Header image: The UK national commemorative D-Day 75 event took place on Southsea Common, Portsmouth, on 5th June, with VIPs, servicemen and women, and some 300 D-Day veterans present. (All photos: Crown Copyright unless otherwise stated)
It cannot have escaped the attention of readers that 6th June was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the day in 1944 when an Allied invasion force of 156,000 troops landed in Normandy. The invasion was supported by more than 7,000 ships and smaller vessels, and 11,000 aircraft. The total number of British, Commonwealth and Allied casualties (killed, wounded or missing) on D-Day was over 4,400. The invasion was one of the greatest military feats of all time; it established a crucial second front, which ultimately led to victory for the Allied Forces in 1945 and the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.
The 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day saw major events taking place in England and France to mark the anniversary, salute surviving Normandy Veterans, and to acknowledge the debt that we owe for the price that they paid.
The major UK national commemorative event took place on Southsea Common, Portsmouth, on 5th June, the day that the invasion forces set out across the English Channel 75 years ago. The event was attended by HM The Queen and the Heads of State of 16 nations, including President Trump of the USA, President Macron of France, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. However, these were not the real VIPs, that status was reserved for the surviving D-Day veterans. The event was concluded with a flypast of 24 RAF and Royal Navy aircraft led by the BBMF’s Spitfire PR Mk XIX PM631 (resplendent in invasion stripes) and Hurricane LF363.
Later in the day, a specially chartered ship, the MV Boudicca, sailed from Portsmouth across the Channel to France with over 300 Normandy veterans on board, escorted by a Royal Navy frigate along with smaller RN vessels. The MV Boudicca was chartered with funds from The Royal British Legion and a LIBOR grant from HM Treasury. The ship provided accommodation for the veterans for the duration of the D-Day 75 commemorations at no cost to themselves. BBMF Spitfire PR Mk XIX PM631, flown by OC BBMF, Squadron Leader Mark ‘Disco’ Discombe, conducted a flypast over the ship during its departure, which was shown live on the BBC’s One Show.
Meanwhile, the BBMF Dakota, ZA947, had deployed to France the previous day, to operate out of Le Havre airport. It was accompanied to Normandy by Spitfire Mk Vb AB910, a genuine D-Day veteran aircraft, which was actually there over the invasion beaches 75 years ago. On 5th June, at 3 pm, the BBMF Dakota dropped Paratroopers of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade (16 AAB) onto a drop zone at Sannerville, Normandy, to recreate the famous D-Day airborne landings. Another 250 British and French Paratroopers jumped from RAF C-130J Hercules and FAF C-160 Transall aircraft. In the early evening more than 30 Dakotas, from the ‘Daks over Normandy’ initiative, flew from Duxford to Normandy with many of them dropping re-enactor parachutists onto the Sannerville drop zone.
On 6th June, the day's events in Normandy began in Arromanches, at 06.26 am, with a lone piper from the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery playing atop a piece of the Mulberry harbour to mark the exact moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach on D-Day. Later in the morning, at Ver-Sur-Mer, the British Normandy Memorial Trust’s D-Day statue was unveiled in the presence of British Prime Minister Theresa May, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, D-Day veterans, military musicians and Armed Forces personnel. The site will eventually host the British Normandy Memorial in honour of all those who lost their lives serving under British Command during the Normandy Campaign. The Royal British Legion held a service at Bayeux Cathedral, followed by a service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Bayeux War Cemetery, which concluded with a BBMF flypast by the Dakota and Spitfire AB910. In the afternoon British veterans paraded in the square in Arromanches for a series of informal events hosted by the local authority, with music from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, parachute displays and flypasts by the Red Arrows and the BBMF.
Look out for a report on the BBMF’s involvement in these important D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations from the perspective of one of the BBMF Dakota pilots, Flight Lieutenant Paul ‘Ernie’ Wise, which will appear in the next Official Club magazine, the 2019 Autumn Journal, published in October, available only to Club members.