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

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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.

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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.

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The D-Day Experience – Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Normandy, France

Lt. Col. Robert Wolverton

5 June 1944. Lt. Col. Robert Lee “Bull” Wolverton, CO 3/506 PIR, checking his gear before boarding the C-47 “Dakota”, 8Y-S, “Stoy Hora” of the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group at an airfield in Exeter, England. Original US Army press release photograph colourised by Johnny Sirlande.

On the evening of 5 June 1944, Lt. Col. Robert Lee “Bull” Wolverton, Commanding Officer of the 3rd  Battalion, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division,  gathered his men in an orchard adjacent to what is now Exeter airport, and said:

“Men, I am not a religious man and I don’t know your feelings in this matter, but I am going to ask you to pray with me for the success of the mission before us. And while we pray, let us get on our knees and not look down but up with faces raised to the sky so that we can see God and ask his blessing in what we are about to do.

“God almighty, in a few short hours we will be in battle with the enemy. We do not join battle afraid. We do not ask favors or indulgence but ask that, if You will, use us as Your instrument for the right and an aid in returning peace to the world.

“We do not know or seek what our fate will be. We ask only this, that if die we must, that we die as men would die, without complaining, without pleading and safe in the feeling that we have done our best for what we believed was right.

“Oh Lord, protect our loved ones and be near us in the fire ahead and with us now as we pray to you.”

Then, his ‘stick’ of 15 paratroopers boarded a C-47 “Dakota”, nicknamed “Stoy Hora” for the flight to France. The invasion of Normandy had begun. But, within hours of that famous speech, Wolverton (aged 30) was dead. His feet had not even touched French soil. He was killed by ground fire around 00:30 hrs and left suspended by his parachute in an apple tree just north of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.

Stoy Hora C-47 Dakota at Exeter Airfield 05 June 1944

Paratroopers of the 506th PIR prepare for their flight aboard the C-47, 8Y-S ‘Stoy Hora’ at Exeter airfield. 05 June 1944. Of the 15 paratroopers in the ‘stick’ that flew in this aircraft, 5 were killed in action on D-Day, 8 were captured and 2 were missing in action.  Photo colourised by Paul Reynolds

In 2015, Dead Man’s Corner Museum curators Emmanuel Allain and Michel De Trez, opened the next section of their museum in a large hangar just behind the original Dead Man’s Corner building. Previously called the D-Day Paratrooper Historical Center, the now renamed D-Day Experience encompasses both museums. Co-curator, Belgian collector, historian and owner of D-Day Publishing, Michel De Trez is well known in the collecting fraternity. He is the author of several collector reference books on WW2 US airborne equipment, assisting Steven Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan and the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. This second exhibition space reflects those interests and looks at the campaign from the perspective of the US paratroopers.

Upon entering the museum, visitors are briefed by a 3D hologram of Lt. Col. Wolverton at an airfield in Exeter on the day before the invasion. They then board the “Stoy Hora”, a C-47 Dakota of the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group for the ‘flight’ across the English Channel to Drop Zone D, south of Vierville on the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula.

Pilot of the IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group

Pilot of the IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group just before departing England. Photo: Julian Tennant

The seven minute ‘flight’ in the “Stoy Hora” is a great introduction to the exhibition space. Whilst, I am more of an ‘old-school’ kind of guy, more interested in examining original artifacts, the ride was a nice entry point which definitely appealed to the missus and the other visitors on board the simulator with us, particularly those with kids. The idea was born out of the Band of Brothers when Spielberg had transformed a real C-47 into a studio-space for the making of the series. The result is a high-tech simulator with 3D window screens, sound and amplified movements as the aircraft departs England for the bumpy ride, avoiding flak as it crosses into France to deposit its passengers into the exhibition space.

Unfortunately in real life, Lt. Colonel Wolverton did not survive his jump, he was killed by ground fire and left suspended by his parachute in an apple tree just north of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.  The exhibition, however continues in his voice. He describes the men, their training, fears and (as all paratroopers would know, sense of immortality, giving a very human and somewhat sobering perspective to the exhibits.

D-Day exp 502 PIR Coles boys-01

The white scarf and armband identify this paratrooper as a member of the 3rd Battalion 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

Pfc. Jack N. "Hawkeye" Womer. HQ Co. 506 PIR. 101 Abn Div.

Pfc. Jack N. “Hawkeye” Womer. HQ Co. 506 PIR. 101 Abn Div. A member of the ‘Filthy 13’, Jack landed in a swamp near St-Come-du-Mont and after extracting himself would end up fighting with the 501st PIR at Hell’s Corner. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Pathfinders 82nd Abn Division

Pathfinder of the 82nd Airborne Division. These men jumped in to mark the DZ northwest of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, one hour after the 101st drop. At the time there were around 300 qualified pathfinders and according to the caption, the Pathfinder camo suit that this individual is wearing is the only original of its type left in the world. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum is superb, captions are bilingual (French/English), making it easy to navigate with good contextualisation of the content. For decades prior to the opening of Dead Man’s Corner Museum and the D-Day Experience, Michel de Trez had been travelling to the USA, interviewing and cultivating relationships with US Airborne veterans. This long-term engagement with the subjects of the museum has resulted in exhibits that are both unique and personal. Visitors can view objects and also discover the identities of the soldiers that used them. Unsurprisingly there are several items attributed to Dick Winters and his ‘Band of Brothers’ of  Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, but also several other unique pieces such as a leather jacket worn by General Eisenhower, items from Pfc. Jack N. “Hawkeye” Womer, one of the legendary “Filthy 13” and a jacket worn by 1st Lt. Wallace C. Strobel who featured in the famous pre-invasion press photo talking to Ike just prior to boarding the aircraft.

blouson-du-general-eisenhower

Leather jacket worn by General Eisenhower whilst a 4 star General from 1943 until December 1944. Note the rank insignia detail. Photo courtesy of the D-Day Experience management team.

Pathfinders 101st Abn Division

Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Waco CG-4A Glider pilot. Photo: Julian Tennant

Lt James C. Cox. 1st Pl, C Co. 326th Airborne Engineer Bn.

Detail of the jacket belonging to Lt James C. Cox. 1st Pl, C Co. 326th Airborne Engineer Bn. His parachutist badge features both the ‘invasion arrowhead’ and combat jump star. Photo: Julian Tennant

d-day_paratrooper_museum-28

Parachute badge with rigger’s “R” worn by Staff Sgt. Russell F. Weishing leader of the parachute maintenance & rigger section of the 1st Platoon, C Company, 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion. Photo: Julian Tennant

The selection of exhibit material supported by good informative (and at times blunt) explanations makes this a really engaging museum for collectors. If your interest is airborne militaria, I suggest setting aside at least half a day to visit both exhibitions on the site. If you have a car, the museum’s Historical Trail map  outlines a 40km circuit featuring 13 key sites in the battle for Carentan and takes about 3 hours to cover. When combined with the time spent at the museum, this is a good one day itinerary for the area. But, regardless, if you are planning to visit Normandy, the D-Day Experience should be high on your agenda, it is, in my opinion, the outstanding museum that I visited on my trip, surpassing even the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, which was another ‘must see’ and will be covered in the near future.

D-Day Experience
2 Vierge de l’Amont
50500 Carentan les Marais
France

Website: www.dday-experience.com/en/
Email: contact@dday-experience.com
Phone: +33 (0)2 3323 6195

Open: Every day. From October to March, the museum is open from 10h00 till 18h00 (the ticket office closes at 17h00). From April to September, the museum is open from 9h30 till 19h00.

 

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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

 

Circuit_historique

D-Day Experience Historical Trail map covering 13 key sites related to the fight to secure Carentan. It can be downloaded from the museum website, see the main body text above for the link.

Dead Man’s Corner Museum – Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Normandy, France

As the anniversary of the D-Day landings nears and with COVID-19 travel restrictions still in place here in Australia, I decided to dive into my archive of pictures from a trip that I made to the battlefields around Normandy back in 2015. So, this week I’m sharing some photos from the Dead Man’s Corner Museum at Saint-Côme-du-Mont.

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Dead Man’s Corner Museum. The two B&W photographs show the knocked out M5 Stuart tank commanded by Lt. Walter T. Anderson whose body was slumped over the turret for several days during the fighting.

 

Situated at a strategic intersection on the route to Carentan, Dead Man’s Corner Museum takes its name from the name given to the crossroads after the first US tank to reach this point was knocked out by a Panzerfaust fired by 19 year-old German paratrooper, Bruno Hinz in the early morning of  7 June 1944. Hinz’s Panzerfaust hit the rear side of the turret killing all four crew members immediately. The crew commander, Lt. Walter T. Anderson, who was standing upright in the hatch fell forward and was left slumped over the turret where he remained for several days until his body could be recovered. The Germans had previously removed all the road signs to confuse any advancing troops and so the intersection was referred to as “the corner with the dead man on the tank” but was soon shortened to “dead man’s corner”. Lt Anderson who served with the 80th Tank Battalion, is buried in the St Laurent cemetery.

Overlooking the intersection is the building which has remained little changed since 1944 and is now the home to the  Dead Man’s Corner Museum. At the time of the invasion it was used as the Regimental Command Post and first aid station for the paras of the German Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 commanded by Major Friederich-August von der Heydte.

major von der heydte

Major Friederich-August “The Baron” von der Heydte, commanding officer of the 6th  Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the battle for Normandy. Von der Heydte initially joined the army but after being promoted to Hauptmann, in May 1940, he transferred to the Luftwaffe, joining the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment  as one of its company commanders. He commanded the 1st battalion of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the Battle of Crete in May 1941 and his battalion was the first to enter Canea, for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He went on to serve in Russia, North Africa and Italy before being given command of the newly formed 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment of the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division in January 1944. Interestingly, he is not wearing his Luftwaffe parachutist badge in this picture.

Fallschirmjäger

“Green Devils” in Normandy, June 1944. The average age of the German paratrooper in Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 at the time of D-Day was seventeen and a half years old.

The museum, which is co-located with the excellent D-Day Experience (the subject of next week’s post) concentrates on the German paras as seen through the eyes of Major von der Heydte. Upon entering the museum, the visitor is thrown into his chaotic command post exactly as it would have appeared on the morning of the 6th of June 1944. Co-curator, Emmanuel Allain explained that when setting up the museum they spoke to the grandson of the Marie family who owned the house and had lived there in 1944. With his help they recreated the rooms as they were at the time, including details such as the family portraits, damaged painting, grandfather clock and other specific furniture.

dead mans corner museum-01

Dead Man’s Corner Museum exhibit displaying Major von der Heydte, commanding officer of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 and members of his command group, in the room that he used as his command post during the fighting around Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Marie family left the house at noon when the kitchen (the second room display) was commandeered as a first aid post to supplement the main aid station downstairs in the basement and the rooms are a faithful reproduction of what they looked like at that time. The attention to detail is such that many of the faces of the mannequins on display were modeled on participants who were present at the time. To say it is an impressive setup would be an understatement, as an airborne collector who has had a fascination with the German paras since I was a boy, I was overwhelmed by the number of Fallschirmjäger artifacts on display. Upstairs the exhibits include even more German para uniforms, helmets, insignia and equipment but also some of the other German units plus several American objects, many of which have been donated by veterans of the battle.

dead mans corner FJG42-19

Fallschirmjäger weapons including a rare Fallschirmjäger-Gewehr 42 (FG 42) assault rifle and paratrooper issue gravity knives. The Fallschirmjäger-Gewehr 42 was captured by Sgt. Louis A. Frey, a scout for the regimental S-2 section of the 2nd Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, who jumped on Saint-Côme-du-Mont on the 6th of June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant

Returning downstairs and adjoining the museum, is Paratrooper, a shop almost as large as the museum itself which sells both authentic and reproduction militaria. The shop is really impressive, although I must admit that I found some of the prices for the original pieces to be more expensive than what collectors would usually expect to pay. Fortunately, I did not find any insignia that I ‘had to have’ for my collection as I had already picked up some quite rare badges in Paris a few days before, but I was tempted.

The shop at the Dead Mans Corner Museum is as large as the museu

The ‘Paratrooper’ shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The shop at the Dead Mans Corner Museum is as large as the museu

Reproduction German caps for sale in the ‘Paratrooper’ shop at the Dead Man’s Corner Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Dead Man’s Corner, was the first of the museums that I visited during my trip to Normandy and already I felt that my expectations had been exceeded… and that was before I had even walked the 50 meters to the next building, the D-Day Experience for the American perspective. But that is the subject of my next post.

Luftwaffe Para Badge CE JUNCKER-7-Edit

Luftwaffe Paratroop badge in my collection. This example was made by the C.E. Juncker company. Instituted on 5 November 1936, the recipient needed to undertake the parachute course, completing the 6 training jumps to qualify for the award. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Dead Man’s Corner
3 Vierge de l’Amont
50500 Carentan les Marais
France

Website: www.dday-experience.com/en/discover-d-day-experience/dead-mans-corner-museum/
Email: contact@dday-experience.com
Phone: +33 (0)2 3323 6195

Open: Every day. From October to March, the museum is open from 10h00 till 18h00 (the ticket office closes at 17h00). From April to September, the museum is open from 9h30 till 19h00. Note, the museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Please check the website for updates.

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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 Sunday 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