An unassuming pier in Co. Down played a crucial role in the preparations for D-Day in 1944. Belfast Lough was one of the points around the UK where vessels gathered in anticipation of Operation Overlord. Landing Ship Tanks, gunboats and destroyers would leave the Bangor coast and go on towards Normandy on 6th June 1944.
From here started the long hard march to Allied victory.
General Dwight D Eisenhower
Naming the Eisenhower pier
Then it was just The North Pier in Bangor. In 2005, Mary Jean Eisenhower renamed the pier at an official ceremony in honour of her grandfather. Dwight D Eisenhower had a unique relationship with the seaside town. On 18th and 19th May, he inspected US Navy troops and delivered addresses to the fleet of Allied warships.
At the time, President Eisenhower was touring military bases across Europe including Northern Ireland. Battleships USS Arkansas, USS Texas, USS Nevada and cruisers USS Quincy and USS Tuscaloosa waited in Belfast Lough. The Normandy invasion was imminent and an estimated 30,000 military personnel were on hand.
The deck logs on the USS Quincy tell of Eisenhower’s visit on 19th May 1944. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force boarded at 1020hrs. Rear Admiral Alan Kirk (Commander Westen Task Force), Rear Admiral HL Bevan (Flag Officer in Command of Northern Ireland), Rear Admiral Morton L Deyo (Commander of Task Force 129) and Major General Hastings accompanied the general.
General Eisenhower’s address
The inspection of the vessel lasted for an hour. Afterwards, the officers and crew assembled at quarters and General Eisenhower gave a brief address.
Officers and men of the Quincy, I am proud to be on this ship today. I have been in the European area for a year and a half and during that period I have been on British men-of-war several times where I have been received with greatest courtesy and expressions of goodwill. Although I enjoyed those visits, I have looked forward with eagerness to the time when I could be on board one of the warships of our own fleet. Today I have that opportunity for the first time. I am more than proud to visit your magnificent ship.
Perhaps you would like to know something about our operations in the Mediterranean, at least insofar as combined operations are concerned. Each branch of the service knows what it could do, but the army and the air force have found that they could not get along without the navy. We had discovered that each branch reaches maximum efficiency when cooperating with the others. The army and the air force are more than glad to have the navy on the team, and we know the navy is glad to be part of it.
I congratulate you again on this magnificent ship. As I walked her decks today, I found myself wishing that I had earlier in my career decided to follow the sea. I am looking forward to the day when we can be together again and have a big party in some port deep in the Baltic or North Sea – some port which the enemy now claims his own. Good luck to you all.
General Dwight D Eisenhower on the USS Quincy – 19th May 1944
The journey to Normandy
The USS Quincy sailed from Belfast Lough bound for Normandy at 0758hrs on 3rd June 1944. It joined the USS Arkansas, USS Texas, USS Nevada and USS Tuscaloosa on the journey to the English Channel.
We left Bangor (Co. Antrim) on 3 June. The invasion was to be on the morning of the 5th, as you probably know. The ship was sealed. No one could go ashore after, oh, I’d say about 31 May. They sealed the ship. We were all anchored off Bangor, the whole invasion fleet. Only the high-ranking officers that had business were permitted to shore for any reason. We were shown detailed maps and everything off the Omaha beachhead where we were based. I would say we were shown the relief maps probably either 1 or 2 June, because the ship was sealed and no one could go to shore or come and go.
Richard Kelly – USS Arkansas
The ships departing Belfast Lough were part of the bombardment force supporting troops landing on Utah and Omaha beaches. The slower LST craft carried troops to England and Wales in preparation for the invasion. These troop carriers and larger ships would have slowed down the invasion force on 6th June 1944.
Visiting the pier today
The pier stands to the north of Bangor Marina and is one of many tourist attractions in the town. The end which overlooks Belfast Lough features mosaics depicting scenes from Bangor’s past. One of the panels commemorates the US Navy and the fleet of ships that departed in 1944. A plaque marking the naming of the pier is displayed next to the Bangor Lifeboat Station.
Visitors to the Eisenhower Pier will also notice its colony of black guillemots. These rare birds have nested in the harbour wall since 1911 and are sometimes known as The Bangor Penguins.[ssba]