To assist the VII Corps, which was advancing on the port of Cherbourg from the land side, the fire support group of the Western Naval Task Force, commanded by Rear Admiral Deyo, bombarded the shore batteries which commanded the waters leading to Cherbourg harbor. These enemy coastal defenses consisted of 20 casemated batteries [guns covered by steel and concrete walls and roofs], three of which had 280-mm guns with an estimated range of 40,000 yards [approximately 20 miles].
The force, consisting of the battleships NEVADA, TEXAS and ARKANSAS, United States cruisers TUSCALOOSA and QUINCY, British cruisers GLASGOW and ENTERPRISE, and 11 destroyers, approached the coast shortly before noon on 25 June. The intention was to avoid engaging the enemy batteries as long as possible in order to close the shore and provide the support requested by our troops. The Germans, waiting until our ships arrived well within range, opened fire. The destroyers interposed with smoke, but the enemy fire increased in volume, and shortly afterwards the mine sweepers, which had preceded the force, were obliged to withdraw to the northward.
By 1230 the enemy's fire had become so heavy and accurate that our ships were directed to maneuver independently, and they steamed back and forth in a line ranging from four to eight miles offshore. While the heavy ships fired at targets inland designated by Shore Fire Control Parties and spotting planes, the destroyers endeavored to silence the enemy coastal batteries. The latter were only partly successful, and our ships continued to be under shore fire until, having completed their mission, they retired shortly before 1500. This abnormal exposure of ships to heavy shore guns, without adequate counter fire, was well warranted by the urgent need of supporting our invading troops. The Army later reported that of 21 firings requested on inland targets 19 were successful.
Of the seven heavy ships engaged (battleships and cruisers) all but one were either hit or had fragments on board, and all were closely missed frequently. The destroyer OBRIEN was considerably damaged, and the destroyers BARTON and LAFFEY slightly damaged. Personnel casualties-14 dead and 28 wounded for the entire force-were remarkably small. The VII Corps occupied Cherbourg two days later, assaulting and capturing the remaining shore batteries from the rear.
Under the command of Commodore W. A. Sullivan, task forces composed of British and American salvage and fire fighting units did phenomenal work repairing ships and craft, and clearing the major ports for dockside unloading of cargo. This important but difficult task was performed with rapidity. Cherbourg's port facilities were in operation early in July. Although we soon secured several minor ports, a second major port was not available until Le Havre surrendered on 12 September. It was opened to small craft in three days, and was in full operation within a month. For some time, however, shipping in the approaches to Le Havre was seriously harassed by enemy mining. Although organized resistance in Brest ended on 19 September, its facilities were so damaged, and it was then so distant from the battle front, that it did not appear worthwhile to restore the port.
With the approach of
winter, it became apparent that only three liberated ports in northern
France could be operated on a year round basis. These
were Cherbourg, Le Havre, and Rouen, unloading having begun at the
last port in mid-October. Antwerp in Belgium, a British commitment,
became early in December an important avenue of supplies to our troops.
A United States Naval Port Office was opened there, and daily unloading's
of up to 22,000 tons of United States stores were handled.