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Vol. 19, No. 1, 2020
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Robert J. Lewis
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Nick Catalano
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part II



Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website:

On June 6th, 1944 the allied invasion of Normandy began. Over 10,000 soldiers were destined to perish at the hands of the murderous Nazi fortifications and weaponry installed by Hitler on the infamous Atlantic Wall. As most people know, this was the greatest amphibious invasion in military history and the multifarious stories of tragedy and heroism will continue to be told far into the future.

In Part l of this recollection I tried to relay my personal impressions garnered during a recent visit to Normandy on the 75th anniversary of the event. I feel apologetic as my writing reflected the intense emotions and uncontrollable weeping that I experienced at the American Cemetery and at Omaha Beach. In this essay I will focus on a little known episode of the invasion hopefully with a more objective sense of reporting.

Any amphibious invasion of foreign soil in history has included plans to support the first wave of troops as quickly as possible. As early as 1941 Winston Churchill instructed Lord Mountbatten to develop amphibious warfare techniques and, as Allied thinking progressed, the Northern coast of France became the obvious location for invasion. However, the Prime Minister and allied military leaders realized that this Northern coast contained only a couple of natural ports which the Germans had heavily defended. Without any accessible port facilities it would be impossible to support the first wave of troops and the entire invasion would almost certainly fail.

On 30th May 1942, fully two years before D-Day, Churchill wrote again to Mountbatten instructing him to plan the construction of artificial harbours on the beaches where thousands of ships could unload millions of tons of weapons, trucks, tanks and supplies together with thousands of troops to support the first wave. And this all had to begin on the second day of invasion. Not surprisingly there were many in Parliament who scoffed at the idea and derided the P.M. But Churchill forcefully dug in his heels and his uncompromising demeanour prevailed. He battled all grievances from scientists and engineers and issued memos insisting that the work begin immediately and refused to accept pleas for delays of any kind.

Thereafter, under the greatest secrecy a team under the designation ‘Transportation 5’ was entrusted with the responsibility of designing and constructing artificial port structures. The harbour creation project as a whole was given the code name ‘Mulberry’ and the huge construction project began soon after Churchill and Roosevelt met in July 1943 at the Quebec conference. The artificial harbour construction would have to be completed in just the few months that remained before D-Day and have the tonnage capacity of the Port of Dover which had taken seven years to build! Then the millions of tons of concrete and steel shaped into gigantic walls and floating roadways would have to be towed across the English Channel starting immediately after the first wave landed on D-Day and installation along the Normandy beaches would have to be well underway in 2 weeks.

Describing the various elements of this feat would take a book length treatment. Here is a brief list and location of the major components of Mulberry B located off the beach of Arromanches: BOMBARDONS -- furthest from the beach, these were steel rafts 65m long and 8m high. They were placed end to end and formed a 1600m long barrier. Anchored to the sea bottom, they were able to neutralize any big wave action heading to shore from the English Channel. Closer to shore were PHOENIX CAISSONS -- the largest components; gigantic concrete blocks up to 60m long, 17m wide and 18m high, some weighing 6000 tons and towed across the channel by powerful tugs, they were sunk closer to the shore from the BOMBARDONS and were the backbone of the artificial harbour. Bofors anti-aircraft guns to fend off German fighters were mounted on top with crew shelters inside. Further toward shore old BLOCKSHIPS were sunk to calm the water even further and halt current action; adjacent to them came LOEBNITZ PLATFORMS -- concrete and steel pontoons where cargo and troop ships from England could berth and unload just as if they were on a land pier or dock

Finally, FLOATING CAUSEWAYS perpendicularly attached to these platforms led right onto the beach where they were fixed. These causeways or roadways supported armored vehicles up to 40 tons. So . . . the ships docked at the LOEBNITZ PLATFORMS (protected from the sea waves by the BOMBARDONS, PHOENIX CAISSONS, and BLOCKSHIPS) then unloaded cargo and soldiers which rolled right onto the FLOATING CAUSEWAYS and landed on the beach. Within the framework of the overall Mulberry project, the engineers also constructed ‘Gooseberries’ on all five Allied landing sites. These were smaller versions of Mulberry B but contained the same structural elements.

All of this activity -- the erection of all the components of the Mulberry artificial harbour and the Gooseberries followed by the docking of ships and the movement of vehicles and men began on the second day of the invasion. Some 45,000 men worked for eight months in England to construct the entire Mulberry project which weighed 1 million tons. Between the 6th of June and the 19th the artificial harbours allowed the unloading of over 50,000 vehicles and 286,000 men. The structure continued to serve the allies until the Nazis were driven from France. (Videos illustrating and detailing this artificial harbour or ‘Mulberry] creation as it was secretly coded are available on YouTube).

Historians have declared the Mulberry project to be the greatest wartime amphibious engineering feat since Xerxes and his Persian army constructed a wooden pontoon crossing over the Dardanelles and invaded Greece in 480 B.C.

My visit to Normandy ended in irony. Arromanches-les-Bains, the village directly across the beach from Mulberry B (Mulberry A is directly across from Omaha beach 30 kms. to the 2-West) is a uniquely charming Norman village directly adjacent to the Channel. It has been amazingly restored and contains all of the paysage magnifique I’ve come to expect in France. And so it was that I was able to gather my thoughts and impressions of the Normandy invasion sitting on a sunlit bench enjoying oeufs cocotte and cafe gourmand staring out at the sea and the remains of a few Phoenix Caissons still blocking the Channel waves.

In this two-part Recollection essay I chose to focus on the fighting soldiers at Omaha beach and the Mulberry/artificial harbor project because in the same instant they capture the polarities of the human condition. Omaha Beach was the scene of the epochal evil and destruction that humans can engender on themselves and the Mulberry project the scene of the intellectual energy and inventive construction that humans can generate. And the implementation of these human polarities occurred during the same hours of an event that shook the world.

It is important for present and future generations to continuously recollect such events and human polarities because we have short memories. One of the worst enemies of our human evolution is our forgetfulness.

On a cynical note, I just received news that there are business interests looking to develop a $118 million D-Day tourist attraction at the Normandy site. The French government has received an 18,000 signature petition objecting to the irreverence of such a project . . . It seems our forgetfulness is often accompanied by our ignorance and selfishness.


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By Nick Catalano:
D-Day at Normandy: a Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
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Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


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Lynda Renée: Chroniques Québécois - Blog
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