Friday, March 25, 2011

Living Accommodations on the Normandy Beaches

Chapter 9 of my book discusses the unusual living accommodations of the service troops on Utah Beach. For the first 18 days the 519th Port Battalion bivouacked much as any Army in the field would do. They dug two-man fox holes and covered them pup tents. In the above photo we can see port company men digging in just inland from the sand dunes. Note the barrage balloons and in the distance the two gaps blown out of the sand dunes by the engineers. The ocean lies beyond.

On June 24th the battalion moved inland to an apple orchard 1 mile south of Ravenoville. As service troops in a permanent location, the port company men had the time and resources to build shelters more substantial than mere foxholes. Small huts were constructed from dunnage, which was the scrap wood boards used to pack supplies in the holds of supply ships. The walls were built around a foxhole and topped with a canvas roof made from the GI's pup tents.

This photo shows Matt Marvin from HQ sitting with one of the children of the orchard's owners. The Duchemin family grew apples for the production of calvados. This apple brandy was freely shared with the GIs much to the officers' chagrin.

This shot taken by Dave Weaver reveals all the GI's comforts housed within. Note the carbine slung along the hut's frame. With no windows the huts were completely dark inside. Solomon Fein, a veteran of the 518th Port Battalion, tells me he fashioned wind-proof lanterns using emptied glass jars. The men lived in these huts until November of 1944.

After speaking with 517th Port Battalion veteran Charles Morris I learned that similar huts were built by the port companies at Omaha Beach (see above photo). These little houses were not unique to the port companies. It seems all the Engineer Special Brigade troops working on the Normandy Beaches built them. The structures all look so similar that I thought it likely that they were built by company carpenters using an official plan. However, all the veterans I interviewed told me that it was up to the individual GIs to build their own homes. They called them huts or shacks. Charles Sprowl of the 490th Port Battalion called them dog houses.

Richard Bass' book Brigades of Neptune briefly mentions the Normandy huts at Omaha Beach. They were situated along roads named by the engineers ETO Boulevard and Duration Road. Note the metal trackway to create a path over the mud.

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