Reflecting on Our Research: We Remember the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

US Army Corps of Engineers
Published June 6, 2019
Mulberry artificial harbor design

The Mulberry artificial harbor design, used near the coast of France during World War II, was supported by breakwater testing at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss.

Mulberry caisson breakwater

An image of the Mulberry caisson breakwater design testing.

VICKSBURG, Miss. (June 6, 2019) – While many Americans were stationed overseas on the battlefields of World War II, a group of dedicated engineers and scientists found themselves on the home front at Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi, working tirelessly to research innovative ways to support the war effort.

One of those research missions involved breakwater testing on designs for two artificial harbors, a top-secret project that was codenamed “Mulberry.”  

As part of their work to support the Mulberry caisson design, the Waterways scientists and engineers studied the rising and lowering of tides, water currents that were prevalent at that point in time, sand charts, and other factors that had potential to affect the mission. The resulting information was in turn offered to support the decision-making about where troop landings could be made on the beaches of France.

After Allied troops landed at the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the Mulberry harbors allowed for 7,000 tons of vehicles and supplies to be moved from ship to shore each day. The harbors were intended to be the primary way to move goods until the port at Cherbourg was captured for military use.   

“The role of (Waterways) scientists and engineers was absolutely vital to the success of the Normandy landings, and more importantly, to the sustained efforts to establish and enlarge the beachhead,” said Terry Winschel, historian for the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

Though one of the harbors was destroyed by a violent storm just weeks after the invasion, the other supported Allied troops for nearly a year and was responsible for 2.5 million men and 4 million tons of supplies making their way onto land.

“The success of the invasion depended in large part on the work of Waterways Experiment Station engineers and scientists,” Winschel said.