June 6 sees the 77th anniversary of the Normandy landings - possibly the most famous military encounter of the Second World War.

It involved the landing operations and associated airborne operations - on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 - of the allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord.

Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history.

To mark the commemorations historian and author Phil Howells looks back at when Pembrokeshire’s other ‘Yanks’ departed.

Memories of seventy-seven years ago

They had only been with us for a month or so since taking the place of their comrades of the Pennsylvanian National Guard 28th Division back in April, but 77 years ago, the GIs of the 2nd Infantry Division were now packed and ready to leave south Wales for northern France.

From his headquarters at Tenby’s Belgrave Hotel overlooking South Beach, Major-General Robertson had gathered his staff and division troops together from their scattered locations all over south and west Wales moving them to their marshalling camps further east along the coast in the middle of May.

The three battalions of the 9th Infantry had been at Penclawdd, St Donats Castle and Island Farm, Bridgend, while the 23rd Regiment had been in Pembrokeshire occupying the very same spots as their predecessors from the 110th Infantry – Pembroke Dock, Haverfordwest, Fishguard and Cresselly.

The widespread 38th Regiment came from up near Lampeter, Carmarthen and down around Kidwelly.

At their new locations the troops made preparations for a short sea voyage which raised no end of questions leading up to June. "Where were they going?" Only a few ‘bigotted’ officers knew (the code name for those in the know). "Probably yet another Goddamned training exercise!" was a frequent thought.

Their camps at Scurlage on Gower, Mynydd Lliw near Gorseinon, Margam Park, Kenfig Burrows, Barry and Wenvoe were full and included other Corps troops as well and Robertson at his new HQ in the splendid confines of St Donats Castle midway between the main division embarkation ports of Swansea and Barry was issuing last minute instructions.

Then by truck, rail or road march they were off to their troopships, now individually re-victualled at the US Navy Amphibious Support Base on Milford Haven following their UK arrival in the latest trans-Atlantic US troop convoy.

‘Hurry up and stand still,’ barked First Sergeants, as heavily burdened men boarded their transports. A yelled surname had to be answered immediately by a forename, followed by the soldier filing aboard and being directed to his berth for the voyage – if he was lucky.

Very often space was so limited that men bedded down on paliasses on deck under canvas awnings. Food was good though – steak sandwiches in white bread. Coffee and doughnuts was usual, but such treats could only mean that the army up to something – but what?

Today it’s easy to see what was happening with the obvious benefit of hindsight, but in June 1944 amid an amazing amount of secrecy, very few knew that they were about to take part in or witness the greatest amphibious invasion in history.

In south Wales, even today, many people were unaware that the largest single concentration of American troops in the Normandy Invasion were to sail from the Welsh ports of the Bristol Channel.

Now my detailed research has resulted in the book ‘Oxwich To Omaha’ – American GIs in South Wales ’43-’44, which tells the story for the first time in a single volume, the true extent of the preparations for D-Day in this area of the UK.

Reviews have included ‘a quite remarkable book’ – Roy Noble BBC Wales and ‘a work of scholarship’ – US veterans’ daughter Gwen Webster, Wyoming.

Four Marshalling sub-zones labelled U, V, W and X containing 28 specially prepared camps manned by detachments of the 373rd and 360th Engineer General Service Regiments played host to the 2nd and the 90th Infantry Divisions scheduled for Omaha and Utah beaches respectively, together with service companies and reserves of the assaulting 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, seaborne elements of the 82nd and 101st Airborne, much of the 5th and 6th Engineer Special Brigades and command elements of the Provisional ESB Group.

General Gerow’s V Corps masterminding the Omaha Assault and Collins VII Corps landing on Utah also had troops embarked in south Wales – even advance sections of the 9th Infantry and 2nd Armored Divisions were aboard.

Nine troopships led by the force flagship AP72 Susan B Anthony were to sail in two convoys together with others consisting of 37 Liberty ships converted into troop carrying MTV’s plus specialist USN accommodation ships and numerous coasters.

Early on Sunday morning June 4, the USAT’s George W Goethals, George S. Simonds and Borinquen slipped out of King’s Dock, Swansea, joining the USN flagship that had left Newport on this first tide, the four ships carrying nearly 8,000 combat troops.

Assembling in the bay, they were joined on the next tide by the Excelsior, then the Bienville and Explorer from Cardiff and finally the Exchequer and Marine Raven also out of King’s Dock with another 11,400 men.

Now they just had to wait together with over 80 other ships - MTVs, coasters, tankers and Royal Navy escorts - as Eisenhower had to delay the invasion by 24 hours.

All those troop carrying ships had to drop anchor and ride out the rough seas. The consequent damage to the highly successful, albeit experimental, Hais (Pluto) pipeline from Swansea to North Devon meant it had to be taken out of service for good.

Finally, a day late but as per schedule, on June 5 and 6 the convoys were away down the Bristol Channel, skirting minefields and along the North Devon and Cornwall coast, around Lands End and eastwards up the English Channel until off the Isle of Wight they turned south to follow in the path of the earlier D-Day assault force – the Bristol Channel Pre-loaded Build Up Force of over 42,000 GIs had arrived off Normandy.

If you would like to win a copy of Phil Howells' book - Oxwich to Omaha - email fiona.phillips@newsquest.co.uk with your answer to the following question, marking your submission: Oxwich to Omaha 2021: Q. How many years will have elapsed since the D-Day landings on June 6? Don't forget to include your name and address.