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Operation Bolero

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The shoulder patch of the 2nd Infantry (Indianhead) Division.

The arrival of thousands of American soldiers in Wales in 1943 and 1944 was the result of a major plan of deployment devised at the time of America's reluctant entry into the War in December 1941. The period May-December 1941 had seen a growing realisation amongst senior American military staff that a presence in Europe would be necessary at some point. As early as the summer of 1941, there were plans for US troops to occupy Iceland and establish forward bases in Northern Ireland early in any future conflict with Germany.


Left: Emblem of the 2nd Infantry Division 

The events of December 1941 meant that the war plans were put into operation. On 26 January 1942, the first units of the US Army arrived in Northern Ireland. Two days later it was officially announced that a US Army headquarters was being established in England.

The following months saw a massive increase in the amount of military cooperation and planning of the British and American military. It was quickly realised that there would have to be a substantial build up of US military resources on the British mainland in advance of any offensive operations against German occupied Europe.

The size of this buildup was truly awesome. Millions of tons of materials and hundreds of thousands of men were to be transported across the heavily contested sea lanes of the North Atlantic. The scale and range of the operation increased dramatically as the United States switched its phenomenal industrial and manufacturing facilities to producing war materials. Operation BOLERO, as the project was known, was to be the essential prerequisite to operation OVERLORD, the liberation of Europe.

The massive operation would present a mighty challenge to war torn Britain. It was quickly agreed that the American supplies would enter Britain via the west coast including, of course Swansea and the other Bristol Channel ports. American units were to be based all across South Wales and the West Country. In this way, American supply lines based on the roads and railways of Wales and Devon would not interfere with British supply routes already established in the eastern half of Britain. The effect of accommodating this build up in a country a third of the size of Texas could have been chaotic. In 1942 and 1943 vast new military camps were established around the towns of South Wales and throughout Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire. Farmers' fields were requisitioned for massive dumps of guns, tanks aircraft and ammunition as the build up commenced.

By January 1944, over 750,000 US Army personnel had arrived in Britain. Substantial numbers of men and machines arrived at Swansea Docks for distribution to numerous supply bases. The 'Yanks' were here!

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US Army troops at Swansea in October 1943.

Left: Troops arriving in Swansea in October 1943 wait to board trains to take them to their unit areas. 

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SHW Microhistory: 5. 1940s Pillbox, Swansea Beach

Although Welsh castles are lovingly conserved, the defences of the twentieth century are being destroyed at an ever increasing rate.

As far as I am aware this little pillbox is the only survivor of coast defence on the beach at Swansea. Although there originally were a number of other examples of pillboxes and light anti-aircraft defence, this remains as the only survivor.

Pillboxes such as this were built on beaches in the southern half of the country as a response to the invasion scare of 1940. Many were hastily built by hard pressed building crews so they were often crude and badly positioned. In addition to the pillboxes, beaches would have had slit

trenches, barbed wire, and anti-tank obstacles to create a series of difficulties which would delay a landing by the German army. This example is an amended Type 26 pillbox which has loopholes on the sides for light machine guns or rifles. The front face does not have an embrasure in an effort to make it more survivable should it ever have come under fire from the beach. This may indicate that the pillbox was built in the light of battle experience in France where the German army proved themselves masters at quickly overcoming such defences. It is a sobering thought that the lifespan of the occupants of this type of pillbox would have been measured in minutes rather than hours in the face of a determined German attack.

Although a great deal of time and expense was devoted to preparing beach defences, the Germans never had the capability to make beach landings, they would have occupied a port and unloaded their vehicles and supplies with cranes from the holds of ships. Landing craft were not invented until the Americans realised they would be needed later on in the war. Nevertheless, defending Swansea against possible invasion was a serious precaution and very relevant because German army records found after the war indicated that they had prepared tactical street fighting maps for Swansea and fully expected to fight for the port in the way of the urban battles of Kiev or Rotterdam.

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