Old Largs top banner

Largs and the World War 2 D - Day Invasion

Many local Largs residents are unaware that during World War II Largs was the headquarters of the combined operations and where many important decisions were taken as to where Europe was to be invaded. The main locations used for the planning were the Old Hollywood Hotel on Greenock Road and the Vanduara Hotel next to Aubrey Crescent. More on the D Day decisions later but first a short history of the Hollywood Hotel itself.

The land where the Hollywood Hotel was built was known as Underbank House and had been the summer residence of Mr Holmes-kerr until it was sold to a Mrs Crawford. She lived in the original house until 1935. In 1936 a group of Glasgow businessmen men bought the house and added a large extension in 1938 and converted it into the Hollywood Hotel. The new Hotel opened in 1938 which had the addition of an indoor heated seawater swimming pool. Local people were allowed to use the pool. On the same site was the large modern villa of Underbank. which had been incorporated into the one story hotel extension.

War came a year after the hotel was opened and very soon it was requisitioned by the Navy.. The swimming pool was floored over and used as a conference room. When the war ended the building was bought by the Scottish Co Operative convalescent homes. It became busy and popular place for people recovering from illness. The Hotel was demolished in 1985 and two sets of flats were erected one called Hollywood and the other Underbank. Until the end of 2016 there was one small part of the hotel still standing. Opposite Hollywood flats just over the wall on the Greenock side of the modern stylish Bungalow stood a small white brick shed which was basically the last structure on the left hand side as you were leaving Largs heading towards Greenock. This was the old water pump shed which would pump sea water up to the hotel swimming pool. The owners of this bungalow demolished the shed and built a new garage on the same spot during the summer of 2017.

hollywood flats
The Hollywood Hotel

During WW II Hollywood hotel was the headquarters of combined operations and the decision was taken in Largs as to where Europe was to be invaded. Lord Mountbattana, Chief of Combined Operations had decided to take the whole planning operation away from the spotlight of London.

They also took over the Old Vanduara Hotel which is still standing and have now been converted to flats. The building still looks very much the same as it did during the war. Much of the major planning for D Day actually took place in Vanduara itself but larger meetings were moved to the Hollywood Hotel. At that time Vanduara was owned by Mr William and Annie Derby who had been running the hotel since 1934. The Derbys had to move out of their home but Mr Derby continued to run the building for the Navy personnel. He was given the rank of chief petty officer for his troubles. A new 27 line telephone exchange was installed which gave direct links to the Admiralty in London.

At Hollywood and Vanduara they also worked on the fake operation called Fortitude, This was eventually leaked to the Germans in an attempt to fool them into believing false invasion plans so that they would divert their forces.

old hotel

The Rattle Conference in 28th June 1943 was when the invasion of the Normandy coast was planned in detail. This conference was also known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold because of the number of high ranking officers taking part. The Rattle Conference held at the Hollywood Hotel included 20 various Generals, 11 Air Marshals and Air Commodores with eight Admirals and numerous Brigadiers. It was presided over by Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. After the discussions that took place here, the planners decided to select Normandy as the site of the Allied landings that would become D-Day.

The original code-name was Neptune, which was later changed to Operation Overlord. D-Day was set for June 6, 1944 and the landing place would be Normandy.

Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower the Allied Supreme Commander and later the 34th President of the United States of America visited Largs during this conference. Both leaders stayed at St Phillans, which later became the Manor Park Hotel located between Largs and Skelmorlie. The high profile conference talks took place at Vanduara where Churchill and Eisenhower attended.

At this time the Barrfields theatre was a seaplanes workshop and the Clyde a busy seaplane location. Important officials and world leaders including Winston Churchill arrived undercover to carry out important negotiations concerning allied operations.

Apart from the historic significance of the planning of D-Day in Largs, the town was very much involved in the war effort. In 1940 when the commandos were formed, the No 3 unit of several hundred men were based in Largs for training and the men were billeted with local families. Quite a few married local girls and some came back to Largs after the war. No 3 commando had their headquarters at Broomfields House (demolished to make way for Castlebay Court). On the floor of the tea room largs scale models were laid out of the Norwegian towns which were to attacked by the commandos on two separate raids. No 3 commando left Largs before the ill-fated Dreppe raid where many were killed, wounded or captured.

Glenblair House which later became Red Cross House and is now Pencil View was HQ for Fleet aircraft carriers. The Elderslie Hotel was used by both the Navy and Army to monitor ships on the Clyde. Several large houses were taken over as living quarters for Wrens. Later the Moorings Ballroom was requisitioned to become the pay department of the Navy. They had been suffering regular bombings at Portsmouth. The whole unit with their office equipment including paper clips was brought to Largs in a special train.

The Old Hills Hotel which later became the Inverclyde Hotel and then the Inverclyde National Sport Centre was taken over by first Army HQ and planning was done there for the invasion of Algeria which was to follow the capture of Libya and part of Tunisia by the 8th Army. Wartime Largs was very busy in both summer and winter because of the many people who had evacuated themselves to the town. The blitz on Greenock in 1940 brought in many people from that town. Most walked all the way to Largs, some with babes in prams. Nardini's cafe was requisitioned for sleeping accommodation and blankets and pillows ere provided by the Civil Defence. The Greenock people drifted home as the bombing stopped.
old hollywood hotel
The Hollywood flats today.