So, here: If I am going to rip off Wikipedia, I might as well go all out. Here's the port of Antwerp in 1886.
And it is not just a quay. Antwerp has a massive complex of docks, which, in 1944, made twenty-six miles of 30ft quays available, served by more than 600 hydraulic and electric cranes, nearly 900 warehouses a granary with a million bushel capacity, plus 498 POL tanks on 208 acres capable of taking 124 million gallons, five hundred miles of infraurban railway fully connected Belgian national system, and the waterworks, and, via the waters of the dock system, with 1370 miles of navigable canals, including the great Albert Canal work, the current and massive iteration of the Scheldt-Meuse navigation. Antwerp's potential clearance rate in 1944 has been estimated at between 80 and 100,000 tons per day, more than enough to doom Germany. The last German effort is going to be a lunge at Antwerp. After that, it will wait to the Rhine breakup, to fight a battle on its banks for the sake of national honour, but it really is all over.
So Why did that not happen? Why, on the other hand, did the Allies fail to plan for Antwerp? I think that it is fair to say that no-one really grasped the scope of the issue. This is the late summer of 1944, when Cherbourg has gone from a planned 8000 tons/day clearance to a planned 24,000 tons/day, primarily because D-Day was launched with the thought that armies would be got over first, and the development of their position inland gradually extended with each port taken. This is not how things have developed. Antwerp, so close to Cologne and the Ruhr was a suitable objective of the Victory Campaign, not the pursuit phase of the Battle of Normandy! Besides, who cared? It was not a port-as-destination, a desperately glamorous London or New York. The ships come in; are unloaded into the warehouses, and the warehouses are cleared expeditiously into the European rail network.
This last is kind of important. Antwerp is like the rail roundhouse that probably exists in your city. Crucial to its economic organisation, but have you ever been to see it? Probably not, because it is probably in the midst of an industrial wilderness of tracks and sidings, quite possibly on the far side of a dyke from anywhere that people live. That's Antwerp. A few months after the fall of Antwerp, when the American Army had filled up the 80,000 tons of storage space allocated to them without making a sufficient bite on the Liberty ships still being used as floating storage in European waters, the Communications Zone finally noticed the city's limit. Antwerp lacked sufficient storage space. A mere 900 warehouses simply did not cut it.
In one, limited sense, the importance of the electric city is summarised by Royers Lock. We mere human engineers are tampering insouciantly with powers before which demon princes bound to mortal sorcerors by their True Names are as nothing: acres of water held 30 feet deep. That tampering is accomplished by a few, quotidian electric pumps powered by the coal-burning plants of Antwerp, no different from the more dramatic ones that run its dockyard cranes and considerably less sophisticated than the ones in its electric railcars. They're there. They do their work, and no-one even noticed them until, a week after the fall of Antwerp, German 15th Army awoke to their importance and began sending frogmen against the Locks.
In another sense..... Here, let me just summarise Roland Ruppenthal. Or, rather, let me summarise Ruppenthal ten years ago.*
When we consider that at both Cherbourg and Antwerp, it was "Quartermaster Supplies Category II" that were building up, and that this meant, above all, the materials and machines for rebuilding the European rail network, we are on the verge of an epiphany. This is what a logistical vicious circle looks like. This might be the place to look at the "Red Ball Express" and watch everyone blame everyone else while carefully avoiding talking about the lack of big trucks (and trained truck drivers). Which is to say, what the Allies lack is the ability to clear any port. They have underbuilt their logistic clearance capability, largely because any plausible assessment of the scale of lift required founders on the limits of actually existing gasoline engines. The logistical situation is not going to be settled until the European rail network is rebuilt, and that cannot happen overnight. Lots of bridges will have to be rebuilt. Perhaps more importantly,the loss of locomotives and rolling stock imposed by six, if not sixteen years, of neglect must be made up.
The "may" is a weasel word here. We impounded the waters of Antwerp more than a century ago, now, and we think we've got a pretty good handle on it. If we're wrong, and if it is a demographic problem, as I suspect that it is, than we'll realise it about a generation too late to do much about it. I am not saying that someday the landscape of the lower Scheldt will be flooded again, although I think that that was the thought that led the burghers of Zeeland to keep Antwerp shut for two long centuries, but I do think that we need to to focus attention (again) on the neglected European rail network of 1944, and hang a question mark over it. As important as bombing and sabotage was, there was that "captures fell below expectations." There was not the luxurious abundance of rolling stock in Europe, just as our imagined US Army of abundant trucks in practice fell miserably short of the needed lift. How does something so vital, and yet so quotidian, come to be neglected? Because we never did understand the electric city. Just be glad that in 1944 the solution to this problem was to throw resources at it until it worked to its potential.
Now: are you missing the goofy digression of the previous Electric City posts? Got you covered!