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The Port

The dock is hit

[10191] Army corporal on gangway

magnifyA Corporal leaves for War
Southampton has for centuries been a traditional embarkation point for soldiers heading to war, from Agincourt and the Boer War to the Twentieth Century World Wars. The British Expeditionary Force left from the port at the start of World War Two and when the troops massed at Dunkirk in France to retreat, vessels from Southampton sailed to help bring them home. Two Red Funnel ferries were lost in the effort.

Eventually the port of Southampton succumbed for a time to War and was closed to ocean-going ships in 1940. Following the German occupation of France, Southampton was on the frontline of any potential invasion of Britain and German U-boats, mines and aircraft could easily besiege the port. It was too risky a location for the valuable merchant fleets bringing food into the country. Southampton had not been used as a cargo port to any great extent before the War in any case and passenger traffic was its major trade. Much of the dock equipment was transferred elsewhere; in 1940 the floating dock was moved to Portsmouth and the registered dockworkers to more active ports around the country.  

[3177] Bombed cold store

magnify The Cold Store ablaze
The majority of enemy targeting seemed to be focused on Woolston, home to Spitfire production in the Supermarine Aviation Works and Thornycroft’s shipbuilding yard. The main dock still had its share of significant attacks. On 13th August 1940 enemy bombs destroyed the Cold Store when full of butter; the fire burned for two weeks and the smell is still remembered by those that experienced it. During the course of the War a lot of damage was inflicted. Many of the dock's warehouses were destroyed, particularly around the Inner Dock at the eastern end of the harbour, also quayside buildings at berths 103 and 104. The Royal Pier was damaged, the Union Castle Passenger terminal destroyed and the Solent Flour Mill, a familiar landmark to this day, took a direct hit.

The port was not destined to lay dormant for too long. With the changing fortunes of war and the arrival of Lend-Lease equipment from America it once again began to make an active contribution to the war effort from 1943 onwards. When troops massed to launch the D-Day invasions in Normandy, the Port of Southampton once more took up the traditional role of embarkation point and played a vital part.


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