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D-Day 80: Oxfordshire to the Orne

80th Anniversary of D-Day: Oxfordshire to the Orne

Exhibition 18 May - 22 September 2024

Our visitors have long been able to sit inside a replica section of a D-Day Horsa Glider and learn about Pegasus Bridge and some of the first troops to land in France on 6 June 1944.

Now, we're digging deeper into the county's D-Day story with a special commemorative exhibition exploring how Oxfordshire people trained, planned, and gathered intelligence ahead of the invasion - as well as the experiences of the many who fought in the Normandy campaign.


The Oxfordshire Regiments on D-Day and in Normandy

What were the Oxfordshire regiments roles on D-Day?

The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry committed three battalions to the Normandy campaign in 1944, with two landing on the 6th June 1944 - one by air, one by sea.

2nd Battalion (52nd), Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division

Part of 6th Airborne Division, 2nd Battalion were some of the first Allied troops to arrive in Normandy when six gliders carrying D Company and elements of B Company, led by Major John Howard, landed in the early hours of 6 June. Though one of the gliders landed some distance to the east, five would land remarkably close to their objective. They successfully captured and held the River Orne and Caen Canal bridges, securing a vital bridgehead to pave the way for the advance of the allied forces that would land on the beaches. One of these bridges was renamed Pegasus Bridge after the emblem of the British Airborne, the name it is still known by today. The rest of the Battalion would arrive by glider around 9pm on 6 June, landing at the bridgehead as part of Operation Mallard.

1st Buckinghamshire Battalion, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, No. 6 Beach Group

The 1st Bucks Battalion, a territorial army battalion of the Ox & Bucks, also landed at Sword Beach on D-Day. Part of No. 6 Beach Group, an anti-tank platoon landed with the first tide, while the remainder landed with the second tide of the invasion force. The Group was responsible for organising units landing on Sword and arranging supply dumps in the area. As infantry support for the Beach Group, 1st Bucks were tasked with defending the beachhead from any counterattacks.

1st Battalion (43rd), Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 71st Infantry Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division

1st Battalion landed by sea just two weeks after D-Day. Arriving at Courseulles-sur-Mer on 23 June 1944 to join the campaign in Normandy. They fought through France, on to Holland and through to Germany by the end of the Second World War, involved in actions in Normandy, the Falaise Pocket, and later Reichswald Forest.

The Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars/Oxfordshire Yeomanry

63rd (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA)

The county’s yeomanry regiment, The Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars, had become a Territorial Army unit within the Royal Artillery but were not included in the D-Day landings, having been left in reserve to make up numbers in other frontline units if needed. However, they would contact Prime Minister Winston Churchill to secure a posting overseas. Churchill had been a member of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry himself, and as he had done during the Great War, he helped ensure an active wartime role for the regiment. They would embark for France a few months after D-Day, arriving in October 1944.


What role did Oxfordshire's airfields play on D-Day?

Many Oxfordshire airbases saw use in airborne operations on D-Day, airborne training, and for photographic reconnaissance, gathering vital intelligence for planning D-Day and other operations.

Cowley Airfield, Cowley Works

A temporary airfield was set up near the Morris Motors factory in Cowley, used throughout the Second World War, which repaired and sent off over 1000 aircraft during this time.

RAF Brize Norton

In 1942 Brize Norton became a training base for heavy gliders, forming a vital base for glider and paratrooper operations by March 1944.  Many of the 5th Parachute Brigade took off from Brize on

6 June in Operation Tonga, with the gliders of 6th Air Landing Brigade being towed over to Normandy in the later Operation Mallard.

RAF Benson

Benson was used primarily for photo reconnaissance. Spitfires and Mosquitos were used to take aerial photographs which were developed on site and then evaluated at nearby RAF Medmenham. The photographs provided the vital intelligence needed to plan the D-Day operations.

RAF Medmenham

Medmenham was a Royal Air Force unit based at Danesfield House, specialising in photographic intelligence. D-Day forces were briefed in RAF Medmenham through the use of rubber models of landing sites based on aerial photographs.

RAF Harwell

From March 1944 Harwell became an airborne troops base, holding Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle tugs and Horsa gliders. Like Brize Norton, many gliders carrying airborne troops took off from Harwell on the 5th and 6th of June 1944, including many of 2nd Battalion, Ox & Bucks as part of Operation Mallard.

RAF Kidlington (now Oxford London Airport)

Kidlington was an important flying training base housing Harvards and Ansons, and changing to Oxfords in 1940. Troops at the base carried out early glider pilot training as part of the Glider Training School from January 1942 until March 1943 using Hotspur gliders.

USAAF Chalgrove and USAAF Mount Farm

Mount Farm, a satellite field of RAF Benson from 1940, was used by US Army Air Force photographic reconnaissance units from 1943, while Chalgrove came into similar use by the Americans from January 1944. The intelligence they gathered was vital for the D-Day invasion and the Normandy campaign that followed.

RAF Broadwell

Originally built as a bomber base, Broadwell also became a base for airborne troops in 1944. Dakotas from Broadwell were used to drop the 5th Parachute Battalion in the early hours of the 6th June and then glider troops later in the day as part of Operation Mallard.

RAF Weston on the Green

Weston was the home of the 13 Operational Training Unit (OTU) who flew Harvards and Oxfords. In December 1941 glider training commenced with the 2 Glider Training School (GTS) using Hotspur gliders and Hawker Audax as tugs.


What other D-Day sites are in Oxfordshire?

Blenheim Palace

The lake at Blenheim, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s birthplace and wartime home to MI5, was used for testing amphibious vehicles and landings ahead of D-Day.

Oxford University - Inter-Services Topographical Department (ITSD)

The ITSD gathered topographical information on the potential landing sites for air and sea craft on D-Day. It was necessary to research features such as geology, beach features and water supply to assess suitability for landings. The organisation was established at Manchester College and then expanded to use other buildings such as the Ashmolean Museum. The ISTD also produced booklets of landmarks that were used by the Allies on D-Day to identify their landing destination.


Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
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Oxfordshire OX20 1SN

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