✪ The American 1st Infantry Division
Swanage – 1943
The American 1st Infantry Division had regiments based in Swanage, Dorchester and many other areas – such as Canford Heath and at Weymouth. Some regiments had arrived from prolonged tough fighting in North Africa and then Sicily. Their next destination was to be was kept secret – even from the troops – until the very last moments. It is notably well documented, that the relationship between the 26th Regiment and the people of Swanage – was one of extraordinary goodwill and mutual high regard. Swanage is one of the most beautiful and idyllic of coastal towns that you could ever wish to find anywhere – with tall rolling hills – high chalk cliffs facing the English Channel – and a very rugged coastline along to the West Dorset.
With idyllic calm crystal clear waters in the bay of Swanage itself, facing East.
This bay – was to be used for the rehearsals by the UK forces in preparation for D-Day.
Far back inland– are the old ruins of Corfe Castle – itself the scene of great battles – going back nearly a 1000 years. But far later – at Studland – just on the clifftop in an area of the bay that sweeps past Swanage – Canadian engineers built Fort Henry – an observation post ~ in concrete and reinforced steel. It was from here – Eisenhower, Churchill, Montgomery and King George VI, viewed the British rehearsals for D-Day. This rehearsal itself had its own casualties. Live ammunition and bombs were used for the rehearsal.
The areas of Swanage, Dorchester, Weymouth etc. were some of the main places of residence for the US First Infantry Division – arriving from January 1942 to November 1943 – where they were continuing with yet further training in Dorset for the specific purpose – of preparing for the greatest invasion in the history of the world – that was to be the beginning of what was called ‘ The Second Front ‘ – which – if the invasion was successful – was expected to bring about, along with the Eastern Front ~ end of World War II in Europe.
On that day ~ the first day of the invasion ~ D-Day ~ Tuesday, June 6, 1944 ~ over 156,000 troops – mainly comprised of US, UK and Canadian troops – successfully landed along a 50 mile wide area of the beaches of Normandy ~ Northern France. They were accompanied as it were ~ by approximately 7000 ships of all types – and proceeded by 14,000 aircraft sorties (those numbers arrived at from some aircraft making two runs at the Normandy coast). Some of these figures are debated, but various similar figures are arrived by historians ~ and generally within relatively similar parameters ~ agreed by all.
Vast numbers of troops in various assault and assorted landing craft, and other ships left from Poole Harbour (reportedly watched with very great shocked surprise – at this sudden and unexpected continuous movement of craft) – by the very early morning farmers working the fields in the Purbeck Hills nearby (500/600 feet hills overlooking Poole Harbour), and by other early risers about their business.
Weymouth Quays and Portland Harbour further West on the South Coast of Dorset, also featured very prominently indeed in the participation of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
A memorial was erected on the esplanade, opposite the Royal Hotel in Weymouth, recording that 517,816 troops and 144,093 vehicles embarked from Weymouth and Portland between June 6, 1944 and May 7, 1945. (Reference: www.roll-of-honour.com/Dorset/WeymouthCitizensMemorial.html).
The details – are too many and complex to be explained in this introductory webiste.
*In terms of its objectives – D-Day proved to be a success, but not without very great losses*
They had broken through – ‘ The Atlantic Wall ‘ – which was believed to be impenetrable – until this day.
This then opened the door – to considerably more than 2 million troops – who came from the UK, the US and Canada and from a number of other nations – the nations of which will be detailed elsewhere. Nearly all of these troops were first registered in Bournemouth, in Dorset – from there many were then based in Dorset – and the rest were spread out over much of the South of England (although in some other parts of the UK as well) – with many of these other troops leaving on D-Day from such large ports as Portsmouth, Southampton and Plymouth, along the South Coast.
As they went across The English Channel – they would be taking with them – an absolutely vast arsenal of military equipment – much of which had been assiduously built up for two or more years – all over the hills of Dorset and other South Coast counties – hidden under camouflage, in peoples garages, and absolutely any where they could be hidden ~ all along the South Coast of England.
So getting back to the American 1st Infantry Division – not only did they not know the day that they were to embark across the English Channel before dawn – they did not know the destination either.
Their destination – along with the US 29th Infantry Division ~ who arrived in Dorset some weeks before D-Day ~ from the nearby counties of the West country ~ and who also embarked from these same Dorset harbours and ports ~ was none other than Omaha Beach.