MILITARY anniversaries occur each and every day.

Many are heralded way in advance, such as 80 years since the Battle of Britain recently, but most come and go with barely a mention.

The next Anniversary of D-Day on June 6,2021 will undoubtedly be highlighted well ahead and, of course commemorated – perhaps limited in scale due to Covid-19 restrictions!

Yet right now an event occurred 77 years ago that had a major effect on the course of the Second World War here in South Wales and the build-up to the Normandy Landings, when the first complete US Army Infantry Division sailed into the Bristol Channel prior to disembarking at our ports.

Mustering over 14,500 men, the 28th ‘Keystone’ Division, Pennsylvania National Guard were not alone when they left the United States as they voyaged in the biggest troop convoy of the war to date.

Sailing on Friday, October 8 out of Boston, Massachusetts, the five troopships joined no fewer than 15 more plus various freighters of US registration from New York making up Convoy UT 3 – transporting 66,500 troops in all and protected by a large US Navy escort.

The Division, scheduled for stationing in the South of England, discovered in transit that its camps weren’t ready, so troops (many of whom were descended from former Welsh immigrants to places like Scranton) were delighted with their new locations.

Tenby was to be the Headquarters with the three Regiments and divisional units spread right across South Wales.

The 110th Infantry in Pembrokeshire, the 112th in Carmarthen/Cardiganshire and the 109th in Glamorgan, although 2,000 men of the latter aboard the 12,000 ton ‘USAT George W Goethals’ had another surprise when their ship broke down early on causing a return to their embarkation Camp Myles Standish for two weeks before moving up to Halifax, Nova Scotia for shipment about the fast independent ‘HMT Aquitania’.

By October 17, the storm-battered convoy made landfall coming into the calmer Irish Sea via the usual North Channel route having been overtaken by the grey clad ‘HMT Queen Elisabeth’ (AT69) with 13,000 other troops embarked, proceeding to Gourock on the Clyde, duly closely followed by five troopships from UT3.

Then five more plus the escort oiler ‘SS Chicopee’ broke away to starboard conveying the 2nd ‘Indianhead’ Infantry Division to Belfast, Northern Ireland leaving five ‘troopers’ to follow yet another fast independent, this one being ‘HMT Mauretania’ (AT68) into Liverpool, the remainder heading for the Bristol Channel.

Docking on October 18, the ‘SS Santa Rosa’ with her sister ship ‘Santa Paula’ carrying some 7,000 troops of the 28th ID including the 112th Infantry. sailed into Swansea and Cardiff respectively, the ‘USAT Cristobal’ unloaded 3,000 men of the 110th at Newport with the ‘SS Lakenhurst’ offloading locomotives.

Finally the ‘USAT Seatrain Texas’ and the ‘USAT Henry Gibbons’ berthed at Avonmouth with more of the Pennsylvanian National Guard, including the 110th Cannon Company.

Unfortunately they were faced with a long rail journey down to their camp at Cresseley House in Pembrokeshire and their comrades of the Anti-tank Company had taken the best berths having got there first after landing in South Wales!

Such a wealth of detail is an example of what can be found in a new book published earlier this year entitled ‘OXWICH TO OMAHA’ – American GI’s in South Wales, researched, written and published on Amazon by former Pembrokeshire resident Phil Howells.

Twenty-six years in the making, the book has already received some glowing reviews, but the author is quick to point out that much local information is down to others who took the trouble to record anecdotes and pieces of history.

"I’ve been able to gradually add the military detail of ‘what, when and where’ to the stories of, for example, the former Western Telegraph journalist, the late Vernon Scott," he said.

"His book ‘An Experienced Shared’ contained valuable recollections of US Servicemen, especially in West Wales and speaking with him years ago provided so much for me to work on.’ he added.

In Carmarthen and Cardiganshire, the 112th Regiment had its Headquarters, Medics and 1st Battalion at Highmead House near Lampeter, 2nd Battalion was in Ystrad Camp, Carmarthen and the 3rd Battalion spread from Kidwelly, through Pembrey to Burry Port.

Their close support Field Artillery 109th Battalion was at Drefach Felindre and the Anti-tank Company was possibly located the farthest away in the most remote camp in the woods at Treglog above Abergorlech, but near their practice range at Cilwenau.

The Divisions’ 103rd Engineer Combat Battalion was also a bit ‘up country’ at Abermarlais Park in the Towy Valley between Llandeilo and Llandovery.

Chronicling the activities, training and leisure of the US Army and Navy during their preparations for D-Day has resulted in a quite unique book which is both hugely informative but very readable. It dovetails together Operations Bolero, Overlord and the naval offshoot Neptune which saw the largest single force of more than 42,000 troops sail from South Wales to Normandy on June 6, 1944.

All this was yet to come, but 77 years ago this combined convoy of UT3, AT68 and AT69 was collectively named by the US Army Transportation Corps as ‘the biggest of the war’ with 87,897 troops and it took 236 trains to transport the GI’s to their various camp locations all over the British Isles.