It’s a long way from Florida’s capital city to the beaches of Normandy, France, yet a coastal community near Tallahassee played a major role in the D-Day invasion that altered the course of World War II.
Training soldiers for amphibious assaults for the massive operation at Normandy and the island-jumping campaign in the Pacific became a priority once the U.S. entered the war in 1941. Carrabelle, a sleepy fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico an hour’s drive from Tallahassee, emerged as a major contributor.
Camp Gordon Johnston, originally called Camp Carrabelle, trained soldiers who participated in the invasion at Normandy, the largest Allied operation of WWII, and prepped others for an invasion that never occurred. Stretches of sand best known for picnics and sunbathing once provided some of the most difficult combat training in the world. The military called it “hell by the sea.”
The Camp Gordon Johnston Museum documents the history of the site and soldiers that served there. The museum contains thousands of artifacts, films and photos and hosts an annual reunion in March.
The camp covered 165,000 acres with most left in its natural state for training purposes. St. George and Dog Islands, now popular beaches, were practice sites for invasions and amphibious landings. The camp also housed 2,500 prisoners of war. The camp’s training regimen included rehearsals for a planned invasion of Japan but the war ended before that happened.
Military bases throughout Florida played critical roles during the war. In north Florida, Jimmy Doolittle's bombers trained at Eglin Field near Pensacola before their dramatic 1942 raid on Japan. By 1943, the state had 172 military installations, compared to only eight in 1940.
Tallahassee’s Dale Mabry Field served as an advanced training site for fighter pilots including the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The site today trains other students as home to Tallahassee Community College.
An extensive permanent collection at the Museum of Florida History documents the state’s contributions and sacrifices during the war. The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University has a collection of letters, photographs, diaries, unit histories and interviews of those who served during the war.
Photo credit: State archives of Florida