6th June 1944 will forever be known as the day that changed the direction of the second world war. But did you know that the Renfrew shipyard of Lobnitz & Co. played not one but two major parts in the D-Day landings?
On the 8th October 1942, construction of HMS Pelorus, a minesweeper began, ending with its launch on the 18th June 1943 and commissioned two months later on the 7th October, 364 days from the initial construction to active service.
Pelorus was assigned to the 7th Minesweeping Flotilla and served as the flotilla leader. In June 1944 it was assigned to sweep minefields that protected Juno Beach where Canadian forces were due to land as part of the D-Day invasion. As Pelorus was the flotilla leader it led the entire D-Day invasion fleet on the 6th of June 1944. To make it even more appropriate in naval terms, it was commanded by Commandeer George Nelson R.N. who replied to the message “Good luck, drive on.” from Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay with “Aye, aye sir, with Nelson in the Van.” A reference of course to the renowned Admiral Nelson. A letter sent from Nelson to Lobnitz on the11 July’44 confirmed newspaper accounts of the story and asked the company to send 200 copies of the local newspaper article to the ship for the crew!
HMS Pelorus played its part in D-Day, but the invasion would not have been as successful without the magnificent floating harbours that were used by the allies. Several years were spent designing and testing many floating harbours and pier heads, but it was a design based on a Lobnitz suction Dredger that Brigadier Sir Bruce G White had seen ride out a storm in the Bahamas a few years previous. Pearson Lobnitz and his design team quickly designed a prototype and Redpath, Brown & Co Ltd were appointed to supply the steelwork required and Alexander Findlay & Co Ltd were appointed to erect it. On paper in December 1942, the prototype was in the Solway Firth by April 1943. This was remarkable given 1,000 tons of steel was involved.
The Mulberry Harbour Pierhead designed by Lobnitz was given approval after 13 months of testing, and construction began supervised by Lobnitz representatives all over Britain. The Mulberry Pierheads used 4 concrete “Spuds” to raise the harbour platform above the water during stormy weather. Image 3 shows the prototype pierhead stationed on the Solway Firth during testing.
The Mulberry Harbours and their floating roadway made the allied invasion of France possible on the 6th June 1944. The complex of floating harbours proved invaluable, landing 150,000 men and over 400 tons of supplies needed per day to look after them. If the allies had depended on capturing a French port, failure would most likely have followed, as the main ports of Cherbourg and Le Harve had been extensively damaged, rendering them useless for over six months.