbourg" for which the German commander received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross from Adolf Hitler. The Gare Maritime was badly damaged, the two quays lay in ruins, and two sunken ships blocked the entrance to the Darse. The reconnaissance party also found widespread destruction at the naval base, some of it from Allied air attacks. Sunken ships and barges blocked the entrances to the three basins, which were filled with sunken barges, tugs, trawlers, and coasters. In the base area two tremendous craters severed the western breakwater of the Petite Rade, the Digue du Homet, a 3,300-foot-long, 70-footwide mole quayed on the south side and carrying three railroad tracks and several oil pipelines. The Quai du Homet, a berth for coal coasters at right angles to the Digue on its south side, was damaged in nine places.18


The destruction of Cherbourg, while acknowledged to be "a masterful job," was no greater than the ADSEC engineer had expected.19 The engineers were to work first on those areas where the quickest results could be expected, so that construction machinery and equipment waiting off UTAH Beach could land as soon as possible. These areas were designated in a four-point program established by naval, engineer, and transportation officers on 28 June: first, the Nouvelle Plage bathing beach for DUKWs; second, the Bassin a Flot in the commercial port for barges; third, the Reclamation and Terre Plein area for LSTs; and, fourth, the Digue du Homet for Liberty ships and vessels carrying locomotives and boxcars.

The 332d and 342d Engineer General Service and the 333d Engineer Special Service Regiments were assigned to the 1056th Port Construction and Repair Group to begin the reconstruction of Cherbourg. Details entered the port with the advance parties to clear debris, remove mines, and scour the territory for construction materials, and by the first week in July all three regiments had numbers of men on the scene. They found huge stores of German construction materials and equipment, some at a buzz-bomb launching platform west of Cherbourg. French civilian mechanics helped get the equipment in working order. By 8 July ADSEC engineers were making optimistic estimates of the daily tonnage that Cherbourg could receive-a port that in peacetime averaged less than 900 tons a day. Exclusive of POL, vehicles, and railroad rolling stock, the engineers estimated that after rehabilitation Cherbourg would have a capacity of 17,900 tons daily.20

At Nouvelle Plage the engineers blew gaps in the seawall, swept away barbed-wire entanglements, graded the beach, and built three concrete exit roads for DUKWs. Work started early on ramps and hards for vehicle-carrying LCTs and LSTs at the seaplane base and the north side of the Reclamation area. The engineers quickly constructed timber wharves for unloading barges and coasters along the Terre Plein and at the Bassin a Flot, which had seventeen feet of water controlled by locks at the inner end of the Avant Port de Commerce. A swing bridge over these locks, which carried traffic from one side of the city to the other, was down; the engineers replaced it with an ingenious retractable drawbridge-a movable Bailey resting on dollies that ran on old streetcar rails.

Nouvelle Plage was ready to receive DUKWs on 6 July, but none could come in for ten days because of German underwater mines. Minesweepers entered the Petite Rade on 8 July, and not until the fourteenth were the western ends of the Grande and Petite Rades free of mines. Ships waiting off the Normandy beaches now came forward. The first four Liberties steaming up the Cotentin coast arrived around


noon on 16 July and anchored safely in the Grande Rade. By 1738 a load of signal corps wire had been placed into a waiting DUKW; forty-five minutes later, it was on its way by truck to a signal corps dump five miles south of Cherbourg. Port operations had begun.

The first cargo was not typical, for DUKWs normally handled only small packages and in later operations were used almost exclusively for subsistence. Sixty-three percent of all supplies and equipment that came into the port before the end of July bore the castle marking of the Corps of Engineers, and much of that cargo consisted of construction materials for rebuilding the port. Barges had to bring in heavy engineer equipment such as girders, rail lengths, and bulldozers. Thirty 18-by-16-foot wooden barges arrived shortly after the first Liberties, loaded at once, and the next day, 17 July, discharged in the Bassin a Flot, the wet dock at the commercial port.

Meanwhile, work on the high-priority Digue du Homet, begun the week after Cherbourg's capture, was well along. The 332d Engineer General Service Regiment and other engineers filled a crater isolating the Digue from the naval base, repaired road and railroad tracks on the Digue, and constructed five pile-and-timber finger piers for Liberty ships because the quay wall had an underwater shelf. At the shore end of the Digue the engineers provided two berths for Twickenham ferries, British vessels specially built to carry locomotives and rolling stock. On 29 July a Twickenham made its first delivery-several 65-ton diesel electric locomotives and other rolling stock. The first Liberty ship docked at one of the Digue's finger piers on 9 August.

After 13 August, when the 332d Engineer General Service Regiment moved to Mayenne to undertake railroad repair in support of First Army's Falaise Gap operations, the 342d and 398th Engineer General Service Regiments took over the work at the Quai du Homet and Digue du Homet. Efforts to provide more deepwater berths increased when it became obvious that the lighterage operations-discharged into DUKWs or barges from ships anchored out in the roadstead-were too costly in labor, equipment, and time. DUKWs had a limited capacity; barges could be towed into basins only during a few hours at high tide and otherwise had to be moored to stake boats in the harbor. Moreover, all lighters were at the mercy of the weather, and storms frequently prevented them from venturing out into the harbor.

The first area to benefit from the efforts to speed ship-to-shore operations was the naval base, which could accommodate Liberty ships. The 342d Engineer General Service Regiment, aided by men from the 398th, began construction in mid-August, replacing demolished bridges and building timber wharves to provide a continuous surface along the top of the quays, which boat slips and entrance channels to dry docks indented at frequent intervals. A bridge the 342d Engineers built across a passage at the north end of Bassin Charles X illustrates the ingenious use of local and captured materials. For girders the engineers used the main beams of an old German submarine-lifting craft (turned over to the French with other reparations after 1918), which the Navy had found blocking the entrance to the Avant Port. The floor channels for the bridge came from


captured special railroad cars. Eventually the naval base provided berths for eleven Liberty ships and five coasters.

The last area to benefit from the program to provide more deepwater berths was potentially the most valuable and therefore the most thoroughly subjected to German demolitions-the great Darse Transatlantique. Early in July the 333d Engineer Special Service Regiment began clearing debris from the shattered docks. In the wreckage of the Gare Maritime the engineers discovered twenty-four freight cars loaded with unexploded sea mines, rendered extremely sensitive by tons of debris that had fallen on them. The ticklish task of removing the debris and then deactivating the mines fell to the mine and booby-trap team of the 333d Engineer Special Service Regiment, which undertook most of the mine deactivation on the land side of the harbor. The team found unexploded charges, which the Germans had apparently not had time to detonate, in underground passages, sewers, bridges, and buildings throughout the port area.21

After the debris and mines were removed from the quays at the Darse Transatlantique, the 333d Engineer Special Service Regiment began construction. Operating two ten-hour shifts and employing hundreds of French civilians and POWs, the regiment first built finger piers at intervals to match the hatches of Liberty ships; later they filled the spaces between the piers, using timber wharfing to provide continuous berthing along the Quai de France. But construction in the Darse was a long-term project. Not until 21 August, when the Navy declared the waters free of mines, could a survey of underwater debris be made. An access channel was not open until 18 September, and the first Liberty did not berth in the Darse until 8 October.

On 10 August the engineers working on the Cherbourg quays saw a new kind of ship steaming into the harbor. She was the Junior N. Van Noy, the first engineer port repair ship sent overseas. A converted Great Lakes steamer displacing only 3,000 tons, the ship had machine shops, storage bins, and heavy salvage equipment aboard. Her decks bristled with derricks and booms for lifting sunken ships and other debris. Manning the ship was the sixty-member 1071st Engineer Port Repair Ship Crew.22

The day after her arrival at Cherbourg the ship went under the control of the 1056th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group but in a few days passed to the control of the 1055th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group, which had come up from Granville to work on the vital Liberty berths along the Digue du Homet. The repair ship could not enter the wrecked inner basins because she drew twenty feet, but out in the harbor the vessel accomplished valuable work. Her divers, welders, and mechanics patched and raised several hulks. Divers with electric torches broke up a dry dock that was beyond repair. Another important


task was repair of a large rock crusher found in a quarry just outside Cherbourg, equipment badly needed for road building. On 3 October 1944, the Junior N. Van Noy left Cherbourg, bound for Le Havre with the 1055th Port Construction and Repair Group.23

In the OVERLORD plan Cherbourg originally had a scheduled daily discharge capacity of 8,000 to 9,000 tons-Brest and Quiberon Bay were to become the major ports of entry for Allied forces and supplies entering the Continent. But as the bitter German defense of some Brittany ports increased Cherbourg's importance, G-4 planners raised the port's projected intake capacity to 15,000 tons daily in July. Brig. Gen. Royal B. Lord, ETOUSA G-4, expected a 20,000-ton capacity in the city by September, but in the middle of that month only 12,000 tons per day were moving through the port, then about 75 percent rehabilitated. The vital berths that could handle Liberty ships still lay in the inoperable 25 percent of the harbor, and their repair continued even as the utility of Cherbourg declined later in the year.

Railway Rehabilitation

By mid-August, Liberties at deepwater quays in Cherbourg were unloading onto barges because a shortage of trucks and rail cars had crowded the quays and the marginal wharves at Terre Plein with supplies and equipment awaiting transportation inland. Only about 3,000 tons of cargo a day were moving out by rail at the end of August, and a backlog of nearly 72,000 tons awaited clearance in the port area.24

Efforts to expedite rail service had started before the fall of Cherbourg, when the 1056th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group began to repair demolished railway bridges over the Vire, Taute, Madeleine, and Jourdan Rivers. By 7 July the two main line tracks from Paris to Cherbourg were open. One company of the 347th Engineer General Service Regiment had cleared a demolished tunnel just south of Cherbourg, and three other companies had repaired blown frogs and switches on the tracks into the city's railway station, the Gare de l'Etat. Fortunately damage was light on a mile-long spur from the Gare de l'Etat to the Digue du Homet, and less than five of the fifteen miles of track within the city needed extensive repairs. Most of the damage had resulted from Allied bombs and artillery fire.

Railway rehabilitation, carried on under the supervision of the Transportation Corps' 2d Military Railway Service, accelerated considerably after the late July decision to increase Cherbourg's tonnage target to 20,000 tons by mid-September, with the railroads carrying the main burden of transportation inland. New spurs were needed as well as new storage and marshaling yards to ensure that a constant supply of railway cars could be fed to the docks. Primarily a passenger port, Cherbourg had storage yards for only


350 cars and marshaling yards for only 400. The plan to move 20,000 tons daily through Cherbourg required 2,000 railway cars a day, and since a two-day supply of empty cars had to be on hand at all times, storage for 4,000 cars as well as marshaling yard capacity for the daily 2,000 was mandatory.

The first major railway reconstruction took place in the Terre Plein area, where an existing yard consisted of three tracks with a capacity of only 165 cars and a spur running into the Amiot Aircraft Plant. The 347th Engineer General Service Regiment repaired the tracks, which Allied bombing and shellfire had badly damaged, cleared away dragon's teeth and pillboxes from the area behind the Terre Plein, and laid 61 miles of new track to provide a marshaling yard for 714 cars. Unfortunately, the unit was inexperienced in railroad work and laid the track without ballast on filled-in land. As the track sank into the soft ground the rails spread, causing a number of derailments before the engineers stabilized the area by placing crushed rock ballast under the tracks.25

The same problem occurred in the construction of new yards at Couville and Sottevast, which together constituted one of the most ambitious construction projects undertaken on the Cotentin. Work at Couville began on 2 August, but heavy rains turned the area into a sea of mud. The engineers had to open a rock quarry and haul hundreds of carloads of rock to ballast the tracks. The first yard at Couville opened on 18 September, and expansion continued until 3 November, when the yard had sixteen miles of track with a capacity of 1,740 cars. Construction of the Sottevast yard, begun on 15 August, also was plagued by heavy rains that at one time had portions of the area under eighteen inches of water. Nevertheless, some of the facilities were ready by mid-October, and when construction stopped in mid-December the yard had eighteen miles of track with a capacity of 2,280 cars.

POL Storage

On 24 July the tanker Empire Traveller discharged the first gasoline at Cherbourg, unloading at the long breakwater in the outer harbor-the Digue de Querqueville. The French and later the Germans had discharged gasoline and other POL supplies through a nine-inch pipeline running along the Digue to two nearby tank farms at the large Depot Cotier du Petrole and the somewhat smaller one at Sunic. In the same neighborhood was a tank farm at Hainneville, which the French Navy had used to store diesel fuel. The fourth farm the Americans discovered was underground, so cleverly concealed that even few Frenchmen knew of its existence. The French had built the installation, Les Couplets, in 1938 at the time of the Maginot Line construction. Double garage doors of an innocent-looking two story house facing the Rue de la Paix, which skirted the harbor between Cherbourg and Querqueville, opened on a 600-yard tunnel leading to four huge storage tanks located in a hollow carved out of a small mountain; thirty-eight feet of solid granite overhead made the tanks impervious to air attacks.

The engineers' major construction


Photo:  Gasoline being pumped ashore at Cherbourg


effort was at the tank farm at the Depot Cotier du Petrole, where the Germans had demolished four huge tanks, leaving one small tank more or less intact. The engineers built three new tanks among the ruins left from the German demolitions and welded patches over holes in the one tank that had escaped demolition. The nine-inch pipeline from the Digue de Querqueville proved to be corroded beyond repair. Deciding to scrap it, the engineers installed seven six-inch lines that carried diesel, motor transport, and aviation fuel simultaneously. Aviation gasoline went to the Sunic tank farm, diesel fuel to Les Couplets.26

On 4 November 1944, Cherbourg discharged a peak 19,955, tons of cargo; the daily average for that month was 14,300 tons. Thereafter, the port's discharge rate declined rapidly as personnel, equipment, and railroad cars transferred to Antwerp. A few days after supply ships entered Antwerp on 26 November, Cherbourg's tonnage target dropped to 12,000 tons a day; two weeks later it went down to 7,000 tons. Cherbourg's role as the mainstay of the American port system in France was over.

Granville and the Minor Brittany Ports

OVERLORD planners concentrated their attentions on the Brittany ports because they expected the peninsula to serve as the entryway for Allied forces and matériel before any other development on the Continent. The scheduled thrust from Normandy into Brittany after D-day was to be the prelude to the construction of a sturdy logistical base to support attacks to the Seine that would come after 1 November. Brest, Lorient, Quiberon Bay, and St. Malo in Brittany were expected to provide 16,240 tons of daily port capacity by D plus 90; with the opening of Nantes, the Brittany ports were to receive more than 27,000 tons a day by that date. After the breakout at St. Lô in late July, G-4, COMZ, was planning to increase the Brittany capacity to provide more than half of the port discharge requirements as of D plus 90. But the major Brittany ports held out stubbornly, and by late August only St. Malo was in American hands. On 25 August G-4, COMZ, called for the speedy development of St. Malo and three small Brittany ports that had not figured in OVERLORD


planning-Morlaix, St. Brieuc, and Cancale-as well as the small fishing port of Granville on the west coast of Normandy. At the time COMZ made this decision supplies were coming in on the Brittany coast only across a beach at St. Michel-en-Greve, where LSTs were bringing in ammunition for the siege of Brest. Morlaix, St. Brieuc, and Cancale were to be ready to handle a total of 9,500 tons a day by 5 September, St. Malo, 2,400 tons by 1 October.27

The goals set for the Brittany ports were never realized and at most of them the engineer effort was considered "utterly wasted."28 Despite the heavy emphasis on those ports in July, the breakout from the bridgehead and the headlong drive across northern France moved the action far from Brittany by September. This development caused logistical planners at SHAEF to regard Antwerp as the major prize; engineers nevertheless expended considerable effort in Brittany before the tactical situation changed so drastically. The 1053d Port Construction and Repair Group and the 360th Engineer General Service Regiment worked on St. Malo, Cancale, and St. Brieuc before moving into captured Brest. The St. Malo project halted just as it neared completion, primarily because the task of reopening waterways south and inland from St. Malo did not appear worth the effort required. Some port-operating personnel went to Cancale, but tidal conditions there proved so difficult that the port was never used. St. Brieuc opened in mid-September but operated for only a month, averaging 317 tons a day, mostly coal for local generating plants and railroads. St. Michel-en-Greve did somewhat better, averaging 745 tons a day; but it closed down on 1 September, never contributing more than a small amount of port capacity and reverting to French control in mid-December. The only ports in Brittany that delivered more than token tonnages were Granville and Morlaix.29

Granville, captured on 3 July, was the first port taken after the breakout. The 1055th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group, which ADSEC immediately dispatched there, found that the Germans had undertaken extensive demolition work similar to that at Cherbourg-quays cratered, cranes tipped into the water, and blockships sunk. Worst of all, they had destroyed lock gates between the outer and inner basins so that, at each change of the tide, water raced into the inner, main basin. By minesweeping, clearing debris, and removing sunken craft, the engineers opened the outer basin to coasters able to dry out alongside the jetties. When the tonnage target rose on 25 August, the 1058th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group, originally destined for Lorient, went to Granville to prepare additional coaster berths. Operated entirely as a coaling port, Granville averaged 1,244 tons a day between


its opening on 15 September 1944 and its closing on 21 April 1945. Its prosaic activities were violently interrupted shortly after midnight on 9 March 1945, when a German task force of about 150 men from their isolated garrison on the Channel Islands raided the little port, causing about eighty casualties and damaging coasters and port facilities.

Morlaix (situated about twelve miles up the Dossen River estuary) and the small neighboring port of Roscoff were the westernmost of the Brittany ports. Consistently linked in all plans, they were operated by one headquarters and were referred to as one port, Morlaix-Roscoff. Though Roscoff was tidal, Morlaix, like Granville, had outer and inner basins. Neither port was badly damaged, and the 1057th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group quickly restored them. The two provided anchorage for six Liberty ships that discharged into lighters. Between the opening day, 5 September, and the closing date of 14 December 1944, Morlaix-Roscoff turned in the best performance of any of the Brittany group of ports-2,105 tons a day.

The Seine Ports: Le Havre and Rouen

Although Rouen, lying seventy-five miles up the Seine River, fell on 30 August 1944, it was unusable until Le Havre, at the mouth of the Seine, was in Allied hands. The Germans held out at Le Havre until 12 September, causing the big port-the second largest in France-to be subjected to intensive Allied sea, air, and land bombardment that destroyed almost two-thirds of the city. The Germans had also damaged port facilities as at Cherbourg and Granville. All lock gates were out, an especially serious matter because most of the port's activities had centered around numerous wet basins and every deepwater berth had been destroyed. Tremendous engineer resources would be needed to restore deepwater berths. Moreover, port clearance problems would increase at Le Havre because all American traffic inland would have to cross British lines of communications. For these reasons, and bolstered by the expectation that Antwerp (captured on 4 September) would provide plenty of port capacity closer to the front, COMZ decided against undertaking a major reconstruction effort at Le Havre.30

An engineer task force under Col. Frank F. Bell, commanding officer of the 373d Engineer General Service Regiment, undertook limited rehabilitation of both Le Havre and Rouen. In addition to his own regiment, Colonel Bell ultimately had control of the 1055th and 1061st Engineer Port Construction and Repair Groups, the 392d Engineer General Service Regiment, the 1071st Engineer Port Repair Ship Crew, the 1044th Engineer Gas Generating Unit, the 971st Engineer Maintenance Company, and the 577th Engineer Dump Truck Company. He also had under his operational control two Royal Navy parties, each equivalent to a US Army engineer port construction and repair group.

The 373d Engineers, moving by motor convoy from the outskirts of Brest.


Photo:  Blast removes blockage from the mouth of the locks at St. Malo


arrived in Le Havre on 19 September. Road and mine clearance work started the next day while, offshore, naval salvage crews began clearing an entrance into the harbor. As at other ports the engineers first worked to provide the earliest possible discharge of cargo, making space on the beaches for landing craft, clearing storage areas, and preparing exits through rubble-filled streets.

The engineers built no timber pile wharves but instead installed a number of artificial piers to provide berths for deep-draft ships. One was a floating ponton pier the Navy built; the Army engineers provided the connection with the shore-Bailey bridges 130 feet long that moved up and down with the tide.31 Two of the artificial piers used four Phoenixes originally designed for the MULBERRY project. Another ingenious use of existing materials was the employment of Phion ferries, left over from operations on the D-day beaches, to construct floating piers in the port's wet basins.

Damage to tidal lock gates seriously affected the wet basins at Le Havre. As the tides rushed in and out, changes in hydrostatic pressure soon began to damage


quay walls. To stop this deterioration and to make the basins usable at all stages of the tide, the 1055th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group repaired the Rochemont lock gates, one of the outstanding engineering achievements at Le Havre. Failing in several attempts to repair the huge gates where they hung, the engineers removed them and repaired them in dry dock. The rehanging was completed on 30 November 1944, and thereafter the tidal range within the wet basins fell by nearly twenty feet. Later repairs along the Tancarville Canal, which connected with the Seine, increased the stabilization.

The first vessels entered Le Havre on 2 October, but mines in the harbor limited the arrivals to LCTs and coasters until 13 October, when the first Liberties came forward. The port never developed the number of alongside Liberty berths that logisticians had planned; consequently, lighters and DUKWs had to bring ashore a large percentage of the tonnage. Nevertheless, Le Havre's cargo capacity continued to rise gratifyingly. By the end of December more than 9,500 tons were being discharged per day, considerably exceeding expectations. By that time, the port was also making another important contribution to the American effort in Europe. Beginning in November 1944, when COW shifted personnel staging from the Cotentin peninsula to the Seine, Le Havre developed into the principal troop debarkation point in the European theater.32

Rouen, the third major port American forces reconstructed in Europe, was not as badly damaged as Le Havre. Although the Germans had demolished cargo-handling facilities and blocked the river channel by sinking a number of ships, the quays were in good condition-some 14,000 feet were usable. On the land side, the marshaling yards adjacent to the port had suffered heavy bomb damage. This presented no particular problem because other marshaling yards twelve miles away were easily accessible over a four-lane highway.

In peacetime, two-thirds of the traffic between Rouen and Paris moved by inland waterways along an eight-foot-deep channel in the Seine that could handle barges up to twenty-one feet wide.33 The largest task of rehabilitation at Rouen-the removal of mines, sunken cranes, ships, barges, and tugs from this river channel-fell mainly to the US Navy, aided by French authorities. The engineers removed debris and filled in bomb craters. Elements of the engineer task force in Le Havre, consisting of the 1061st Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group, a Royal Navy party, and a platoon of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion, undertook these tasks.

On 15 October the first ships, coasters with POL from England, berthed at Rouen. Because the channel between Le Havre and Rouen was shallow, coasters were the mainstay of supply operations at Rouen. They were so successful, discharging an average of more than 4,000 tons daily the first week in November, that COW ordered all coasters except those carrying coal to discharge at Rouen. Barge operations inland, undertaken to meet civilian needs, began on 22 November.34


Liberty ships could come into Rouen only after they had been partially unloaded at Le Havre. Before neap tide they had to be trimmed to as little as 161 feet of draft, for otherwise the ships would block the channel for ten days until a spring tide came in. The engineers dredged channels to facilitate the passage of deep-draft ships through the shoal water. In England the US Army engineers held four seagoing, light hopper dredges, originally dispatched to the ETO to support canceled logistical operations along the Loire River. Only one, which the 1077th Engineer Dredge Crew operated, had a draft shallow enough to be employable along the Seine. Although not ideally suited for the purpose, the 1077th's dredge helped facilitate Liberty ship passage to Rouen. By the spring of 1945 the port had fifteen Liberty berths as compared to twenty-six for coasters.35

Antwerp and Ghent

A visit to captured Antwerp, according to a British engineer who had viewed the battered ruins of other harbors, was "a startling experience."36 The great port, ranking with New York, Hamburg, and Rotterdam, was in miraculously good condition, thanks to the speed of the British advance and Belgian success in forestalling German attempts at demolition.

Situated on the Schelde River estuary fifty-five miles from the sea, Antwerp provided fine deepwater quayage, 75 percent of it along a complex of eighteen wet basins, ample for the discharge of supplies for both the British and American forces. During October representatives of the two forces worked out an agreement, known as the "Treaty of Antwerp," by which the Americans were to use the basins north of a line drawn through the Bassin Albert, the British those to the south. River berths were to be allocated based on need. The expected tonnage capacity was 40,000 tons a day excluding POL-22,500 for the Americans and 17,500 for the British. Command of the port was the responsibility of the British 21 Army Group; American operations were under Col. Doswell Gullatt, who had commanded the 5th Engineer Special Brigade at OMAHA. At Antwerp Gullatt commanded the 13th Port (TC), which had reached the Continent from England in October. The largest single engineer element of the 13th Port was the 358th Engineer General Service Regiment; other engineer support included two depot and two petroleum distribution companies and two of the five engineer port repair ships in the ETO. By early December Gullatt also had under his control the 5th Port (TC), sent forward to Antwerp from Morlaix-Roscoff in Brittany.37

Rehabilitation of the port was under British control, with as much American assistance as necessary to meet the target opening date of 15 November. The first major task was repair of a


lock controlling the Kruisschans sluice, the longest of four sluices connecting the wet basins with the river and the only one leading into the American area. A-German mine had damaged one of the gates. The 358th Engineer General Service Regiment began work on the vital sluice on 6 November in cooperation with the British. The fact that the sluice had both flood and ebb gates made repair possible in plenty of time for the first American Liberty ship to enter on 28 November.38 American engineers also removed sand, rubble, and damaged cranes from the quays, improved quays and roads, constructed hardstandings and trackage, and rebuilt dockside warehouses.

The V-1 and V-2 rockets that the Germans sent over Antwerp beginning in mid-October 1944 inflicted surprisingly little damage at first, but in mid-December, at the start of the Battle of the Ardennes, rocket attacks on the city intensified. Between 11 and 29 December thirty men of the 358th Engineer General Service Regiment were wounded by V-bomb attacks, twenty-nine seriously; one died of wounds. On Saturday afternoon, 16 December, a V-2 bomb scored a direct hit on the Rex movie theater, killing 567 soldiers and civilians and seriously injuring 291. The 358th Engineers took over rescue and demolition operations and persevered until the last body was recovered on 22 December. For this extraordinary effort, the men of the 358th, their commander, Col. Chester L. Landaker, and the commander of the regiment's 2d Battalion, Maj. Roy S. Kelley, were warmly thanked by the British brigadier in charge of the area, who expressed his "highest admiration for the manner in which they worked under such distressing circumstances."39

Antwerp provided three means of port clearance-rail, truck, and inland waterway. Damage to tracks was minor; the limiting factor for railroad supply movements was a shortage of rolling stock. Truck transport began very early, and a network of roads to the principal American depots at Liege-Namur was operational before the end of October. The major British-American engineer effort was devoted to helping Belgian agencies open the Albert Canal, which ran eighty miles from Antwerp to Liege. The British were responsible for clearing the western portion of the canal-the thirty miles from Antwerp to Kwaadmechelen, and the Americans the remaining fifty miles to Liege. The work primarily involved repairing locks and removing demolished bridges and sunken barges. The headquarters element of the 1056th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group supervised clearing operations in the American sector, with the 332d and 355th Engineer General Service Regiments and Belgian civilian contractors undertaking most of the actual work. Although twenty-one blown bridges, including five railroad bridges, blocked the American sector, the engineers cleared that stretch for 600-ton barges by the target date of 15 December and for 2,000-ton barges by 9 March 1945. During the winter ice and flooding hampered operations, and the German counteroffensive for a time forced an embargo on barge traffic. Eventually 50 percent of


all US military tonnage discharged at Antwerp moved inland along the Albert Canal.40

After buzz-bomb and rocket attacks and German successes in the Ardennes raised the possibility that Antwerp might be wholly or partially denied to the Allies, British and American planners decided in mid-January to open the port of Ghent as a standby, making much the same sort of agreement on joint use as at Antwerp. The American allocation was 7,500 tons a day, to be cleared primarily over inland waterways and railroads; the British quota was set at 5,000 tons.

Accessible from the sea via a canal running twenty miles south of Terneuzen on the Schelde estuary west of Antwerp, Ghent was in peacetime the second port of Belgium, although its traffic was restricted to barges, coasters, and small freighters. The war had destroyed locks at Terneuzen and bridges across the canal, and many small craft were sunk in the canal. The Germans had used Ghent only for barges, mainly bringing in material used in the construction of the Atlantic Wall, and had dismantled, removed, or neglected cranes on quays along Ghent's basin. The quays were piled high with sand, gravel, scrap iron, and rubbish; some of the loading berths, undredged for five years, had become silted.41

On 18 December 1944, the British began repair of the Terneuzen locks and removal of bridges and sunken vessels from the canal. American assistance in rehabilitation did not begin until after the arrival of the main body of the 17th Port (TC) in mid-January; their immediate task was the removal of approximately 450,000 tons of sand and other aggregate from the quays. Most of this material the 17th Port loaded as ballast into outgoing deep-sea vessels; the rest went to Antwerp to be used on roads and other facilities. The American forces also built roads, repaired cranes, lifted wrecks, and dredged loading berths at the Grand Bassin, the principal dock. The US Army hopper dredge W. L. Marshall, with the 1080th Engineer Dredge Crew aboard, undertook the dredging early in April. Arriving at Antwerp in late January to replace a disabled Army dredge, the W. L. Marshall had spent more than two months dredging along the Schelde despite near misses by V-1 and V-2 bombs, which blew off several doors and caused "some consternation" among the crew.42

The first US vessel to pass the Terneuzen locks and enter the port of Ghent was the Hannis Taylor, a Liberty ship that berthed on 23 January 1945. She was the first ship of her size to enter Ghent, and her passage through the locks, which Belgian and Dutch naval authorities considered impassable for ships of such beam, was a triumph. After the Hannis Taylor's entry, Liberties went through regularly, with a clearance of only one foot on either side. In line with the chief of transportation's policy to keep Ghent free of cargo so that the port would be available in case the Allies had to abandon Antwerp, unloadings were limited to 2,500 tons a day during the first month


of operations. This rate more than doubled in March, and in the final month before V-E Day an average of 9,500 tons a day was discharging at Ghent.

For all their accomplishments in port reconstruction in Europe following D-day, the engineers were never really able to keep up with the demands of harbor improvement until well into the spring of 1945. Statistics on discharges of ships showed continual increase, but the shortages of berthing capacity for vessels on the Continent and the inadequate depot system for bulk supply in the theater contributed heavily to the supply crises during the latter part of the year. Basing estimates on combat requirements instead of on port capacities, General Lee's COMZ headquarters consistently overstated the number of ships the logistical structure in the ports could handle in a single month. The excess shipments created a bottleneck at that point in the supply chain. Without unloading capacity, the ships piled up offshore, remaining idle as floating warehouses instead of returning to more efficient use in the shipping pool on the high seas. Only with the capture and the eventual development of Antwerp and Ghent did the backlog clear up and the port capacity grow to a size large enough to support the last drive into Germany.







Return to Technical Services Page