How Southwick House was the unlikely springboard for D-Day

Written by Col Jeremy Green OBE, Regimental Secretary of the Royal Military Police

The striking white columns of Southwick House are both imposing and charming. Surrounded by green lawns and with spectacular views of the countryside, it is difficult to imagine such a house consumed by the fog of war.

But this genteel mansion, standing a few miles north of Portsmouth, was the nerve centre of the final planning and execution of the Normandy Landings – the greatest naval operation in history.

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The Map Room in Southwick House HMS Dryad, Hampshire, displays the actual map used during the D-Day landings in Normandy and shows the positions of Allied Forces on 6 June 1944.

When you step inside, the extraordinary legacy of the house is palpable. In the grand suite of rooms on the ground floor, it’s not the stately columns or chandeliers which demand your attention.

Instead, the monumental wooden map spanning one entire wall, from floor to ceiling, immediately instils you with the daunting scale of the Normandy Landings and the gravity of the task facing the western allies 75 years ago.

The map was made by toy company Chad Valley, and it is said that two of the company’s carpenters who put the map up in April 1944 were detained at Southwick House until September to ensure absolute secrecy.

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Here, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force Commander-in-Chief, whose name adorns the doorway to the map room, finalised an operation which was colossal in scale.

To liberate western Europe, the allies would need to clear the enemy’s minefields; assault and breach their shore defences at Normandy; build temporary harbours to allow troops and equipment to reach France; lay pipelines under the ocean to carry fuel; and create all-weather shipping stations to allow supplies to travel to and from the continent and then defeat a determined and fanatical occupier.

D-DAY - BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (B 5254) Royal Engineers serving with a 50th Division Beach Group share cocoa with a French boy in the village of Ver-sur-Mer, Gold area, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM.

The initial landings in Normandy involved almost 7,000 vessels, crewed by over 195,000 sailors and carrying more than 150,000 troops. Over 15,000 troops arrived by parachute and glider. The landings were supported by almost 12,000 aircraft.

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Southwick Park is still a working military site and the house is the regimental headquarters of the Royal Military Police and houses the Royal Military Police Museum.

If history had happened differently, we could be marking a different anniversary this year. It was at Southwick House that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the allied forces in Europe, gave the order to postpone the planned operation by 24 hours.

Thanks to the decisions made at Southwick House, 6 June 1944 would forever be known as D-Day.