World War Two
D-Day, Normandy, June 1944
In 1944 the station and Lee-on-Solent played an important role in the invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord). By 1944, the whole area was bristling with activity and equipment as it provided a major embarkation centre for D-Day. Stokes Bay, Lee-on-the-Solent, Hardway and Gosport Town were centres used in this massive operation. Allied aircraft from the RAF, USAAF, USN, RAAF, RCN, SAAF and Fleet Air Arm descended on Lee in the build up to invasion. The airfield was invaluable as an advanced base during the actual operations, and an important stepping stone for the airlift of equipment and men.
Several Fleet Air Arm Swordfish and Avenger squadrons were attached to RAF Coastal Command during mid 1944 to operate both by day and by night over the English Channel in support of the invasion forces. On D-Day itself, 6 June 1944, 435 sorties were flown, a record for a single airfield on that day. In all, over 2,000 sorties were flown, the majority in the first ten days of operation.
Phoenixes at anchor near Lee-on-Solent, 1944 and being towed to Normandy
Prior to the invasion shipyards throughout Great Britain employed 20,000 workers around the clock to build 150 concrete structures 200 feet long by 60 feet wide, by 60 feet high, to form the Mulberry harbour. Tugs of the Royal Navy and from the USA were assignment to tow the completed hollow blocks, called Phoenixes, from the various shipyards and to anchor them near Lee-on-Solent. These Phoenixes were to be laid end to end to form two giant breakwaters on the Normandy beaches - one at the British beach, one at the American. Each Phoenix was topped with an anti-aircraft gun emplacement. On 4 and 5th June, 1944 the tugs left Lee-on- Solent and began towing the Phoenixes at 3 or 4 knots towards Normandy -- a distance of about 90 miles. 75 Phoenixes forming the Mulberry Harbour.
Once the main operation was underway, many of the aircraft and squadrons then moved on from Lee-on-Solent following the Invasion period and went to operate on the Continent. Some of these continued to operate until almost the end of the war in Europe. Meanwhile, on completion of "Overlord", the main activity of the station was the forming of squadrons for the British Pacific Fleet.
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