Seventy five years after the end of World War 2 in Europe seems the right time to reflect on how Europe was released from the grip of Nazi control. Rough Guides have worked with the Liberation Route Europe and come up with a guide book called Travel the Liberation Route Europe. I have a copy to give-away, details about how to win are at the bottom of the post but first read all about the Liberation Route Europe.
What is the Liberation Route Europe?
Liberation Route Europe started in a small way in the Arnhem region of the Netherlands when three local museums banded together to ensure that the story of Operation Market Garden. Now it encompasses most of the museums, memorials and sites tracing the Allies advance across nine countries.
How to Travel the Liberation Route Europe
You could set off with the aim of following the Allied advance from London to Berlin but the problem that you would face is that the line is rarely linear. The Rough Guide takes you through the history of advance on all fronts. You can then choose where to visit. One of my longest serving guide books is the Penguin Guide to Medieval Europe, I have never set out with the aim of visiting purely medieval sights but it has guided me to several interesting places over the years.
The Liberation of Europe from the grasp of the Nazi’s did not follow a nice neat linear route. It was like a spiders web in reverse with lines of attack radiating out. Attack came not only from the UK but from Russia, Africa, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. The Rough Guide to the Liberation Route Europe outlines all of these. Here are a few of the places that I have visited and can commend.
London was the nerve centre of the Allied War operation, many European governments in exile were based here.
Cabinet War Rooms
Round the back of the Treasury there is a small door which leads to a warren of underground rooms, these are the Cabinet War Rooms. These were built at the outbreak of the war in exceptation of heavy aerial bombardment. You can visit the slightly claustrophobic rooms, including the famous map room.
- Cabinet War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ
- Open: Daily 9.30am – 6pm
- Admission: Adult £22, Imperial War Museum members free
Imperial War Museum
Although the Imperial War Museum didn’t itself play a part in the Liberation of Europe it is home to a great many objects that did. One entire floor is devoted to World War 2 with the emphasis very much on the people involved.
- Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, SE1 6HZ
- Open: Daily
- Admission: Free
HMS Belfast is the largest item in the Imperial War Museum collection, she took part in the D Day landings.
- HMS Belfast, The Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2JH
- Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
- Admission: Adults 18, Imperial War Museum members free
Walk around London
Start on the Embankment where you will find many memorials including the Battle of Britain, the National Submarine War Memorial and the RAF memorial. Cut up Richmond Terrace, past the Ministry of Defence to Whitehall. Here you will find more memorials ranging from the Cenotaph to the Women of War 2 and individual statues to big military figures like Montgomery and Viscount Alanbrooke.
Cross over Whitehall, past the end of Downing Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, down King Charles Street, past the Cabinet War Rooms. Turn right along Horseguards, the creeper clad building at the end of Horseguards in the Admiralty Citadel built as a bomb proof headquarters for the Admiralty during the second world war it is still in use today.
Head over Piccadilly to Grosvenor Square which was home to American Embassy until very recently. During World War 2 General Eisenhower had his HQ here at number 20, indeed there were so many US government offices here that it was nicknamed Eisenhower Platz. Today you can see statues of Eisenhower and Roosevelt.
East Anglia is awash with World War 2 airbases. Many have now gone, the hard standing of the old runways used to house turkey sheds. Some are still small airfields, like Seething the village next to where I grew upyou can visit the restored Control Tower on the first Sunday of the month. Some like Lakenheath are still home huge US airforce bases, American jets scream overhead on a regular basis. More publicly accessible is the Imperial War Museum Duxford just outside Cambridge.
- Seething Control Tower Museum, Toad Lane, Seething NR35 2EQ
- Open: First Sunday of the Month, May – October
- Admission: Free
- Duxford, Cambridge CB22 4QR
- Open: Daily 10am -6pm
- Admission: Adult £18, Imperial War Museum members free
Work done at Bletchley Park was so secret that word of its existence didn’t seep out until 50 years after the end of the war. It was here that code to Enigma machine was broken enabling vital intelligence to be gathered that led to end of the war. No longer secret, you can now visit the huts where remarkable men and women worked away in secret.
- Bletchley Park,
- Open: 1 March – 31 October 9.30am – 5pm, 1 November – 28 February 9.30am – 4pm
- Admission: Adult £20, concessions available. Tickets last for a year.
Just offshore from Littlestone you can see a partially submerged Mulberry Harbour that had been due to be taken to the Normandy beaches for D Day but sank before it could get there. Also take a ride on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway which was used to transport materials for the building of PLUTO, a secret oil pipeline that was laid between Dungeness and France.
Portsmouth is home to the British Navy, opposite Normandy it was the place that the D Day landings started from. There is an excellent museum called the D Day Story that tells the story of Operation Overlord from its planning to execution.
- D Day Story, Clarence Esplanade, Portsmouth PO5 3NT
- Open: Daily 10am – 5.50pm
- Admission: Adult £10 concessions available
Portsmouth is only a short hop away from the Normandy beaches that played host to D Day. The fine gently shelving beaches make for a fine day at the seaside. Exploring the military cemeteries and war emplacements make for a sober reminder of the bravery of the men who landed on those beaches in 1945. Vyki from Museum Mum explored the landing beaches with the Museum Kids this summer.
Now the Belgian coast seems to be one long sandy beach backed with sand dunes. Between 1939 – 45 it was heavily fortified and known as the Atlantic Wall. You can still see the German gun emplacements just outside Ostende at Raversyde.
- Atlantikwall, Nieuwpoortsesteenweg 636
- Open: Daily 16 March – 11 November, 10.30am – 5pm
- Admission: Adults €8, children under 13 free
Curiously my many visits and indeed time living in Germany have not involved many visits to Second World War sites. The exceptions being Dachau, when I was only thirteen, Berlin and Colditz.
“Today we will visit Dachau and then have a special Schnitzel lunch.” We knew nothing of Dachau and something other than cheese sandwiches would be good. That was how our coach load of thirteen year olds on school trip to Germany were prepared for our visit to Dachau. To be honest I’m not sure what the best way is to introduce genocide as a concept is. From the moment we walked past the chilling Arbeit Mach Frei gates we began to understand. That visit has remained with me ever since. Whilst not places to visit for fun, everyone should visit a concentration camp at least once to reinforce the horror of what happened and the necessity that it never happens again.
- KZ Gedenkstätte Dachau, Alte Römerstrasse 75
- Open: Daily 9am – 5pm
- Admission: Free
Berlin is one vast open air Second World War site. Every street has a tale to tell. The separation of the city into West and East for 45 years after the end of the war is still visible.
Colditz Castle served as prisoner of war camp during World War 2 it was renowned for being extremely difficult to escape from. Now you can visit the castle’s museum and even stay in Colditz.
When I first thought about writing this post I thought it would be mainly an imaginary journey as I am not given to exploring battlefields. As I set down to write I realised just how much the story of the Second World War is the story of the whole of Europe. Even without trying we have visited places that played an important part in the conflict, however peaceful they seem today. My copy of Travel the Liberation Route of Europe will join the Penguin Guide to Medieval Europe as an essential part of my holiday reference library.