Blockship 230

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by lineman, Jan 22, 2011.

  1. lineman

    lineman Junior Member

    This is my first post here and I am trying to find out the name of blockship 230 used off the Normandy coast around D-Day. My mates father sailed on this blockship and manned a bofors gun after the sinking. He would like to know the actaul name of the ship but neither of us can link the number 230 to a ships name.
    Can anyone help please

  2. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    Welcome to the forum

  3. lineman

    lineman Junior Member

    Cheers mate
    Looks like I will be spending quite a bit of time on here looking through all the posts.

  4. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Lineman - I assume you have tried the obvious and started with Wiki, which gives some candidates but doesn't use the numbering system....

    List of Allied warships in the Normandy landings - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The first one seems a good option, previously used as an a/a ship and carrying a 70 man crew rather than being towed into place for it's last voyage.

    HMS Centurion, old battleship sunk as a blockship in "Gooseberry" breakwater

    · Between 1942 and 1944 Centurion was stationed off Suez as an anti-aircraft ship and to give pause to Regia Marina action in the area—the Italians thought that her false wooden 13.5-inch guns were real and kept their superdreadnoughts away. Her final act after a long and somewhat understated career was to be sunk as a breakwater off the Normandy beaches after D-Day. Reportedly the Germans thought that the old vessel had been sunk by shore batteries of the German 352nd Division with great loss of life when only 70 crewmen were observed leaving the sinking vessel; in fact the 70 men were the entire crew.

    Courbet, Free Naval French Forces, old battleship sunk as a blockship in "Gooseberry" breakwater

    · She remained in use as a depot and target ship until she was earmarked for use as a "Gooseberry" breakwater at Sword Beach during the Battle of Normandy.[7] She had to be towed from Weymouth on 7 June 1944 by the British Rescue tugs HMRT Growler and HMRT Samsonia as her engines and boilers had been removed earlier and replaced with concrete.[14] She was scuttled in place on 9 June and was hit by Neger manned torpedoes during the nights of 15–16 and 16–17 August.

    HMS Durban (light cruiser used as a blockship in "Gooseberry" breakwater)

    · She was then one of the ships selected to be scuttled to form a breakwater for the Mulberry harbours that would be used to support the Battle of Normandy.

    Subsequently, on 9 June 1944 Durban was scuttled to form part of the Gooseberry 5 breakwater for protecting the artificial harbour off Ouistreham in the Seine Bay. The wreck currently lies in 11 meters of water.

    HNMLS Sumatra (Dutch, decommissioned due to crew shortages and losing her guns to HNMLS Flores and Soemba, used as blockship in"Gooseberry" breakwater)

    · In the end Sumatra was scuttled off the coast of Normandy on 9 June 1944 at Ouistreham as part of a "gooseberry" pier to protect an artificial Mulberry Harbour built by the Allies as part of Operation Overlord.
  5. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Harbour elements and code names

    Below are listed brief details of the major elements of the harbours together with their associated military code names.

    "Corn cobs" were block ships that crossed the channel either under their own steam or that were towed and then scuttled to create sheltered water at the five landing beaches.. Once in position the "Corn Cobs" created "Gooseberries". The ships used for each beach were:

    Utah Beach (Gooseberry 1): Benjamin Contee, David O. Saylor, George S. Wasson, Matt W. Ransom, West Cheswald, West Honaker, West Nohno, Willis A. Slater, Victory Sword and Vitruvius.

    Omaha Beach (Gooseberry 2): Artemas Ward, Audacious, Baialoide, HMS Centurion, Courageous, Flight-Command, Galveston, George W. Childs, James W. Marshall, James Iredell, Olambala, Potter, West Grama and Wilscox.

    Gold Beach (Gooseberry 3): Alynbank, Alghios Spyridon, Elswick Park, Flowergate, Giorgios P., Ingman, Innerton, Lynghaug, Modlin, Njegos, Parkhaven, Parklaan, Saltersgate, Sirehei, Vinlake and Winha.

    Juno Beach (Gooseberry 4): Belgique, Bendoran, Empire Bunting, Empire Flamingo, Empire Moorhen, Empire Waterhen, Formigny, Manchester Spinner, Mariposa, Panos and Vera Radcliffe.

    Sword Beach (Gooseberry 5): Becheville, Courbet, Dover Hill, HMS Durban, Empire Defiance, Empire Tamar, Empire Tana, Forbin and HNLMS Sumatra.

    Gooseberry - The sheltered waters created by the Corn Cob block ships. Two of the "Gooseberries" grew into "Mulberries", the artificial harbours.
  6. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Do you have any other info, like which beach he was guarding? Also, what nationality / service was he a part of - that can be used to eliminate ships like this one which had a US gun crew (if the father was British Navy or Army). It mentions all ships as having an American gun crew, but I presume that refers to all American ships.

    West Cheswald sailed from Poole on 7 June in a convoy, consisting of what one author called the "dregs of the North Atlantic shipping pool", and reached the Normandy beachhead the next day, two days after the D-Day landings. The corncob ships traveled under cover of darkness and, stripped of all unnecessary equipment, carried no radios, having only a signal lamp (with a spare bulb) for communication. Once at the designated location, the ships were put into position and scuttled over the next days, under heavy German artillery fire. Naval Armed Guardsmen manned the guns on all the gooseberry ships to protect against frequent German air attacks; West Cheswald's gunners were credited with downing one plane on 10 June. All the while, harbor pilots—about half of the New York Bar Pilots Association, according to one source—carefully positioned the ships. West Cheswald and West Nohno were the last two ships sunk off Utah Beach when they went down on 11 June. Even though she had been sunk, West Cheswald continued to serve as an anti-aircraft platform manned by Navy gun crews until 19 June, and by Army crews after that date. West Cheswald's naval gunners were awarded a second battle star for participation in the Normandy Landings.
  7. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    I'm starting to wonder if the reason you can't find a ship's name to link to the number is because it wasn't actually a ship he was deployed on.

    On D+1 the caissons, each with a 4 man crew, two sailors and an anti-aircraft gun emplacement, were towed to positions about a mile off-shore and handed over to a fleet of powerful harbour tugs which manoeuvred them into their final positions. The caissons' sea valves were opened until they settled at previously agreed depths. Each Mulberry was about a mile long and stood about 30 ft (9m) above sea level at low tide and 10 ft (3m) at high tide. The block-ships at Mulberry B were all in position by June 13th and formed two crescent shaped harbours which accommodated 75 Liberty ships and small craft.

    The installation of the stores and LST piers proved to be more of a problem. The tows began to arrive at Mulberry B on D+4 and work continued throughout the night. Choppy seas made the manoeuvring of the bridging spans very difficult. By D+8 the stores pier and roadway amounting to 1.2k was in place and operational. The 2nd stores pier was operational by July 8. It was later discovered that the Beetle floats to support the roadway had been positioned in an alternate pattern rather than opposite each other as the design intended. This proved to be a costly error when consequential stability problems were experienced. The Luftwaffe attacked Mulberry B on July 15 but such were the defences that 9 of the 12 Messcherschmitts were shot down.

    The caissons were placed in a continuous row. They were built in six different sizes for different depths of water. The biggest displaced 6,044 tons, the smallest 1,672 tons. Note the sea-cocks used to let in the water to sink them in position. Dredge ships also pumped sand into the compartments. For protection against enemy air attack anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the biggest caissons and barrage balloons floated overhead. Quarters for the A-A gun crews were built on the caissons.

    The number 230 might refer to the number applied to a particular caisson for logistics and placement purposes

    One of the Mulberry Harbour's Phoenix caissons (breakwaters), 1944 | Flickr - Photo Sharing! - this caisson seems to be number 45 or 145

    Assembling Mulberry Harbour pierheads, 1944 | Flickr - Photo Sharing! - and number 401
  8. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Each caisson comprised of a shelter for the crew during transit, a platform for mounting a Bofors anti-aircraft gun providing protection for its crew, and finally a hold for twenty tonnes of ammunition formed within the upper part of the structure. The caissons sunk offshore had no decks. Others were sunk side by side at right angles to the shore, constituting shelter-jetties giving lateral protection to the harbour and serving as unloading quays for small ships. The largest were 60 metres long, 17 metres wide and 18 metres high.

    On 16th June the central jetty of Mulberry A was finished and linked to the berthing quay. It appears that on this day the Germans finally understood the importance of the Mulberries and started to launch air attacks on them. They were defended by the Allied Air Forces and by anti-aircraft guns on the ships, the caissons themselves and the beaches. Anti-aircraft balloons and smoke screens completed the defences.

    HyperWar: Logistical Support of the Armies, Vol. I [Chapter 7] - includes a photo of Phoenix A 30

    Apparently there are a couple of them still in use at Portland Harbour "A pair of Mulberry ‘Phoenix’ caissons continue to function as a breakwater in Portland Harbour today" & "As originally built, each ‘Phoenix’ was fitted with a 40mm Bofors light anti-aircraft gun mounted on a squat tower"
  9. lineman

    lineman Junior Member

    Hi Dave B
    Wow what a response! I am so impressed with your response.
    From what I was told, he sailed over on the ship (not sure if it was towed or went under its own power) and then stayed on to man the guns. I will try again to get a bit more info and post it up here.

    Many thanks

  10. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    There are quite a few files about Blockships (26 files covering 1943 & 1944) at the National Archives, but not specific enough in their titles to identify which ships were allocated their numbers and placement in the overall scheme of things.

    Will have a peek at 2 possibles in a couple of weeks and post if I find anything. Bob - Do you know if your mate's Dad was Merchant Navy or Royal Navy, as both services manned the Blockships according to the files listed.

    Cheers - Rob
  11. lineman

    lineman Junior Member

    Hi Rob
    Thanks for the reply. I have asked him today and he says he was in the merchant navy. Apparently, he sailed on possibly D+1 and stayed for a few weeks. He thinks they were bombed as he lost his hearing for a while during an attack but this is not confirmed and may have been distorted over the years.

    Many thanks
  12. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    Can you give me his name, date and place of birth please?
  13. lineman

    lineman Junior Member

    High Hugh
    I will ask my mate tomorrow and post any info I can.

  14. lineman

    lineman Junior Member

    Hi All
    His name was William Lesly Rowe. Born 1908 in Polperro, Cornwall. I may be able to get his service number in a day or so.

  15. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    My mates father sailed on this blockship and manned a bofors gun after the sinking. He would like to know the actaul name of the ship

    Can I just ask you if it's your mate's father who is asking for the info or is the father still alive?

    Sorry, disregard this post have just looked at the date of birth and did the maths. He would be 103 years old if still alive.

  16. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    The best way to find the answer to this would be for your mate to apply for his dad's form CRS 10. This would be his service record from January 1941 until he left the Merchant Navy. The file if it has survived will be held at Kew in piece reference BT 382/1560. This file will detail all the ship's Mr Rowe served on and that should give us all the information we need to id Blockship 230.

    It is best if he is in a position to visit Kew or ask someone to visit on his behalf as the red tape and costs involved tend to put people off from ordering this particular file type online.

  17. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA


    Can anyone ask for this file? If I am going to look up the file on the Blockship, might as well try the one you refer to first. If I can get the service number as well, this would be great.

    Regards - Rob
  18. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    Hi Rob,
    You can ask for the file and copy it but as you are not NoK they [Kew] will probably redact the file to remove national insurance number and fingerprints etc. Best if you could pre-order the file prior to your arrival in case someone else has it out.

    BT 382/1560

    The file is held in block [alphabetical surname order] Rowe H H to Rowland K M. If Bob can give you W.L. Rowe's discharge A. number it should be easy to identify his records within that block.

  19. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    Thanks Hugh. I'll make a point of preordering that one.
  20. mprobinson

    mprobinson Junior Member

    Not sure if its of use but the plans for the battleship Courbet are available as a download on in DJVU format, and I think it was amongst the blockships sunk for the Mulberry Harbour.


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