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 ]

Wartime problems at the Welsh ports 1940-41


There are three basic tasks that a port undertakes: first, the discharge of a ship, second, the handling and sorting of goods on quays and wharves, and finally the despatch of goods to markets or storage areas. With regard to discharge, machines designed to deal with unloading specific materials such as grain or minerals could rarely be used for other commodities. Moreover, before the container revolution of the 1960s, general cargo came in a wide variety of packages of all shapes and sizes: bags of sugar, sacks of flour, carboys of chemicals, hogsheads of tobacco, crates of fruit or bales of cotton and wool. All of these goods required different skills and techniques in unloading and distribution.

The merchant ships of the 1930s usually had their own cranes and derricks which were able to unload the ship quite quickly but only if the ship was carrying a cargo she was designed for which was quite often not the case in wartime. It was always desirable to use the dockside cranes if the port was so equipped. In the inter-war period there was a common dockside saying ‘the ship can always beat the quay,’ which reflected the relative speed with which a ship could be unloaded and the rather slower nature of the way goods were sorted for transit thereafter. Cargo sorting was often an extremely complicated process for many goods needed careful processing that, in turn, entailed the need for vast transit warehouses to hold the goods. Although the South Wales ports were equipped with transit warehouses, they were, in many cases, inadequate to deal with the vast amount of goods handled. In both Cardiff and Swansea, Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photographs show large quantities of material being stacked and sorted in the open air because the transit sheds were full of material. In fact, congestion on the quays was one of the biggest problems that the South Wales ports had to face in the war.

In the crisis period of the winter of 1940-1, there was great concern that merchant ships arriving at Swansea, Cardiff, and Barry were waiting for days and even weeks for available quay space. Simply put, had the congestion at Swansea, Cardiff and Barry and the other western ports lasted into 1941 in any substantial measure then Britain would have lost the war through an inability to feed its population and maintain and re-equip its armed forces. Throughout the war, the ports of South Wales were as much a front line in the struggle as the confrontations in the western desert or Italy.

The Welsh ports in the frontline in 1941 takes the story further

"the ship can always beat the quay..."

"...congestion on the quays was one of the biggest problems that the South Wales ports had to face in the war"



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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