Friday, December 3, 2010

History of the 13th Major Port, part 2

A sergeant of the 13th Port guarding Falmouth's docks.

At Plymouth we took over the British port known as Raglan Barracks, where we had a few British troops, come British Navy, and an ever changing group of Port Battalions, Port Maintenance Companies, Harbor Craft Companies, detachments of civilian tug-boat Captains and Mates.

At Plymouth we assembled "Sea Mules", unloaded tug-boats from the decks of Liberty ships, unloaded supplies galore for the American Army and Navy and for our British allies; and supervised operations elsewhere.

At the time of the invasion Plymouth outloaded Liberty ships carrying combat vehicles and crews to the "Far Shore" and handed American wounded and German wounded and Prisoner of War.

TRURO, TOTNES, HAYLE: The Barge Program
In February we learned that we were supposed to be in charge of constructing 400 wooden barges and 400 steel barges for the invasion, with a deadline of June 1944. Prefabricated materials were being shipped from the United States. We were to assemble in ship-yards in England. The project was supposedly started in October 1943. Through some oversight nothing was said to us about it when we arrived in January 1944.

Investigation showed that materials were clogging the English railroads so that embargoes were threatened. The ship-yards to assemble these large boats were still to be constructed. And through some miracle the 13th was supposed to do iin three months work which had been planned for eight months.

Between February and June 1st, ways were constructed at Totnes, Truro, and Hayle. All the wooden barges had been constructed and launched. And all of them would have been completed, except that steel did not arrive from the United States.

Steel was unloaded at Plymouth and Falmouth. At Totnes when carpenters were unavailable for constructing wooden barges, a colored Port Battalion took over and turned them out faster that the English carpenters had been doing. At Truro a Railroad Maintenance Battalion helped out wonderfully in making the steel barge program a success.

The successful completion of the barge program before D-Day was an achievement in which all members of the 13th took pride.

Falmouth was operated by us from early in 1944. First was the job of unloading steel for Truro and shipping it by barge up the river. Then handling Naval stores—from heavy pontoon sections to tailor's thread.

When the 13th Port took over at Falmouth, we were told it could handle a maximum of four vessels and 2,000 tons per day. Instead we stepped it up to nine vessels and 4,500 long tons a day.

As D-Day approached, our job was to outload men and vehicles for the invasion. By ten days after D-Day 11,000 vehicles and 34,000 men had been outloaded at Falmouth. The original schedule at Falmouth called for handling 44 ships. Actually we handled 84.

From the start operations at Falmouth were carried on under high pressure. The small group of officers and men who served at Falmouth did an outstanding job, for which the 13th Port received great credit from the Navy and the Army.

Fowey is an interiguing old port on the Cornish coast which was assigned to the 13th Port as an outloading point for all kinds of ammunition for troops in Normandy.

In peace time it is a loading point for clay used in making porcelain and chinaware. In the early stages of World War II the English had used it as an ammunition shipping point for English troops on the continent.

The American Army was told that its limit was 350 tons of "ammo" per day. They hopefully doubled the figure and handed it to the 13th Port. The 13th, in turn doubled the figure and shippe dmore than 1400 tons in a single day. The limiting factor was that there were never enough ships available to take the stuff!

Fowey was supposed to operate till D plus 90. Instead, by about D plus 45 it had outshipped all the ammunition it was supposed to handle, and the 13th Port closed shop and returned to Plymouth, ready to go to Europe.

Read Part 3

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