June 6th, is the anniversary of D-Day – the day on which in 1944 the Allied armies invaded Nazi-occupied France and turned the tide on Hitler’s domination of mainland Europe, eventually leading to victory and the end of World War Two.
In Portsmouth, the city where so many soldiers and sailors embarked from on a mission from which many failed to return, D-Day is commemorated every year at The D-Day Story, the museum dedicated to remembering the events leading up to and following June 6th 1944 and the people who gave up so much in the fight for the freedoms that we all now enjoy. The D-Day Story (formerly The D-Day Museum) was re-opened on Good Friday this year following a £5million refurbishment that took a year to complete, and we were really honoured that as part of the museum’s revamp a squadron of our hairpin leg stools (in mint green and birch-faced plywood) have been stationed in their new café.
D-Day was the designated date for Operation Neptune, the largest seaborne invasion in history and was just one operation that made up Operation Overlord, which had the ultimate aim of establishing a large-scale Allied military presence on mainland Europe. D-Day began shortly after midnight when around 24,000 American, British and Canadian troops were parachuted into Normandy, ahead of the arrival on the beaches of nearly 160,000 troops. The amphibious landings took place across a fifty-mile stretch of the Normandy coast east of the Contentin Peninsula, which was divided into five target areas: Utah and Omaha beaches in the west where the Americans would land, Gold in the centre (where British troops would land), Juno (Canadian) and Sword in the east (the target of both British and Free French forces). Whilst none of D-Day’s main objectives were met, the success of the landings provided a starting point and by the end of June 875,000 troops had been landed in France and had begun multiple offensives that began to push the German army east, towards their eventual capitulation and Victory in Europe Day.
Not only was Operation Overlord a monumental military undertaking, it was also an incredible feat of engineering, logistics and deception. Decoy battalions were constructed (including inflatable tanks) and stationed in Kent and several fake missions were undertaken as part of Operation Bodyguard to mislead the Germans as to the exact date and destination of the invasion. The technological feats achieved are simply staggering. They range from the development and delivery of enormous floating concrete harbours known as Mulberry harbours (Mulberry A was the largest working port in Europe until well into the 1950s!) to allow larger ships to dock and disembark troops or supplies based on the fact that the existing French ports were heavily defended and may be damaged or destroyed in the course of the invasions, through to the laying of a “Pipeline Under the Ocean (PLUTO) to deliver fuel from Britain to France, and the incredible ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. Hobart’s Funnies were a range of specially adapted M4 Sherman and Churchill tanks developed under the supervision of Major-General Percy Hobart, designed specifically for the Normandy campaign. The adaptations included a self-propelled amphibious tank with a inflatable skirt to allow it to float, mine-clearing tanks with spinning chains, flame-throwing tanks, tanks that laid their own canvas “road” from giant bobbins, allowing them to cross soft sand or clay that they would otherwise sink into, and an armoured ramp carrier that other tanks and vehicles could use as a mobile bridge. The ingenuity in both the design and manufacture of the specialized equipment that helped the Allied forces to gain the upper hand, was incredible. As makers, we are in awe, and having some of our pieces sitting inside the same building as examples of these incredible (and most importantly, functional) innovations is something that we are so very proud of.
The D-Day Story can be found at Clarence Esplanade, Southsea, Portsmouth, (PO5 3NT) and is open between 10am and at least 5pm every day apart from Christmas Eve through Boxing Day.
All D-Day images Creative Commons open copyright, sourced from Wikipedia.