The recently refurbished D-Day Story (formerly the D-Day Museum) in Portsmouth is the only museum in the UK dedicated to Operation Overlord and the 6th of June 1944.
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.
A 2nd Lieutenant from the Hampshire Regiment with kit whilst on bivouac prior to the invasion. (2015 display). Photo: Julian Tennant
A DUKW amphibious vehicle, Registration 73 YP 44, Chassis 353/15418, Class 3 as displayed at the D-Day Museum in 2015.. It has been given representative markings of A Platoon, 101 Company (Amphibian), Royal Army Service Corps, which served with the British 3rd Infantry Division on D-Day. The history of this vehicle is only known from 1965 onwards, when it was part of HQ Army Emergency Reserve of the RCT (Royal Corps of Transport), then a number of different establishments from October 1965 including the Central Vehicle Depot, Hilton and the Proof & Experimental Establishment, Shoeburyness, before being struck off on 24 October 1974. It is believed to have been one of the last DUKWs left serving with the British Armed Forces.
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; Legacyand theOverlord Embroidery.
Operations room display at the D-Day Story museum, Portsmouth.
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.
Commando and Special Operations display at the D-Day Story.
Model of the German beach defences on the Normandy beaches.
Royal Navy officers cap belonging to Sub Lieutenant John Ellis who was the second in command of Landing Craft Tank 2130. LCT 2130 was an LCT Mk.V and was part of 104th LCT Flotilla. On D-Day LCT 2130 took American troops from Dartmouth in the UK and landed them on Utah Beach around 11.20am. For the next three months it continued to carry troops over to Normandy. Ellis wore this cap on the many journeys his ship made to Normandy.
US Army lifebelt recoverd from Omaha Beach. Les Eastwood, a sailor who served on Landing Craft Tank 7057, found this American soldier’s lifebelt on Omaha Beach just after D-Day. The life belt consisted of two separate tubes which could be inflated either through blowing into a mouthpiece, or with CO2 cartridges. The CO2 cartridges were in a tube near the buckle, secured by a screw-on cap. To inflate the life belt, two levers fitted inside the belt forced the cartridges into the sharp points on the insides of the caps which pierced them and released the gas into the tubes. The life belt had to be worn higher than the waist, otherwise the weight carried on a soldier’s upper body might cause him to turn upside down, with potentially fatal results. These life belts were sometimes also tied to items of equipment such as mortars, Bangalore torpedoes etc. to help them float in case they were dropped in the water during the landings.
The D-Day and the Battle of Normandysection 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.
British Airborne landing display at the D-Day Museum prior to the upgrade.
The final section, Legacy&Overlord Embroideryexplores 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.
Exhibition explaining the evolution and production of the “Overlord Embroidery” at the D-Day Story museum, Portsmouth.
Detail of the Overlord Embroidery showing Lord Lovat’s piper Bill Millin of the 1st Special Service Brigade in the foreground with American paratroopers behind.
Commando Bill Millin of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade playing his bagpipes just before D-Day on 3 June 1944. Photo: War Office official photographer, Evans, J L (Capt)
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.
Portsmouth PO5 3NT
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.
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Major-General Robert E Urquhart, commanding 1st British Airborne Division, with the Pegasus airborne pennant in the grounds outside his headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 22 September 1944. Photograph by Sergeant D.M. Smith (Army Film & Photographic Unit). Imperial War Museum accession number: BU 1136
Memorial to the People of Gelderland on the grounds of the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
A British Paratrooper taking aim with an American M1 carbine from the first floor balcony of the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, near Arnhem in The Netherlands. September 1944. The photograph was taken by Sergeant D M Smith, Army Film & Photographic Unit on Saturday the 23rd of September 1944. Sergeant Dennis Smith, the photographer, wrote: “We have had a very heavy shelling this morning, September 23rd and now the situation is serious. the shelling is hellish. We have been holding out for a week now. The men are tired, weary and food is becoming scarce, and to make matters worse, we are having heavy rain. If we are not relieved soon, then the men will just drop from sheer exhaustion”. The British 1st Airborne Division headquarters had been established in the Hotel during ‘Operation Market Garden’ and it is now the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’.
17 Pounder anti-tank gun and re-enactor vehicle outside the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. This gun was part of X-Troop of the 2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, arriving by glider on September 18 at Landing Zone X between Wolfheze and Renkum. It took up several positions in the area north of the railway to support the advance of the 156th and 10th Battalions The Parachute Regiment along the Northern route into Arnhem, before being withdrawn to Oosterbeek. The crew managed to defend their position until the night of the withdrawal on September 25th/26th, 1944. They then buried the breech block, remaining ammunition and drained oil from the recoil cylinder. All the crew except for one wounded gunner managed to reach safety on the opposite bank of the river Rhine. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Hotel Hartenstein as it appeared in 1945, shortly after Operation Market Garden. From a photograph album compiled by Frank Tomlinson, 74th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery of North West Europe from 1944-46. Held in the National Army Museum. Accession number: NAM. 2014-08-16-447
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.
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.
British airborne troops and vehicles at the Airborne Experience diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Entry to the Airborne Experience at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein Photo: Julian Tennant
Clark CA-1 Bulldozer transported in a Horsa glider and used by Royal Engineers of the 1st Airlanding Brigade during Operation Market Garden. Photo: Julian Tennant
Glider pilot at the Airborne Experience diorama in the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Airborne Experience display in the basement of the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Parachute Regiment mortar crew in “The Airborne Experience” diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
“The Airborne Experience” diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
“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.
Diorama featuring Major General Roy Urquhart in his HQ at the Hotel Hartenstein at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail from the Medical Aid Post that was set up at the Hotel Hartenstein during the battle. Note the bullion parachute wings on the chaplain’s sash. An interesting touch, but I am not sure that bullion wings were used during WW2. Photo: Julian Tennant
Signaller in the Command Post diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Waffen SS insignia on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
A selection of German cuff titles on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
German Luftwaffe insignia on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratrooper of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Photo: Julian Tennant
Polish parachutist and glider borne infantry qualification badges. The initial parachutist qualification is the badge on the left, with each qualifying soldier being awarded an individually numbered badge. After completing an operational jump, a separate serial numbered wreath is attached to the badge (centre). The badge on the right is the Glider pilot qualification worn by the Polish troops. Photo: Julian Tennant
Watch, map, British medic’s brassard, British para qualification wing and plastic economy issue Royal Army Medical Corps beret badge.
RAF aircrew and British Paratrooper with a ‘dummy’ para in the background. Photo: Julian Tennant
An example of the uniform worn by a German SS soldier in 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Display featuring uniforms and equipment items used during Operation Market Garden at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
German uniforms and equipment used during the battle for Arnhem’s bridges. Photo: Julian Tennant
A selection of 2nd and 3rd pattern Fairbairn Sykes daggers carried by troops of the 1st Airborne Division on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
The museum also features a large display of medals which have been donated by veterans of Operation Market Garden.
Parachutist qualification and shoulder titles of the Parachute Regiment and 21st Independent Parachute Company, which acted as the pathfinder force for the operation. Photo: Julian Tennant
Insignia worn by members of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of the helmet worn by a Glider pilot of the 1st Airlanding Brigade. 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.
Military re-enactors in their jeep at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein for the Operation Market Garden commemoration held every September. Photo: Julian Tennant
Military vehicles being inspected by visitors to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein for the Operation Market Garden commemoration held every September. Photo: Julian Tennant
Norton WD Big 4 motorcycle and side-car at the commemoration event held at the museum each September. Photo: Julian Tennant
Airborne Museum Hartenstein Utrechtseweg 232
6862 AZ Oosterbeek
Telephone: 026 333 77 10
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, OorlogsmuseumOverloon, 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.
Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to Operation Market-Garden. (Third Edition) Published 2013