D-Day Landing Craft and Bombardon Unit

Two pieces of significant World War 2 hardware lie at the bottom of Portland Harbour

Author: Pat
31st January 2012

On the South Coast of England where much of our diving is done, the legacy of D-Day is one of leftover equipment and wrecks.

The first wave departed around midnight, heading south out to sea. Weather outlook was gloomy, with fog and sea mist predicted to lift within a few hours.

It was June 6th, 1944 – also known as D-Day.

On its way towards the Normandy coast was the Operation Overlord invasion force, made up of a staggering 5,700 vessels. These ranged from giant battleships, destroyers and frigates, down to minesweepers, tank carriers and small assault ships. Enemy soldiers who witnessed this armada make landfall had scant time to contemplate it before the fleet opened fire.

The Allied plan called for a second front in Western Europe. Key to its success, following the initial assault, was the establishment of a usable port – Caen and Cherbourg were too heavily defended. The ingenious solution was to build a mobile harbour and tow it across the channel with them. These were known as the Mulberries; giant concrete structures forming a portable harbour wall.

On the South Coast of England where much of our diving is done, the legacy of D-Day is one of leftover equipment and wrecks – those lost in waiting, in training, and some even en route to France. Divers departing from Castletown slipway on Portland Bill will be familiar with the giant section of Mulberry still afloat there. Head out into Portland harbour though and two further sites await: a Landing Craft and Bombardon Unit.

Located adjacent to the eastern breakwater, someone has helpfully linked the two wrecks together via a length of rope. Unsure what to expect, we dropped down the permanent shotline and landed on the Bombardon Unit. This was a part of artificial harbour linked to other units like sausages and used as an artificial breakwater. Bombardons were reportedly unstable in high seas and prone to sinking without warning.

Our skipper had described it as ‘a metal frame in an X shape’ – which is a fair representation – but tells you little of its size. The Bombardon is indeed like a giant extruded ‘X’, perhaps some twenty metres long, sitting on the seabed at around 15 metres. It’s possible to swim through the central ‘v’ like a metal gully and shelter from and current, although the harbour is already secluded here. Visibility is nonetheless atrocious: a few centimetres in places and lots of soft, soft sediment and particulates hanging in the water. You’ll need a torch and some deft finning.

After a circuit of the Bombardon, a rope looms into view. It requires a moment of Indiana Jones-esque resolve to leave the relative comfort of the giant structure behind to tug on a rope to nowhere. Leading the dive, I found pulling myself along to be quite exciting, like being in a ‘Prince of Persia’ game. Floating just inches off the bottom and despite my gentlest efforts however, it seems there was the inevitable cloud of silt in my wake. Don’t let go of that rope, back there guys…

After what seems like 20 or 30 metres the Landing Craft looms into view. You’ll arrive near the stern first, so swim up and across for a good view down at the large diesel engines, and small bridge. The wreck is almost completely intact with the bow doors closed. It’s not clear what sort this one was but it could be an LCT (A) for carrying troops or a tank. Relatively little specific seems to have been written about either of these wrecks, although given D-Day’s initial secrecy, and the sheer volume of similar ‘leftovers’ all along our southern coastline, perhaps that’s not wholly surprising.

Surrounded by few fish and in poor visibility, it’d be understandable if these two pieces of stark military hardware don’t do much for you. So take a moment to remember the role they – and many, many more like them – played in the Normandy landings. It’s cool and quiet down there, but a certain beauty shines through.

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