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Were floating dry docks built during WWII along the Northeast Cape Fear River?

Ken Little
Floatable drydock

One of several ARDCs (Auxiliary Repair Dock, Concrete) built at Wilmington during World War II. (This public domain photo is from the website http://www.ibiblio.org.)

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.

User-contributed question by:
Steve Clemmons

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5 Responses to “ Were floating dry docks built during WWII along the Northeast Cape Fear River?”

  1. On June 9, 2011 at 8:24 am Tom Craig wrote:

    The story of the torpedoed liberty ship is true. I was about 8 years old when I saw it. It was tied up somewhere near where the convention center is now. The The side with the hole in it was facing the river, so it was possible to cross the Northeast Cape Fear River bridge and park between the two bridges and have a clear view of the hole in the ship’s hull. As I remember it, the hole was completely above the waterline of the ship.

  2. On June 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm Steve Clemmons wrote:

    Tom Craig is right. Thats exactly where I saw the ship and the hole was very large, very visable from eagles island. Daddy said that a torpedo hit the ship, but didn’t explode. It was empty and on its way to port in Wilmington to load cargo.By dumping the water ballast, they were able to get the ship riding high enough so it wouldn’t sink.
    It would be interesting to find out what reallly happened.
    Also does anyone remember the Chilian nitrate ship that ran into the left fender of the Cape Fear River Bridge sometime near the end of the war and sunk into the mud, blocking all river traffic to Navassa.
    There was worry that it might explode.

  3. On June 12, 2011 at 8:47 am Tom Craig wrote:

    Steve Clemmons is right about the ship that hit the bridge fender on the Cape Fear River Bridge. At one point, it was possible to drive over the bridge and look down at the crew members walking around on deck. It is probably a good thing it only hit the fender, because I remember the bridge as being pretty “rickety”.

  4. On June 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm Bill wrote:

    Drydocks were built about where Horton is now, Across the River, I worked there…

  5. On June 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm Bill wrote:


    Ken Little, SN
    Please follow this link… BT

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