The D-Day Story Museum – Portsmouth UK

Portsmouth News Photo 1940

British soldiers negotiating a barbed wire defence during a seashore invasion exercise near Portsmouth in 1940. Photo: The News archive.

Portsmouth, situated on the coast 110km south-west of London has been a significant naval port for centuries. During the Second World War it was a critical embarkation point for the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings. It’s role as a major Naval Base and Dockyard had seen the city bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe from August 1940 and by August 1943 the Southsea seafront, which included the city, was declared a restricted zone. At the beginning of April 1944, in preparation for Operation Overlord, Portsmouth became part of a 16km deep coastal strip from the Wash to Lands End which was closed to all visitors. By this time, the whole of Southern England had become a huge armed camp in the build-up for the invasion of Europe, with Portsmouth being the headquarters and main departure point for the units destined for Juno Beach on the Normandy Coast.

The D-Day Story (previously known as The D-Day Museum) is located near Southsea Castle in Portsmouth and recounts the story of Operation OVERLORD and the landings on the Normandy coast. Originally opened as a the D-Day Museum in 1984, it was closed in March 2017 for refurbishment before reopening in March 2018 as the D-Day Story. (Note that some of the photographs featured here include images of the older displays taken during a previous visit in 2015). The new museum tells the story of Overlord by recounting the experiences of the people who participated in the invasion or lived in the area at the time.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth 2015 -01

A Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV), nicknamed ‘Vera’, War Department No. T145523 as displayed prior to the 2018 refurbishment. The Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle was developed specifically for the Normandy landings. It utilised a modified Sherman Mk.III M4A2 tank that was able to wade into water up to feet deep and push or pull ‘drowned’ vehicles out of the sea. They could also help refloat beached landing craft. Trials of the BARV began in December and by D-Day, 5 were available for service. This particular tank was originally built in 1943 as a regular gun tank. Markings on the hull suggest that its parts were produced in a modular fashion by several different companies and then assembled together. It was produced with “LO”, a type of steel particularly adapted to cast large pieces of armour. The tank was assembled at Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio as part of contract S/M 1012 for the British Government. The hull (part number E4151) was built by American Steel Foundries East St. Louis (Illinois) Works, and the bogies were made by several companies including the Continental Foundry & Machine Company of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. This BARV’s exact wartime history is not known, but it is known that a relatively small number of BARVs were converted. It shows the markings of a beach recovery section of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Sherman BARVs remained in British Army service until the early 1960’s.

The museum exhibits around 500 artifacts, from a collection of over 10,000, which are combined with touch screens, audio and video presentations to allow the visitor to understand the complexities of planning such a huge operation and its impact on the people involved. To tell the D-Day story, the museum is divided into three sections: Preparation; D-Day and the Battle of Normandy; Legacy and the Overlord Embroidery.

Preparation covers the period from the Dunkirk Evacuation (1940) until just before 6 June 1944. It gives visitors an overview of the planning for Operation OVERLORD including some of the equipment specially developed to assist in the invasion, plus details of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and the German defenses.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth Preparation Gallery-09

Betty White’s coat. Five year old Betty White collected 89 badges from the British, American and Canadian troops who passed her house in Gosport on their way to Normandy. Her mother sewed them onto her coat.

ALLIED PREPARATIONS FOR D-DAY

Preparation for D-Day. Troops storm ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) during Exercise ‘Fabius’, a major invasion rehearsal on the British coast, 5 May 1944. Nearest landing craft is LCA 798. Photo: Imperial War Museum Collection. Object ID: 205359422

portsmouth_d-day_museum-15

The D-Day and the Battle of Normandy section describe the landing, fighting in the bocage and the breakout leading to the Liberation of Paris. This section features displays of personal items, weapons and equipment, accompanied by an audio-visual display to give an overview of the experiences of the troops fighting on the five beaches.

D-DAY - BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 19

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade led by Brigadier Lord Lovat (in the water, to the right of his men) land on Queen Red beach, Sword area, c. 0840 hours, 6 June 1944. Sherman DD tanks of 13th/18th Royal Hussars and other vehicles can be seen on the beach. Lovat’s piper, Bill Millin, is in the foreground about to disembark. Photo: Captain JL Evans, No.5 Army Film and Photographic Unit. IWM Object Number B 5103

Portsmouth d-day museum Overlord Embroidery

The final section, Legacy & Overlord Embroidery explores the experiences of loss and coming home through film clips of veterans recounting their experiences with some supporting artifacts, but is dominated by the Overlord Embroidery an 83m long tapestry consisting of 34 different panels takes up a significant section of the floorspace in a relatively small museum. It is underpinned by a small central gallery that explains the techniques used by the twenty members of the Royal School of Needlework who took seven years to complete its construction.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth Churchill tank-01

A Churchill Mk.VII Crocodile (flame throwing) tank. The history of this particular tank is not known. It has been given representative markings for tank T173174H named ‘Sandgate’. This Churchill Crocodile belonged to C Squadron, 141st (The Buffs) Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, and on D-Day was commanded by Lieutenant John Shearman (awarded the Military Cross for actions on and after D-Day). In late 2020 the tank was moved to its current location aboard the LCT 7074.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth LCT-01

Landing craft tank LCT 7074. Able to transport 10 tanks, LCT 7074 is the last surviving Landing Craft Tank (LCT) from D-Day.

.

Outside the main building, visitors can go on a tour of LCT 7074, one of two hundred and thirty five MkIII LCT’s that were built for the invasion and the last surviving Landing Craft Tank in the UK. LCT 7074 transported 10 tanks and crew to Gold Beach at 02:00 on 7 June 1944 before returning to England carrying POWs.  On board visitors will find the Churchill and Sherman tanks that once stood at the front of the museum. The tour includes a series of short films showcasing the history of LCT 7074 including its post war life as a riverfront nightclub in Liverpool before falling into disrepair and sinking at Birkenhead Docks. It was rescued in 2014 and restored to its current state before being moved to the museum in 2020.

A visit to D-Day Story presents a good start point to develop a broad understanding of the invasion if you’re in the UK and are planning to head across the channel to visit the battle sites at Normandy. The museum opens at 10am every day and tickets can be purchased in advance. You should allow around two to three hours to examine all of the exhibits. Portsmouth’s long naval and military history is also commemorated in several other military museums in the area, so plan for a two or three days stopover to check out some of the other museums and to experience more of this interesting city’s attractions.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth-01

D-Day Story
Clarence Esplanade
Portsmouth PO5 3NT
England

Website: https://theddaystory.com/
Email:  theddaystory@portsmouthcc.gov.uk
Phone: +44 (0)23 9288 2555

Open: The D-Day Story is open seven days a week, from 10am to 5.30pm. Last admission is 3.30pm to LCT 7074 and 4pm to the museum.

Parking: There is a large 125-space car park located next to the D-Day Story. The car park is open 24 hours a day and has toilet facilities on site. There are 25 coach spaces, with a wash bay facility available. For parking charges please see The Seafront D-Day car park . There are marked disabled bays within the car park and on Clarence Esplanade in front of the museum. Parking is free for blue badge holders.

Park & Ride: Portsmouth’s Park & Ride is available from Junction 1 of the M275 motorway which is the principal route into Portsmouth from the north. Follow the brown direction signs to the Park & Ride car park. The nearest Park & Ride stop to The D-Day Story is at The Hard Interchange transport hub which is adjacent to Portsmouth Harbour railway station and Gunwharf Quays. Catch a connecting number 3 bus to Palmerston Road then it is an attractive 10 minute walk across Southsea Common to the D-Day Story on the seafront. On Sundays there is an hourly number 16 bus which will stop outside the museum.

Buses: The nearest bus stop is an attractive 10 minute walk from Palmerston Road across Southsea Common, to the D-Day Story. See directions above from The Hard Interchange to Palmerston Road.

Train: The nearest train station is Portsmouth & Southsea – a 1.5 mile walk from The D-Day Story. The most direct route is via Isambard Brunel Road, Grosvenor Street, Cottage Grove, Grove Roads North and South, Palmerston Road and Avenue de Caen. There is also a taxi rank outside Portsmouth & Southsea railway station.

Alternatively, it’s a 1.7 mile walk from Fratton station to the museum, via Sydenham Terrace, Victoria Roads North and South, Lennox Road South and Clarence Esplanade.

_____________________________________________________

If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every weekend and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Operation Market Garden: The Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’

For visitors exploring the battlefields related to Operation Market Garden, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek serves as a rallying point and provides a focus for much of the activity surrounding the annual anniversary commemorations of the battle for Arnhem. The museum is housed in what was formally the Hotel Hartenstein, which served as the Headquarters for Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the 1st Airborne Division during this famous battle in September 1944.

airborne museum hartenstein BSA M20 motorcycle

Airborne dispatch rider re-enactor and his BSA M20 motorcycle at the commemoration event held on the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ grounds each September.  Photo: Julian Tennant

airborne museum hartenstein diorama sign-01

German sign restricting access to Arnhem after the battle. It translates as “It is forbidden to enter Arnhem on pain of death” Photo: Julian Tennant

Operation Market Garden was launched in an attempt to capture a number of bridgeheads that would allow the Allies to bypass the Siegfried line and cross the Rhine, entering the German industrial base of the Ruhr pocket. Allied Airborne troops were dropped in the Netherlands to secure key towns and bridges along the axis of advance. The British 1st Airborne Division was tasked with seizing the most distant bridges at Arnhem and hold them for two to three days whilst awaiting the arrival of the British XXX Corps who were advancing up the corridor created by the Airborne operation.

Although Initially taken surprise by the landing of the 1st Airborne Division at Wolfheze and north of Heelsum the German forces quickly moved to regain the initiative. Allied intelligence had not accounted for the presence of the 9th SS Panzer Division in the area around Arnhem. This combined with poor communications and the distance of the landing zones from their objectives undermined British attempts to seize the bridges. Only the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment under the command of Lt-Col John Frost managed to reach the northern side of Arnhem bridge, which they held for four days.

The bulk of the British forces became trapped in Oosterbeek, fighting a brutal defensive action until the 25th of September when their situation became untenable and a retreat, code-named Operation Berlin began in an attempt to evacuate the remaining airborne troops to the South side of the Rhine. British engineers assisted in evacuating 2200 men across the river but on the morning of the 26th September, the operation was halted leaving 300 troops behind. In the nine days of Market Garden, combined Allied losses amounted to more than 17.000. The British 1st Airborne Division was almost completely destroyed and of the 10,000 men committed to the operation, casualties numbered 7,578 dead, wounded or missing.

Hartenstein, which was built as a villa in 1865 before becoming a hotel in 1942 was commandeered as the 1st Airborne Division’s headquarters during Operation Market Garden and badly damaged during the fighting. It was subsequently restored and once again used as a hotel before being purchased as the site for the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ which was officially opened by Major General Roy Urquhart in 1978.

In 2008 it was temporarily closed for an extensive renovation and expansion program which included a basement displaying the ‘Airborne Experience’, a series of dioramas which takes the visitor through the battle from the perspective of a British soldier. After being briefed on the mission you enter an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Glider replica being battered by flak before exiting into the dimly lit streets of Arnhem as the battle rages around you. You then wander through a juxtaposition of life-size dioramas combined with period visual footage and an audio soundscape, approaching Arnhem bridge before retreating back to the perimeter around the Hotel Hartenstein and finally the Rhine River.

The Airborne Experience Arnhem 6lpdr-01

British 6 pounder anti-tank gun on display as part of the ‘Airborne Experience’ at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the ‘Airborne Experience’, the museum also features dioramas representing how the Hotel Hartenstein was used during the operation. One shows the medical post that was situated in the basement and the other shows the headquarters of Roy Urquhart. It also features several other exhibits and displays reflecting the experience of the battle from Dutch and German perspectives as well as a large collection of medals that have been donated to the museum by deceased veterans. The current displays reflect the current trend in exhibition design and many of the items that I saw at the museum during my first visit in 1991 are unfortunately no longer on display. This includes some of the uniforms and insignia that I was particularly interested in examining once again. In this respect, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ is quite different to the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45, which maintains an old-style approach to exhibit presentation and should also definitely be on your itinerary. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also exhibits temporary displays related to the conflict and the grounds surrounding the building feature artillery pieces, a Sherman tank and memorials commemorating the battle.

Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Operation Market Garden Arnhem

An old photo that I took when visiting the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in 1991. Uniforms and insignia of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Unfortunately this display has been removed to make way for the current exhibits. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Airborne Museum Hartenstein

A piece of wallpaper from the house at 34 Pietersbergsweg in Oosterbeek which was used by Tony Crane and Fred Hocking from the  21st Independent Parachute Company to keep track of how many Germans they had taken out. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Airborne Museum also has an annex, Airborne at the Bridge, on the banks of the Rhine, opposite the John Frost Bridge. This annex tells the story of the battle fought by John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion at the bridge from three perspectives, British Lieutenant John Grayburn, German Hauptsturmführer Viktor Eberhard Gräbner and Dutch Captain Jacob Groenewoud. Unlike the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, entry to Airborne at the Bridge is free and if you don’t have a MuseumKaart (see below), you can buy a discounted ticket to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein when visiting.

Airborne by the Bridge Arnhem

The Airborne Museum Hartenstein annex ‘Airborne at the Bridge’

Arnhem Airborne beer

Airborne Beer! This is a special brew first made for the 55th anniversary in 1999 and produced annually ever since. It is sold at the museum shop and other locations around Arnhem. Airborne Beer is brewed in Bolsward at De Friese Bierbrouwerij Us Heit, a small family-company, which produces eight different specialty beers. Proceeds from the beer sales go to “The Lest We Forget Foundation” which supports British and Polish Arnhem 1944 veterans and their relatives. Photo: Julian Tennant

Airborne Museum Hartenstein                                                                                                        Utrechtseweg 232
6862 AZ Oosterbeek
Telephone: 026 333 77 10
Email: info@airbornemuseum.nl

https://www.airbornemuseum.nl/

Opening hours
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00
Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

2019 Ticket Prices for up to 20 people                                                                                            Adults                                           € 11                                                                                                      Student Card                                € 9                                                                                                      Teenagers aged 13 – 17              € 6.50                                                                                                  Children                                        €5                                                                                                        Veteran Card                                €6.50                                                                                                   MuseumKaart (Museum Card)      Free

Airborne at the Bridge                                                                                                                  Rijnkade 150
6811 HD Arnhem
T: 026 333 77 10
E: info@airbornemuseum.nl

https://www.airbornemuseum.nl/en/airborne-at-the-bridge

Opening hours
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00                                                                                                           Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

About the MuseumKaart option

The MuseumKaart is a Dutch annual pass scheme which gives the holder unlimited free entry into over 400 museums in the Netherlands. It  costs €54.95 (excluding  €4.95 administration fee) for adults and €32.45 for teenagers up to 18 years of age.

Previously buying a MuseumKaart was a great deal as it included a number of military-interest museums around the Netherlands, including the Airborne Museum, National Military Museum at Soesterberg, Oorlogsmuseum Overloon, Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), Rijksmuseum, Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), National Holocaust Museum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to name a handful. If you were travelling around the Netherlands and dropping into the museums it was a ‘must have’ but unfortunately since 2018 the full unlimited year-long entry is now limited to Dutch residents and (for the same price) tourists receive a card that expires after only 5 museum visits or 31 days.  However it can still be a worthwhile savings option depending on your plans.

The MuseumKaart website is in Dutch language only and online purchase is only to Dutch residents. However, you can buy the temporary (tijdelijk) MuseumKaart over-the-counter at some of the museums, including at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein.

Recommended Text

If you are looking for a great guide to refer to when visiting Arnhem and the battlefields associated with Operation Market Garden, I recommend you get a copy of Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to Operation Market- Garden. Third Edition (published 2013)  which is available as a hard copy book or e-book (Kindle or ePub) and also their map, Major & Mrs. Holt’s Battle Map of Market-Garden. I found these to be extremely useful, providing pieces of information about aspects of the battle that I was unaware of, allowing me to plan and make the most of my time spent in the area. Highly recommended.

digby carter

A scene from the classic 1977 war movie about the battle, ‘A Bridge Too Far’. This image is often incorrectly described as an actual war photograph. The photo depicts a British officer (in real life, Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter DSO, officer commanding A Company of 2 Para) waving his umbrella a Germans on the bridge. Whilst the picture is a still photograph from the movie and not actually of the battle, I think it sums up the character of the British troops at Arnhem. As an aside ‘Digby’ as he was know, also disabled a German armoured car during the operation by poking his umbrella through an observational slit, blinding the driver.