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How D-Day was won at Chichester

D-Day operations room at University of Chichester controlled the fighter squadrons during Normandy assault (reenactment)

D-DAY will live long in our memory, says University historian Dr Andrew Smith, but not many people know that Chichester played a key role in the invasion by coordinating fighter squadrons from RAF Tangmere.

 

 

A FLEET of Nazi Stuka dive-bombers attacked RAF Tangmere in August 1940, in what was one of the most serious attacks to have struck England.

This surgical strike against the station destroyed 13 aircraft and resulted in the tragic death of ten RAF servicemen and three civilians. Almost all of the pre-war hangars, workshops, stores and the water pumping station were smashed, with vital services put out of action.

Despite the devastating attack, the airfield remained operational and the servicemen and women at Tangmere rallied ensuring that the Luftwaffe did not escape the engagement unscathed, said Dr Andrew Smith, a senior lecturer in history and politics at the University.

Dr Smith added: “The damage done to the station meant that an alternative location for the operations room had to be found, namely one that was further from the station and less vulnerable to attacks. Chichester had been relatively untroubled by Luftwaffe raids up to this point, and so the town served as a good base.

“The Air Ministry took over Bishop Otter College, now the University of Chichester, and as preparations for the invasion of Europe gathered pace, it was chosen to be the new home for Tangmere’s operations room.”

1940, Australian air force at at Ford air base, courtesy of West Sussex Record Office

Chichester was to play an important role in the war, with Tangmere a crucial fighter station for responding to enemy action. Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory recognised its importance, which he considered in “the most important area of my command.”

His tactical shift to “striking back” against the Nazis in mainland Europe, and the build-up to the massive combined efforts of the battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord), increased the strategic importance of the RAF in their temporary home at Bishop Otter College.

Dr Smith said: “The coast was abuzz with troops, vehicles, and supplies in the weeks leading up to D-Day, as the vast organisational effort to coordinate the landings took shape. Strict secrecy was ordered, with signs across Chichester warning local residents from fraternising with troops.”

Six weeks before the landing General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied expeditionary force, visited Chichester to inspect preparations for D-Day and inspected the operations rooms at the College.

Almost all of Britain's air power ranged against the enemy was controlled from the ops room at the University (reenactment)

“In what had been the College’s gymnasium, teams of specially trained WAAFs (wo)manned the room plotting tables at all times of day or night, monitored by RAF sergeants, and drawing on the support work of wireless operators and auxiliary crew,” said Dr Smith.

“As the appointed hour approached on 6 June, most of the British air power ranged against the enemy was controlled from the ops room at the College, including 15 day-fighter wings and half the night-fighter strength. The aircraft were tasked with providing fighter cover over the D-Day assault area and landing beaches, ensuring the successful storming of Fortress Europe by Allied troops.

“Today, we still teach our history students in the same room as these historic events took place. D Day represented a stirring combination of strategy and bravery, and marking the 75-year anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of our history.”

Dr Andrew Smith is a senior lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History from the University of Chichester. More about his research which has uncovered the lost history of Chichester's involvement in D-Day is available at www.chi.ac.uk/staff/dr-andrew-smith.

For more about the studying history and politics at the University of Chichester go to www.chi.ac.uk/humanities.

University's E124 room in 1949, after the RAF had moved out and College life resumed, but before the room was redeveloped

The University's E124 room in 1949, after the RAF had moved out and College life resumed, but before the room was redeveloped. The elevated gantry would have allowed RAF officers to oversee the plotting tables manned by WAAFs on D-Day.