Written by Super User.

Possibly the greatest event ever seen in Portland Harbour was the embarkation of American forces prior to D-Day in 1944.

On the 6th June hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers landed on the coast of occupied France. In the leading wave were 2 British, 1 Canadian and 2 US Divisions. It was one of the latter, the US 1st Division (The Big Red One) that embarked at Portland and Weymouth harbours.

Portland Harbour was crammed to capacity in the few days before with ships loading tanks, guns, trucks, amphibious vehicles and all the equipment that an army needs to fight a war. The infantry were loaded into small personnel landing craft at the quay by the Pavilion in Weymouth and ferried to transports lying at anchor in Weymouth Bay.

These had all spent days before hidden in wooded concentration areas in South Dorset not far from the harbours.

Assembly Point map showing where the US forces spent the night before embarking

Vehicles being loaded in Portland into LSTs

US Infantry loading by the Pavilion Theatre in Weymouth

The Big Red One was to be the assault division on "Omaha" beach, one of five code-named beaches that the allies were to cross on the Normandy coast. Here they were to meet fierce German opposition and received many casualties. In the days after the invasion the people of Weymouth and Portland were to witness the return of the wounded, such a contrast from the cheerful, confident young Americans who passed through on their way to war.

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