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Portaferry Man in a Storm – The Irish Marine Salvage Specialist Who Helped Save D-Day

16th May 2019
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The remains of a D-Day Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, Normandy in France The remains of a D-Day Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, Normandy in France Photo: iStock / The Irish Times - facebook

#coastalnotes - With just weeks leading up to D-Day, 75 years ago, one of the operation’s crucial components was still lying on the bottom of the sea off southern England, reports The Irish Times.

It comprised a vast amount of concrete, formed into honeycombed caissons: the largest as big as a five-storey block of flats. These were to become the “Mulberry Harbours”, through which equipment and provisions for the invasion of Normandy would be landed.

After the Dieppe disaster of 1942, it was accepted by the Allies that capturing actual ports on that heavily defended coast was all but impossible. The invaders would instead have to construct temporary harbours, two of them, each the size of Dover.

To this end, the “Phoenix Caissons”, as they were known, had been sunk, or parked, on the English seabed in early 1944, awaiting their moment. When that came, their hollowed compartments would be pumped out and the blocks would rise – hence the “Phoenix” part of the name – before being towed across the channel. That was the theory, anyway. The practice proved much more problematic. And had it not been for the heroics of a now-forgotten salvage expert from Co Down, with the help of a well-timed accident involving one of the caissons, the operation might have been a disaster.

The salvage man’s name was John Polland, originally MacPolin, and he was an odd candidate to become a saviour of the Royal Navy. The MacPolins were a staunchly nationalist family from Portaferry. A previous generation’s naval experience had included internment on the HMS Argenta, in Belfast Lough, during the 1920s.That was the fate of John Polland’s father, “lifted” in lieu of his brother Donal, who had been a member of a local IRA flying column.

To read more on this intriguing back story to the D-Day landing operations click here.

Published in Coastal Notes
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Coastal Notes Coastal Notes covers a broad spectrum of stories, events and developments in which some can be quirky and local in nature, while other stories are of national importance and are on-going, but whatever they are about, they need to be told.

Stories can be diverse and they can be influential, albeit some are more subtle than others in nature, while other events can be immediately felt. No more so felt, is firstly to those living along the coastal rim and rural isolated communities. Here the impact poses is increased to those directly linked with the sea, where daily lives are made from earning an income ashore and within coastal waters.

The topics in Coastal Notes can also be about the rare finding of sea-life creatures, a historic shipwreck lost to the passage of time and which has yet many a secret to tell. A trawler's net caught hauling more than fish but cannon balls dating to the Napoleonic era.

Also focusing the attention of Coastal Notes, are the maritime museums which are of national importance to maintaining access and knowledge of historical exhibits for future generations.

Equally to keep an eye on the present day, with activities of existing and planned projects in the pipeline from the wind and wave renewables sector and those of the energy exploration industry.

In addition Coastal Notes has many more angles to cover, be it the weekend boat leisure user taking a sedate cruise off a long straight beach on the coast beach and making a friend with a feathered companion along the way.

In complete contrast is to those who harvest the sea, using small boats based in harbours where infrastructure and safety poses an issue, before they set off to ply their trade at the foot of our highest sea cliffs along the rugged wild western seaboard.

It's all there, as Coastal Notes tells the stories that are arguably as varied to the environment from which they came from and indeed which shape people's interaction with the surrounding environment that is the natural world and our relationship with the sea.

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