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Westminster’s crew overawed by Overlord on Normandy battlefield tour

28 July 2016
Sailors from HMS Westminster pose in front of a 25lb field gun on French soil as they learn about the greatest amphibious operation in history.

With the ship in the latter stages of a massive overhaul in her native Portsmouth, ten crew volunteered to spend a week learning more about Operation Overlord on a battlefield tour – a tour which began not in France, but Southwick Park just north of Portsmouth, Eisenhower’s HQ in June 1944, and still the location of the famous ‘D-Day map’.

From there, the group crossed the Channel with each member expected to brief shipmates on what transpired at the various sites they would visit, including Omaha Beach (where US troops were cut down, as brutally depicted in Saving Private Ryan), the clifftop batteries at nearby Pointe du Hoc (scaled by US Rangers, famously recreated in The Longest Day), Pegasus Bridge (seized by British airborne troops in the first minutes of the invasion), and Colleville sur Mer Cemetery, last resting place for more than 9,000 American servicemen killed liberating France.

“I’ve learnt a lot. I knew nearly nothing about D-Day and I’ve learnt so much about the operation and the sacrifice all those who lost their lives made,” said LWtr Sarah Feltham.

“Having done research on the landings at Omaha Beach, actually being able to go to the site and see how difficult the terrain was really made you imagine what it must have been like trying to get ashore that day.

“Seeing so many crosses with June 6 1944 on them at the cemetery really brought home how hard the landings were.”

It really helped us all get a greater appreciation of how much of an achievement the operation was, given the difficulty and audacity of some of the operations that took place

CPO(ETME) Bobby Davidson, HMS Westminster

Engineer CPO(ETME) Bobby Davidson said researching the battle then visiting the sites brought history very much back to life.

“It really helped us all get a greater appreciation of how much of an achievement the operation was, given the difficulty and audacity of some of the operations that took place,” he said.

“For example, the way the British Paratroopers at Pegasus Bridge managed to land 50 yards from their objective in gliders and secure their objective four minutes after hitting the ground was an incredible feat.”    

The prize for the best presentation was awarded to LET(ME) Isaac Inije, for his insights into the German radar site at Douvres.

“It was a thought-provoking week and the group has gone away with a real appreciation of how large Operation Overlord was –  and how and why it was such a massive success,” said Sub Lt Simon Priestley, who led the tour.

“Having learnt about the challenges encountered both on the landing beaches and at sea by the Allied Forces on D-Day, the group are going away with real enthusiasm to face the challenges we will meet in the coming months as we look forward to going back to sea.”

Westminster is about to emerge from a refit which will see her as the Navy’s premier submarine hunter. She’s also received the new Sea Ceptor air-defence missile system (replacement for Seawolf), the new 3D Artisan radar and an upgraded computer command system – effectively the ship’s ‘brain’.

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