HUNDREDS of D-Day veterans will be given a naval gun salute as they sail to France to mark the anniversary of the Normandy landings this summer, The News can reveal.
The Ministry of Defence has today lifted the veil on how it will support the 75th D-Day anniversary commemorations in Portsmouth, pledging thousands of troops, dozens of planes and an armada of naval vessels.
Culminating on Southsea Common on June 5, the city’s spectacle will form the centre-piece of Britain’s tributes and will be broadcast nationally to millions.
It will feature a flypast of 26 RAF aircraft including the Red Arrows and a Spitfire before veterans embark on a ship to France.
A flotilla of naval warships, including frigates and minehunters, will carry out a sailpast in the Solent led by Portsmouth-based submarine hunter HMS St Albans, which will fire a salute to the veterans on board MV Boudicca.
A Royal Navy warship will also escort a Brittany Ferries vessel – expected to be packed with veterans – across the Channel from Portsmouth on June 3.
Accompanying the two vessels will be four navy P2000 patrol boats and 18 historical craft who will follow the ship out of the harbour and into the Solent.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Seventy-five years ago, troops from 14 Allied countries united together, many on the south coast of Britain, before launching the historic operation to liberate Occupied Europe.
‘Britain must always keep the legacy of that special generation alive.
‘I urge people to join our armed forces in showing that all of us, young and old, will never forget the price they paid for the freedom and peace we now enjoy.’
The news has delighted survivors of D-Day. Royal Navy veteran Eric Strange, 95, of Crawley, was a Sub Lieutenant in the war and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day.
Speaking of the anniversary events, he said: ‘It means quite a lot actually because it is quite a date.
‘We are getting less and less, we are getting old, this is our trouble. It will be a bit emotional. It will be nice to see Sword Beach again.’
The news was announced on St Albans at Portsmouth Naval Base by Commodore Mike Utley, commander of the UK carrier strike group and deputy joint military commander for D-Day 75.
He said: ‘It's about paying your respects to the veterans and what they did 75 years ago. It's a very proud day for the Royal Navy, a very proud day for Portsmouth.’
In France on the afternoon of the 5th, members of the army's 16 Air Assault Brigade will carry out a parachute drop with French Army paratroopers over Normandy from RAF Hercules aircraft and from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's C-47 Dakota aircraft.
Then at 7.26am on June 6, a lone piper will play at the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches to mark the exact moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach.
This will be followed by the unveiling of the Normandy Memorial Trust's statue at Ver-Sur-Mer and services at Bayeux Cathedral – the first town liberated by the allied forces – and at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery.
Bob Gamble, of the Royal British Legion, said: ‘The 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings will be a momentous occasion and every Normandy Veteran that participates will be treated as a VIP throughout to ensure they have the memorable and remarkable experience they deserve.’
Portsmouth will be staging five days of events from June 5 to June 9 to mark D-Day 75
The event is being co-ordinated by Portsmouth City Council with the support of the MoD.
David Williams, chief executive of the council said: ‘The scale of D-Day 75 is unprecedented with Portsmouth at the heart of commemorations on June 5.
‘The city will provide the backdrop for the armed forces to mark this historic occasion and, most importantly, to pay tribute to veterans and their comrades and reflect on lessons learned.’