Reader Steve Clemmons asks, “During World War II, did they build concrete floating dry docks somewhere north of the railroad bridge on the Northeast Cape Fear River? It seems that I saw one being towed down the river. I also heard that a Liberty Ship was torpedoed, but still afloat just off the coast and one of these dry docks was moved into position for a salvage operation. I also heard that these dry docks were used in the Normandy landing to make portable docks. Is there any truth to these stories?”
Local historian Wilbur D. Jones Jr. said that two concrete dry docks were built in a small shipyard along the Northeast Cape Fear River, located between the present-day PPD and Wilmington Convention Center.
“They were built here in a small yard where Almont Shipping turned up between the convention center and PPD,” Jones said.
The two floating concrete dry docks were built for the Navy in the spring of 1944. The dry docks were self-contained and measured 389 feet long by 84 feet wide, Jones said.
They were 40 feet deep overall, according to the Department of the Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks, with pontoons 14 feet deep and wing walls tapering from 13.5 feet at their base to 10 feet at the top deck.
They were designated ARDC, or Auxiliary Repair Dock, Concrete, and assigned numbers. The first one to be finished in Wilmington took almost five months to build and was designated U.S.S. ARDC-1, Jones said.
Eight such docks were built in Wilmington shipyards during the war, and five on the West Coast, at San Pedro, Calif., in dry basins excavated for the purpose, according to the Bureau of Yards and Docks.
Five of the self-contained docks of this class were towed to advance bases in the Pacific or to Pearl Harbor, where they were utilized with great success in the repair of many combat-damaged vessels, according to the Bureau of Yards and Docks.
“In service, these dry docks proved unexpectedly popular, because of their relatively great mass compared with their lifting capacity. This characteristic lowered the center of gravity and also made the dock exceptionally stable. It was not necessary to admit water into the wing walls to sink the docks, and additional space for machinery and quarters was thus made available.
These docks also proved exceptionally watertight and required practically no hull maintenance,” a narrative states.
The dry docks were built by the Tidewater Construction Co. of Norfolk, Va., after the V. P. Loftis Company, originally awarded the contract, gave it up in November 1943, according to The Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear.
The Liberty Ship and Normandy landing stories could not be confirmed.
“It’s the first I’ve ever heard of it,” Jones said.
Jones said three Liberty Ships built in Wilmington were deliberately sunk off Omaha Beach in Normandy following the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944. The sunken ships were components of an artificial port created to supply Allied forces in the weeks and months following D-Day.
Jones wrote about the concrete docks built in Wilmington in his book “A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs of a Wartime Boomtown.”
For information about getting a copy of the book, go to www.wilburjones.com.
Date posted: June 7, 2011
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