Embarkation Hard S1 was one of three hards built in Southampton as part of an order made in June 1942. All three were completed the following year and later supplemented by a fourth, along with numerous slips, built on the River Itchen. The hard was used to load British and Canadian forces in advance of D-Day and continued to see use throughout the rest of Operation Overlord including, unusually, for the loading of railway freight onto modified LSTs.
After a reconnaissance of suitable sites for the three hards, a report was submitted in July 1942 that noted two possible locations for a hard in Mayflower Park, east of Berth 101 in the New Docks. The first, facing south west, was presumably proposed to be built in the south west corner of the park. The second, facing north west (the construction of which it was noted would reduce the capacity of Berth 101 slightly), is clearly the final site of S1. Hards S2 and S3 were built to the east of Royal Pier and the potential site in the south west corner of Mayflower Park was never used.
Exactly when work on Hard S1 began is uncertain, but on the 4th of February 1943 new drawings of the hard were issued, followed on the 8th by correspondence between the War Office and the Director of Fortifications and Works. This discussed the need to avoid two manholes on the original projected path of the access road, running from Herbert Walker Avenue onto Mayflower Park. It seems logical that the access road would need to be built first in order to allow construction traffic to reach the site of the hard itself, so it’s plausible that work had not yet actually commenced and engineers had only just arrived on site and identified the manholes. In his report on Operation Overlord, Southampton’s Flag Officer reported that all three hards were completed in February 1943: an impressively quick turnaround if work did indeed commence that month.
The final hard as planned in both the Admiralty and Director of Fortifications and Works drawings is for a simple 2 berth LST hard. The concrete access road provided access from Herbert Walker Avenue alongside Dock Gate 8. The concrete hardstanding led to a slope in the park’s sea wall where flexible matting had been laid to allow vessels to ground safely. The wall of Southampton Docks alongside negated the need for dolphins, but there were a number of bollards both in the park and along Berth 101.
However, there are a number of differences between the original drawings and views of the hard in post D-Day photographs. The first is the quite obvious addition of railway tracks. The reconnaissance of the site did in fact note that there was a Director of Transportation proposal to use the site as a train ferry loading point, and queried whether the two schemes could be combined. This clearly did happen, and photographs of the hard in the immediate aftermath of D-Day suggest it was done before the invasion.
The second alteration is to the shape of the concrete apron. There is a definite extension to the east side of the apron visible in photographs that does not appear on the plans. Such a shape gives more space for vehicles to reverse and could well be an on the spot modification that was made during construction. Alternatively it may be related to the installation of the railway tracks.
In the build up to D-Day, the Southampton hards were primarily used by Forces J and G.
This video shows a US convoy of the 922 Engineering Aviation Regiment, part of the 9th Engineer Command, making their way to Southampton where they embark onto a Royal Navy LST at Embarkation Hard S1 (from 2:35) before they arrived at Omaha on D-Day +4.
Hard S1 is the only one of the four Southampton hards to have any extant remains still visible today. The concrete approach road runs from Herbert Walker Avenue into Mayflower Park, avoiding the two manhole covers that are still there. There is clear evidence that much of the apron – including the slight extension to the east – remains under the tarmac laid for the basketball court.