A Cigarette Camp was one of a number of temporary U.S. Army "tent cities" situated principally around the French ports of Le Havre and Marseilles following their respective captures in the wake of the Allied D-Day invasion in June 1944, and Operation Dragoon in July 1944.
Le Havre camps were located in what the Army designated the "Red Horse" staging area and named after popular brands, including Camps Lucky Strike, Old Gold, and Pall Mall. Another series of temporary camps set up at the same time in France was named after United States cities, referred to as "City Camps". A single Cigarette Camp, Tophat, was located in Antwerp, Belgium.
Origin of names
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).
The camps varied widely in size, from around 2,000 in capacity to nearly 60,000 at the largest of the "Big Three", Camps Philip Morris, Old Gold, and Lucky Strike.
The nine Cigarette Camps included:
- Camp Home Run, Sanvic: 2,000
- Camp Wings, on the grounds of the Blaville Aerodrome: 2,250
- Camp Pall Mall, at Etretat: 7,700
- Camp Herbert Tareyton, located in the Forest of Montgeon: 16,400
- Camp Twenty Grand, at Duclair: 20,000
- Camp Philip Morris, Gainneville: 35,000
- Camp Old Gold, at Ourville: 35,000
- Camp Lucky Strike, located between Cany and Saint-Valery: 58,000
- Camp Chesterfield: (unknown)
- Camp Tophat was a "Cigarette Camp" located near Antwerp, Belgium, named after a popular American brand. Exact capacity is unknown, but the single camp fielded "thousands of black 20-man tents".
By war's end, both Cigarette and City camps' roles had shifted from gateways to combat staging GIs for repatriation to the U.S., processing liberated American POWs, and temporarily confining German POWs.
- 103rd Infantry Division: Albums "The major ports had camps for embarkation both ways. They were called Cigarette Camps from their names. When the ports opened up that is where they would keep people and then send them to the front. Then when the war ended that is how they sent people out through the Cigarette Camps. Famous Cigarette Camps were in Marseilles and Le Havre."
- Skylighters.org: Cigarette Camps "And there were additional embarkation camps in Southern France, north of Marseilles, and, of course, Camp Tophat near Antwerp, Belgium."
- Sawyer and Mitchell, Victory Ships and Tankers: HAER Report. "The ship made crossings in 1946 carrying troops between the European Theater of Operations, especially Le Havre, France, and New York City, New York. From Le Havre, the ship often left from the area known as the 'Cigarette Camps'.", p. 24
- Skylighters.org: The Cigarette Camps: Introduction
- Sklyighters.org: City Camps
- 89th Infantry Division: Cigarette Camps
- Skylighters.org: Camp Tophat
- Skylighters.org: Camp Herbert Tareyton. Displaced persons were living in former American Nissen huts in 1955.