Portsmouth connections

Preparations for Operation Overlord led to restrictions on the movement of the people of Portsmouth. In August, 1943, Southsea seafront was declared a restricted zone, and on April 1, 1944, Portsmouth was part of the 10-mile deep coastal strip, from the Wash to Land’s End, closed to all visitors. By the spring of 1944 southern England was fast becoming a huge armed camp, as men, vehicles, stores and ammunition moved to their marshalling areas. Portsmouth was the headquarters and main departure point for the military and naval units destined for Sword Beach on the Normandy coast.

Troops camped in the woods to the north and east of Portsmouth. The troops were sealed into their camps on May 26 so that the final briefings could begin. Then as D-Day approached, the men began to embark for the cross-channel assault from Southsea beach, the naval dockyard, Gosport, Stokes Bay and numerous other points along the south coast. Looking down from Portsdown Hill there were so many ships and landing craft that eyewitnesses said that it seemed as though it would be possible to walk from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight across their decks.

Southwick House, just to the north of Portsmouth, had been chosen as the headquarters for the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower. Terrible weather delayed D-Day by 24 hours, but then Eisenhower announced his decision to launch the invasion with the famous words – ‘OK, let’s go.’

D-Day had come.

Practical Information

There are many important sites around Portsmouth that are part of the D-Day story.

Many of the sites listed below are accessible to the public and many can be visited on foot, by public transport or by car.

Please be mindful of the privacy of local people, particularly around residential areas, and please do not trespass onto private land.

For some of the sites you may find Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL3 (Meon Valley) useful.

 

Portsmouth Dockyard

Portsmouth Dockyard shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

Portsmouth Dockyard shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

Many of the specialist ships and landing craft used on D-Day had been modified at the Dockyard. Parts of the Mulberry Harbours (the artificial harbours that were used by the Allies for landing troops and supplies in Normandy) were built there. It was also an embarkation point for troops. The site is now home to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Portsmouth Harbour Station landing stage

Allied troops boarded ships at Portsmouth Harbour Station’s landing stage to take them to France.

HMS Vernon, Gunwharf

The Steam Picket Boat from HMS Vernon crewed by members of the Women's Royal Naval Service.

The Steam Picket Boat from HMS Vernon crewed by members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

HMS Vernon was the base for part of Force S – the naval force that landed 3rd British Division on Sword Beach – and for Motor Torpedo Boats, which on D-Day protected the flanks of the landings against enemy naval attack. This site is now Gunwharf Quays shopping centre.

Quay House, Broad Street

This was the Embarkation Area Headquarters for the Portsmouth sector. Its role was to co-ordinate the loading of troops onto the ships at the four Portsmouth embarkation sites (which included nearby Camber Quay). Until recently, this building was known as Wightlink House.

Ravelin House

As well as a naval dockyard town, Portsmouth was also a significant army garrison. Just before the Second World War the then Brigadier Bernard Montgomery was the Portsmouth Garrison commander. His headquarters were at Ravelin House. Ravelin House is now owned by the University of Portsmouth.

Commercial Buildings

This building, on what is now Lord Montgomery Way, was the headquarters of Force S, which carried 3rd British Division to Normandy. The building is now home to a language school.

Fratton Station

Wounded troops from Normandy were transferred onto hospital trains at Fratton Station, to be moved to hospitals outside the city.

St Mary’s Hospital

St Marys and James Hospitals shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

St Marys and James Hospitals shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

St Mary’s Hospital treated casualties from Normandy. St Mary’s is still a working community health campus.

St James’ Hospital

This hospital was used for the treatment of more lightly wounded troops and burns cases from the fighting in France. St James’ is still a working hospital.

Fort Cumberland

The Inter-Services Training and Development Centre was established here in 1938 to conduct experiments in Combined Operations techniques for landing troops on enemy shores. Fort Cumberland is now a Historic England establishment. It is usually closed to the public but can be visited on special events such as Heritage Open Days.

Langstone Harbour entrance

The shores of Hayling Island were used as a site for the construction of components of the Mulberry Harbours. Many landing barges were moored in Langstone Harbour in the lead-up to D-Day. A Phoenix Caisson, one of the components of the Mulberry Harbour, can be seen further up Langstone Harbour. It ran aground shortly after being constructed, and broke its back on the sandbank.

South Parade Pier

South Parade Pier shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

South Parade Pier shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

South Parade Pier was used by troops to board landing craft that would take them to Normandy. Temporary piers were built from scaffolding alongside to speed up the embarkation process.

Queen Alexandra Hospital

Queen Alexandra Hospital shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

Queen Alexandra Hospital shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

Queen Alexandra Hospital was originally built to treat casualties during the First World War. Known locally as ‘QA’, the hospital treated wounded troops who had been brought back from Normandy. ‘QA’ has been redeveloped significantly during the Second World War, and is still a major Hospital.

Hilsea Barracks

US Depot G65 at Hilsea Barracks shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

US Depot G65 at Hilsea Barracks shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

The Barracks and the nearby Hilsea College (now City of Portsmouth Boys’ School) were used by American troops. The Barracks were home to the US Army’s General Depot G-65, along with Engineer, Chemical, Ordnance, Postal and Bakery units. The former Hilsea Barracks are now a housing estate.

Airspeed, Portsmouth Airport

A post-war photograph of Portsmouth Airport.

A post-war photograph of Portsmouth Airport.

The factory and headquarters of the Airspeed company, which designed the Horsa glider, were based at Portsmouth Airport. The Horsa was used by both American and British airborne forces on D-Day. Portsmouth Airport closed in 1973 and the site is now an industrial and housing estate. Some of the wartime airport buildings can still be seen in use today.

Locksway Road, Milton

The aftermath of the V-1 that landed on Locksway Road.

The aftermath of the V-1 that landed on Locksway Road.

Six days after D-Day, the Germans launched the first of many V-1 flying bombs against Britain. Two of these weapons fell on Portsmouth. The first landed on Locksway Road on 25 June 1944.

Newcomen Road, Stamshaw

Six days after D-Day, the Germans launched the first of many V-1 flying bombs against Britain. Two of these weapons fell on Portsmouth. The second landed in Newcomen Road on 15 July 1944, killing 15 people and injuring 82 others.

HMS Excellent, Whale Island

A group of Wrens - members of the Women's Royal Naval Service - photographed at HMS Excellent during the Second World War.

A group of Wrens – members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service – photographed at HMS Excellent during the Second World War.

This naval base played an important role in the Allied naval preparations for D-Day, particularly in preparing for the naval gunfire bombardment that preceded the landings. HMS Excellent is still an operational naval base and is not open to the general public.

Kingston Cemetery

190 servicemen and women killed during the Second World War are buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth. Among them are men who were wounded in Normandy and died in Britain after being evacuated. Kingston Cemetery is also home to a mass grave of Portsmouth people who were killed during the Blitz. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website for more information, and to search for casualties buried in Kingston Cemetery. To find out more about Kingston Cemetery including opening hours visit Portsmouth City Council’s Cemeteries website.

Milton Cemetery

234 servicemen and women killed during the Second World War are buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth. Among them are men who were wounded in Normandy and died in Britain after being evacuated. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website for more information, and to search for casualties buried in Milton Cemetery. To find out more about Kingston Cemetery including opening hours visit Portsmouth City Council’s Cemeteries website.

Highland Road Cemetery

51 servicemen and women killed during the Second World War are buried in Highland Road Cemetery in Portsmouth. Among them are men who were wounded in Normandy and died in Britain after being evacuated. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website for more information, and to search for casualties buried in Highland Road Cemetery. To find out more about Kingston Cemetery including opening hours visit Portsmouth City Council’s Cemeteries website.

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Portsmouth Royal Naval Memorial commemorates almost 14,956 Portsmouth-based sailors of the Second World War who have no known grave other than the sea. These include sailors who were killed on D-Day and during the Normandy campaign. To the north of the memorial Southsea Common has hosted major international commemorations of D-Day. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website for more information, and to search for casualties commemorated on the memorial.

HMS Dolphin, Fort Blockhouse

HMS Dolphin was the headquarters of the Royal Navy’s submarine service. The “X-Craft” mini-submarines that were based here were used for directing the Allied fleet in its final approach to the British and Canadian beaches. The former site of HMS Dolphin is now home to the Royal Naval Submarine Museum.

Haslar Royal Naval Hospital

Haslar Royal Naval Hospital was the oldest naval hospital in Britain. It was another important hospital for the treatment of wounded troops from Normandy.

Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery

Haslar Royal Navy Cemetery holds 611 burials from the Second World War. Many of these men were killed on D-Day or during the Normandy Campaign. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website for more information, and to search for casualties buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery.

Beach Street, Gosport

A DUKW amphibious truck reverses onto a landing ship close to the Gosport Ferry.

A DUKW amphibious truck reverses onto a landing ship close to the Gosport Ferry.

Near today’s Gosport Ferry pier, this was one of the sites in Gosport for the embarkation of troops, particularly tanks and other vehicles.

Camper & Nicholson, Gosport

This yacht-building company building a variety of naval craft, including Motor Torpedo Boats, parts of landing craft and components for the Mulberry Harbours. The site of Camper and Nicholson is now a marina.

Stokes Bay

Stokes Bay shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

Stokes Bay shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A.

Stokes Bay used both for the construction of the Mulberry Harbours and for the embarkation of troops. Stokes Bay was used to beach the larger Landing Ship Tanks as the water there was deeper.

HMS Daedalus

A Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm base, a variety of Allied aircraft were based at Lee on Solent airfield. They supported the naval and ground forces on D-Day and afterwards. HMS Daedalus closed as a Royal Navy airfield in 1996. It is now an Enterprise Zone and civilian airfield.

Priddy’s Hard

A number of important Royal Navy supply bases in Gosport were all vital for supplying the Allied invasion fleet. The Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Priddy’s Hard supplied the allied fleet with ammunition. There were also other Armament Depots at Frater and Bedenham nearby. Priddy’s Hard is now home to Explosion, the museum of naval firepower.

Royal Clarence Victualling Yard

Jack Spurrier was the Deputy Stores Victualling Officer at Royal Clarence Yard in 1944. He kept charts of the supplies that were issued to the fleet, including the number of potatoes.

Jack Spurrier was the Deputy Stores Victualling Officer at Royal Clarence Yard in 1944. He kept charts of the supplies that were issued to the fleet, including the number of potatoes.

The Royal Clarence Victualling Yard in Gosport supplied the allied fleet with food and other supplies. The site of the yard is now private housing and a marina.

Hardway, Gosport

Troops and vehicles waiting in Priory Road near Hardway.

Troops and vehicles waiting in Priory Road near Hardway.

Many of the huge numbers of vehicles required by the Allied troops in Normandy boarded ships from Hardway in Gosport. The concrete slipway or ‘hard’ can still be seen today, now in use by the local sailing club.

Vospers, Portchester

A Motor Torpedo Boat at Vospers' yard in Portchester.

A Motor Torpedo Boat at Vospers’ yard in Portchester.

This local firm built naval craft, such as Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), that were involved in the naval operations for D-Day. They went ahead of the main Allied fleet as it crossed the English Channel, and protected its flanks.

Movement Control Headquarters: Roche Court, Fareham

Roche Court shown on a map of Marshalling Area A. The red area shows where troops were camped.

Roche Court shown on a map of Marshalling Area A. The red area shows where troops were camped.

This headquarters controlled all movement of troops in the area around Portsmouth and Gosport, as they prepared to board ships for Normandy. The site is now home to Boundary Oak School.

Southwick House

Southwick House.

Southwick House.

Here the Allied commanders, led by US General Dwight Eisenhower – the Supreme Allied Commander – decided that D-Day would be on 6 June 1944. The map room in Southwick House was used to plot the movements of convoys across the channel. Southwick Park is now the Defence College of Police and Guarding, and is also home to the Royal Military Police Museum. As an operational military base it can only be visited by appointment. For more information visit the Museum’s website. The Golden Lion pub in the nearby village of Southwick was visited by many officers during the war, including Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery.

Fort Southwick

King George VI being shown the operations map at Fort Southwick.

King George VI being shown the operations map at Fort Southwick.

Tunnels underneath this Victorian fort housed the Combined Operations Headquarters, which co-ordinated and monitored the progress of the D-Day invasion fleet. The Fort is not currently open to the public, but can be viewed from the outside. Viewpoints along the top of Portsdown Hill give panoramic views of the Solent.

Christ Church, Portsdown

On 4 June 1944 the headquarters staff of British 2nd Army, who were camped nearby, held a service at this church. Second Army was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey and led the British and Canadian troops who landed on D-Day. A special D-Day service is held every year on the Sunday closest to 6 June. The churchyard holds burials of service personnel killed during the Second World War. For more information visit the Church’s website.

Marshalling camps A11 and A12: Creech Woods

Creech Woods shown on a map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

Creech Woods shown on a map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

The area to the north of Portsmouth was covered with many temporary camps for the thousands of troops assembled locally for D-Day. Many of these camps are on private land, but some are accessible to the general public, including Creech Woods near Denmead. Creech Woods were home to camps A11 and A12 which held 3,850 troops and 550 vehicles. Various units were housed in these camps at different times, including the Headquarters of the British 3rd Infantry Division, the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders. Creech Woods are now managed by the Forestry Commission.

Marshalling camps A14 and A15: West Walk

West Walk shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

West Walk shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

The area to the north of Portsmouth was covered with many temporary camps for the thousands of troops assembled locally for D-Day. Many of these camps are on private land, but some are accessible to the general public, including West Walk near Wickham. West Walk was home to camps A14 and A15, which held a total of 3,250 troops and 465 vehicles. Various units were housed in these camps at different times, including the 1st Battalion of the Buckinghamshire Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment. West Walk is now managed by the Forestry Commission.

Marshalling camps A5 and A6: Padnell and Cowplain

Padnell and Cowplain shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

Padnell and Cowplain shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

The area to the north of Portsmouth was covered with many temporary camps for the thousands of troops assembled locally for D-Day. Many of these camps are on private land, but some are accessible to the general public, including at Padnell and Cowplain. The woodland here was home to camps A5 and A6, which held 3,000 troops and 430 vehicles. Various units were housed in these camps at different times, including the 1st Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, the 2nd Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment and 7 and 76 Field Regiments of the Royal Artillery. The Queen’s Inclosure is now managed by the Forestry Commission.

Marshalling camp A1: Rowlands Castle

Rowlands Castle shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

Rowlands Castle shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

The area to the north of Portsmouth was covered with many temporary camps for the thousands of troops assembled locally for D-Day. Many of these camps are on private land, but some are accessible to the general public, including at Rowlands Castle. Rowlands Castle was home to Camp A1, which held 2,000 troops and 200 vehicles. Different units were camped here at various times, including Free French, the 2nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and 33 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. King George VI inspected the British 3rd Infantry Division at Rowlands Castle on 22 May 1944. Part of the site of the Rowlands Castle camps is now in the Stansted Estate.

Marshalling camp A2: Emsworth

Emsworth shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

Emsworth shown on a 1944 map of Marshalling Area A. The red areas show where troops were camped.

The area to the north of Portsmouth was covered with many temporary camps for the thousands of troops assembled locally for D-Day. Many of these camps are on private land, but some are accessible to the general public, including at Emsworth. Emsworth was home to Camp A2, which held 2,100 troops and 210 vehicles. The camp was occupied by different units at various times, including the Canadian North Shore Regiment, the headquarters of the British 8th Infantry Brigade and 5 Beach Group, 76 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery and the 5th Battalion of the Kings Regiment. The site of the camp is now part of Hollybank Wood.

RAF Thorney Island

Thorney Island airfield was used by RAF Typhoon fighter-bomber aircraft, which took part in the Normandy fighting. Slightly further away, airfields around Chichester such as RAF Tangmere also played a vital role. Thorney Island is still an operational military establishment and is closed to visitors. It is possible to walk around parts of the outside of the island which give a view of the airfield.

HMS Northney, Hayling Island

Wren Moira Cruickshank was based at HMS Northney. She produced drawings of landing craft that were used to train crews.

Wren Moira Cruickshank was based at HMS Northney. She produced drawings of landing craft that were used to train crews.

HMS Northney was the name of several Royal Navy bases on Hayling Island. They were used for the training of landing craft crews in the years leading up to D-Day.

Hayling Island seafront

This map of Hayling Island was used during Exercise Fabius. It shows beach defences and which units landed where.

This map of Hayling Island was used during Exercise Fabius. It shows beach defences and which units landed where.

In May 1944 Hayling Island seafront was used for Exercise Fabius, the code name for amphibious landing rehearsals by troops of 50th British Division.