Camp Lucky Strike (Janville, France)
(location also given as 5 miles NE of Cany-Barville)
(added June 2003)
"In March 1945, my American Red Cross unit of five women was transferred from the 166th Tent General Hospital located in a field outside Le Mans, France to the 77th Field Hospital near San Riquie en Caux, near St. Valery. Our unit had initially arrived in France back in September 1944. To get us across the English Channel and on to Paris, before departing England we had to learn how to shift trucks in order to drive our ambulances up the Red Ball Highway that led from Omaha Beach to Paris. We crossed the Channel in the hold of a Liberty Ship. When we ran into a storm, the captain had us evacuated in a landing craft, but we had to wait for our ambulances. We spent about a week with the staging hospital in Normandy, named Harvard Hospital. It was mighty muddy and our boots were in the ambulances. Our vehicles were finally evacuated onto Omaha Beach from the ship. We drove off sometime after noon one day and found it got dark at about 5 o'clock. We found some MPs on a corner and asked if we could spend the night in our ambulances. They said yes. The next morning we went on to Paris. When we asked for directions in English, the Parisians got into a mighty argument, but finally were able to direct us. We stayed in Paris a few days to get organized. We managed to gather all the toiletries and cigarettes that the Red Cross provided, and then we rode in a box car to Le Mans so that the provisions would not be stolen. Sgt. McGinty from the unit post office picked us up. At this point our tents had no floors and no heat. We ate from our mess kits and washed in our helmets. By Christmas 1944, we had floors and pot-belly stoves for heat. We went through the anxious time of the Battle of the Bulge. When the battle was over, our hospital began receiving German patients and our services were considered superfluous. It was at that point, in March 1945, that we were sent to the 77th Field Hospital."
"When American prisoners of war (POWs) started to stream out of Germany, the several camps situated on the Normandy coast near Le Havre, and which had originally been used as staging areas, were now used to take care of the American prisoners of war until they could be sent home. The camps were named after popular cigarettes of the day. Our field hospital was called in to set up at Camp Lucky Strike to handle the massive number of liberated POWs coming out of Germany. Our exact location was at San Riquie en Caux."
"Large trucks would arrive at the camp regularly, full of jubilant GIs dressed in all sorts of motley clothes, half-'Jerry' (German) and half-American. We took those soldiers who were ill to the hospital. There were many emaciated soldiers who had been caught in the Battle of the Bulge the previous December. The Germans did not know what to do with them as they were in full retreat after January 1945, so they marched them back and forth from place to place, and fed them very little as there was little food to be had. Prisoners captured earlier were better off, but all of ours were sad to see. However, their spirits improved once they arrived at Lucky Strike, since they knew they would soon be going home."
"As Red Cross workers, we visited them and talked to those who had problems. I was an Assistant Field Director and Social Worker in charge of the unit. We would help the men who had concerns about home, assisted in writing letters for those who needed it, and tried to contact the States to find out about newborn children, ill relatives, and such. The latter was not too successful. By the time we received answers, the soldiers were well on their way home. We also had a recreation tent. We had to scrounge for furniture, but when we heard about any warehouses where we could pick up items for our tents, the Army would provide transportation and off we would go to pick up whatever was needed. We also had the services of several German prisoners of war who were efficient carpenters. They built yard furniture for us. All in all, we were reasonably well equipped after a while. The weather was good and it did not get dark until 11 p.m. The women in charge of recreation did a good job of organizing entertainment. The hospital was also given an ice cream machine for the patients' nutrition. Of course, it was a treat for all of us who had been in France for many months."
"The hospital itself was located on an old German airfield. The tents were aligned on each side of the runways. In addition to caring for the emaciated prisoners of war, we cared for the victims of land-mine accidents and accidental gun-shot patients. Many of the soldiers brought German guns back as souvenirs, which, in their tight quarters, was just asking for trouble."
"We had a charming volunteer French woman from nearby St. Valery who helped dispense cigarettes, razors, toothbrushes, and other toiletries that were available from the Red Cross. This freed us to spend more time on the wards."
"I met my husband, Capt. Edwin (Ted) Bovill, at the 77th Field Hospital. Our main recreation was walking the many small side roads that ran through the surrounding countryside. We also were able to walk to the beach, but had to tread very carefully as either side of the path was loaded with mines. We lived in an old broken-down chateau, men on one side and women on the other. Showing some ingenuity, the officers managed to create an officers' club by cleaning out and painting the old coal bin of the chateau."
"Ted and I were married in the American Red Cross recreation tent. I was able to borrow a wedding dress from the Red Cross office in Paris. I went to my wedding in an ambulance accompanied by my best friend, who was a WAC in Paris. We had our reception in the coal bin. With the cigarettes I did not use, I was able to obtain eggs and the GI cooks baked us a wedding cake. When my husband and I returned to the location in 1980, we could find little trace of the hospital. The chateau had been beautifully renovated, but had a huge fence around it, and the path to the ocean was nonexistent, replaced by a huge power plant. We did stop at the mayor's home in San Riquie en Caux and took a look at our marriage registration, still on file there."
(added March 2003)
A long line of GIs carrying war souvenirs to bring back to the United States following the surrender of Germany
waits outside the so-called "Booty Tent" at Lucky Strike (click on the photo to enlarge it).
Inside the booty tent, GIs "register" their booty. By the looks of it, the majority seems
to be daggers and other edged weapons (click on the photo to enlarge it).
The following information was provided by Al D'Ambra in September 2002.
Camp Lucky Strike was situated in the town of Saint-Sylvian, 5 kilometers from Saint-Valery-en Caux. Its location was not selected by chance, but rather because the occupying German troops had constructed an airfield there in 1940 with a landing strip 1800 meters long and 50 meters wide. This airfield was one of the defensive elements of the Atlantic Wall: surveillance and coastal defenses were also a perfect starting point for attacks on southwest England. V-1 rocket launching ramps were installed at the beginning of 1944 in the woods surrounding the airfield. It was heavily bombed by the British throughout the war, but especially during the fighting which followed the June 1944 landings. In September 1944 American Engineer Corps troops took control of the area, repairing the landing strips and constructing the camp.
The following information was provided by Gregor Dürbaum of Obermaubach, Germany, who provides a short introduction.
I started my research on Camp Lucky Strike nearly ten years ago. The camp was located on a former WW II German airstrip (the runway that was in the center of the camp still exists in situ; see photo below). During the first years of my research I tried to find out more of the "German time" of this place. From late 1994 on I focused my research more on the "American time," meaning Camp Lucky Strike.The history of the airfield began in 1939, when it was a French wartime airdrome. After the Germans took the airfield, they constructed a 1630-meter-long by 50-meter-wide concrete runway and concrete taxiways in a 6 km circle relative to the farms and castles around the airfield. They installed electrical lightning for night flying. Many French workers were required for the construction of this large airfield, which covered more than 500 hectares. Before their departure on 1 September 1944, German troops detonated mines on the main runway and taxitracks to render the base unusable by the Allies.
It was shortly after this that the busy period on the airfield started, which was well known as Camp Lucky Strike. I think you know that this camp was the biggest in the ETO. It was used as a transit camp, meaning that the troops never stayed for long. Lucky Strike was opened in December 1944 and closed in February 1946. From 1 June 1945, the camp stood under the management of the 89th Division until this division was deactivated and returned to the United States in early December 1945.
The camp was like a U.S. town with theaters, hospitals, a PX, and gift shops, and it mainly consisted of more than 12,000 tents. (At times, more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers stayed there.) Most of the liberated American POW’s went through Lucky Strike on their way home to the United States. After the unconditional surrender of Germany, the camp was used to return troops to the USA via Le Havre.
The following information describing aspects of the camp comes to us courtesy of the
488th Engineer Company
In the early afternoon of 15 January 1945, as the liner edged by sunken ships in the inner harbor, the ruins of LeHavre came into view and gave the impression that the city had been the victim of some gigantic bulldozer which had ruthlessly leveled everything within sight. The scene emphasizing the stark reality of the awful man made project of death and destruction in which they were soon to be participants, is one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. After hours of delay the 488th evacuated its compartment at 11 p.m. on a bitterly cold night, climbed down the netting and were loaded into LCI.s which carried the troops to the beach, where trucks were waiting to carry them on a tortuous 37-mile trip up the coast to Cany Barville. In the first light of dawn, the company, suffering from the intense cold and lack of sleep, had its first view of the vast and sprawling tent city that was Camp Lucky Strike.
|The Camp Then|
Typical Tent City
Storm Damage, 1945
The Red Cross "Java Junction"
There's No Avoidin' the Chow Line at the Repo Depot!
|The Camp Today|
[ Click on a photo to enlarge it; a new window will open ]
Overview of former Camp grounds looking from north to south. The aircraft depicted is a Fouga Magister and was a popular French Air Force Trainer. Behind the plane is the concrete runway which was in the center of the camp. Photo taken by Gregor Dürbaum, July 1999, contributed to Skylighters by Frank Dowell.
The Castle of Janville, site of Camp Lucky Strike Headquarters. Photo taken by Gregor Dürbaum, July 1999, contributed to Skylighters by Frank Dowell.
Camp Old Gold