John Delaney: “Winston Churchill landed here on the 12th of June 1944 here on Juno Beach, six days after D-Day. If he'd have had his way, he would have landed here on D-Day itself. Towards the end of May, Churchill informed the Admiralty that he intended to witness D-Day first hand from the bridge of HMS Belfast. The idea of Britain's wartime leader placing himself in such danger was alarming. But it wasn't until King George the 6th intervened in two separate letters. The 2nd, dated as late as the 2nd of June 1944, when he threatened to attend as well, that Churchill agreed to back down.  

A facsimile of the letter sent by the King, dated 31st of May, can be seen inside the Churchill Museum at the Churchill War Rooms. Churchill eventually made it to the Normandy coastline on the 12th of June on board the destroyer HMS Kelvin six days after D-Day, and made sure that the ship joined in the bombardment of German positions while he was on the bridge.  

By that stage, Allied troops had secured a firm foothold along the coastline, and the scene was set for a bitter struggle south and east towards Germany. Given the unprecedented scale of the operation and the time it took to plan, you can understand why Churchill had wanted to be there from the start. Winston Churchill asked Mountbatten when he became head of combined operations in October 1941 to begin planning for the D-Day invasion of Europe.” 

Mountbatten: “The very first day I reported to him, he said you were to prepare for the invasion of Europe. For unless we can go and land and fight Hitler and beat his voice on land, we shall never win this war. You must devise and design the appliance as the landing craft and the technique to enable us to affect a landing against opposition and to maintain ourselves there.” 

John Delaney: “As Mountbatten said, that's a hell of a decision to make three years before the event. Despite this precision planning, there was one crucial factor beyond anyone's control, the weather. The strategic team responsible for the invasion of Normandy had to consider the weather, the moon, the tides when assigning a date to D-Day. Air operations required clear skies and a full moon for good visibility. Naval operations required low winds and calm seas to safely transport the troops ashore. Ground troops needed to land before high tide. When German beach obstacles were fully exposed and easier to deal with. D-Day required the best combination of all these factors. The operation had originally been set for the 5th of June, but it was postponed by 24 hours due to the weather report. 

A letter from the US signals Officer, Captain Raymond Edgehill, whose job it was to set up the transatlantic telephone calls between Churchill and the US President Franklin Roosevelt, revealed how the two leaders remained calm under pressure. In May 1944, Churchill invited him in, offered him a Brandy, which he declined and allowed him to listen in to the first minute of his conversation. He heard Churchill calling Roosevelt ‘old pal’ and Roosevelt calling him ‘Winnie’. 

Although there was only one week to go until D-Day, they seemed determined to keep calm and carry on. The transatlantic telephone room, disguised as Churchill's own private lavatory, can still be seen at Churchill War Rooms today. 

When D-Day was over, Churchill received a rather unusual gift, the Soviet dictator Stalin sent the British Prime Minister a framed sketch of himself to commemorate D-Day. Stalin was delighted that the Allied landings in Normandy had at last opened the second front, which he had been pushing for since 1941. You can still see this sketch at the Churchill War Rooms today. D-Day helped turn the tide of the war against the Germans. But the Germans were ready to strike back. Exactly one week later, on the 13th of June. The 1st V1 flying Bomb fell on London.” 

After years of planning and preparation, Winston Churchill wanted to see D-Day unfold with his own eyes.

Watch IWM curator John Delaney tell the story of Winston Churchill and D-Day. 

Discover more about Churchill's wartime leadership at Churchill War Rooms.

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