On the afternoon of September 14th, the Irish coast was sighted
off the starboard bow. During the afternoon the convoy hove to;
the destroyers and battlewagon went their way; and the merchant
vessels began to pass through the submarine nets. The John
Errickson and the Capetown Castle docked at Liverpool
on September 15th, and the Shawnee put in at Bristol.
Troops aboard ship looked curiously down and waved at British
"Tommies" on the piers and swapped oranges and cigarettes
for the strange new English coins. Barrage balloons hung everywhere,
and an occasional flight of Spitfires whipped across the grey,
scuddy sky. England at first glance, looked threadbare. The scars
of the Luftwaffe were visible on every side, and even the island's
civilians looked grey and tired.
Upon disembarking, units were loaded in Britain's small "Toonerville
Trolley" trams and transported across country. At every
stop, small English children collected a wealth of gum and candy,
oranges and C-rations. Hot tea was served by NAAFI units, for
the first time to 3rd Armored Division personnel.
Most of the division elements reached their new camps in the
deep night, struggled out of trucks and trudged in to find straw
pallets in Nissen huts or barracks. The 102nd Cavalry Regiment
had supplied quartering details which guided personnel through
the blackout, prepared breakfast, and generally did their utmost
to welcome the new "Invaders" of Britain. Breakfast,
inevitably, included powdered eggs, a diet which was to become
symbolic of the ETO.
Troops of the division were billeted for the most part in Wiltshire.
The various units found themselves located in little, age-old
English villages with quaint names, and odd, meandering streets.
Division Headquarters went to Bruton, in Somerset. Combat Command
"B", the 33rd Armored Regiment, 391st and 67th Armored
Field Artillery Battalions were at Warminster; the 36th Armored
Infantry Regiment settled in Sutton Veny; the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance
Battalion at Longbridge Deverill; Combat Command "A",
45th Armored Medical Battalion, and Trains Headquarters at Stockton
House, near Codford; the 32nd Armored Regiment at Codford; Maintenance
Battalion and Supply Battalion at Codford St. Mary; the 23rd
Armored Engineer Battalion at Fonthill Bishop; the 703rd Tank
Destroyer Battalion at Mere, all in Wiltshire. Division Rear
was at Wincanton; the 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
at Frome; and the 143rd Armored Signal Company at Cucklington
in Somerset. Undoubtedly, the best cared for units were those
at Warminster, which had been a permanent camp built for the
Royal Armored Corps, and provided with adequate workshops and
There followed the process of "settling down." ETO
and V Corps directives were received, sorted and digested. Within
three weeks equipment was being issued, including tanks. The
"Yanks" found that petrol was scarce and that their
"blooming big lorries" often damaged the mouldering
but precious English Architecture on either side of narrow lanes.
England offered many points of interest to the new arrivals,
not the least of which was her WAAF's and ATS's. There was a
dreamlike beauty in the mossy old buildings and thatched cottages,
the abbeys and ancient castles, each and every one of which stood
haughty in its mantle of tradition. The village pubs suddenly
became loud with the extrovert voices of Americans, and the Sabbath
quiet of these old places echoed with laughter and argument.
There were land army girls, and WAAF's, ATS, and NAAFI - they
served the worst coffee in the world. But they were all cordial
and hospitable to the new arrivals. Soldiers of the 3rd Armored
Division learned the Canadian Crawl, the Polly Glide, and the
Okie Dokie. They learned to sing "Roll Me Over," and
it was a lusty wartime ballad best suited to barrack rooms and
marching columns, but not at all nice.
Across the downs of Britain in late 1943, all the great armies
of the western allies were gathering for the much discussed assault
on Europe. Division officers went along with the 5th Canadian
Armored Division to maneuvers in the area east of Andover and
north to and beyond Hungerford. Throughout their nine month stay
in Great Britain, hundreds of "Spearhead" soldiers
visited the various British and colonial units to swap ideas
and techniques. There, on the "aircraft" carrier anchored
off the shores of fortress Europe, the allies learned to respect
each other. They had begun to cement the ties of that first team
which swept on to Normandy beaches in June of 1944.
Initially in England, the 3rd had been attached to the V Corps.
In early November, when Lt. General Omar Bradley's First Army
was activated, the division was assigned to Major General Hugh
Woodruff's VII Corps, later to be commanded by Major General
"Lightning Joe" Collins on the western front.
Hard Training Begins
Training in England was hard and complete. Road marches, obstacle
courses, maintenance, and all of the familiar army drill routines
were dusted off and put into practice. There were schools which
catered to various subjects such as aircraft recognition, camouflage,
waterproofing, and chemical warfare. New weapons were issued
and tested on the ranges. Training films, including the old boy
behind the eight ball, were shown time and again. Command post
exercises on the downs were not uncomfortable in the early fall,
but as raw, winter weather approached they became a trial. The
division slowly assimilated greater knowledge of terrain and
its advantages; maneuver, and the art of shrugging off limitations
of blackout, weather, and discomfort. Forty-eight hour passes
were issued to the men after they had been in Britain for six
weeks, and the tricolor patch began to turn up in such places
as London, Bournemouth, and Bristol. Troops sweated out air raids
in the English metropolis, thrilled as the searchlights caught
Jerry aircraft, and then gasped at the torrent of ack-ack through
which an enemy plane could fly unscathed. They saw the sights
of England. They walked through Picadilly in the dim blackout.
They travelled the byways of Leicester Square and saw the terrible
bomb damage in London. Troops of the division watched a Ju-88
jettison its eggs and then burst into flames as a British Mosquito
night fighter darted in for the kill. And they saw the dead enemy
for the first time. Slowly, as a by product of all these things,
men of the future "Spearhead" became aware that the
war was close, that the byword in Europe was; "kill or be
killed." They trained with a solemn thoroughness.
During this time the division was doing a great deal of range
firing. Units practiced on Bowls Barrow, near Warminster; at
the Kimmeridge anti-tank range, where sea mist alternately veiled
and unveiled the targets; and at the anti-aircraft areas: St.
Agnes and Penhale on the west coast. Minehead, on the Bristol
Channel, was also visited by gun crews of the 3rd.
Field problems became the order of the day in November. The 36th
Armored Infantry, "Parks' Own," went out on a six day
workout. Division Headquarters made its first overnight bivouac
on the coldest of early fall days. All of the other units participated,
and the downs of Salisbury Plain were awakened as never before
in history with the rumble of motors. Command Post Exercises
were frequent, and no amount of cold or wetness served to postpone
them. Maneuvering over the chill downs, in frost or raw, driving
rain, 3rd Armored Division soldiers were learning to disregard
the elements in order to accomplish their primary missions.
Early in December, the 486th Armored Anti-Aircraft Battalion
arrived at East Knoyle, Wiltshire, and was attached to the division.
The ack-ack soldiers arrived just in time to participate in another
"shooting month," with firing on the Imber battle range,
at West Down, and Bowls Barrow. Again tank destroyers travelled
to Minehead, and AA units visited St. Agnes and Penhale. At Minehead,
the mist was nearly as bad as that of Kimmeridge. Gunners fired
each time the fog was dissipated, and were often forced to wait
while ships passed by on the Bristol Channel.
Training highlight of December, was a combined arms problem on
the Imber range west of Chitterne, which was planned and supervised
by General Hickey and the Combat Command "A" staff.
In this operation a tank battalion, plus an infantry company,
an artillery battery, and an engineer platoon, demonstrated the
"employment of a covering force in lieu of an advance guard
when contact is imminent, the occupation of attack positions,
and the detailed fire plan necessary for a coordinated attack,
and the employment of battalion supporting weapons in the initial
stages of the attack and as security against counter attacks
during reorganization." Under the guiding hand of General
Hickey, the problem was extremely successful.
Christmas in Britain was properly celebrated by troops of
the 3rd Armored Division. They celebrated with English beer and
an occasional bottle of scotch, with parties for British children,
and with roast turkey and cranberry sauce in the old tradition.
Some of the men visited friends in the hospitable little suburban
towns, or spent the evening with WAAF's or Land Army Girls, dancing.
For most of the men there was a strange pathos in this wartime
Noel in a foreign land. They heard the children of Britain singing
Christmas carols beneath the blacked-out windows of thatched
cottages in Somerset and Wiltshire, their voices thin and clear,
innocent and joyous with the age old melodies that challenge
death and fear. Many of these youngsters had never known a peacetime
Christmas, and yet they lifted wan faces to the stars and sang!
The tankers of America pooled their rations; then in every hamlet
where the soldiers of the new world were quartered, the gum,
the chocolate and the Christmas candy of America found its way
to these children of war who still felt the exaltation of good
It was the same spirit in the old, dark varnished taverns of
Britain. Scotch whiskey was almost nonexistent and yet, for this
day, a small amount miraculously made its appearance. The busy,
blowsy barmaids of England bobbed in and out with great mugs
of ale. Yank and Tommy Atkins sang the ageless Christmas carols
and roared together into the ribald wartime ditties: the "Roll
Me Over," and, "There'll be no promotions, this side
of the oceans!"
The yellow glow of subdued lighting fell on shoulder patches
of the 8th Army Desert Rats, Montgomery's finest and, across
the foaming pints of ale, one might also list the elite of America's
fighting men: the lifted wings of the air forces, already harrying
Germany in preparation for the great, unborn invasion; the tricolor
of the 3rd Armored Division, and the various shoulder insignia
of proud infantry units. Shoulder to shoulder, men of the United
Nations drank, and, drinking, sang the lovely old cosmopolitan
carols that ally themselves with no one nation. Outside in the
blue-black night, the searchlights of Great Britain fingered
a starry sky in search of Jerry raiders. There was no peace in
England, but there was a great brotherhood of free men poised
for the endeavor which should guarantee that peace.
Invasion Draws Closer
The new year of 1944 saw the division nearer, both physically
and in preparedness, to combat operations. Heavy air attacks
on the continent, plus a slow but steady advance in Italy, boded
well for future victory. It appeared, as General Eisenhower predicted,
that the war might end in 1944.
If anything, training tightened in those last few months before
the assault on Europe. Maneuvers on Salisbury Plain were a weekly
occurrence. The division sent teams to Weymouth on temporary
duty to learn the intricacies of waterproofing vehicles for the
invasion. Once again all of the various ranges heard the crash
of 3rd Armored Division weapons, and there were schools in combat
swimming, anti-aircraft spotting, chemical warfare, and a host
General Montgomery visited the area on January 17, and mentioned
that he would be leading allied forces in the first phase of
the invasion. Later, Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Air Chief
Marshal Tedder, and others visited the division. The Duke of
Gloucester, brother of King George VI, inspected armored force
weapons on misty Salisbury Plain.
With the advent of spring, the world waited breathlessly for
word of the great attack. May was all warm sunshine and dry weather.
Daily, great flights of Fortresses and Liberators smashed at
the continent. The nights were a constant drum of sound as the
Royal Air Force punished the enemy. German propagandists screamed
alternately that there would soon be an invasion - that there
would be no invasion! "Midge," one of the Axis female
propagandists, entertained American troops with hit tunes while
she dulcetly slipped in the barb with allusions to the terrible
cost of an amphibious landing.
There was no doubt about the big show in the minds of division
personnel. Once again the 3rd was on the move. In late May and
early June, most units had pitched pup-tents on the downs and
were waiting for word to proceed immediately to ports of embarkation.
All vehicles were waterproofed, combat loaded and ready. Maps
of the continent had been issued to officers and non-coms. The
talk was all of D-Day and H-Hour.
Still, nothing happened. All day and all night, the great fleets
of warplanes passed over. Early June was warm and sunny - "Hitler
Weather," the Nazi panzer troops of 1941 had called it.
Now there was expectancy in the air. Men of the 3rd chafed at
the delay; they had expected to go into combat on the morning
The first news came by radio on the morning of June 6, but
it was only a belated confirmation to GI's who had lain awake
all night listening to the wave after wave of aircraft passing
overhead, and the muted, distant rumblings of bombardment. The
big show had started, and the 3rd Armored Division still cooled
its tracks on the downlands of Somerset and Wiltshire.
The delay was of short duration. Shortly afterward the units
left their bivouacs and travelled to ports of embarkation at
Southampton and Weymouth. Each man received D and K rations,
plus PX supplies, motion sickness capsules, and vomit bags. The
well waterproofed vehicles rolled aboard LST's and the channel
lay ahead. It was the end of another phase. There behind were
the green fields of England, and there ahead were the tall poplars
of Normandy. Each man looked at his neighbor and thought - I
wonder how many of us will come back.
Although separate units of the 3rd Armored Division had, for
the most part, arrived at ports of embarkation on June 18 and
19, heavy channel storms delayed the crossing. It was not until
the 23rd that the first elements touched French sand on Omaha
White Beach, below Isigny. The 32nd and 33rd Armored Regiments,
the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion, and the 486th Armored Anti-Aircraft
Battalion, went ashore on this date.
On the 24th, Division Headquarters, forward and rear echelon;
Division Artillery, with the 54th, 67th, and 391st Armored Field
Artillery Battalions; Combat Commands "A" and "B";
and Division Trains, landed.
The main body of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment reached France
on June 25, but Regimental Headquarters had been there since
the 18th, thus becoming the first sizeable 3rd Armored Division
unit in Normandy.
Still delayed by stormy weather, the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion
arrived on June 28; the main body of the 45th Armored Medical
Battalion on July 2; Supply Battalion on July 3; the 83rd Armored
Reconnaissance Battalion and the Maintenance Battalion on July
On Omaha Beach, the backwash of battle, a vast graveyard of broken
equipment, smashed tanks and twisted ships, lay rusting in the
brine. The invasion armadas were there off shore, an unbelievable
panorama of power. Barrage balloons swayed in the moist air,
and Thunderbolt fighter-bombers zoomed from a newly constructed
air strip close to the beach. Thousands of engineers worked on
the floating piers, and a steady procession of nondescript German
troops, captured in the early fighting, straggled down to board
outgoing transports. Past them, in the other direction, battalion
after battalion of American soldiers, replacements for the infantry
divisions up forward, trudged wearily ashore and went up the
muddy road which led inland.
Most of the 3rd Armored Division's vehicles were able to roll
off their LST's to dry land. A few, coming in on the high tide,
touched down in yard-deep water, but there was no record of any
swamping or like mishap.
Assigned to areas a short distance from the beach, troops spent
their first days in France de-waterproofing and preparing for
combat operations. The orders were already drawn up and ready.
Next Chapter: Normandy, France