Barges Assembled by the US Army at Hayle, Truro and Totnes

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by Osprey227, Feb 9, 2021.

  1. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Hello all.

    In the local history book 'Hayle in WW2' there is a description of barges being built from prefabricated components on some reclaimed land in the estuary. The book describes them as 'Rhino Barges' and states that they were assembled by a unit of the US Army under a Captain Marquette. It says that some British labour was also used, provided by Frank Curtis Ltd of Totnes, Devon and that the operation was also using sites in Truro and Fowey. It gives some detail about the delivery of the components to Hayle, saying that they went by rail to either St Erth station or to a siding off the Hayle Wharves branch line relaid on the old alignment which is now King George V Memorial walk. From there they went by flat bed truck to the assembly site, resulting in several accidents.

    A photo in the same book shows the barges under construction. It's not crystal clear but each barge seems to have four roughly square shaped dark areas on the deck - these may be hatches.

    Another source is Longshore Soldiers: Army Port Battalions in WWII: History of the 13th Major Port, part 2 . This gives the sites as Totnes, Hayle and Truro, quotes the unit as '13th Major Port' and states that Totnes built wooden barges wih steel ones at Hayle and Truro.

    The above seems to be a variation on the text in 'The Transportation Corps: Operations Overseas' which is available free on Google books. This says that the vessels were 104 ft knocked down (KD) steel barges and 60ft KD wooden barges. Once again, it states that it was the US Army organising the assembly.

    I've also found this site US Army Barges which provides a list of the manufacturers of US Army 104 ft KD (and other) barges in the US.

    Whatever they were, the remains of the Hayle site show up very well on the postwar aerial photos. For example, at the top right of this 1947 image EAW007752 ENGLAND (1947). Imperial Chemical Industries British Ethyl Works at North Quay, Hayle, 1947 | Britain From Above

    To my understanding, the term 'Rhino Barge' refers to craft constructed from the SeaBees Naval Lighterage (NL) system. The size is not unlike the Hayle photo but the NL system was essentially a raft of roughly cubic boxes and would not allow hatches, nor does the Hayle photo show any evidence of the ramp or propulsion system found on Rhino barges.

    On balance my belief is that the things assembled at Hayle were the US Army 104ft steel KD barges. Some folks disagree with me on this point.

    Whether I'm right or not about what was built at Hayle, I've so far been unable to find out much about the 104ft KD barges, such as...
    • In what form were they shipped to Britain?
    • What were they used for once assembled?
    • The location of the Hayle site is clear but where exactly were the other assembly sites?
    Does anyone know?

    Does anyone know any more about the operation at Hayle? For example I can see no evidence of rail tracks in situ or having been recently removed from KGV Memorial walk in the 1947 and 1950 aerial photos.

    Thanks in Advance.
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  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

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  3. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

    There were lots of barges in the middle of river estuaries in the West Country. I was told as a lad (very long time ago) not to go near them as they were hazardous and guarded.
    I think they were all removed some time ago and now replaced by cargo hulks or even cruise ships.
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  4. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Thanks. Those films show Rhino Tugs and Rhino Ferries at Plymouth. These are assembled using the SeaBees Naval Lighterage (NL) system and as you can see they had monster 'outboard' motors. The ferries also had a rudimentary drawbridge ramp for unloading vehicles (which the barges in the Hayle photo did not). I think that one scene shows a string of NL boxes being rolled over a quay edge into the water - presumably the individual strings were joined into a raft after launching.

    I think the barges from Hayle were something different - more like a proper barge than a raft, and perhaps having a cargo hold with hatches. Whether they were powered or not I don't know.

    The Rhinos were definitely used on the Normandy beaches and there are several photos showing them there. I've not been able to spot any of the US Army barges in Normandy beach photos... but I've not spotted them elsewhere either.

    They may have had a different purpose from the Rhinos. Maybe they were used for lighterage in ports or maybe as inland waterway craft but so far I've not found any trace of them after they left Hayle.

    The source on Google books quotes a requirement for several hundred before D Day. I guess it is possible that some remained behind.

    Anywhere specific?

    Yes I may give that a try at some point but I thought I'd try here first
  5. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

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  6. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Plymouth, a victim of the German blitz,
    had only a limited cargo capacity. Early
    in 1944 it came under the jurisdiction of
    the newly arrived 13th Port, which pushed
    through the faltering barge-construction
    program at Truro, Totnes, and Hayle,
    outloaded large amounts of ammunition
    at the old Cornish port of Fowey for the
    invasion of Normandy, and dispatched
    thousands of troops and vehicles from
    Plymouth and Falmouth for the crossChannel attack.

    Aside from receiving and maintaining
    all U.S. Army port and marine equipment, the Transportation Corps supervised
    the assembly of the items which were
    shipped in knocked-down condition. The
    erection of barges was begun early in 1944
    by private British contractors working
    under the supervision of the theater chief
    of transportation. The wooden barges
    were set up at Totnes and the steel barges
    at Hayle and Truro.
    The program called
    for 120 steel barges and 220 wooden
    barges to be ready for use by 31 May
    1944. To meet this goal, General Ross requested that the 386th Port Battalion, a
    Negro unit, be used along with British
    civilians at Totnes.
    The labor unions objected, but eventually agreed to an arrangement whereby U.S. Army personnel
    were allowed to assist in the work as a
    means of obtaining practical training
    essential to future military operations.
    Despite considerable difficulty in attaining the scheduled production, by the end
    of May 1944 a total of 176 steel barges had
    been assembled at Hayle and Truro, and
    at Totnes all 400 wooden barges were completed two weeks ahead of the target date

    Still doesnt say how they arrived or what were actually used for, What does seem to say is that the wooden barges you speak of where concentrated at Totnes


    Maybe you need to delve deeper into the details of the 386th Port Battalion
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
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  7. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Thanks TD. The numbers vary a bit depending on which text you read but they are all in the same ballpark and agree on wooden barges at Totnes and steel at Truro and Hayle. I'll have another search for that unit but I suspect I've already had a try.

    I think it's quite possible that the units operating the barges were different from the units that assembled them... ah well, the search goes on.
  8. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    The Rhino Ferry slipways at Hayle seen just after the war.

    Attached Files:

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  9. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    A view from 1950 of the Rhino slipways at Hayle. The area in the harbour is known locally as The Weir. The site was under Rear Admiral John Wilkes (US Navy). The Rhinos themselves were built by a mixed race unit of the US Army Engineering Corps (lots of the men were from the Detroit area) under Capt Marquette (later promoted to Major). Local civilian labour was also used under the auspices of Frank Curtis Ltd (who also owned the yard at Totnes) with the Hayle manager being a Mr Saunders. There are also reports that some of the labouring was done by German & Italian POWs guarded by GIs with Thompson sub-machine guns (the nearest POW camp was at St Erth). Each slipway had a caterpillar crane and Hayle had a number of Hyster cranes as well. A tug named Seahorse, stationed at Hayle, towed the barges two by two out into St Ives Bay where they were collected by US Navy ocean going tugs for distribution.

    Attached Files:

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  10. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    DSCF7214.jpg DSCF7217.jpg
    This now destroyed wartime relic was part of the infrastructure overlooking Carnsew Pool. The photos were taken in Feb 2012.
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  11. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Thanks, I found another one today via Google Books - 'United States Army in World War II.: The techinical services' (sic!). The text regarding barge assembly is pretty similar between this and 'Operations Overseas' but it contains a lot of detail (much more I think) about US port operations during the campaign in Northern Europe, including the use of several smaller Normandy ports, the reopening of Cherbourg and the use of Utah and Omaha beaches for landing supplies between June and November 1944. I'm still reading it. It's definitely a big improvement on most other sources which concentrate on the glamourous aspects of D Day, the advance through France and how clever Mulberry was. I'm not too hopeful that it will have any more info about the KD barges but it's still good contextual stuff.

    Thanks. Aerofilms 1950? Hayle seems to have an amazing level of aerial photo coverage compared to most other places.

    Whether or not the things assembled at Hayle were 'Rhino' ferries/barges is debatable. To me a Rhino Ferry is something built from the Naval Lighterage (NL) system of 5x5x7ft boxes. The photo in 'Hayle in WW2' shows what appear to be four hatches in the deck of each barge, which I don't think would be possible with the NL system, plus the draught of the barges in the photo looks too deep.

    I also found this from my previous research... - 'The Transportation Corps: Responsibilities Organization and Operations'

    'On 1 April 1945, just before the German surrender, the Transportation Corps had 1,845 boats of this category in the European theater, including 887 barges, 295 marine tractors, 287 towing launches, 95 other launches, 167 tugs, 45 tankers, and 50 floating cranes'

    This doesn't say what the barges were - some or all may have been captured on the continent or pre-existing vessels requisitioned from the UK but it does show that the USATC were using a lot of barges.

    Incidentally, I originally followed the 'Rhino Ferry' line of enquiry and turned up this document relating to the SeaBees in the UK... NCR.pdf

    Page 41 onwards provides a lot of detail about the Rhino Ferries and Tugs and other things made from the NL system, including a reference to the Royal Engineers using the system at Southampton.
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  12. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

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  13. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Some more results from my searches. I searched for Cherbourg previously but did not find these on that occasion.

    This one is the best...

    Activity in Cherbourg harbor following town's liberation by Allied... News Photo - Getty Images

    So this is 60ft wooden barge BK 5166

    The site I posted earlier has this manufactured by 'Grater Bodey' of Norristown, part of a batch with numbers 5136-5235 made between 11/43-2/44

    Another good one, also a quayside in Cherbourg

    The number is not 100% clear but it may be BK 1853. It's another 60ft wooden KD barge.

    I've tried Dieppe and Le Havre but have not found many photos showing the logistics activity after the initial assault... plus of course Dieppe turns up loads of hits about the earlier raid.

    The KD barges are not the whole story - there were also pre-existing barges used by both the British and US forces.
  14. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
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  15. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Thanks TD. I spent some time going through those but I'm not 100% sure that the site works quite correctly - it seemed to keep popping up the same photos from time to time and I don't think I saw the dockside photo. Some good stuff on there anyway.

    I've been trying to flesh out another part of the story today - the Truro element. Other than knowing that Truro was one of the sites I know very little else. Some time back I found a scanned page that has a couple of photos captioned as showing the Truro operation but the reproduction is terrible. I can't remember where I found this now - possibly the Hayle Facebook forum. The text mostly repeats the other sources already linked here but adds that a Railroad Maintenance Battallion helped - I don't think I've seen this mentioned elsewhere.

    I've never found anything that identifies the site used in Truro so I thought I'd try to figure it out myself. After poking around on the NLS maps and modern Google satellite and street views my theory is that it was the site now occupied by Truro Cricket Club. The OS map surveyed in 1938 shows this area as a mudbank. The cricket club moved there in 1961 but the Truro RFC web page says that they were offered the site in 1952 so clearly this land was reclaimed from the river during the 1940s give or take a couple of years. It's the only decent sized flat bit of land by the river that I could find.

    Maybe a question for CornwallPhil ?

    Attached Files:

  16. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    Yes, Boscawen Park was the site used by 1st Engineer Special Brigade. The land had been reclaimed in Edwardian Times and laid out as a park and sports pitches.
    BBC - WW2 People's War - Memories of When the Yanks Came to Truro, Part 1
    Some of the moorings still survive a little downstream:
    Heritage Gateway - Results
    The Park also housed a tented military hospital (nice, peaceful place to lie quietly & recuperate while 1ESB build concrete barges next door!!)
    Heritage Gateway - Results
    Hope that helps.
  17. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    You can just about make out the wartime concrete mooring block that still tethers its modern buoy on the Truro River near Malpas.
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  18. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    The Truro harbourmaster had some of the mooring blocks moved to the banks of the Calenick Creek.
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  19. Osprey227

    Osprey227 Member

    Thanks Phil. Those links are very interesting. I guess I must add concrete barges to the story too then.

    This is the OS map surveyed in 1938. It looks like that land was reclaimed in two bites - an earlier one for he Edwardian Park and a later one around the 1940s that later became the cricket pitch. If, as it seems, the southern part was reclaimed during WW2 then the map was quite wrong by the time it was published in 1947.

    View map: Cornwall LVIII.SW (includes: St Clement; St Michael Penkevil; Truro.) - Ordnance Survey Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952
  20. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    Osprey, if you read the small print on your map (below the extract you've posted) you'll see the survey was done in 1878 with revisions to boundaries updated in 1906. I am certain the map is well out of date by WW2.
    I have attached below an extract from the 1930 revision OS map.
    Truro 1930 OS Revision.jpg
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