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From Norfolk to Normandy: Hampton Roads’ Role during WWII and D-Day

From Norfolk to Normandy: Hampton Roads’ Role during WWII and D-Day

Story by Max Lonzanida on 06/28/2019

On June 6, 2019, President Donald Trump issued proclamation 9904, commemorating the National Day of Remembrance of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. In short, the proclamation reads “as we mark 75 years since the D-Day landings, we recognize that their legacy grows ever more meaningful with time. The story of America will forever include the valor and sacrifice of the intrepid servicemen who took those beaches in northwest France on June 6, 1944.”

While the President’s proclamation called for a pause to remember the greatest generation; two historians delivered a poignant presentation that shed some light on the role that Norfolk Naval Shipyard played in Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings in June 1944.

The presentation, entitled “From Norfolk to Normandy: The Navy, The Shipyard and D-Day” was hosted by the Churchland Branch of the Portsmouth Public Library for the non-profit Friends of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. Command Historian and Archivist Historian, Marcus Robbins with the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Clay Farrington, Historian with the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, teamed up for two different perspectives on the role that Norfolk Naval Shipyard played during the WWII in a free presentation.

Robbins provided some opening remarks about the shipyard’s current expansion efforts to serve the fleet and indicated that “we have got a national jewel here right in our backyard.” He went on to point out that the shipyards role during WWII and the lead-up to the D-Day invasions consisted of the plant, the people and the ships.

In a narrated history replete with archived images, Robbins pointed out the expansion of drydocks, buildings, and capabilities transformed the once swampy shipyard grounds to a teeming metropolis of activity. He shed some light on the role that women played, and indicated that during WWII, the shipyard employed over 3,500 women building diesel engines, welding, operating cranes, and other roles in the absence of men who were drafted for the war effort.

Lastly, Robbins shed some light on the USS Osprey (AM-56). Sailors of the Raven-Class minesweeper was the first recorded casualty during the lead up to the D-day; when she struck a German mine on June 5, 1944, just before the allied invasion. She went to the bottom, along with several of her crew; and Robbins concluded that the Osprey was built at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Clay Farrington, the Historian and Daybook Editor from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum took up the second portion of the presentation. Farrington noted that in-addition to the shipyard, a constellation of other bases; including NAS Oceana and Norfolk, the torpedo manufacturing facilities at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and a little-known Higgins boat depot at what was previously the Ford Plant in Norfolk contributed to the war effort. He also noted that much of the amphibious training that soldiers and sailors received emerged from the newly established amphibious force headquarters at the commandeered Nansemond Hotel in Norfolk’s Ocean View, among other locations.

The presentation concluded with a question and answer session, where a plethora of questions were fielded from those curious about the history; and especially the history of a shipyard whose facilities, people, and the ships it built and serviced played a poignant role during the liberation of France and the eventual allied victory during WWII.

More information about the Hampton Roads Naval Museum can be found here:

More information about the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum can be found here:

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