- Boxall-Hunt, Brian OBE, Commander, RN
- History - WW2, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Previously published in the 2003 Annual Year Book of the Ex-Services Association of Singapore, and reproduced by kind permission of the author, Commander Brian Boxall-Hunt OBE RN, Royal Navy Liaison Officer and Assistant Defence Adviser, Singapore. SOUTHWICK HOUSE has been well known to naval officers since World War II as the wardroom of HMS Dryad, formerly the Navigation School and latterly the Royal Navy’s Maritime Warfare School, in Hampshire, UK.
Southwick House added momentous history to its early record by housing Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay and his staff before and during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, becoming General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters for a period before and after D-Day. The memorable happenings of that year are suitably commemorated by a plaque in the room in which General Eisenhower made his decision to invade (now the main bar), with the wall map in the adjacent non-smoking ante-room, together with Admiral Ramsay’s flag.
Late in 1941 the British started planning an operation called ROUNDUP for the invasion of Europe. With the entry of the USA into the war and the decision for the ‘Europe first’ grand strategy, the plans were revised and code-named SUPER ROUNDUP. The invasion was scheduled for 1943.
By the Spring of 1942 the Russians appeared to be on the brink of collapse and so the British Chiefs of Staff also planned SLEDGEHAMMER, an emergency undertaking, which, whilst not aimed at a full invasion, would establish a bridgehead in France so as to take some of the pressure off the Russians. Two months after the decision on SLEDGEHAMMER a combined Commanders’ body was formed in Britain to study the problem of re-entry into Europe.
The Naval representative, titled ‘Naval Commander Expeditionary Force France and the Low Countries’, was Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay. He had been Flag Officer Dover at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation and was presently involved in the North African Landings of TORCH. In the event he returned to the UK in October 1943, for other decisions had been made by then.
At the Casablanca Conference of January 1943 the European invasion date was forced back to summer 1944, chiefly due to the shortage of landing craft available in view of the current Mediterranean and Pacific operations, and on 26th May 1943 the code-name OVERLORD was chosen for the overall operation.
The outline plan for OVERLORD was approved at the Quebec Conference. It was initially planned to land three divisions, to be followed up by two more, on a 30 mile stretch of the Normandy coast between the rivers Orne and Vire. This area was chosen in view of the proximity of a major port (Cherbourg) for supply and because it would be less heavily defended than the Pas de Calais area. The Americans pressed hard for a date late in 1943 but were finally dissuaded.
On the 7th September 1943 the codename NEPTUNE was chosen for the naval operations of OVERLORD, and on 6th December 1943 Roosevelt nominated General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander for the operation. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder had been nominated as Eisenhower’s deputy and General Sir Bernard Montgomery, who was soon to be designated Ground Force Commander, was meanwhile Chief Planner. He decided during planning that a stronger initial punch was necessary. The plan was altered to a landing on a five division front with additional landings on the Cotentin Peninsula to capture Cherbourg as quickly as possible.
In February 1944 Admiral Ramsay issued the outline orders for Neptune and the Naval Commander for Overlord moved his headquarters to Southwick House on 26th April 1944. That same month he issued his final orders. In May 1944 the plywood wall map showing the coast line from Calais to Brest was installed in the present Wall Map Room of Southwick House. It was part of a vast map made by the Midland firm Chad Valley Toys, covering from North Norway to Finisterre. For operational security the unwanted majority was burnt in the garden. The two workmen from the firm who fitted this particular section had to be incarcerated at the house until after D-Day because they knew too much to be allowed at large. How they explained their absence to their wives is not recorded.