US FLAG (11 K)



Introduction: The Cigarette Camps
LE HAVRE MAP (44 K)    After the Allies secured the French harbor of Le Havre (left) (on the eastern side of the Bay of the Seine, opposite Cherbourg, as in the modern map view of Northern France below), the Americans began ringing the city with camps that served as staging areas for new troops arriving in the ETO. Most of the camps were located between Le Havre and Rouen. [They also constructed the so-called "City Camps" around the city of Reims; these camps served as assembly areas for units about to enter combat. And there were additional embarkation camps in Southern France, north of Marseilles, and, of course, Camp Tophat near Antwerp, Belgium.] The wartime plan was for incoming units to first pass through staging camps on their way to the assembly areas, and then to the front. The staging-area camps were named after various brands of American cigarettes; the assembly area camps were named after American cities. The names of cigarettes and cities were chosen for two reasons: First, and primarily, for security. Referring to the camps without an indication of their geographical location went a long way to ensuring that the enemy would not know precisely where they were. Anybody eavesdropping or listening to radio traffic would think that cigarettes were being discussed or the camp was stateside, especially regarding the city camps. Secondly, there was a subtle psychological reason, the premise being that troops heading into battle wouldn't mind staying at a place where cigarettes must be plentiful and troops about to depart for combat would be somehow comforted in places with familiar names of cities back home (Camp Atlanta, Camp Baltimore, Camp New York, and Camp Pittsburgh, among others). (I doubt if the GIs heading into Europe were taken in by any of that cigarette and city mumbo-jumbo!) By war's end, however, all of the cigarette and city camps were devoted to departees. Many processed liberated American POWs (Prisoners of War) and some even held German POWs for a while.]

A drawing of Le Havre at the mouth of the Seine.

DAMAGE IN DOWNTOWN LE HAVRE (68 K)   The city of Le Havre had fallen on September 12, 1944, but because of the persistence of the German defense and the ferocity of the Allied air assault, much of it was destroyed, including the world-class harbor facilities so coveted by the British and Americans. After sustaining heavy bombing throughout the war — between 130 and 150 air raids had been launched against the city — the town center was completely destroyed in the span of just four hours on 5/6 September 1944, in routine "carpet bombing" operations carried out by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The necessity of liberating this great port on the north bank of the River Seine, in order to provide the necessary supplies for the Allied troops which were progressing north (Paris was liberated on 25 August),prompted General Montgomery to give the order for this large-scale attack, which made Le Havre the most severely damaged city in France. In the meantime, the Germans, in order to prevent the Allies from using the port, chose to destroy all of the port facilities before evacuating the city: 17 kilometers of quaysides were thus destroyed, leaving only one crane in working condition. All in all, the war took the following toll: 5,000 people were killed, 12,500 buildings were destroyed, 80,000 people were left homeless; the population lost all tangible traces of its history. A few terrible words proved enough to express the feeling of the city's population in the face of this wasteland, which spread out over almost two kilometres, all the way to the sea front: "You could see as far as the sea!" Considering that Cherbourg's harbor facilities were slowly being restored after being demolished by the Germans prior to surrendering the port, most of the Allies' men and materiel were being landed directly on the Normandy beaches and ferried inland, initially to be injected directly into combat and later to be sent to staging areas for placement.

   The British had liberated the city, rested there for just a few days, and then continued their pursuit of the retreating Germans. The Americans arrived next, who desired to convert the harbor into a powerful logistical base from which to supply their armies with men and materiél. As they moved further and further from the Normandy beaches, Le Havre seemed ideally situated to feed the assault across Northern France. The Americans, as they had done in Cherbourg, began to restore the harbor facilities, of which nearly 90% had been destroyed by the Germans, first by increasing the depth of the channel through which ships entered and then the general water level by prodigious dredging in the dock areas. BULLDOZER AT WORK (79 K) The XVIth Port Command also constructed dozens of ramps to facilitate the easy shuttling of personnel and supplies from ship to shore, since the city's beautiful quays were unusable by U.S. Quartermaster Corps standards since they were too high above the water. The Americans were practical and many physical changes were necessary to ease the transfer of supplies from ship to amphibious vehicles (such as LCAs and DUKWs) to the warehouses and storage areas where trucks (mostly operated under the auspices of the famous "Red Ball Express") would load up. Just as the concept of "hards" (which resembled sloping car parks that led directly into the water) had transformed dozens of British harbors prior to D-Day (and expedited the ferrying of troops from shore to large landing ships via assault craft), Le Havre's waterfront suddenly saw the construction of similar ramps to speed the delivery of spare parts and spare GIs to the mainland.

LE HAVRE HARBOR (24 K)   The men who disembarked in the harbor (photo at left) were ferried immediately to the Cigarette Camps, the hastily erected conglomerations of tents and wooden huts that rose up in the forests and fields to the east and southeast of the city. There was Camp Herbert Tareyton, located in the Forest of Montgeon within the city limits, with a capacity of 16,400 men. Camp Wings, with a capacity of 2,250 men, was situated — somewhat appropriately — on the grounds of the Blaville Aerodrome. At Sanvic, 2,000 men called Camp Home Run home; at Gainneville, Camp Philip Morris held 35,000 men; and at Etretat, Camp Pall Mall provided rather soggy billets for 7,700 men. But these were not the largest, or even the busiest, camps. That distinction goes to the "Big Three" — Camp Lucky Strike, located between Cany and Saint-Valery (capacity 58,000); Camp Old Gold, at Ourville (capacity 35,000); and Camp Twenty Grand, at Duclair (capacity 20,000). (Information about Camp Chesterfield is very sparse; please contact the Webmaster if you have any information regarding it.)

GATEWAY TO AMERICA (60 K)   It is estimated that nearly three million American troops either entered or left Europe through Le Havre, which led to it becoming known as the "Gateway to America" in 1945-46. (A tremendous resource for information about Le Havre during this period is one of the official sites for the City of Le Havre. Although the site is in French, it can be freely translated at AltaVista's Translation Page.)

   In late 1944 these camps were rather primitive places, usually sprawling tent cities characterized by a sense of transience, with little if any conveniences. These "canvas" camps were at the mercy of the weather that was particular to Northern Europe in the Fall and Winter of 1944-45, and many U. S. veterans who spent time at any of them before the onset of the Battle of the Bulge and prior to being shuttled forward recall nothing but cold rain and colder mud, and, of course, snow. Trenchfoot ran rampant. So did the flu.

40 AND 8 BOXCARS (16 K)   The camps, located in what the Army designated the "Red Horse" staging area, were, as noted, named for American cigarettes, which were fast becoming a universal currency in the ETO. Soon, GIs were cursing places called Camp Chesterfield and Camp Lucky Strike. And there was Camp Old Gold too, and Philip Morris, Pall Mall, Herbert Tareyton, Wings, Home Run, and Twenty Grand (click on a button at the top of the page to visit a camp, or use the "Deuce-and-a-Half" below to tour them one by one). They'd cross the channel in some LST or an even tinier tub, perhaps an LCI, spend a few days in what must have seemed like a hell hole, and then entrain to the front in boxcars known as "40 and 8s" (so called for the French designation "40 hommes et 8 cheveaux," which means the boxcars had a capacity of 40 men or eight horses; the photo at left shows the typical French boxcar known as the 40 and 8) or in trucks. The camps were also known as "pneumonia holes," "repple-depples," or "Repo Depots" (denoting Replacement Depots, also spelled as Repo Depos). (WW II movie buffs will recall that the opening scenes of WIlliam Wellmann's Battleground evoke the atmosphere at these camps pretty accurately.)

[ click name to open a new window ]
Earl L. Fort
97th Infantry Division

   The camp sites first had military designations like B-19 and in the fall and winter of 1944 were not more than snow-covered patches of France on top of which squad tents had been erected. The following account (culled and condensed from the experiences of many units that were there) of the changes they saw at Camp Lucky Strike between their arrival in open trucks in late 1944 and their departure the following spring shows how these camps evolved:
"New arrivals were cold, tired, and hungry, but there was work to be done before they could get some shut-eye. They had to assemble their own cots and set up stoves and pick up fuel and haul it back. (There was no room service!) The heat from the stoves barely heated the tents and seemed only effective at thawing the frozen dirt floors so by morning the cots had settled into a good four inches of mud. Soon gravel was available to put down and the men hauled it back in pails, steel helmets, and any other container that could be found. The paths leading through the rows of tents were also graveled and the situation was beginning to improve. After a few months, most of the tents had wooden floors, doors, shelves, and cabinets. A softball diamond, as well as volleyball and basketball courts, had been constructed. Day room and theater tents had been set up. Soon resident units were printing their own newspapers. And the whole place was wired for electricity. Twenty-four hour passes were available to Le Havre, Rouen, Fecamp, and Yvetot. Since bathing facilities at camp were nonexistent, one of the first places visited by men on pass was the Red Cross shower room. Perhaps the next most popular spot was the Hotel Metropole in Rouen, where for a price just about anything could be obtained. It was also while on pass that most of the men had their first experiences with French wines, cognac, calvados, and benedictine."

"There was a sign at Lucky Strike, prominently displayed, that in no uncertain terms stated that 'personnel being processed through this camp were entitled to have one souvenir pistol in their possession, but only one. Anyone found to have more than one will be court marshaled and given a sentence of six months hard labor in the European Theater of Operations!' There were pyramidal tents pitched on platforms and outside each tent was a large hogshead full of water to be used in case of fire. Before we had been in the camp more than an hour or so, these barrels were overflowing and by evening you could clearly see that they were half full of all sorts of side arms. If you'd ever been there, many GIs agree that you would have no desire to revisit the camp. Under the floor of the tents the rats grew to cat size and sounded as though they were wearing boots when they tramped around while the men were trying to sleep at night. Really nothing to do all day, don't remember being allowed to go into the city and time passed slowly waiting for a ship."
Happy U.S. veterans head for harbor of Le Havre, France, the first to be
sent home and discharged under the Army's new point system.
[Signal Corps photo dated May 25, 1945 (111-SC-207868].

[ click name to open a new window ]
James Powers
11th Armored Division

   In 1945, when the end of the war in Europe was in sight, some of these camps underwent tremendous changes, in anticipation of the role they were to play after the war in Europe was over. Barracks and other permanent structures were built. Hospitals and PXs too. Mess halls replaced outdoor chowlines snaking through rows of tents to mobile field kitchens. One of the ironies of war that these camps lent themselves to was that after V-E Day the mess halls at some of the camps were staffed with cooks and waiters that were German POWs. Many U.S. veterans recall arriving at a camp underfed and malnourished and being served by Germans who were well-fed by virtue of working in the American mess halls for a few months. Stories abound of tired GIs arriving on a cold autumn night after a five-day-long ride from Germany to France in a boxcar — only to end up being served lousy boiled chicken by "fat krauts" that had been eating steak on a regular basis.)

   Wood began replacing canvas and concrete and asphalt replaced the mud. The Red Cross had a tremendous presence at those camps that were to handle returning POWs (Prisoners of War). "Java Junctions," those ubiquitous dispensaries of real coffee and doughnuts, were established at all of the camps. (Spend a day at a camp and one would come away thinking that the American GI could be sustained solely by tobacco and doughnuts!) After V-E Day the camps were now ready for these new roles and were redesignated redeployment centers as part of the American plans to both reassign units to the Pacific Theatre and to demobilize others and return men home.

[ click name to open a new window ]
William M. "Mac" Goldfinch, Jr.
99th Infantry Division

   At the core of the U.S. Army Demobilization Plan was the so-called 'Point System.' Points were awarded for years of service overseas, medals and other commendations received, campaign battle stars earned, as well as other factors. The magic point total for being sent home was 85. Many men had more points, and those that had the most were slated to be sent home first. Following is a pretty typical point-system computation table (though probably incomplete):

Number of months in the armed forces 1 point per month
Number of months overseas 1 point per month
Number of children 12 points per child
Number of battle stars earned by unit 5 points per star
Purple Heart winner 5 points per award
Soldier's Medal winner 5 points per award
Bronze Star winner 5 points per award
Presidential Unit Citation winner 5 points per award

GI were constantly badgering company clerks to get errors corrected and adjustments made to their point totals, which were recorded on their "Adjusted Service Rating Cards." Those men with the magic number of 85 points, or more, were to return to the United States, while those with fewer points were transferred out to make room for high point men from other organizations. Those with 80 to 84 points were sent to other units in the ETO and some of those with even fewer points were sent home on furlough and then went on to retraining for duty in the Pacific. The latter were perhaps the most fortunate of all, since the war in the Pacific soon ended and many of them were discharged before the higher-point men in the ETO got home.

An Army band plays a farewell tune as a Victory Ship leaves Le Havre bound for the States.

   Occupation troops also continued to arrive at Le Havre and spend a few days at a "cigarette camp" before receiving final orders throughout 1945, although by 1946, they were falling into disrepair and were becoming little more than the ramshackle collections of tents pitched in vast mudholes that they were two years before. Today, little remains. Names of GIs carved into trees in the surrounding forests. Some scuffed tarmac. Perhaps a wooden structure or two absorbed into the French villages that have grown up around the original sites.



   In these pages, we hope to document the history of "The Cigarette Camps," collect maps and pictures depicting them, and tell the story of what life was like there for the few days between hopping off the boat in Le Havre and heading for the front lines, or waiting for a Victory Ship ride back home. We will be working with contacts in the U. S. Army Military History Institute to procure source materials and other ephemera. We also welcome contributions of such material from individuals (maps, photos, postcards, etc.). We will pay all postage associated with sending them or facsimiles (address below) and will return original material by express mail at no cost to the contributor. As always, we cannot write history properly without the participation of the men and women who were there, and we invite GIs and other personnel who have memories of these camps to get in touch with the Webmaster at:

Telephone: (516) 363-8014 (leave message)
FAX: (516) 363-8014
Address: Larry M. Belmont, 30 Purick St, Blue Point, NY 11715-1120
   A parallel effort is underway in France, coordinated by Frédéric Brière, who is concentrating on Camp Lucky Strike, but hopes to document the history of all of the camps. He reports (October 1999) that he has been in touch with many veterans who have contributed photos and related their memories. Further, he reported the following:

  • there is no trace of Camp Old Gold (Yerville, adjacent to Yvetot)
  • the surviving buildings of Camp Twenty Grand are being used by the town of St. Pierre de Varengeville
  • the taxiways of a former runway at Camp Lucky Strike are in need of serious repair
  • the site of Camp Philip Morris is deserted, but there are still artifacts to be uncovered if one digs a little bit (as at Lucky Strike)

Scenes of Le Havre, 1944-45

The city after the German withdrawal, 1944

The city in ruins, 1944

USA or bust!

The harbor recedes ... goodbye to the ETO!

Hop on a Deuce-and-a-Half to Move Out!

To Camp Chesterfield