D-Day Museum – Portsmouth

The story of what happened on 6th June 1944 is well known, the event known as D-Day, the Allied invasion of occupied France, has gone down in history and written about countless times in the last 79 years, but for Portsmouth they have gone one better with a museum dedicated to this one event alone. 

It is inevitable that the south coast would have many points that were involved with D-Day, the ships involved (over 6000 vessels) sailed from Portsmouth, Southampton, Dover and every other harbour in between. The moment you see the museum at Southsea seafront there are memorials outside dedicated to the story – a tank, a statue of Montgomery and recently the placement of the last landing craft – LCT 7074. This vessel had been in Birkenhead docks for many years and was even used as a nightclub venue before being neglected and eventually sinking in the port. Restoration teams raised her and went about preserving the landing craft until she was in such a good state it was put on display under a canopy outside the museum, the official opening of this part being in 2020. On board are displays of several tanks that she will have carried on the day as well as displays of the ship’s life and tasking, the role on the day itself and the history of the vessel after the war.

LCT 7074 - the last landing craft
Interior shot of the landing craft with vehicles

Inside the museum there is a room to the left where the D-Day Embroidery is on display. This is a very long stitching, each one a wartime scene carefully made by volunteers in 1970 and placed here in the museum around the circular room, resembling the famous Bayeux Tapestry but in the modern day. You can see that a lot of effort has gone in to this and it is a tribute to those who worked hard to create this modern masterpiece that it is enjoyed by visitors today.

Throughout the rest of the museum there are various displays that tell the D-Day story, starting with the planning and the road leading up to 6th June, a large room having a number of vehicles including a landing craft with a video display through the middle, the voices of the veterans telling their stories of running ashore in a hail of bullets until the beaches were finally taken and secured.

One of the vehicles used on d-day

The glass cases now show the aftermath of the landings, including the medals that were awarded to the heroes who didn’t return, as well as those who did. A compass binnacle from LCT 427 tells the story of how the vessel returned to Portsmouth only to be accidentally rammed by an allied battleship in the night and sank killing her 13 crew. The compass was taken from the wreck later on and donated to the museum displays.

When I visited in 2018 there was an extra surprise on for visitors (I have been several times since though). In the entrance hall where the tickets were sold were three old men sat together at tables – this was Armed Forces Day and they were the actual veterans of D-Day who were there to answer any questions! What shocked me was that nobody was going to say hello so I jumped at the chance to chat to them and have my photo taken with these heroes of World War 2. Just as well, for not long after one of them died at the age of 100.

Richard and three D-Day veterans

I have personally visited this museum on numerous occasions, bringing family and friends to show them the treasures of the past. There is a large car park at the back which can hold coaches and there is a fantastic gift shop for those that want to learn more in the book section or simply want a wartime replica souvenir.

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Richard M. Jones

Richard M. Jones is an author and historian specialising in disasters and shipwrecks along with two World Wars. Spending his time between Hampshire and Yorkshire, he has put up 12 memorials to victims of forgotten tragedies and published 19 books along the way.