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WWII Sites In and Around London

My friend is an avid WWII buff and he has asked me to join him on a Band of Brothers tour in September. It is an 11-day tour that begins in Paris and ends in Munich. The tour company is called Beaches of Normandy. If you are familiar with it, could you please share your thoughts. But that's not the point of this post. We are also considering a few days in England before our tour to visit WWII sites in London and the surrounding area, either independently or with a small tour. Afterward will either fly or take the train to Paris. I would be interested in knowing if any of you have done such a thing and if so, please let us know your experiences. I have been to London twice and to Paris and Normandy three times, but never to Germany. My friend has never traveled internationally and I'm going along to help him navigate the "bumps in the road", so to speak, as well as learn more about WWII. Anything you can share would be appreciated. Thank you.

Jim

Posted by
512 posts

A great idea for London is to see the Churchill War Rooms: https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms. I visited them in 2010, and they are well worth it.

I visited the Normandy beaches in 2012, but made a mistake: I toured them on my own. I should have gone on an organized tour like you. Having said that, the highlight was seeing the Pointe du Hoc site where American soldiers shot spikes into cliffs and ascended them under heavy fire (https://www.liberationroute.com/pois/287/pointe-du-hoc). I also saw the American and German cemeteries, Omaha and other beaches, the famed German gun emplacements still along the invasion site and the fascinating Arromanches museum (https://musee-arromanches.fr/en/).

Also, I recommend a visit to the war museum and memorial in nearby Caen: https://www.memorial-caen.com/

You mentioned Munich: The Documentation Center in Munich gives an excellent history of the rise of national socialism: https://www.nsdoku.de/en/about-us/the-nsdoku

Also worth visiting in Munich is the Dachau Concentration Camp, but it's a bit grim.

My dad served in the US Navy during World War II in the Pacific. When I visited Normandy in 2012, I met an American veteran of the U.S. Navy Pacific. I couldn't believe it: The man was in his 80s and still traveling. It's great others see the value in seeing historical sites.

Posted by
5144 posts

The Churchill War Rooms, with its attached museum, and the Imperial War Museum, would be the obvious starting points. London Walks do a couple of WWII walks, one on the Blitz, and one on Westminster at War.

Posted by
461 posts

As noted above. Churchill War Rooms and Imperial War Museum.

Also just outside London Bletchley Park. Where the codebreakers were located. Easy trip by train. www.bletchleypark.org.uk/

Posted by
14288 posts

Yes, to both Churchill War Rooms and do make time for Bletchley Park.

I did a wonderful walk a few years ago with London Walks (www.walks.com) of WWII sites in London. It was terrific so look and see if they offer it when you are there.

When you get back (well, you couldn't do it before could you??) would you do a trip report? This sounds like an awesome tour. It is coordinated thru the WWII museum in New Orleans?

Posted by
6823 posts

Not in London, but the tunnels in Dover (by the castle), Imperial War Museum at Duxford, and Bletchley Park come to mind.

For me, the most emotional site was Spanoe airfield near Uppingham where my father’s C-47 squadron was based. It’s a private airfield now and walking the base was the highlight of that UK trip.

Posted by
3823 posts

You may be interested in a day trip to Cambridge to see the air museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford. This World War II airfield south of Cambridge houses the Imperial War Museum's aircraft collection, and is the largest aviation museum in Europe.
https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford
https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford/getting-here

In Cambridge, there is the World War II Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial.
https://www.abmc.gov/Cambridge

The Imperial War Museum Duxford is very popular and the airfield has an interesting history.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_War_Museum_Duxford

The American Air Museum in Britain is there also; a part of IWMD:
https://www.americanairmuseum.com/about

Posted by
3995 posts

It seems like you’ll need a week in London to see these wonder sights in and within a day trip of London and take some London Walks! We’ve spent a lot of time in London and seen many but not all of those mentioned above.

Posted by
7727 posts

I guess my priorities would be the Imperial War Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms. If you can devote several days, then there are some of the other sights mentioned, of those the IWM Duxford would bring in the aviation part of the equation, The HMS Belfast is moored in London for a naval twist, and if you had time, you could head down to Portsmouth and go to the smallish, but well done, D-Day museum there. (Plus any of the wonderful Dockyard attractions like the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, Mary Rose, Submarine Museum, etc.)

Probably too much, would be The Tank Museum in Bovington, but if you have a real interest in the tank and armor, it is not to be missed, best tank museum in the world.

Posted by
8885 posts

Churchill War Rooms, Bletchley Park and the Royal AirForce Museum. The latter is about an hour outside London. Reachable via the Tube ( one change) and by bus.

I was unsure about visiting Bletchley. Was there over 4 hours. Well presented, knowledgeable volunteers, nice place for lunch and throughly fascinating to read what the woman codebreakers thought of their jobs.

Posted by
2400 posts

Be sure to see the American Chapel in the back of St. Paul's ..It was paid for by Londoners and dedicated to all Americans who were based in England during WWII and were killed. There is a book of remembrance and names are printed in calligraphy with rank, service and date of death and one page is turned every day. Well.worth seeing.

Posted by
960 posts

Take a look at The Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge. End of a couple subway lines out of central London. Fascinating tour. I would advise pre-booking as your groups are small. Might be OK to just show up, but better to reserve.
http://battleofbritainbunker.co.uk/

Posted by
1549 posts

The book “London’s War” by sayre van young is an excellent well documented and enlightening read on the history and locations of the impacts on WW II in London. It provides excellent maps and guidance on how to tour areas in London, via self guided walking tours. I carry this tool every time I visit and find it highly effective.

Posted by
14288 posts

I forgot to mention a very poignant memorial if you happen to be walking near the Wellington Arch end of Green Park or if you come up out of the Hyde Park Corner Tube stop. It's the RAF Bomber Command Memorial - very small but a lovely tribute to those who flew missions in WWII.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bomber_Command_Memorial

Also...the church of St Clement Danes is the RAF central church. It was almost obliterated during the Blitz on May 10, 1940 but was rebuilt in the 1950's. There are a number of memorials to RAF and allied airmen who fought in WWII. This is located along the Strand and worth a pop in if you are walking down that street.

Posted by
495 posts

The suggestions above are excellent.

It appears that your trip is not one that is hosted by the WW2 Museum in New Orleans. You may wish to check its trip itineraries for touring ideas. I have never taken one of its trips. They are two and perhaps even three times more expensive than a Rick Steves tour. But they go first-class, and they are led by the top historians in their field--Donald Miller has actually done the Masters of the Air tour, and Jonathan Parshall does Pacific Theater tours and Alexandra Richie a Germany and Poland tour. Perhaps one day.

My favorite museum in London is the Imperial War Museum, which has been already been mentioned. I have been there several times over the decades. Yet in December I went one day for about four hours and returned the next day for another two hours. There is no admission charge, though they do welcome contributions.

London Walks has several weekly walks relating to World War II such as Westminster at War and the Blitz. Paris Walks does a weekly walk related to the German occupation and the city's liberation and every second Sunday a walk on the the French Resistance.

And if you are interested in the clandestine world, there are busts in London honoring two of the war's greatest heroes--SOE agents Violette Szabo (on the Thames in front of Lambeth Palace) and Noor Inayat Khan (in Gordon Square near the University of London). Their stories are extraordinary. St. Ermin's Hotel in London housed the SOE in its early stages and has an SOE exhibit.

A place I would love to visit is the RAF Club in London. You need to be the guest of a member.

Posted by
3823 posts

To follow up on what RJ posted, here's a story about St. Ermin's Hotel from Smithsonian Magazine:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/st-ermins-hotel-london-spy-base-180962675/
"There’s something special in store for guests occupying the top two floors of the hotel, too: the knowledge that they’re staying in the former official headquarters of MI6, or Military Intelligence, part of the British Secret Intelligence Service. During World War II and after, MI6 used these floors as their base, welcoming senior personnel and infamous double agents—like Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, both of whom worked for the secret service but were also Russian spies."

"Burgess did much of his work from within the hotel’s Caxton Bar, as well, handing over top-secret government files to his Russian contacts there. But that wasn’t the only espionage the bar saw. Intelligence officers Ian Fleming and Noel Coward were often seen there—and according to Matthew’s book, Winston Churchill likely devised, over a couple glasses of champagne, the notion to have a Special Operations Executive there during the Second World War. The special ops team began in three rooms on the second floor of the hotel."

Posted by
33339 posts

If you want to see evidence of the Blitz, have a walk along South Audley Street in Mayfair and look up. Lots of evidence of bomb damage and repair or leaving as is.

Or look at the wall next to the Exhibition Road entrance to the V&A. It is all there if you know what you are seeing.

Or go to the Bethnal Green tube station where so many were killed sheltering but the direct hit didn't care.

Posted by
938 posts

There's lots of shrapnel damage to Tate Britain too. Most of it is at the back, by the John Islip Street entrance, where the public can't go, but there's some on the west side of the building too, by Atterbury Street.

Posted by
6768 posts

Or go to the Bethnal Green tube station where so many were killed sheltering but the direct hit didn't care.

Bank (111 killed), Balham (68 killed), Bounds Green (19 killed) and Colindale (13 killed) stations all suffered direct hits in the Blitz, and all have low key memorials inside the stations (so not as visible as Bethnal Green- the worst such incident).

Uncommemorated incidents also happened at Marble Arch Station (17 September 1940, 20 killed) and Trafalgar Square Station (now Charing Cross) (12 October 1940, 7 killed). On 12 November 1940 bombs fell on Sloane Square Station, hitting a passing train, wrecking the platforms and killing or seriously injuring 79.

Posted by
76 posts

Before you go, watch the Time Team episode The Buried Blitzkrieg Defences Of WW2 London. It is available on YouTube. It gives information on the defences that were put in place to defend London if the Germans actually invaded. The focus is Shooters Hill, which is south of Greenwich.

Posted by
938 posts

I can't see the Time Team episode about Shooters Hill on Youtube at the moment. There was another one or two episodes excavating WWII sites in London if I remember correctly. Quite a lot of the old Time Team content seems to have gone. They were trying to relaunch online I believe, and maybe they're enforcing their copyright on the old stuff a bit more.

Posted by
938 posts

Ah it's not available in the UK. Hopefully others can see it. It's a good one for the topic of this thread. There was at least one other episode, a dig in a blitz bomb site, possibly in Haggerston?

I've used this site I'll link to below. It's a map of all the recorded bombs that fell on London in the blitz. It's not working properly in my browser at the moment, but others may have better luck.

http://bombsight.org/#14/51.5050/-0.0900