Fairlop’s link to the D-Day invasion 75 years ago
- Credit: Archant
On June 6, 75 years ago troops landed in France for the D-Day invasion of Europe. David Martin, of Fairlop Heritage Group, and Derek Hall told the story to 400 pupils of John Bramston Primary School
From early 1944, all flying ceased at Fairlop as preparations were being made for the June invasion.
Advantage was taken at having so much unused open space that 93 Embarkation Unit became based at Fairlop. It ultimately in charge of a Landing Tank Craft despite being 70 miles from the English Channel. (see Ilford Recorder December 1, 2016).
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during the Second World War by Allied forces. The operation commenced on June 6, 1944 with an attack on five Normandy beaches - two British beaches, two American and one Canadian (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day).
A 12,000-strong airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving almost 7,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel during the night of June 5; more than three million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.
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Allied land forces that saw combat in Normandy on D-Day itself came from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. Free French Forces and Poland also participated in the battle after the assault phase, and there were also minor contingents from Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, and Norway. Other Allied nations participated in the naval and air forces.
The battle for Normandy continued for more than two months, concluding with the closing of the Falaise Pocket on August 24, the Liberation of Paris on August 25, and the German retreat across the Seine, which was completed on August 30, 1944.
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In 2019 there are few signs of the invasion. The 100ft cliffs of Ponte du Hoc, attacked by US Army Rangers, is still pockmarked with shell craters and on the beach at Arromanche, remains of the Mulberry Harbour are off shore and on the beach, broken remains of Bailey Bridges.
HMS Belfast is one of only three surviving vessels for the bombardment which supported the Normandy landings on D-Day. HMS Belfast was the flagship of Bombardment Force E supporting landings at Gold and Juno beaches. Her first target was the German gun battery at La Marefontaine. As a result of this bombardment the battery played no meaningful role in the defence of the beaches.
Although many of HMS Belfast's veterans believe their ship was the first to open fire on June 6, this was not the case.
Lieutenant Peter Brooke Smith, who was serving aboard HMS Belfast, recorded in his diary that another cruiser to the west, opened fire at 0523. The Entry in HMS Belfast's log records that she opened fire three minutes later at 0527 with a full broadside to port. The vibration of HMS Belfast's guns firing during the action ended up cracking the crew's toilets.
HMS Belfast is now permanently moored as a museum ship on the River Thames by Tower Bridge and is operated by the Imperial War Museum. To illustrate the distance, the forward six inch guns of HMS Belfast have a range of 12.5 miles, well within range of Fairlop Waters.