D-Day 77th anniversary: How Swansea deployed 13,000 troops to Normandy

Sunday, June 6, marks the 77th anniversary of D-Day. A Carmarthenshire author has been looking at the role South Wales played alongside American forces before and during the Normandy Landings of 1944 during the Second World War. The book, Oxwich to Omaha: America GIs in South Wales, by Phil Howells, details the true extent of the South Wales contribution and preparations for what was the largest seaborne invasion in history during the Second World War.

Here Mr Howells, who lives in Llansadwrn, looks at Swansea’s preparations to deploy 13,000 troops to the beaches of Normandy. They had only been with us for a month or so since taking the place of their comrades of the Pennsylvanian National Guard 28th Division back in April, but 77 years ago, the GIs of the 2nd Infantry Division were now packed and ready to leave South Wales for Northern France. By truck or on foot the GIs left their camps in the very early June mornings and went direct to ports with Swansea and Barry being the principal embarkation points to northern France.

From as far away as St Mellons beyond Cardiff, two of the 38th Infantry battalions travelled by train westwards, joining their other battalion who had marched from the windblown Kenfig Burrows Camp to get the train at Pyle station. From the other side of Swansea the 23rd Regiment first battalion marched from Mynydd Lliw to Gorseinon station for another train journey. Second and third battalions who had been on Gower at Scurlage and 1,235 troops were trucked via Park Mill, through  Swansea’s Uplands, down Walter Road, across the River Tawe to the guarded entrance of the barbed wired cordoned off docks.

Other GIs such as the reserves of the assaulting 115th and 175th regiments of the 29th Infantry had the shortest distance to cover marching from Singleton Park.
Yet more troops were thronging the roads and rail-tracks around Swansea. Mr Howells said:

“Today it’s easy to see what was happening with the obvious benefit of hindsight, but in June 1944 amid an amazing amount of secrecy, very few troops knew that they were about to take part in or that they would witness the greatest amphibious invasion in history.

“In the UK, even today, many people are still unaware that the largest single concentration of American troops in the Normandy invasion was to sail from the Welsh ports along the Bristol Channel.”

Camp Corner House, Scurlage, Gower in 1944

Early on Sunday morning, June 4 the USAT’s George W Goethals, George S. Simonds (pictured above) and Borinquen ships slipped out of Swansea’s King’s Dock to join the US Navy force flagship that had left Newport on this first tide, the four ships carrying nearly 8,000 combat troops.

Assembling in Swansea Bay, they had to wait until were joined on the next tide by the Excelsior, then the Bienville and Explorer from Cardiff and finally the Exchequer and Marine Rave – also out of King’s Dock with another 11,400 men. Now they all just had to wait together with over 80 other ships as US president Eisenhower delayed the invasion by 24 hours due to bad weather. Finally, a day late but as per the original schedule, on June 5 and 6 the convoys were away down the Bristol Channel, skirting minefields and along the North Devon and Cornwall coast, around Lands End and eastwards up the English Channel.

Once off the coast of the Isle of Wight, they turned south to follow in the path of the earlier D-Day assault force – the Bristol Channel pre-loaded with a force of over 42,000 GIs was heading to Normandy.

Shine a spotlight on your neighbourhood by becoming an Area Ambassador.

Click here to learn more!