Island Farm Camp


In the months leading up to the start of WWII an overspill country branch of the Woolwich Arsenal was built at Waterton on the outskirts of Bridgend.

The Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF), known as "The Arsenal" and "The Admiralty" to locals, was opened in 1938 a year before the outbreak of WWII (Click here to view ROF photos).  It was constructed in two distinct sections, one as a shell-making factory for the Navy (The Admiralty) and another used to fill the shells and store them in underground chambers ready for distribution to the front lines (The Arsenal).

During its peak production 40,000 people worked in the two factories making it the largest employee factory that has ever been in Britain !

When the factory was built, the authorities felt that it would be difficult for the many women employees to travel back and forth to Bridgend, especially during the blackouts, from as far a field as Monmouth, Carmarthen and distant parts of Glamorgan.. The authorities therefore took a large triangular shaped piece of land, close to the A48 main road from Port Talbot to Cardiff, from Island Farm and on it built a wooden hutted camp for the employees.

However, the authorities did not do their homework properly and had they asked the women whether they'd prefer to travel the arduous journey to and from Bridgend or stay in a camp they would have soon found out that the women preferred to travel.

People who work in a dangerous job often become complacent about the danger of their environment believing that they are somehow protected from injury. It would have only taken a small German air-raid and a few well placed bombs and Bridgend would have been wiped off the map. But many local people believed that the factories were hidden from the air due to a constant early morning and late evening mist which hangs over the surrounding area. 

However, after the war, a Bridgend RAF man studied the Luftwaffe air reconnaissance mosaics taken over Britain and came across a  perfectly clear photo of the area taken on the 24th August 1940.

Click photo to view

The photo is so clear that it shows the complete layout of the factory and part of the town of Bridgend. The German intelligence also knew exactly what they had photographed because the photo clearly has the title "Staatliche Munitionsfabrik" - National ammunition factory !

Due to the lack of interest from the ROF workers in staying at Island Farm, the camp remained empty until October 1943, when the Americans came to Bridgend in preparation for the D-Day landings.  In spite of the immense secrecy, the people of Bridgend got to learn that General Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a visit to the camp and it was from on top of a truck, in totally broken rank formation that he urged his men with their help he could thrash the Germans.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander

Note the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) patch on his shoulder.

Eisenhower was officially designated the Supreme Commander on 12 February 1944 and SHAEF was activated the next day.

In the initial years (2000) of this web site research I desperately tried to identify who the Americans were that were stationed at Island Farm and spoke to quite a few American Veterans. However, the answer remained a mystery until 2003 when I received the following email:

"General Eisenhower reviewed the American troops who were stationed in Porthcawl on 1 April 1944. The 107th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 28th Infantry Division, was accommodated in Porthcawl from 17 October 1943 until 13 April 1944, when it moved out to Tidworth, Hampshire, and then joined their landing craft in Weymouth en route for Omaha beach. Eisenhower's inspection was carried out at Newton Burrows, grass covered sandhills five minutes south of where I live and where there was a firing range used by the troops. The targets are still there in the pits, as are the firing trenches. Eisenhower is also recorded to have addressed members of the 28th Division who were billeted at Margam Castle, which is six or seven miles to the west of Porthcawl. "

The above email told me that it was the 28th Infantry Division that had been stationed in the Bridgend area and following enquiries on this lead, I was then fortunate to receive the following email:

"The 28th Infantry division history says that on 1 April 1944, General Eisenhower inspected units of the division. There is photo which shows Eisenhower addressing soldiers at Margam Castle, Port Talbot. These would have been soldiers of the 109th Infantry Regiment. The period the 28th spent in Wales was the longest period they were in any place during the war. Following the war there were a number of marriages as a result. Our crude estimate is roughly 350 such unions. Island Farm was the location of the 2nd battalion of the 109th Infantry Regiment. (Margam Castle was the location of the 109th Infantry Regimental Headquarters, the 1st Battalion 109th and Service Company). Sincerely, William O. Hickok"

The distinctive insignia of the 109th Infantry Regiment.
The regimental motto
“Cives Arma Ferant”
means
“Let the Citizens Bear Arms.”

THE 28TH INFANTRY DIVISION

With the information contained in the email above it was now possible to visualise the battalion which was at Island Farm and to explain this I have written the following:

The 28th Infantry Division was made up of 3 Infantry Regiments:

Each regiments was made up of 3 Battalions (3 Regiments each with 3 battalions = 9 Battalions)

Each battalion was made up of 3 companies and a soldier would refer to his company by the appropriate word from the phonetic alphabet for example: G = George, i.e., “George” Company.

The lettering of the companies started over agan in each regiment, i.e., each regiment had A-I companies

Note: The WWII era U.S. phonetic alphabet was replaced in the late 1950s by new words which are still used today. For example:

Previously: A=Afirm-(Able), B=Baker, C=Charlie, D=Dog, E=Easy, F=Fox, G=George, etc
Today: A=Alpha, B=Bravo, C=Charlie, D=Delta, E=Echo, F=Foxtrot, G=Golf, etc.

Just to add to the confusion:

28th Infantry Division In Summary:

The 28th Infantry Division was made up as follows:

As of 26 February 1944, a standard U.S. infantry regiment had an authorized strength of 152 officers, 5 warrant officers and 3,100 enlisted men.
As of 26 February 1944, a standard U.S. infantry battalion had an authorized strength of 35 officers and 836 enlisted men.

The table of organisation and equipment for a typical U.S. light artillery battalion as of 15 September 1943 (such as the 107th Field Artillery Battalion) called for:

As can be seen, even a single U.S. artillery battalion used an extensive amount of personnel and equipment! The primary field piece in the U.S. Army in WWII was the outstanding 105mm M2 and M3 howitzers.

M2 Howitzer

As a U.S. infantry division was a very big organisation (over 15,000 men all told), it would be billeted and dispersed over a large area while in the UK. This explains why Margam Castle was the location of the 109th Infantry Regimental Headquarters, the 1st Battalion of the 109th Infantry Regiment and the regimental Service Company. The other two battalions of the regiment as well as the rest of the division were billeted elsewhere.

The 28th Infantry Division is the oldest division in the armed forces of the United States. The Office of the Chief of Military History certified that General Order No. 1, dated March 12, 1879, officially established the Division.

The red "keystone", official emblem of the State of Pennsylvania, is the official shoulder sleeve insignia of the 28th Division which was originally a Pennsylvania National Guard organization. The Germans called it the "Bloody Bucket" because of the blood-red keystone insignia and their vicious fighting tactics during the Normandy Campaign.

Note:
In the pre-war years, the U.S. “square” infantry division was organised with two infantry brigades each controlling two infantry regiments. This organisational scheme, adopted in WWI, was deemed outdated for modern conditions, i.e., not mobile or flexible enough. From 1939-1942, the U.S. Army began converting its “square” divisions into “triangular” divisions with three infantry regiments and no intermediate brigade headquarters.

As such, the 111th Infantry Regiment was relieved from assignment to the 28th Infantry Division on 27 February 1942. It spent the war as a separate formation without divisional assignment and deployed to the Pacific in November 1943. Elements of the regiment assaulted Kwajalein in January 1944 and Ujelan Atoll in April 1944. It spent the rest of the war on garrison duties at Kwajalein and later Peleliu. The regiment returned to the United States in November 1945 and was inactivated.

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