Eisenhower’s headquarters near Bayeux
Two months after D-Day, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, moved his advance headquarters to Normandy. Located less than 12 miles (18 km) southwest of Bayeux, at Tournières, this ‘tent and trailer camp’ codenamed Shellburst was Ike’s first HQ on the continent.
Always on the move
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force or simply SHAEF kept changing location, not just in the aftermath of the D-Day landings #dday #ddaystory but also prior to June 6, 1944: from Norfolk House to Bushy Park (codenamed Widewing) and, then, from London to Southwick House (Sharpener), a few miles north of Portsmouth. However, it should be noted that while Widewing remained until August 28, 1944, the ‘main headquarters’, Sharpener and, from July 1944, Shipmate — an enlarged version of Sharpener capable to accommodate approximately 1,500 men — were simply ‘forward headquarters’. Thus, Shellburst too was to fit in the latter category.
Post D-Day plans for SHAEF HQ on the continent
Writing on the very topic of headquarters locations, American historian Forrest Pogue noted: ‘Plans made before D-Day to establish SHAEF advance command posts near both U.S. and British army headquarters on the Continent were not fully carried out’. This meant that arrangements had been made long before Eisenhower’s arrival at Tournières. Special facilities were constructed at Jullouvile and Granville, in the Cotentin, to accommodate hundreds of officers and enlisted men of the special staff divisions. This could not have happened overnight though and by the time everything was ready, the Allied forces were closing in on Paris. “As soon as he reached Jullouville, Eisenhower ordered preparations made to move both Forward and Main echelons of Supreme Headquarters nearer the combat zone” added Pogue. By mid-September, SHAEF would set up camp at Versailles.
Shellburst or CP21
Eisenhower’s temporary HQ at Tournières was a compromise. It allowed the Supreme Commander to be in close proximity to the American as well as the Anglo-Canadian sectors. This is illustrated by the fact that Tournières itself had been liberated on D+4 by the ‘Indian-heads’ of the 2 US Infantry Division whereas Bayeux, a stone’s throw away, was the first important town liberated by British forces on D+1. Last but not least, if while at Bushy Park Ike could rely on an airstrip located near the Royal Paddocks, Shellburst was serviced by two airfields: A-5 a.k.a ‘Chippelle’ at Cartigny-l’Épinay and A-9 at Le Molay.
It was in the fields of Tournières that Eisenhower welcomed important political figures like Winston Churchill or Charles de Gaulle — the latter came to Shellburst just 3 days before Paris was liberated — but also military commanders like Bernard Montgomery, Omar Bradley, or Joseph Lawton Collins. Nowadays, a plaque installed in 1990 and a small information table added by the local authorities in 2015, remind the inquisitive visitor of yet another less-known aspect of the Normandy campaign. At the same time, the ‘tent and trailer camp’ is also important at a symbolic level. It says much about the character of the man himself, General Eisenhower, who a year after D-Day, in June 1945, was declaring: ‘humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends’.
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