US Army segregation in Northern Ireland

During World War Two, over one million black servicemen served in segregated US Army regiments. Many of those men were briefly based in Northern Ireland.

During World War Two, enlistment of black American troops was higher than ever. More than one million served in the armed forces. Most found themselves in the US Army.

Like America as a whole, segregation was rife in the military. No black troops at all served in the Air Force or Marines. Before World War Two, the US Navy only accepted African-American servicemen as cooks or waiters.

Black Steward on board a US Destroyer

Imperial War Museum Photo: A 9196 (Part of the Admiralty Official Collection). Black stewards serving in the ward room on a US destroyer, one of the first which arrived at the Londonderry naval base in January 1942 after escorting a convoy across the Atlantic. Copyright Lieutenant HW Tomlin - Royal Navy Photographer.

With the pressures of war, the USS Mason became one of two US Navy vessels manned by African-American crews. The welcome those men received in Belfast made headlines in the African-American press back home.

Irish first to treat USS Mason as Americans.

In the entire United States Army, there were only five black officers. Roles were often reserved to non-combat units and there are even anecdotes of black troops having to give up seats to Nazi prisoners of war.

African-American Troops in Northern Ireland

US National Archives Photo: 8208-AA-46G-1. Black US Army soldiers draw rations at the camp cook house at their station in Northern Ireland. Detachments of black servicemen were among the first arrivals with the American forces in Northern Ireland. Photo taken circa August 1942.

African American Troops in the UK

Between 1942 and 1945 some 130,000 African American troops came to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The black population of Britain at the outbreak of World War Two was between 10,000 and 15,000. By 1943, estimates show there were around 37,000 black American troops in Northern Ireland. For the most part, the people of Ulster welcomed the troops but as is often the case in Northern Ireland, differences would later cause trouble.

World War Two would mark the end of racial segregation in the US military. President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948. This would be the end of a long and complex history and between 1942 and 1944, some of that would play out in Northern Ireland.

Incidents involving GIs

There were, of course, unsavoury incidents during the GIs time in Northern Ireland. Serving abroad did not offer an escape from Jim Crow Laws. In Northern Ireland and elsewhere, US troops operated under the Visiting Forces Act (1942). This meant that American Military Law took precedence over UK Civil Law. Of the 18 serving US Military personnel executed for capital crimes during World War Two, 10 were African American. At this time, only 10% of serving personnel were black men.

The murder of Harry Coogan on Earl Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim

Avatar

By

7th March 2018

North Belfast was the scene of a brutal murder on Earl Street in March 1944. The victim was a known pimp in the area, his attacker a member of the US Army.

Civilians stabbed in Donegall Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim

Avatar

By

20th March 2019

On 20th March 1943, 3 Belfast men were stabbed in Donegall Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim after becoming involved in a fight with some American soldiers.

The killing of Private William C Jenkins in Antrim, Co. Antrim

Avatar

By

30th September 2019

An outburst of US Army violence occurred in Co. Antrim in September 1942 when white troops and black soldiers clashed causing the death of an American GI.

After the War

It was time spent in places like Northern Ireland that made black American GIs aware that racial prejudices did not exist everywhere. On their return from war, many of them found it hard to accept the continuing racism at home. In July 1945, President Truman signed an order to end US military segregation.

The defiance of black servicemen overseas during World War Two paved the way for the resistance to follow in the 1950s and 60s. With segregation brought to an end in the army, navy and air force the road to civil rights was opened to all. The troops based in Northern Ireland would, for the most part, look back fondly on their time there.

Relations and racial tensions in wartime Northern Ireland

Relations and racial tensions in wartime Northern Ireland

Avatar

By

7th February 2020

Racial tensions rose in Northern Ireland during World War Two as US Army segregation brought an end to the warm Ulster welcome received by black GIs.

Segregated US Army Units in Ulster 1942 - 1944

28th Quartermaster Truck Regiment

In the summer of 1942, United States Army troops of 28th Quartermaster Truck Regiment arrived at bases in Co. Antrim in preparation for Operation Torch.

563rd Quartermaster Battalion

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 563rd Quartermaster Battalion was part of XV Corps, US Army when they arrived in Donaghcloney, Co. Down in 1944.

544th Quartermaster Service Battalion

544th Quartermaster Service Battalion, United States Army was a unit of African American troops based in Northern Ireland from October 1943 - February 1944.

4190th Quartermaster Service Company

On 10th February 1944, 4190th Quartermaster Service Company arrived at Springfarm, Antrim, Co. Antrim where they prepared for the invasion of Normandy.

4191st Quartermaster Service Company

In February 1944, 4191st Quartermaster Service Company arrived in Northern Ireland establishing bases in Belfast and Antrim during their time in Ulster.

4192nd Quartermaster Service Company

In February 1944, 4192nd Quartermaster Service Company arrived in Northern Ireland establishing a base and training camp at Springfarm, Antrim, Co. Antrim.

4193rd Quartermaster Service Company

4193rd Quartermaster Service Company, United States Army trained in Co. Antrim before departing to take part in the Normandy Campaign on 5th July 1944.

303rd Quartermaster Railhead Company

303rd Quartermaster Railhead Company, United States Army arrived at Derrymore House, Bessbrook, Co. Armagh in November 1943 to prepare for D-Day in 1944.

3991st Quartermaster Truck Company

3991st Quartermaster Truck Company, US Army established a camp at Springhill House, Moneymore, Co. Londonderry from 23rd December 1943 to 18th May 1944.

3992nd Quartermaster Truck Company

3992nd Quartermaster Truck Company, United States Army established a camp at Ardnaveigh, Co. Antrim on 23rd December 1943. There, they prepared for D-Day.

4010th Quartermaster Truck Company

Preparing for Normandy, the US Army's 4010th Quartermaster Truck Company set up a base in Dundonald, Co. Down between 4th February 1944 and 9th May 1944.

4049th Quartermaster Truck Company

4049th Quartermaster Truck Company served as part of United States Army XV Corps based in Northern Ireland in preparation for the Normandy Invasion on 1944.

4050th Quartermaster Truck Company

On 1st February 1944, 4050th Quartermaster Truck Company, United States Army set up a base at Lambeg, Co. Antrim where they remained until 6th May 1944.

500th Port Battalion

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 500th Port Battalion, US Army established a base at Belfast, Co. Antrim from 8th January 1944 to 6th July 1944.

262nd Port Company

262nd Port Company, Transportation Corps, United States Army were in Belfast, Co. Antrim from 8th January 1944 before departing for the shores of Normandy.

263rd Port Company

The United States Army 263rd Port Company, Transportation Corps established a base in Belfast, Co. Antrim on 8th January 1944 in preparation for Normandy.

264th Port Company

On 27th January 1944, 264th Port Company, Transportation Corps, US Army established a base at Belfast, Co. Antrim where they remained until 2nd July 1944.

265th Port Company

265th Port Company, a part of the United States Army Transportation Corps set up a base in Belfast, Co. Antrim on 27th January 1944 preparing for Normandy.

273rd Port Company

273rd Port Company, Transportation Corps, United States Army established a base in Belfast, Co. Antrim between 18th November 1943 and 9th January 1944.

780th Military Police Battalion

An Advance Detachment of 780th Military Police Battalion arrived in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim staying there from 15th December 1943 to 27th December 1943.