The challenge of loading enough men and materiel in a short space of time to transport them across the Channel and offload them on the far shore was a challenge that met the planners of D-Day early on. Their answer, under the direction of Louis Mountbatten, Commander of Combined Operations, was to build a number of embarkation hards at strategic points along the south coast that would add to the facilities that the dockyards and harbours already provided. In Cornwall this would see hards built at Mount Edgecumbe and Jupiter Point in east Cornwall, at Polgerran Wood, Turnaware Point, Messack Point, the Grove and Harvey’s Yard on the River Fal and Polgwidden on the Helford River. As some of these chosen sites were at points on the coast or estuary inaccessible by land a number of roads had to be constructed to allow vehicles to reach them. Many locals still refer to them as the “American roads” or the Yankee roads” which is a complete misnomer as they were planned and constructed by the British and merely handed over to them for their use in 1944 for their D-Day training exercises and, of course, the real thing.
The surveys of the sites deemed suitable was carried out between May and November 1942 by experts from the Admiralty. Once the list was finalised the Admiralty then appointed an expert to oversee their construction. For example, Bernard Breakell was a civil engineer employed by the Admiralty to oversee the construction of the hards on the Fal and Helford Rivers.
The first job was the grading of the beaches to make them suitable for the landing craft that would use them. Admiralty sent two brand new bulldozers, TD6’s, which were four cylindered diesel bulldozers first sold in 1940. At Turnaware Frank Curnow was appointed supervisor for the initial preparation for the beach which began on Thursday 5 th November 1942. He worked in the granite quarries at Porthoustock on the Lizard and was experienced in blasting. He worked with a team of between 40 and 70 men (numbers varied depending on the task in hand), blasting away the rock, opening up a small quarry for hard core and then laying and rolling the beach using a steamroller.
The base of the access road to Turnaware was made with hardcore brought by a fleet of 30 lorries from the north of England. It was laid by a team of Irish navvies. The road was to be 3.6m wide with a number of wider passing places and made of concrete 20cm thick on 7.5cm of gravel.
The concrete construction and laying was contracted to Harbour and General Works Ltd of London and strictly supervised by Bernard Breakell’s staff as it was carried out on a “cost plus” basis. A Mr E. Russell led the H & G team in Cornwall. They also put together the “chocolate blocks” that had been pioneered by the British military engineer Guy Maunsell who had designed a system of interlocking
blocks that could be easily assembled on the beach. They were used on all 68 hards in the south of England in the inter-tidal area. They were made of concrete reinforced with steel wire and weighed several tons each. They were designed to be resistant to erosion and to withstand the force of waves and tidal currents whilst supporting the weight of tanks and other heavy military vehicles being driven
The finishing touches to the dolphin piers, such as the handrails, fenders and depth markers, were done by the Penryn firm of J Curtis & Son. After a planning conference at HMS Forte in Falmouth they also had the contract to supply water to the hards on the Fal and the Helford laying a pipeline from a huge tank on the far side of the Roseland to Turnaware and Tolverne. At Polgwidden the plan was for an overland route from Kergilliack across the fields through Budock,, Bareppa and Mawnan Smith. The powers that be gave their approval but the local authority’s water engineer wouldn’t co-operate. A senior naval officer from Plymouth paid him a visit, read the King’s Realm Act to him which resulted in the engineer backing down and submitting to the plan. They used six inch diameter steel tubing with clamp on Victaulic joints as used by the Fire Brigades. Lorry loads of tubing were delivered and the gang from J Curtis & Son worked all the daylight hours they could completing the job within a month.
At Mount Edgecumbe in south-east Cornwall one of the biggest obstacles was on the approach roads to the site. A report of a roads recce of Area M carried out on 17 th September 1943 identified a serious bottleneck in Millbrook where “the road in places narrows to 13ft and there is a sharp right hand corner at one end of the narrowest stretch. Houses will have to be pulled down to correct this.” A number of houses in Dodbrook were demolished to enable the American vehicles to turn the corner.
Each of the hards were to be equipped with hardmaster’s huts, canteens, messing and sleeping accommodation for the hards’ staffs (usually about 20 permanent personnel) and necessary stores including ammunition storage for the anti-aircraft guns installed on each site. The buildings, usually Nissen or Romney huts, were the remit of the Directorate of Fortifications & Works at the War Office. The hardmaster’s headquarters usually overlooked the hard, traffic control huts lined the approach
road while the domestic buildings were clustered nearby.
The RAF soon reported that the access roads shone on a moonlit night and belied all attempts to camouflage them and keep them secret from the enemy. So a thin layer of tarmac was quickly laid over the concrete to prevent this reflective shine effect. The hards in Cornwall were only hit once by enemy bombs when in the final raid on Falmouth on 30 th May 1944 Harvey’s Yard was hit by one Fire Pot Incendiary Bomb causing only slight damage. The nearby RE Pier (known locally as Submarine
Pier) was also hit by one Fire Pot Incendiary Bomb causing “damage to War Department property” according to the Cornwall Constabulary War Diary.
Hard PF 1 at Polgerran Wood (Tolverne) was a LST Hard with 2 berths. PF 2 at Turnaware Point was a LCT Hard with 4 berths. In Falmouth Harvey’s Yard, PF 3, was a LCT Hard with 2 berths while Taylor’s Garage (now Trago Mills and also known as The Grove), PF 4, was a LCT Hard with 4 berths. Messack Point, PF 7, was used to load infantry only, usually ferrying them in small landing craft out to larger ships moored in the Carrick Roads. Polgwidden on the Helford (now Trebah), PH, was a LST Hard with 2 berths. The first hard to be used was Polgwidden, which along with the Prince
of Wales Pier in Falmouth, was used to embark for Exercise Duck on 31 st December 1943.
When the Americans took over the hards they considered the access roads at Turnaware and Polgwidden too narrow and at both sites brought in a unit of black troops to widen them by six feet. This was done in February/March 1944 and probably is the reason for so many locals believing the Americans had built them. Even today it is possible to distinguish the different types of concrete on
the roads by the British and the Americans.
British Military Police worked with the Americans on the security for the hards, patrolling the cliffs and woods nearby, checking the passes and ID cards of the local residents who had to come and go through the secure area. At Polgwidden the BMP lodged in the stables at Trebah.
The hards were used for real beginning at 00 01 hours on Thursday 1 st June 1944 when embarkation of the US 29 th Infantry Division and associated units began. But that’s a story for another month. The hard at Turnaware is open access National Trust land. At Polgwidden it can be viewed by a visit to Trebah Gardens as part of the admission price (or viewed from the footpath that runs along the north
coast of the Helford estuary). At Jupiter Point the hard is now part of HMS Raleigh’s Sea Sense Training Centre while at Mount Edgecumbe the hards can be freely explored by walking the estate.
Until next time, take care.