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Southwick House

The Supreme Commander's Decision

One of the most momentous decisions of the Second World War was taken in the old library at Southwick House in June 1944.

As D-Day approached, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, moved his advanced headquarters to Southwick House, which had been taken over by the Royal Navy in 1941.

The invasion of Normandy had been set for Monday, 5 June, but the weather forecast was bad, so Eisenhower ordered a 24-hour postponement. Then, later in the day, the senior meteorologist, Group Captain Stagg, announced to the senior commanders gathered in the old library at Southwick House that there would be a short interval of fine weather on Tuesday, 6 June.

The decision rested with the Supreme Commander. 'OK, let's go,' said Eisenhower. Fortunately the weather forecast proved to be correct. By the end of D-Day the Allies were ashore and successfully embarked upon 'the Great Crusade' that was to culminate in May 1945 in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.

The Wall Map Room

In April 1944 Admiral Ramsay, the Allied naval commander-in-chief for Operation NEPTUNE, the naval assault phase of OVERLORD, moved his headquarters to Southwick House.

To plot the progress of the invasion, a large plywood map of the English Channel, big enough to fill the entire wall of the old drawing room, had been commissioned from the firm Chad Valley Toys. In the interests of security, they were asked to construct the entire coastline of Western Europe, from Norway to the Pyrenees. The two men who brought the Wall Map to Southwick House were asked to install only one section in Ramsay's operations room – the coast of Normandy. This meant they knew the crucial secret of D-Day, so they were detained at the house until the invasion was under way.

Admiral Ramsay moved his headquarters to France in early September 1944 and activity ceased in the operations room at Southwick House. Fortunately the historical importance of the Wall Map was recognised at the end of the war. All the pins, tapes and other markers representing the invasion forces were reset to how they would have looked at the moment when the landings began on the British and Canadian beaches on D-Day. Admiral Ramsay had been killed in a plane crash in 1945, so the Wall Map was unveiled in August 1946 by Admiral Sir George Creasy, who had been his Chief of Staff for Operation NEPTUNE.

This extract, describing the scene in the Wall Map room just before D-Day, is taken from the book 'Operation Neptune' by Commander Kenneth Edwards RN, published in 1946.

“During the night of June 4th, 1944, the operations room at the battle headquarters of the Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief [Admiral Ramsay] presented an historic scene. In the long, high room at Southwick Park there were about forty people. Most of them were naval officers or Wrens plotting positions on charts and dealing with the stream of signals which were carried in on the endless belt which came through a hole in the wall from the cypher office. There were also air liaison officers, military liaison officers, and American naval officers.

One end of the room, the walls of which were papered in white and gold, was covered by an enormous blackboard chart of the English Channel. Up and down in front of this moved a travelling step-ladder, used by the Wrens for plotting on the map the hour to hour positions of all units at sea. There were already plenty of these, for convoys had already sailed from the east and west coats of Britain towards ‘Piccadilly Circus,’ while some of the blockships for the ‘Gooseberry’ harbours and the first tows of the ‘Mulberry’ harbours were already at sea. Several minesweeping flotillas were also at sea, ensuring the safe passage of the convoys. In ‘Neptune’ as in so many other operations, the work of the minesweepers began first and did not end until after the enemy had been decisively defeated.

In front of the big blackboard wall map, and to one side, sat the signal officer. Level with him, but near the centre of the room, sat Rear-Admiral George Creasy, Admiral Ramsay's Chief of Staff.

These two desks marked a line across the room about four yards from the wall map. That space was the ‘holy of holies’, reserved for the Commander-in-Chief, his immediate staff and those who operated the wall map. There Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay spent many long hours, his quick mind tirelessly and calmly taking in the full import of every signal and every report and weighing its effect upon the problem to which he was applying all the lessons of his long experience and his tremendous singleness of purpose and moral courage.”

Southwick House remained part of the naval base, HMS Dryad, until its closure in 2004. Southwick Park is now the home of the Defence College of Policing and Guarding.





Southwick House

    Southwick House





The Wall Map Room

    The Wall Map Room


The Operations Room

    A painting by war artist, Barnett Freedman, of     the Operations Room, Southwick House     (courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War     Museum)


Ramsay and Eisenhower

   Admiral Ramsay and General Eisenhower        outside Southwick House. (IWM H39152)

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