Two days before Christmas '44 some two thousand paratroopers boarded the Belgian troopship Leopoldville at Pier 38, Southampton. Shortly thereafter, they were told to disembark. Someone had made a mistake and they were told they were on the wrong ship. Little did they know at the time how 'lucky' they had been.
In the early hours of the next day, December 24th, 2,235 men of the United States Army's 66th Infantry Division (the Black Panthers) began boarding the Leopoldville. The rest of the Division were loaded aboard the Cheshire, a British transport. In keeping with the foul-up of the previous day, none were assigned specific quarters and they were berthed wherever there was room as they boarded and not, by unit, squad or company. Confusion seemed to be the order of the day. No lifeboat drill was performed and the life belts were secured in their stowage compartments. None were issued to the men onboard.