As people stroll along the beautiful shore front at Largs, many will be unaware of the town’s pivotal role in what was the biggest military naval invasion in history – the Normandy Invasion – known as D-Day.
For it was here that Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived in 1943 and knocked on the door of the property known as the Vanduara Hotel. The Government wanted the decision making and planning of this crucial invasion to take place away from London. They wanted somewhere quiet and out of the spotlight and the seaside resort of Largs was the chosen location.
Instead of preparing their properties for the busy summer tourist season, the owners of Vanduara and the nearby Hollywood Hotel found their hotels being renamed HMS Monck and HMS Warren and becoming the secret bases for wartime conferences and the headquarters of Combined Operations, where the land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations came together to plan, train and operate together as a unified force against the enemy. After Dunkirk it had become apparent that Combined Operations would be the only way of liberating Europe.
In June 1943, a year before D Day, a conference called Operation Rattle was held at HMS Warren, The Hollywood Hotel. Regarded as one of the most crucial conferences in history, this was chaired by the Chief of Combined Operations, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and was attended by the most senior officers from all services, both British and American. It was here that the plan, codenamed “Operation Overlord” that would result in D Day was set in motion and the date of 6th June 1944 was chosen.
Another decision taken at Rattle was to set up a Combined Operations Staff college at HMS Warren to train the senior officers of all the Allied nations in amphibious warfare. Over 1700 officers passed through the course and went on to take part in the D-Day landings and air operations.
On 6th June 1944, Allied forces launched a naval, air and land invasion on Nazi occupied France. 156,000 British, American and Canadian troops landed on five beaches along a fifty mile stretch of coast at Normandy and by the end of that day they had begun their advance into France to liberate western Europe from German occupation. These landings, codenamed “Operation Overlord”, were the largest seaborne invasion in history and were known as D Day.
This massive operation would become the main turning point of the Second World War, and the seaside resort of Largs was right at the centre of it, with Lord Mountbatten claiming that the Largs meetings were crucial to the preparations.
Combined Operations continued in Largs until 1946 when it was transferred to Rosneath.
Catalina sea planes
In addition to being the nerve centre for the D Day plottings, Largs became a base for American-built Catalina Flying Boats whose part in the war effort was to patrol the Atlantic searching for German U-Boats.
A concrete slip was built for them across from Barrfields Pavilion, which had been requisitioned during the war and had become a maintenance depot. Two other slips were built on Cumbrae for the aircraft as the base expanded. By the end of the war, Largs had serviced over 300 Catalinas.
Sometimes a Catalina would sink and have to be salvaged and one is still a wreck over at Cumbrae. The slips are still in use with the one at Largs being the launch point for the RNLI lifeboat and the Cumbrae slips used by CalMac and Sportscotland National Centre.
And as if that wasn’t enough for the town of Largs, the first scheduled passenger flight in post war Europe landed at here when, on 11 July 1945, Iceland Airways (the forerunner of Icelandair) flew a Catalina from Reykjavik to Largs with four crew and four passengers on board.