Each month a document is put on display in our Searchroom. Our document for June has been chosen by Archivist Allyson Lewis to reflect the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which began on 6 June 1944.
This month we look at Essex’s involvement in Operation Overlord, known as the D-Day landings. Eastern Command, which included Essex, was to provide for 104,000 men and their equipment embarking through Tilbury and London Docks. Tilbury was a Marshalling Area for collecting men and vehicles for the D-Day landings.
Marshalling Areas (MAs) were intended to hold 40,700 men and 6,500 vehicles prior to embarkation, load them and send them out as part of the initial landings, and then to embark 4,000 men and 600 vehicles per day for as long as necessary after D-Day itself. Once sent for embarkation, the troops had to be provided with food and drink so any postponement of the operation posed a serious logistical problem. The MA was arranged in 8 sub-areas located at Orsett Golf Club, Tilbury, Purfleet, Thorndon Hall, Belhus Park, Warley Barracks, Weald Park, and the Halfway House Inn on the Southend Arterial Road.
Planning began in February to identify suitable sites for camps field hospitals, ammunition dumps, petrol dumps, bakeries, rail heads and traffic routes. This map (C/W 3/4/9) shows the location of the camps in each sub-area and the routes traffic should take to reach the embarkation points. Most of the vehicles were parked up on the Southend Arterial Road. They had to be waterproofed before being loaded onto the ships. During March camps were constructed and roads strengthened, and by 1 May the area was ready. Postal censorship began on 1 April and by the end of May all camps were patrolled to prevent contact with the local population.
Embarkation of troops and vehicles was a four day process: three days to waterproof the vehicles and get them aboard and to issue supplies and load the men, and one day to clear the area and get ready for the next detachment. Y-Day was the name given to the day when everything would be ready to go. Any long delay at this point would mean that men would have to be disembarked and sent back to their camps. However, the weather improved sufficiently on 5 June for Operation Overlord to commence on 6 June 1944.