Up ] [ The South Wales Ports at War 1939-41 ] The Welsh ports in the frontline of the War in 1941 ] Wartime problems at the Welsh ports 1940-41 ] A background to U-boat operations in the Bristol Channel ] The extension of U-boat operations 1939-40 ] The U-boats move to the Atlantic ] U-boats that entered the Bristol Channel ] The U-boat Inshore Campaign in the Bristol Channel 1944-45 ] Types of U-boat ] The mine war in the Bristol Channel 1939-41 ] Later developments in the mine war in the Bristol Channel ]

The South Wales Ports at War 1939-41



The dominance of 'King Coal'

Reflections on how the South Wales ports faced the Second World War and some of the problems they faced.

In the two years before the outbreak of war in 1939, international events persuaded the British government to spend some time looking at how Britain’s many ports and harbours would be used should hostilities break out. As with the First World War, it was realised that the South Wales Ports would quickly assume a pivotal role in dealing with the millions of tons of imports that Britain needed each year. The Bristol Channel would become even more important should, as was likely, German naval activity prevent the use of the North Sea ports of the Humber, Tees and Tyne and severely restrict the use of the Thames and London. The outcome of such massive changes in the working of the British ports would be that millions of tons of goods and commodities of all kinds would be diverted to harbours and ports that were not built, equipped or staffed to handle the cargoes that they might have to accept.

The port and transit system of the British Isles had developed over many decades in response to the peacetime demands of a heavily industrialised country. Ports developed in accordance with the needs and demands of their associated hinterlands. London and Liverpool developed massive dock systems devoted to general cargo handling; basically any kind of good from fruit and cereals to meat and leather oil and timber or cotton and silk could be handled and stored. The massive dock systems of these ports were matched by the enormous transit sheds where goods were laid out and sorted prior to despatch on railway systems dedicated to the quick and efficient distribution of goods to the surrounding towns and cities

Other ports, such as Cardiff, Barry and Swansea were committed to one dominant trade, the export of coal. Railways and dock equipment were not laid out to distribute goods inwards but rather to move one specific commodity outwards and overseas. Although the South Wales ports had made considerable efforts to diversify into other goods in the inter-war period, they were still, in 1939, predominantly coal export ports and poorly equipped for general cargoes.

Wartime problems at the Welsh ports 1940-41 takes the story further



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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