On the 75th Anniversary of US Troops’ Arrival in Belfast

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Northern Ireland. People watching members of the first contingent of the New American Expeditionary Forces as they march to their trains after disembarking from transports – photo credit: Library of Congress

After the United States entered World War II following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the first American troops were deployed to assist in the defense of the United Kingdom.  US troops debarked in Belfast on January 26, 1942, a contingent of 4,058 led by Major General Russell P. Hartle. Private First Class Milburn H. Henke was the first to descend the gangplank onto Northern Irish soil. By May of that year, about 32,000 troops and 2 divisions were in Northern Ireland.

US troop presence had an impact throughout Northern Ireland. For example, the 34th Infantry Division was headquartered in Omagh, County Tyrone, while the 1st Armored Division was based at Castlewellan, County Down.  The V Corps was headquartered in Lurgan, County Antrim, and American soldiers and sailors participated in training throughout the country.

Each American soldier and sailor received A Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland to get them “acquainted with the Irish, their country, and their ways.”

“You will start out with good prospects,” the guide enthused.  “The Irish like Americans.  Virtually every Irishman has friends or relatives in the United States; he is predisposed in your favor and anxious to hear what you have to say.  This, however, puts you under a definite obligation: you will be expected to live up to the Irishman’s high opinion of Americans.  That’s a real responsibility.”

Over the course of the war, 300,000 American servicemen were stationed in Northern Ireland.  American troops in the United Kingdom worked with British forces to fight for control of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, to launch operations for invasions of North Africa, the air war in Europe, and D-Day.

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British Sergeant instructs U.S. gunners. A British Sergeant taking some of the U.S. troops in Northern Ireland through a course of light A.A. gun drill – photo credit: Library of Congress

See also:

The American Battle Monuments Commission’s interactive resources on Americans in Great Britain, 1942-1945

Francis M. Carroll, “United States Armed Forces in Northern Ireland During World War II,” New Hibernia Review 12, no. 2 (Summer 2008)

Images of the American troops from the Belfast Telegraph

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