Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
The ingenious feat of military engineering that made D-Day such a massive success for the Allies
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
When Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 – a bold invasion of Nazi-held territory that helped tip the balance of World War II — they were using a remarkable and entirely untested technology: artificial ports.
To stage what was then the largest seaborne assault in history, the American, British and Canadian armies needed to get at least 150,000 soldiers, military personnel and all their equipment ashore on day one of the invasion.
Reclaiming France's coastline was just the first challenge. After that, Allied troops planned to fight their way across the fields of France to liberate Paris and, finally, onto Berlin, where they would converge with the Soviet army to defeat Hitler.
When Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and his advisers pressed for this ambitious invasion of Nazi-occupied France, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was dubious.
Could it be done?
Such an operation would require more than a million soldiers – all equipped with weapons, ammunition, food and clothing – plus hundreds of thousands of vehicles, tents and medical personnel.
Getting so many people and materials from ship to shore while battling waves, tides and currents presented an enormous logistical challenge.
Churchill, recalling the failed marine campaign to capture Gallipoli during World War I, feared that Allied troops would get trapped on the beaches and be sitting ducks for the German soldiers awaiting atop Normandy's cliffs.
So Churchill demanded that a team of engineers, scientists and military officers design a marine staging area that could actually support a successful operation.
The team's solution was ingenious: two easy-to-assemble artificial ports where Allied ships could safely anchor to stage the massive operation.
As I write in my 2016 book on what became known as the “Mulberry Harbours," each of these artificial ports consisted of artificial breakwaters – barriers against waves made up of sunken ships and huge concrete chambers.
Behind the circular breakwaters was a sophisticated system of floating piers anchored to the seabed.
German planes doing air reconnaissance did spot the concrete chambers, which had been filled with air to make them float before they were sunk. But, according to my archival research, they had no idea what they were seeing or how these giant containers would be used.
A floating solution
Once complete, each Mulberry Harbour – a code name that has no deeper meaning – gave Allied troops about 1 square mile of quiet, wave-free ocean from which to stage the invasion.
Nearly 200 military ships and landing crafts anchored at Mulberry Harbours in their first week, sending 12 military divisions, or about 180,000 men, straight into enemy territory.
Ten thousand of them were killed or injured on the first day, blown up by landmines and picked off by camouflaged German machine gun nests and blasted by artillery in concrete bunkers.
On June 19, 1944, a storm permanently disabled the Mulberry Harbour used by the American armed forces.
But Britain's Mulberry Harbour continued to serve Allied forces for another 10 months as they freed all French ports from German control.
War games in the bath
Churchill became convinced of the merit of the Mulberry Harbours design while in a bath tub on the Queen Mary, as he traveled to Washington to discuss war strategy with President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943.
Churchill's scientific adviser, Professor John Bernal, floated paper boats in the prime minister's bathtub, agitating the water to simulate waves, then used a loofah, or sponge, to demonstrate the pacifying effect of breakwaters.
“They must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out," Churchill wrote. “Don't argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves."
After D-Day, some Mulberry Harbours engineers were sent to the South Pacific with the idea that similar portable ports would be needed for the invasion of Japan. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made that unnecessary.
No similar wartime engineering feat has been tried since.
WATCH NEXT: Green Berets Parachut Over Mont Saint-Michel To Honor The 75th Anniversary Of Their Special Forces Predecessors' Arrival In France
The Marine Corps has tapped a new Silicon Valley defense firm to develop a "digital fortress" of networked surveillance systems in order to enhance the situational awareness of security forces at installations around the world.
Marine Corps Installations Command on July 15 announced a $13.5 million sole source contract award to Anduril Industries — the two-year-old defense technology company and Project Maven contractor founded by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and several former Palantir Technologies executives — for a new Autonomous Surveillance Counter Intrusion Capability (ASCIC) designed to help secure installations against "all manners of intrusion" without additional manpower.
This is no standard intrusion system. Through its AI-driven Lattice Platform network and 32-foot-tall autonomous Sentry Towers, Anduril purports to combine the virtual reality systems that Luckey pioneered at Oculus with Pentagon's most advanced sensors into a simple mobile platform, enhancing an installation's surveillance capabilities with what Wired recently dubbed "a web of all-seeing eyes, with intelligence to know what it sees."
The Marine Corps' dune buggy drone jammer may have downed two Iranian drones in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. military have officials announced.
The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer was transiting the Strait of Hormuz on July 18 when two Iranian drones came dangerously close, according to U.S. Central Command.
"This was a defensive action by the USS Boxer in response to aggressive interactions by two Iranian UAS [unmanned aerial systems] platforms in international waters," CENTCOM spokesman Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in a statement. "The Boxer took defensive action and engaged both of these platforms."
Green Beret with terminal cancer meets Trump to rally support for military medical malpractice reform
On July 17, Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal briefly met with President Donald Trump at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina to discuss the eponymous legislation that would finally allow victims of military medical malpractice to sue the U.S. government.
A Green Beret with terminal lung cancer, Stayskal has spent the last year fighting to change the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court precedent that bars service members like him from suing the government for negligence or wrongdoing.
The Pentagon is no longer topless. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Mark Esper as the United States' first permanent defense secretary in more than seven months.
Esper is expected to be sworn in as defense secretary later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
"We are grateful for the Senate leadership and the Senate Armed Services Committee's willingness to quickly move through this process," Hoffman said.
The new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick that dropped last week was indisputably the white-knuckle thrill ride of the summer, a blur of aerial acrobatics and beach volleyball that made us wonder how we ever lost that lovin' feeling in the decades since we first met Pete "Maverick" Mitchell back in 1986.
But it also made us wonder something else: Why is Maverick still flying combat missions in an F/A-18 Super Hornet as a 57-year-old captain after more than 30 years of service?