Fowey and the American Invasion


A simple shelter with a weather-beaten plaque at Whitehouse is all that remains of the important part Fowey played in the Normandy landings of June 1944.

It was erected by the US Navy in appreciation of the hospitality offered by the people of Fowey during the build-up to Operation Overload. Thousands of American serviceman were stationed in the town, to train for D-Day and the invasion of Europe. From Fowey they sailed into the horrors of Utah and Omaha beaches. For many, it would be the last they saw of the Cornish port.

At the outbreak of World War II, the defence of Fowey harbour was the responsibility of the Royal Navy, but in 1943 the US Navy moved in and set up an advanced amphibious training base for landing craft personnel, in readiness for their assault on the beaches of north west France. Local beaches including Pentewan and Crinnis were used for preparatory exercises. In April 1944, some of the US troops also took part in the ill-fated Exercise Tiger at Slapton Sands in Devon, when the Allied convoy was attacked by nine German E-boats, resulting in the deaths of 749 US serviceman.The US Navy established a huge ammunition dump at a clay pit in Bugle and another at Par harbour, and Fowey became the main port in the south west for the loading of ammunition and explosives for shipment to France.

 

U.S. Army Casualties Footage, Fowey 1944

From 1943, a US Hospital Training School was established in Fowey, for military doctors and medics to treat casualties of the invasion, and a hundred bed US Navy hospital was constructed for returning casualties. A building at Squires Field was allocated as a temporary mortuary. Hotels and guest houses were requisitioned for officers and two camps at Windmill housed 1,500 men. Altogether, 150 US medical officers and 2,850 corpsmen received training in Fowey, from where they would sail in a flotilla of landing ships to Normandy.

 

More American units arrived in Fowey in the days leading up to Operation Overlord, as did 41 US war correspondents. The reporters stayed at Fowey Hall and were invited for tea at Menabilly by Daphne du Maurier. They also enjoyed a cocktail party given at Place by Ann Treffry.

A few days after D-Day, survivors from sunken US Navy ships began arriving back in Fowey for treatment and recuperation. By the end of August 1944, all the remaining survivors were sent to Falmouth to await reassignment. But they were not, strictly speaking, the last Americans to leave Fowey.

In December 1945, the US cargo ship Del Sud left Fowey for the United States. On board were fifteen GI brides and four babies. The cost for the one-way ticket was £37 10s 0d for the brides. The babies travelled free.

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