The Allied invasion of France began today 67 years ago, on June 6, 1944.

The Allies were already in Europe (Rome had been liberated a couple of days earlier after a hard-fought campaign up Italy) but through France lay the fastest path to Germany from the West.

As always, behind the landing craft carrying the Allied forces and behind the paratroopers was a huge logistics support train. It was not enough to get troops into France – they had to be sustained, fed, provided with ammo and fuel to allow them to hold and expand the beachhead.

One aspect of this support effort was the creation of artificial harbors to allow for the smooth flow of supplies and fresh personnel into the newly occupied areas. Part of this effort included the intentional sinking of old merchant ships and war ships off the landing beaches to form breakwaters. These ships, called “Corn Cobs” created “Gooseberries” which allowed “Mulberries” to perform their mission. See my home blog post here for more background. Photo below shows a beachhead with the sunken Gooseberries offshore.

A force of Navy personnel manned anti-aircraft weapons on these Corn Cobs/Gooseberries – members of the Naval Armed Guard and suffered attack by air and from shore.

In additions, the Naval Armed Guard also rode ships carrying supplies from Britain to France and fought off air, surface and submarine attacks, as set out here.

While today we pause to remember the courage of the invasion force, take a few seconds to think of those who served in support of the landing forces as the Allies pushed into France.

Update (June 8): UPDATE: Interesting read from the Navy Department Library: Miracle Harbor

Posted by Mark Tempest in History, Navy

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  • UltimaRatioReg


    As always a great article here and on your home blog regarding the “Gooseberry” breakwaters. Amazing, the resources required to execute a major forcible entry cannot be underestimated. One hopes that someone, somewhere, will understand that such a capability is essential to maintain at some level.

  • P.S. Wallace

    One thing that struck me today as I read various blogs today on D-Day, and especially about Omaha Beach, was how successful the military training seems to have been in creating fighting spirit among the men in all the services. I say that because it seems to me that, despite the fact that the culture of the time still valued manliness, and despite the fact there was a glory haze to things military (at least in the motion pictures of the 20s and 30s), there was also a huge anti-World War I backlash sentiment that must have made its effects felt before the war (not to mention the effects of the Depression)–and yet somehow the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines fought doggedly as a whole, even after the “Dawn Patrol/Dive Bomber/etc.” type-glow blew off of military service (especially for the inductees). How did that happen? What made them into warriors who fought like those at the Battle of the Bulge fought? Like those off Okinawa fought? Like those at Guadalcanal fought? Like those at Schweinfurt fought?

    The pre-war military spent a lot of time trying to prepare for the mass induction they knew was coming. They spent a lot of time thinking of how to turn men used to civilian life into combat soldiers/sailors/airmen/Marines–not just skill wise, but emotionally as well. And they spend time trying to figure out how to do so quickly. I wonder if there are nuggets of wisdom in the training curricula or mobilization planning that might be pertinent or useful for today’s professional force. Don’t know, but am curious.

  • P.S. Wallace

    What I am, in part, trying to say is that in 1941 there were fissures in American society, and some were deep ones (we think only of segregation, and forget a lot of what the times were like). What kept them from impacting combat efficiency? What made the contented civilians into good warriors? What made the discontented ones good ones too? What part was due to the culture at large, and what was due to military training received by the recruits, and what was due to the already-existing professional culture that was expanded to meet the wartime contingency?

  • Chuck Hill

    The British experience helped in the preparations too. They did not want to see another Gallipoli. This only came late in the war after Diepe, North Africa, Sicily, and Anzio. Not all of which went so well.

    Great post, particularly on EagleSpeak. Had no idea the Naval Armed Guards stayed on after the ships were sunk.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Ahem. The “Atlantic Wall” required many, many German divisions to man,
    and a huge portion of the German national wealth to build. Ideology aside (not withstanding that they and their allies were a preeminent living embodiment of evil in the world at the time) the best military fortification design and construction expertise of the planet were at their command, and were applied with all possible vigor.

    It could not withstand the US Army (and allied armies)for all of a single day.

    Said army said of the US Navy’s contribution to the tactical problems encountered in all of that battle: “Thank God for the United States Navy”.

    Enemies of Republic, never forget.

  • Chuck Hill

    No, building “walls” and fixed fortifications has a spotty history at best.

  • Chuck Hill

    Thinkdefense has and excellent piece on the combatengineering and logistics innovations.

  • Read somewhere lately that the failed Diep raid convinced the Allies that captureing a port in France would be impossible
    The need for the construction and use of “Mullberies” resulted.
    Interestingly, the construction and use of artifical harbors for use during the planned invasion of Japan was of high priority in the US – the only program having higher priority being the atom bomb.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Chuck: As do attacks upon them.

    Edward Ellsberg’s “The Far Shore”,1960,has more to tell of Mulberries and Gooseberries.

    As the Iron Duke said of Waterloo, “It was a close run thing”.
    From those beaches and others the Seals grew. As well as others of whom those of us who know, know.

    Formidable. they were. (H/T: Yoda)

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    make that 1960, Dodd, Mead, has more to tell…

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