The United States and Great Britain have been firm allies for a century. Their mutually beneficial relationship particularly deepened during World War II, when the circumstances of war brought hundreds of thousands of Americans through the British Isles. The enduring friendships that ensued are still apparent more than 70 years later. To further tell this story, the American Battle Monuments Commission has released itsAmericans in Great Britain Interactive. This free, digital tool allows users to learn more about this “friendly invasion” and its results as the two nations and their Allies fought together during World War II.
Including historic images, narrative video and text, and an encyclopedia of people, places, organizations and equipment involved, Americans in Great Britain provides a comprehensive insight into this mammoth mixing together of military personnel and civilians on an international scale.
The United States entered the war in December 1941, and American ground forces arrived in Belfast the following month. By February 1942 members of the U.S. Eighth Air Force were on the ground, building towards a strategic bombing campaign. American and British naval and air units cooperated in fierce battles for the control of the Atlantic. The U.S. troop build-up progressed quickly at first to support Operation Bolero, the buildup for a proposed invasion of France. Bolero was suspended amidst concerns that a 1942 or 1943 cross-channel invasion would be premature, and troops were diverted to North Africa and the Mediterranean. In the second half of 1943 the American buildup in Great Britain resumed in earnest.
The United Kingdom served as a critical base for American operations throughout the war. U.S. troops embarked from there for the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, and for subsequent operations in the Mediterranean. American units participating in the Combined Bomber Offensive and the air war over Europe were based in England. Great Britain served as the training ground and staging area for Operation Overlord, the massive amphibious invasion of Europe through Normandy on June 6, 1944 – D-Day. Over 1,600,000 American servicemen and women were in Great Britain as the invasion was launched. Numbers dwindled thereafter, but as late as April 30, 1945 there were still over 224,000 airmen, 109,000 communications zone troops, and 100,000 in hospitals or preparing to serve as individual replacements.
At the height of the American presence in Great Britain, American servicemen and women were ubiquitous through much of the island nation. They built or occupied vast encampments of their own, but also spent time in local pubs and establishments, toured the countryside, and befriended British families. Both nations established impressive programs to bring the two cultures together amicably, and to accommodate and entertain the visitors. Tens of thousands of American servicemen married English women, bringing them back to the United States after the war ended. American Forces Radio Network broadcast from the United Kingdom, bringing music and news from “home” to the British air waves. American Red Cross Service Clubs opened to entertain American servicemen off their bases. Pieces of American life and culture were seen and felt across the United Kingdom throughout the war, and Americans in turn took pieces of British life and culture home with them.
Cambridge American Cemetery honors more than 8,500 Americans that died in operations based out of the United Kingdom. These include those who battled to secure the Atlantic, those who fought in the skies over Europe, and those who prepared for and participated in the invasion through Normandy.