The Phoenix breakwaters were a set of reinforced concrete caissons built as part of the artificial Mulberry harbours that were assembled as part of the follow-up to the Normandy landings during World War II. They were constructed by civil engineering contractors around the coast of Britain. They were collected at Dungeness and Selsey, and then towed across the English Channel and sunk to form the Mulberry harbour breakwaters replacing the initial 'Gooseberry' block ships. Further caisson were added in the autumn of 1944 to re-enforce the existing structure to cope with the harbour continuing in use longer than planned.
Several Phoenix breakwaters are still in use in Britain: two are part of the harbour off Castletown at Portland Harbour and two can be dived in less than 10 metres of water off Pagham. There is also a smaller Phoenix Caisson (type C) in Langstone Harbour.
A wrecked Phoenix breakwater is also to be seen, broken in two, in the Thames estuary off Shoeburyness in Essex. It broke while being towed from Harwich in June 1944. To avoid it causing a hazard to shipping in the Thames estuary, it was beached on the mud on the northern edge of the Thames dredged shipping channel. It is about a mile from the beach. It is not quite covered at high tide, but it is topped by a beacon to warn shipping of its presence.
It makes an interesting destination for a walk at low tide. The hole it has gouged in the mud around it can be used as a swimming pool, where reckless youngsters can use the Phoenix itself as a diving platform. Many unfamiliar with the mudflats have been trapped by the tide and the confusing, changeable channels and have had to be rescued by the nearby RNLI station.
Four Phoenix breakwaters were used in the Netherlands to plug a gap in the dyke at Ouwerkerk after the North Sea Flood of 1953. They have now been converted into a museum for the floods called the Watersnoodmuseum. You can walk through the four caissons.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Phoenix breakwaters.|