With the words “Okay we’ll go”, General Eisenhower released the Allied forces for the invasion of Europe. D-Day had been postponed because of bad weather by 24 hours but on the night of 5/6 June 1944 ‘Operation Overlord’ began. This was the greatest armada ever seen with 4,200 landing ships and craft, over 1,200 merchant ships and 1,078 transport aircraft and gliders to carry the airborne troops.
During D-Day much of the aerial fighter support for the landings was conducted from established airfields and temporary Advanced Landing Grounds in Sussex. Of the 44 squadrons based in Sussex that day, 26 (60%) were non-RAF, made up of Canadians, Polish, Free-French, Czech, Belgian, Norwegian and New Zealanders. Throughout the day the Allies enjoyed complete air superiority, with a total of 1,547 fighter sorties flown over the beach-heads, providing 36 fighters continuously over both the British/Canadian and American beaches.
Because of its proximity to the Normandy beaches, Sussex was also important for the operational control of the aerial activities that covered the ships crossing the Channel and over the beach-heads. This operational control was conducted from the RAF Tangmere Sector Operations Room set up in the College Hall at Bishop Otter College in Chichester. Many of the operational personnel were women enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). During the weekend of 17/18 August a recreation of the D-Day plotting table will be re-enacted.
This temporary exhibition to be held at the Museum between Saturday 10 August and Sunday 1 September 2019 will provide detail on the Sussex D-Day airfields, the fighter aircraft that flew from them and on some of the pilots who flew and fought that day, 75 years ago. Supporting the exhibition will be archive film and a programme of talks that will be published on the website in July.
Entry to the exhibition is included in the Museum entry price.