D-Day Sites in England: An Assessment

Article excerpt

This paper describes those monuments surviving in England which represent the preparations and embarkation for the Normandy invasions of 1944 (see Dobinson et al. 1997 for a summary of the wider project of which this study forms a part). Contrary to what has been said previously (e.g. Wills 1994), much of this archaeological record does survive including examples of all types of site constructed or adapted to serve Operation Neptune -- the assault phase of Overlord -- which represented the springboard for the Allied invasion of German-occupied Europe. However, there are variations in the quality and extent of survival. Some classes of monument are characterized more by ephemeral remains (camp sites, training facilities); other classes survive in more substantial form. These include: construction sites for the artificial concrete `mulberry' harbours, and some components of the harbours themselves; repair, maintenance and construction sites for the many vessels involved in the Operation; and the embarkation sites from which troops departed and materiel was despatched for the French coast. It is these most obvious and substantial of remains that form the basis of this assessment, though accepting that examples of other monument classes do survive. For bombing decoys, put in place to confuse enemy reconnaissance, assessment has already been completed (Dobinson 2000: 177ff), while some work has been undertaken on surviving storage and supply depots (e.g. Francis 1997), on sites associated with PLUTO -- the `Pipeline under the Ocean' (Searle 1995), as well as by English Heritage on training areas and airfields.

Preparations and embarkation

Those monument classes representing the three principal aspects -- or `teeth' -- of the Operation display some of the most obvious and monumental remains, symbolizing the scale and international significance of the events of June 1944. The three classes can be characterized in the following terms:

Mulberry harbour construction sites

The construction of the two artificial `mulberry' harbours, built in sections (and different component parts generally at separate sites) and towed across the channel for disembarkation of troops and landing of supplies, was, in Churchill's words, `a principal part of the great plan', and was decisive in the first days of the invasion. Although one harbour failed, the remaining structure -- at Arromanches -- was significant in providing the tactical advantage of surprise, and the logistical advantage of not having to land on a defended shore and at the mercy of the weather. Some components of the harbours were clearly surplus to requirements and remained in the UK; some sank on route, or were `beached' for other reasons. Many sites were involved in this construction process, stretching at least from Southampton, via south coast ports and London, to the northeast.

Mulberry harbour construction sites were designed variously for the manufacture of: Phoenix caissons (partly submerged breakwaters made of cement; the largest was 60,447 tons) and Bombardons (floating steel breakwaters; up to 1000 tons) which made up the outer harbour, and the pierheads (Spuds), floating piers (Whales) with their steel-spanned roadways, and pontoons (Beetles), some of steel, some of concrete, that supported them (Harris 1994; Hughes 1994). These construction sites were located either in largely unmodified dry docks or slipways, or in excavated basins or on beaches. Much use was made of existing facilities. In Southampton, No. 5 Dry Dock and adjacent wet berths were used to build 12 of the largest Phoenix caissons, while Bombardons were assembled in No. 7 Dry Dock and on adjacent quays and land, the parts coming from all over the country (see Peckham 1994:13-17 for photos). It is the beach construction sites, however, that retain most evidence for this construction task (e.g. Lepe, Stokes Bay and Hayling Island, all Hampshire), comprising construction platforms, slipways and winch-house foundations (Hughes 1994). …