We’re open Monday to Friday from 10am-4:30pm and EVERY Saturday from 12pm-4pm. Free admission, no booking required.

Blog

/

BLOG

Diamonds in the Emerald Isle; The 5th Infantry Division in Northern Ireland

One of the common misconceptions about the US Army in Northern Ireland during the Second World War is that divisions based here were training for D-Day. In reality, from the six divisions that spent significant time here between 1942 and 1944, only the 82nd Airborne actually participated in events on 6 June. From those six divisions, two were still present and still training in Northern Ireland while D-Day took place. This is a brief account of the last of those to leave; the 5th Infantry Division.

Between late 1941 and August 1943, the 5th Infantry Division was stationed in Iceland, a posting described as both arduous and an ordeal. Planning for the invasion in Europe lead to a move to Tidworth in England ahead of a more prolonged period in Northern Ireland. Among the first personnel to arrive in Northern Ireland on 12 October was the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Alan D. Warnock, accompanied by an advance party to oversee the acquisition of training areas and co-ordinate the movement of the division to their camps and billets. The division was assigned to locations around the southeast corner of County Down, establishing its headquarters at Bryansford House in Tollymore Park with their Commanding Officer, Major General S. Leroy Irwin and Chief of Staff, Colonel Paul O. Franson, eventually taking up residence there on 29 October.

Brigadier General Stafford LeRoy Irwin, Commanding General 5th Infantry Division (left) with Major General Wade Hamption Haislip, Commanding General XV Corps, observing an exercise at Castlewellan.
Brigadier General Stafford LeRoy Irwin, Commanding General 5th Infantry Division (left) with Major General Wade Hampton Haislip, Commanding General XV Corps, observing an exercise at Castlewellan.

First Impressions

With the entire move finally completed on 10 November, the division rapidly began to make an impression locally. On 5 November, several men from the 11th Infantry Regiment were engaged in a route march when they assisted in launching the Newcastle lifeboat during low tide. The rescue attempt was to a crashed aircraft, but sadly only recovered the pilot's body. Commendations of the American's efforts were received from the RNLI depot at Borehamwood. Local church services were often attended by Americans. This was partically attributed to being stationed in towns and villages 'among a strongly religious people' and was also aided by Thanksgiving and imminent arrival of Christmas, Chaplains from the division organised twelve parties for local children, which over 3,000 attended. In January 1944, over 3,000 civilians attended military church services, and an estimated 5,452 military personnel attended civilian church services.

Training in Northern Ireland

While the division acquainted itself with its new surroundings, the first few months in Northern Ireland also saw the rapid implementation of an intensive training programme. With their time garrisoned in Iceland now firmly behind them, the activities of the 5th Infantry Division became focused on the forthcoming invasion of continental Europe.

Presents being distributed to local children at a Christmas party.
Presents being distributed to local children at a Christmas party.

The term training is brief, generic and often all-encompassing. At the same time, some military descriptions, such as field problems, battle indoctrination courses, and command post exercises, can seem more abstract. Fortunately, more comprehensive accounts kept by the division reveal the diverse range of training completed in Northern Ireland. Beyond the daily activities described as 'routine and appropriate to the assigned mission', one of the first locations were the division carried out specialist training was the Anti-Aircraft firing range at St John's Point on the County Down coast. Beginning on 1 December and concluding by 10 January, all united allocated men who then lived on-site for the duration of the training. Tripod and vehicle-mounted .30 and .50 calibre weapons were used, with 404 men completing the course in the first week and approximately half a million rounds of ammunition expended by its conclusion. A little over twelve miles away, a Chemical Warfare school opened within the grounds of Seaforde House. The school at Seaforde was soon graduating 42 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) per week, and by the time of its closure, a total of 33 officers and 441 NCOs had qualified. This practice of establishing a school was repeated for other specialist roles, including a signal school established just outside Newcastle, a camouflage school at Ballywillwill, and a school for Assault Detachments using Flame Throwers, Pole Charges and Bangalore Torpedoes at Dundrum. Division training was not confined to County Down, and on occasion, elements of the division travelled to locations over 80 miles away from their camps.

Practising vehicle decontamination at Seaforde's Gas School
Practising vehicle decontamination at Seaforde's Gas School

Due to their prolonged stay in Iceland, it was believed that the 5th Infantry Division needed more artillery firing experience. New artillery and equipment arrived, and by January 1944, the division had significantly increased its level of range firing. In March 1944, a large-scale firing exercise was held, demonstrating how artillery supported the infantry. All available troops from the division were assembled three miles northwest of Annalong, from where they viewed a target area in the mountains into which the divisions artillery began unleashing their salvos. The display was the largest of its kind held in Northern Ireland, and over 350 vehicles were used to transport personnel to the vantage point.

105MM artillery being fired on an artillery range.
105MM artillery being fired on an artillery range.

The Mourne Mountains were also the location where the division first became acquainted with Lieutenant General George S. Patton when he arrived to inspect personnel training in the field and to visit the division’s headquarters. Conferring with General Irwin, General Warnock, and their Chief of Staff, Colonel Franson, Patton dismissed suggestions the quality of the division had been reduced due to their two-year deployment to Iceland. After his inspection, Patton stated that the unit was ‘a very fine division’. Patton returned in March for the second of his inspection tours. Met by General Haislip from the XV Corps, his first day was spent with the 5th Infantry Division, reviewing its men on Greencastle airfield before observing a simulated attack using live ammunition and against a fortified position in the Mournes. Seemingly impressed Patton’s assessment of their capability was, ‘They will fight.

General Patton escorted by Colonel Robert P. Bell from the 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division.
General Patton escorted by Colonel Robert P. Bell from the 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division.

Furlough Fun

While most of the division was engaged in training at any one time, a proportion of its men were often on leave or furlough. On one occasion, it was recorded that 10% of its men were issued with 24-hour passes on a single day, which equated to over 1,400. Aside from organisations such as the American Red Cross (ARC), ensuring that personnel were engaged in appropriate leisure activities fell under the jurisdiction of the division's Special Service Section. This particular branch of the army organised entertainment, education and recreational activities on and off camp. During March 1944, 165 movies were shown throughout the division, with an overall attendance of 38,500. Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) and the United Services Organization (USO) brought shows to six camps, while 63 dances, 26 parades and three concerts were organised. Off camp, educational tours to Portrush were available, and limited places for transportation to England, Scotland, or Wales could be arranged. In conjunction with the ARC, basketball and boxing tournaments took place, often in Belfast. The division organised a golf tournament at Royal County Down, with 130 men participating. Qualifying rounds took place over four days, split into experienced (class A) and inexperienced (class B) before the finals on 31 March. Eight of the division's best players took on a civilian team in a special finale. A few days later, all leaves furlough and overnight passes were cancelled until further notice. That order coincided with instructions received concerning a Port Overseas Movement (POM).

Golf tournament finalists at Royal County Down.
Golf tournament finalists at Royal County Down.

Preparations for Normandy

Ultimately, the restrictions were precautionary, and the POM was an elaborate embarkation exercise named JALOPY. Held over two days towards the end of April, it transported over 3,000 of the division's personnel by road and rail to Belfast docks before returning them to camp. The exercise helped refine the process of leaving camp through to embarkation. Valuable lessons were learnt and applied elsewhere for implementing large-scale movements in days rather than weeks. Other exercises were indicative of the invasion nearing. At Ballyholme, a loading demonstration involving a Landing Ship Tank (LST) and a pontoon bridge was successfully conducted. However, a repeat of the process the following day at Tyrella Beach had to be abandoned when currents began to break up the bridge. Nevertheless, the attempt did provide an opportunity to wade vehicles in deep water. A practice that the division would soon engage in at a waterproofing school on the shore of Lough Neagh.

In April a flotilla of warships earmarked for the bombardment fleet during Operation Overlord (the invasion of France) began assembling on Belfast Lough. Subsequently, men from the divisions G-3 (Training) Section liaised with naval officers onboard the USS Texas in a realistic fire control exercise. Held between 12 -14 May, several ships delivered simulated concentrations of naval gunfire on targets designated by the division’s forward observer personnel on shore. In mid- May, a detachment from the 28th Infantry Division, headed by Brigadier-General Thomas Buchanan, delivered an Amphibious Training Course. It concluded with practice operations on loading nets and mock-up landing craft. The exercise coincided with General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s arrival in Northern Ireland. His two-day tour of American units began with men from the division, assembled at Greencastle airfield. Afterwards, the general’s entourage travelled to Newcastle, Ballykinler, and Murlough, to inspect other units from the division on parade and training.

Men boarding a train during exercise JALOPY.
Men boarding a train during exercise JALOPY.

At the end of May 1944, the division numbered 14,732 men from all ranks and a comprehensive training schedule was issued running to 1 July, focusing on improving leadership, discipline and physical stamina. At the local ARC clubs, staff noticed a growing tension and on 6 June, radios in those clubs broke the news on the D-Day landings in France. The Northern Ireland edition of The Stars and Stripes had the banner headline INVASION. A growing tension was observed among the men and an increasing interest in practising French. Troops spent money more recklessly, ‘because they felt they’d soon be where they’d be unable to spend it.’ Practice shoots at firing ranges at Ballykinler, Mourne Park, and Annalong became daily occurrences, with others at Hilltown and Benbane Head. Tellingly, training in waterproofing vehicles increased, including 8 hours at Lough Neagh for each unit involved.

Northern Ireland edition of 'The Stars and Stripes' from 6 June 1944.
Northern Ireland edition of 'The Stars and Stripes' from 6 June 1944.

Departing Northern Ireland

The inevitable call eventually came on 29 June, with men confined to camps and departures beginning on 4 July. Two days later, division HQ departed Tollymore Park for a ‘permanent change of station’. Boarding trains at Newcastle at 05:40 and arriving in Belfast at 06:45 before embarking on the USAT George W. Goethals. The operation was completed by 08:00. In total, 17 vessels transported the division, and the Belfast Harbour logs recorded their destination as ‘French Beachhead’. With the bulk of the division landing in France on 10 July, their eight months of pre-invasion training in Northern Ireland was now over, and the journey that would eventually take them through France, Luxembourg, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria was about to begin.

Division Jeeps being taken ashore in France.
Division Jeeps being taken ashore in France.

About the author:

Clive Moore runs the US Forces in Northern Ireland during WW2 Flickr page and is the author of the NIWM publication, The American Red Cross in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. For more information please visit the Publications tab on our website: Publications. Copies are available to purchase for £10 from the museum or via the museum's Amazon account. Clive is presently researching material for a book on the US Army in Northern Ireland.

You May Also Like

Card image cap
Biography: Brigadier General Leroy P Collins
Guest author Clive Moore looks at the role and impact of Brigadier General Leroy P Collins (pictured in his Officers Blue Dress uniform in 1941) during the fourteen months he spent in Northern Ireland over two separate postings: a longer period than any other commanding officer, or possibly any other person in the United States military that served in Northern Ireland.
Card image cap
Wartime Bomb Disposal
Author Chris Ranstead writes on the dangers posed by unexploded bombs known as UXBs and the men of 27 Bomb Disposal Company that made them safe long after the Belfast Blitz in 1941.
Card image cap
Polish Squadrons in Northern Ireland Part 1: No. 315 (City of Deblin) Polish Fighter Squadron
Its common knowledge that No. 315 and No. 303 (Polish) Squadrons were based at RAF Ballyhalbert, County Down during the Second World War but what was their role here?
Card image cap
Polish Squadrons in Northern Ireland Part 2: No. 303 (Kosciuszko) Polish Fighter Squadron
Its common knowledge that No. 315 and No. 303 (Polish) Squadrons were based at RAF Ballyhalbert, County Down during the Second World War but what was their role here?
Card image cap
The Epic of the Empire Patrol
On 29 September 1945, the SS Empire Patrol caught fire shortly after leaving Port Said. On board were hundreds of Greek refugees who were returning home to Castellorizo. Within the NIWM collection is an eyewtness account from Ordinary Seaman Stanley Scott of their rescue by the escort carrier, HMS Trouncer.
Card image cap
The US 'Technicians who won't talk'
American forces officially arrived in Northern Ireland on 26 January 1942 with PFC Milburn Henke being selected to be the 'first' to walk down the gangplank. However, hundreds of American technicians had already spent much of 1941 in Northern Ireland, well before the US entry into the war, building US Naval Operating Base Londonderry and a seaplane base at Lough Erne. Discover more about their time in Northern Ireland here:
Card image cap
Queer Life during the Second World War
To mark LGBT+ History Month, NIWM Outreach Officer, Michael Fryer, explores queer life during the Second World War. Please note that this article contains sexual references and may be inappropriate for younger readers.
Card image cap
‘As welcome as the Germans in Norway’: Irish Nationalism and the American presence in Northern Ireland
Dr Simon Topping, author of 'Northern Ireland, the United States and the Second World War' provides an overview of how the leaders of Irish Nationalism regarded the arrival of thousands of American soldiers in Northern Ireland in 1942.
Card image cap
Clothing Rationing
The Board of Trade introduced the immediate rationing of clothing and footwear on 1st June 1941. Read on to find out more.
Card image cap
Sweet Rationing
#DidYouKnow? That on 26th July in 1942 sweets were rationed! The initial allowance was 8 oz per person for a 4 week period… that’s only 2 oz per week! Read on to find out more.
Card image cap
The Last Man’s Club of Battery B
As well as being the first US division to land in Europe during the Second World War, the 34th 'Red Bull' Infantry Division also fired the first American artillery at German forces. This shell was fired by B Battery, 175th Field Artillery Battalion at Medjez-El-Bab, Tunisia, on 19 November, 1942. Although B Battery of the 175th was first to fire in combat, the very first American artillery fire in the European Theatre was delivered by B Battery of the 151st Field Artillery Battalion whilst based in Northern Ireland during 1942. This is the story of how a group of men became bonded for the rest of their lives by a spent shell casing and a bottle of good Irish whiskey.
Card image cap
Coastal Crusts and Stop Lines
In Coastal Crusts and Stop Lines, Dr James O'Neill highlights the anti-invasion defences of Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Pictured is a coastal pillbox emerging from the sands at Magilligan Strand (Co. Londonderry). The dune system swallowed it up again soon after this photo was taken.
Card image cap
Royal Air Force Marine Craft
Much has been written about Northern Ireland’s role in helping to bring about the Allied victory in the Second World War. One aspect however has been overlooked and does not get the attention it deserves - the Royal Air Force Marine Service. In this article, Guy Warner shines a light on its role as a vital enabler not only with regard to the Battle of the Atlantic but also Air Sea Rescue.
Card image cap
Aviation Archaeology in Ulster - A Personal Overview
Tens of thousands of aircrew flew training and operational sorties from air bases in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Sadly, many aircraft and their crews were lost to accidents and mechanical failures. Typically the airframes were recovered, but where that was not possible the wreckage remained buried. Aviation expert Jonny McNee introduces us to his efforts to recover four of these lost aircraft.
Card image cap
Still Over Here Part 1: The archaeology of the United States military in Northern Ireland, 1941-45
'Over There' was a patriotic song about GIs coming to Europe to aid the allied cause. 'Still Over Here' looks at the physical remains of the structures left behind by the hundreds of thousands of US personnel who passed through Northern Ireland during the Second World War. In Part 1 we look at the traces of the US Navy, Army and the structures that remain hidden in the landscape.
Card image cap
Still Over Here Part 2: The archaeology of the United States military in Northern Ireland, 1941-45 - The United States Army Airforce
In Part 2 of 'Still Over Here', Dr James O'Neill examines the remains of the largest remaining sites relating to the US presence in Northern Ireland during the Second World War: the USAAF airfields. As the conflict escalated and losses mounted, six airfields were handed over to the USAAF, training crews and modifying aircraft for the battles in the air over Europe. With each airfield covering hundreds of acres, they are often hidden in plain sight, but many features remain to tell their story.
Card image cap
The War for Industrial Production
In 'The War for Industrial Production', Dr Christopher Loughlin takes a look at industrial relations in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Often overlooked in official accounts of the conflict, Dr Loughlin explores how organised labour surged during the war years, and how relations between employers were often fractious, leading to industrial disputes and strikes.
Card image cap
Love In War
To mark #ValentinesDay 2024, we're sharing a story from our new blog series #LoveInWar; a collection of blog posts highlighting love stories from our Oral History Collection.

Subscribe To Our Mailing List For Updates