It is the ancestral home of Britain’s wartime leader. Now a series of photographs have revealed that the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill was used as a testing ground for landing craft ahead of D-Day.

The images, released earlier this spring to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, show two amphibious vehicles undergoing tests in the lake by Blenheim Palace.

One of the two landing craft emerging from Blenheim Palace
lake during testing. Ultimately, neither saw action on D-Day.
One of the two landing craft emerging from Blenheim Palace lake during testing. Ultimately, neither saw action on D-Day. Image: Blenheim Palace.

The trials were conducted as part of Operation Neptune, a British project to develop its own landing craft. The two prototypes, manufactured at the nearby Morris car factory in Oxford, were named the Argosy and the Neptune.

The initiative was something of a pet project for Churchill, who wanted to develop a British counterpart to American landing craft. However, neither of the prototypes was used in the invasion of June 1944, although one later saw use in the Middle East.

Pictured on board one of the vehicles is the 11th Duke of Marlborough, Lord Blandford, and his sister Lady Rosemary.

Lady Rosemary (far left) and the 11th Duke (far right) clamber
aboard one of the prototypes. Image: Blenheim Palace.
Lady Rosemary (far left) and the 11th Duke (far right) clamber aboard one of the prototypes. Image: Blenheim Palace.

Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace was built as a reward for John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his triumph against France and Bavaria at the decisive Battle of Blenheim in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession.

Winston Churchill often spent time there, and is buried at St Martin’s Churchyard, nearby in Bladon.

The large lake was also used to trial HMS Conundrum, a 250-tonne floating drum used to lay miles of oil and fuel pipelines under the Channel ahead of D-Day. The estate was used by MI5 as well, as a temporary base after its London headquarters was bombed in September 1940.

Antonia Keaney, the stately home’s researcher, said the photographs offered an ‘absolutely fascinating glimpse into Blenheim Palace’s clandestine role’ during World War II.

This article was published in the August/September 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.




Leave a Reply