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Mulberry Harbour

by Mike Maloney

Reproduced from in focus 7 (December 1984)

UK

As we handed our cameras into the Zodiac and hauled ourselves inboard my thoughts went over the excellent dive we had just made. Depth 12m, no current, viz 10m+, temp. 15°C and shoals of pollock, bib and pouting.

My younger companion as usual started the questioning. What was a Mulberry Harbour, how large is it, how did it come to be there off Pagham, Sussex?

For the answers you must look back to World War II when the invasion of Europe was being planned. The idea was to build large floating caissons in England at various suitable sites around the coast and then tow them across to the coast of Normandy and use them to make a large artificial harbour and so allow the allied forces to bring men and stores ashore. One has to remember the area of the invasion had no natural harbour, only miles of sandy beaches, which were useless to land this vast amount of men and materials upon. So a prefabricated harbour was designed and built to overcome the problem.

The 'Far Mulberry' as we know it, was classified as an 'A1 Caisson', eighty were manufactured, they were 60 ft high, 204 ft in length, 50 ft 3 in wide and had a displacement of 6044 tons. Draft 20 ft 3 in. The internal walls were 9 in thick with an external wall size of 15 in.

The A1 units also had Bofars anti-aircraft guns mounted on steel towers located almost mid-ships and carried a gun crew and 12 tons of ammunition from the time they were towed away from the construction berth. When in position the harbours were at all stages protected by a formidable array of guns at approximately 200 ft spacing all around the outer perimeter, barrage balloons were also flown from the caissons for added protection.

The caissons when fabricated and completed were then towed by tugs to special 'waiting parks'. Each unit was designed to enable it to be gently sunk in shallow water and then when ready for the tow across the Channel, to be re-floated by simply blowing the internal tanks by means of valves.

Our one, the 'Far Mulberry' had been in rather deeper water than originally intended, so It was decided to re-float it and move it into a shallower position ready for a quick salvage for D-Day, but owing to a misunderstanding, the necessary tugs were not on hand to take charge when it came afloat and the flooding valves were re-opened to allow it to settle on the sea bed again. Unfortunately the caisson had swung round whilst afloat and it was forced to settle down again diagonally over a deep depression it had made on the sea bed. It immediately twisted and cracked beyond repair.

The unit remained here until early 1945 when it was finished off by the Royal Air Force in practise bombing runs and that is the position it now lies in some two nautical miles off Pagham Beach in 12m of water.

When you next dive the 'Far Mulberry' you will know a little more of this fascinating wreck and how it came to be there and when those inevitable questions start from the new divers who explore these old remains, at least you can give them a brief history of Caisson Type A1.

If anyone has any photographs or other facts on this Mulberry section, I would be pleased to hear from them.



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