Our Special Relationship: the U.S. Military in England

One of the interesting things about living in Cambridgeshire is seeing the uniforms of U.S. servicemen and women stationed here in England.  Many of these men and women serve in the U.S. Air Force, on Royal Air Force Bases, across East Anglia and the East of England.  However, it wasn’t too many decades past when U.S. Army and Navy personnel were commonly seen in England as well, especially during the Second World War.  Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States entering the war in December 1941, there were high-level contacts at the General Staff level between the United States and United Kingdom.   In fact, as early as March 1941, the United States, United Kingdom and Canada had agreed on:  “The early defeat of Germany as the predominant member of the Axis with the principal military effort of the United States being exerted in the Atlantic and European area; and a strategic defensive in the Far East.” – this was the Europe First policy which was the basis of the Allied war effort throughout the Second World War.  So when the attack on Pearl Harbor came and the United States found itself at war with the Axis Powers: Germany, Japan, and Italy, it was only a short amount of time before U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Corps (the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force) personnel began arriving in droves across England.

It was on January 26, 1942 that the first U.S. combat troops arrived in England.  As U.S. forces arrived in England, they were handed a publication titled: “Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain”.  Along with all sorts of useful advice to help with the large influx of Americans, servicemen were told never to insult the monarchy, and that “the British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee, but you don’t know how to make a good cup of tea.  It’s an even swap.” It is important to note that individual Americans were serving with UK and Canadian units across England in units like the Eagle Squadrons, but the organized landing of forces of the U.S. Army did not occur until January 1942.

As the staging of forces continued from January thousands of men and equipment were staged across the United Kingdom.  These forces launched  the first allied amphibious operation from England, the invasion of North Africa, named Operation Torch.  18,500 U.S. Army combat troops were transported from their staging bases in the United Kingdom to Oran, North Africa.  These men were part of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One), the 1st Armored Division (Old Ironsides), and the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  Fighting would rage across North Africa, and many of these men would find themselves fighting from Sicily to the Italian mainland until the end of the War.

Americans in Landing Craft Operation Torch

U.S. Troops embarked in a landing craft for Operation Torch.  This artistic work was created by the Government of the United Kingdom before 1957 and is in the public domain.

Operation Torch Map

Map from “Operation Torch” by S. W. Roskill, from “The War at Sea 1939-1945”, Chapter XII.  In the public domain.

The close proximity of Cambridgeshire and East Anglia to the industrial heart of Germany led to the development of numerous air fields for medium and heavy bombers, as well as fighter, cargo, and airborne support aircraft, arriving from the United States to work with RAF Bomber Command in the strategic bombing campaign against the Axis Powers.

In June 1944, the long-awaited invasion of France was launched from staging points across England, with U.S., British, Commonwealth, and Allied troops storming the beaches of Normandy in Operation Overlord.  These forces would drive on to liberate France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and invade Germany, meeting the Soviet Allies on the Elbe. Amazingly, onboard over 1,200 aircraft and 5,000 ships, 160,000 allied troops were landed in France on June 6, 1944.  By the end of August, 3 million allied troops were transported from England to France, a staggering feat of human achievement.

NormandySupply_edit

Mid-June 1944, a view of the immense logistical operation on Omaha Beach, Normandy France.  The photo is the property of the U.S. Coast Guard and is in the public domain.

By the end of the war, 1.5 million U.S. servicemen and women had been stationed in England, or passed through to combat operations in Europe.

The military cooperation and deep relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States, which continues to this day, remained at the end of the Second World War.  NATO was formed in response to new threats from the Soviet Union and its Allies, and the United Kingdom remained critical to Allied efforts through the Cold War.  Today, almost two decades after the end of the Second World War, the presence of U.S. servicemen and women across Cambridgeshire is a point of pride for those of us who live here, reminded of our shared military history.

For more information on the U.S. military in England during the Second World War, visit the National Archives website: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/second-world-war/

 

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Remembrance Day 2015

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Enlisted U.S. airman from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall and two officers (the two men on the front right with the piping on their garrison caps) prepare to lay wreaths at the Cambridge American Cemetery, Remembrance Day (Memorial Day) 2015.

Remembrance Day in Cambridgeshire. Poppies are respectfully worn on lapels, blouses, and occasionally on the front of a car. We all pause and think on the sacrifice of service members, their families, and all the overwhelming sadness of those who died in war. In this period leading up to 11 November 2018, which will be the centenary of the end of the Great War, it is important to pause and reflect on the loss of so many. I thought today I would simply post some images of the moving memorials which took place today.

Remebrance Day in Huntingdon - hunts post

Huntingdon, Remembrance Day 2015. Thanks to the Hunts Post.

peterborough 2015

Peterborough, Remembrance Day 2015.  At the War Memorial.

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An image that personally touches me and the members of my village, this is our local war memorial which records the names of nine young men who fell in the Great War. It is horrific to think that in a village with a population of 280 in 1914, nine men would die in the war.

Halloween, a pagan holiday in Cambridgeshire

Halloween (or Hallowe’en, a shortening of Hallowed Evening, or the night before All Hallows’ Day) is now celebrated across Cambridgeshire to some extent – much depends on the village or the town’s desire to embrace a commercialized, but fun for the children, evening.  In my local village, a anecdotal guess would be one out of four homes are open for trick-or-treaters – the wonderfully dressed children heading around in the dark looking for candy.  In many ways Halloween is an English invention, born out of our pagan past in the Romanticism of the 19th Century, adopted and commercialized by the United States in the 20th Century, and now celebrated in England.  This is an echo of an echo, for what we now see across the shires reflects more of America’s influence than our own English past.  Where did Halloween come from?

Samhain was a Gaelic festival celebrating the end of the harvest and the beginning of the “darker” half of the year, traditionally celebrated across Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany.  A Celtic day began at sundown and Samhain would begin at sunset on 31 October and continue into the first of November.  This date is midway between the winter solstice and the autumnal equinox, and the importance of it to the Celts can be seen in many Neolithic monuments oriented so that the rising sun on Samhain would shine on an opening or portal to a burial mound during the festival.

Many of our Halloween customs have come down from this event – it was a Celtic leminal time, where spirits and faeries from other worlds could cross over into our own, when bonfires were lit , and food and drink where left outside to satiate the spirits so that people and livestock would be left alone and survive the oncoming winter.  There are echoes of our own customs here, but the Samhain festival would be Christianized in the Middle Ages and developed across the British Isles.

Soulcakes, the traditional treat given to children in England on Halloween, these are a descendent of Samhain gifts left outdoors for spirits.  Notice the traditional Christian iconography of the cross. From Samantha, Haarlem, the Netherlands, in Wikimedia commons.

Soulcakes, the traditional treat given to children in England on Halloween, these are a descendent of Samhain gifts left outdoors for spirits. Notice the traditional Christian iconography of the cross. From Samantha, Haarlem, the Netherlands, in Wikimedia commons.

The Catholic Church celebrated All Saints Day on 1 November, followed by All Souls Day on 2 November.  These two festivals of the church were blended into All Hallows’ Tide, the three day feast celebrating the dead saints, martyrs, and faithful which began on 1 November.  It wasn’t a wild leap for the church to build on the Celtic customs observed across northern France and the British Isles, incorporating Samhain into a more Christianized feast.  Interestingly, it was the descendents of Celts, the Scottish and Irish immigrants to the United States in the 19th Century that brought the celebration of Halloween to the New World – with many of its more pagan aspects expanded and grew.  In England, “souling” or “guising”, dressing up and seeking out sweet cakes from the wealthy in exchange for praying for the dead, had existed from the Middle Ages.

Souling_on_Halloween

A postcard from 1882 showing dressed up or “souling” children seeking sweetcakes from wealthy townsmen in an English village. Titled “Souling on Halloween” by Mary Mapes Dodge, originally published in: “St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks”, Scribner & Company, December 1882. In the public domain.

During the Romanticism of the 19th Century, Halloween was expanded and discussed across England, as fascination with Celtic mythology and druidism increased and a general rejection of Catholic feasts permeated British life.  It was in the 20th Century that jack-o’-lanterns appeared, an effort to scare off evil spirits roaming through the night, building on carved gourds and vegetables seen in Ireland and Scotland.

In recent decades, the commercialization of this ancient holiday has spread across Cambridgeshire, brought back to England from a more enveloping American culture.  The history of Halloween; however, reaches back into a pagan, pre-Christian Britain, when fear of spirits, faeries, and the dark, hungry times of winter were ubiquitous in our daily lives.

 

MK1 Supermarine Spitfire to be sold to benefit RAF Veterans and Wildlife Charity

MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 in flight over Cambridgeshire in 2015. © BNPS

MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 in flight over Cambridgeshire in 2015. © BNPS

On May 24, 1940 a Dornier 17-Z bomber got a lucky hit on a MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 during an air battle over the beaches of Dunkirk. The MK1 Spitfire, flown by Flying Officer Peter Cazenove had taken off from RAF Croydon and flown over northern France to support the fighting on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Dornier brought the Spitfire down with a single bullet, which then crash-landed gear-up on the beaches near Calais. Uninjured, Flying Officer Cazenove left the aeroplane and walked to Calais where he joined a British unit fighting in the waning days of the Battle of France. Eventually he was captured and made a POW, ending up in Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany and becoming involved in the Great Escape. Flying Officer Cazenove survived the War. The Spitfire; however, stayed on the beaches of Dunkirk along with so much British military kit abandoned in the evacuation. Remarkably, a picture survives of two German servicemen sitting on the wreckage of P9374, half buried in the sand.

MK1 Spitfire P9374 on the beaches of Dunkirk in Spring 1940 with two German servicemen on her fuselage. © BNPS.

MK1 Spitfire P9374 on the beaches of Dunkirk in Spring 1940 with two German servicemen on her fuselage. © BNPS.

Flying Officer Peter Cazenove in 1940. © Mark One Partners.

Flying Officer Peter Cazenove in 1940. © Mark One Partners.

Eventually the tides coming in and out over Dunkirk buried the aeroplane where it was preserved for the next several decades until September 1980 when the fighter appeared back above the sands. Lovingly restored and reassembled by experts and now at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, the Spitfire is now one of only two flying MK1 Spitfires in their original specifications (there are many other flying Spitfires of different variants).

MKI Supermarine Spitfire P9374's cockpit.  Photograph taken at IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 2015. © Getty Images.

MKI Supermarine Spitfire P9374’s cockpit. Photograph taken at IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 2015. © Getty Images.

MK 1 Spitfire P9374 was built in 1939. Its Merlin III engine was completed at the Rolls-Royce Factory in Derby on October 27, 1939. The aeroplane had only 32 hours of flying time when it was brought down over France. It was one of the renowned No. 92 Squadron’s fighters based at RAF Croydon in March 1940.

MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 in flight over Cambridgeshire in 2015. © John Dibbs, SWNS.com.

MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 in flight over Cambridgeshire in 2015. © John Dibbs, SWNS.com.

Amazingly, this aeroplane is going on sale. On July 9, 2015 at Christie’s in London, P9374 will go on sale and is expected to fetch between £2- £2.5 million. The proceeds of the sale will be shared between two charities – the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and Panthera Corporation, a wildlife conservation charity Mr Thomas Kaplan and his wife, Ms Dafna Kaplan, founded in 2006. Mr Kaplan, an American billionaire investor who is a world renowned conservationist, art collector, and Oxfordian, is the generous individual behind the sale. The second flying MK1 Spitfire in the world was also restored by Mr Kaplan’s experts. Numbered N3200, he has generously donated the MK1 Spitfire to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, where it often flies and is available to all visitors to admire.

One of the greatest military aviation sites in the World is the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.  Located off the M11, south of Cambridge, on the site of historic RAF Duxford. http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford

One of her sister aircraft, MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9372. An early photo of a No. 92 Squadron Spitfire Mk1, The GR codes date it to the Spring of 1940 and the lack of an armour plated windscreen dates it to before the evacuation of Dunkirk. P9372 was shot down over Rye in September 1940. The wreck was recovered and much of the aeroplane is on display at Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar.  Unknown Photographer.

One of her sister aircraft, MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9372. An early photo of a No. 92 Squadron Spitfire Mk1, The GR codes date it to the Spring of 1940 and the lack of an armour plated windscreen dates it to before the evacuation of Dunkirk. P9372 was shot down over Rye in September 1940. The wreck was recovered and much of the aeroplane is on display at Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. Unknown Photographer.

A beginning…

Wimpole Hall Monday 20 January 020

The fields of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, on a frosty morning, January 2013 © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com

Friends,

Welcome to the Cambridge Military History blog, where we will discover and explore together the rich history of an ancient and beautiful part of England – Cambridgeshire.  From the earliest settlements, through the arrival of the Romans and, as the legions departed, to the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, we will delve together into the past.  From the early political stirrings of a land which would become England, this area has played a key part in this Nation’s history.  With the Viking raids and the Norman conquest, to the heady times of kingship, the rise of parliamentary power and the Civil War, Cambridgeshire has been at the fore.  As we moved into modernity, once more Cambridgeshire loomed over the fortunes of this land as fighters and bombers soared over the flat countryside, defending England, launching contentious and destructive raids on the continent in the Second World War that are still debated to this day.  The study of Cambridgeshire is often an exploration into the wars and battles which have been fought on, and above, this land.  What is waiting to be discovered, researched and brought back to life for you the reader to share with me?  A lifetime could be spent exploring the thousands of years of human struggle: man fighting against nature, famine, and disease, through religious and world wars, against political and military adversaries.  Where will this adventure take us? I am not certain, but surely the journey will be as powerful as the conclusions.

I’m an American, an expat, who has settled here in England after years lived abroad and at sea after a career as a Naval Officer.  Although I have been in Cambridgeshire for many years, my perspective and background may just vary enough to allow a different view on this fascinating part of England.  As the Bard let John of Gaunt eloquently say:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II

– Brandon