On Gold Beach, the little harbour of Arromanches is in a strange location: it is a beach between two twenty-metre cliffs, where the Germans had set up bunkers.
On 6 June 1944, at 3.00 in the morning, the massive shelling of the Longues battery by the Allied aviation began. The population of Arromanches went to their shelters. The Allied bombing continued all morning long. A little further to the east, at Le Hamel, the British landed on 6 June 1944 at around 7.30 am.
The beach was protected by many blockhouses and the breakthrough didn’t succeed until the afternoon with support from tanks and reinforcements.
The tanks and the British infantry quickly moved inland. The Allied tanks did not enter Arromanches, via Saint Côme hill, until about 4.00 pm. The 600 Germans of the garrison continued to resist. On 7 June, there were fifteen victims among the population of Arromanches, forty-three buildings has been levelled, one hundred and eighty were damaged and only six houses remained intact.
50th division infantry advancing near St Gabriel, 10 km from the landing beaches. 6 June 1944. Source: Imperial War Museum
A landing project as huge as Overlord could only be undertaken with the assurance that the troops, materiel and supplies could reach land as quickly as possible. The decision was taken to create a large body of water that was sheltered from the ocean swell in front of Arromanches, near the middle of the Gold Beach sector, by setting up a prefabricated artificial dike. There were to be 3 unloading docks inside this roadstead, connected to land by jetties. All these facilities were to be built in Great Britain and towed across the Channel the day after “D-Day”.
Two artificial harbours were planned. When the one at Omaha Beach was destroyed by a storm on 19 June, the one at Arromanches remained alone.
Construction of the Mulberry harbours, Weymouth, April 1944. Floating breakwater (“bombardons”) moored in the Bay of Weymouth during testing. Source: Imperial War Museum
It had a double breakwater, the first exterior one floating, the second interior one fixed, comprising concrete caissons and floating jetties running from the beaches to the jetty heads where ships could stay moored no matter what the movements of the tide. The harbour, prefabricated in England, was brought to Arromanches at a speed of 7 km an hour. Its installation began on 7 June. Sixty ships were run aground and one hundred and forty-six caissons were installed in less than ten days.
Aerial view of Mulberry artificial harbour at Arromanches, September 1944. Source: Imperial War Museum
In one hundred days, Port “Winston”, named after Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with its 12-kilometre roadstead, could receive the largest ships and was able to land 2,500,000 men, 500,000 vehicles and 4,000,000 tonnes of materiel. Designed to last for the three months of summer, it continued to be used for eight months.
Trucks and troops landing at Mulberry B, July 1944. Source: Imperial War Museum
Many vestiges of this construction can still be seen on the beach of Arromanches.
Mulberry Bridge. Source: Creative Commons Licence
Vestiges of the "Mulberry B" harbour at Arromanches-les-Bains, created during the Normandy landing in 1944. Source: Creative Commons Licence