More than 4,000 armed forces personnel along with 11 Royal Naval vessels and 26 RAF aircraft are to join a “proud day” of commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Up to 300 British veterans from the Normandy landings will be honoured with a national commemorative event in Portsmouth, Hampshire, before they sail across to France.
The events will commence on June 5 at Southsea Common with a flypast of 26 RAF aircraft including the Red Arrows and a Spitfire before the veterans embark on a ship specially-chartered by the Royal British Legion to take them to Normandy.
A flotilla of naval ships including frigates and minehunters will carry out a sailpast in the Solent led by submarine hunter HMS St Albans, a type-23 frigate, which will fire a salute to the veterans on board MV Boudicca.
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.”
Across 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.
In the afternoon, the British veterans, all aged over 90, will be escorted by Army personnel to Arromanches where there will be flypasts by the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Nick Carter said: “Our forebears, who planned and executed Operation Overlord, and those who enabled it to happen by fighting in Italy, Africa and beyond, have the enduring respect of our Armed Forces.”
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.”
Veteran Eric Strange, 95, from Crawley, West Sussex, who was a sub lieutenant in the navy and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, said of the anniversary events: “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.”
Announcing the events on board HMS St Albans at Portsmouth Naval Base, Commodore Mike Utley, commander of UK carrier strike group and deputy joint military commander for D-Day 75, 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.”