Preparations are under way at the old RAF Hornchurch wartime air base ready to mark the  80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Local historian Richard Smith is reliving Operation Overlord which sent more than 150,000 Allied troops into battle on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

It was the start of continental Europe’s liberation from Nazi occupation with the Spitfire squadrons based at Hornchurch having been moved to bases along the south coast to give air cover to the operation by land and sea.

Mobile radar units from Hornchurch were also moved across the channel to Normandy after the invasion had got under way.

Romford Recorder: Troops on Normandy beach-head, rare colour imageTroops on Normandy beach-head, rare colour image (Image: John Smith collection)

Richard, a retired printer from Rainham and author of a book on RAF Hornchurch, is staging a two-day exhibition at the Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre on June 1 and 2 in Hornchurch Country Park, the site of the old RAF Spitfire base.

“We’re displaying artefacts, relics and even Tommy uniforms from Operation Overlord,” Richard explained. “But we don’t have the veterans who took part — those still surviving after 80 years, now in their nineties, are probably turning up for the main anniversary commemoration in Normandy.”

Richard’s unique collection of photographs of the operation, including rare shots in colour, are also on display, showing the immense scale of the D-Day landings.

Operation Overlord was the biggest ever amphibious invasion in war history, according to the Imperial War Museum, and involved 7,000 vessels.

Romford Recorder: Historian Richard Smith with a Spitfire that may have been based in HornchurchHistorian Richard Smith with a Spitfire that may have been based in Hornchurch (Image: John Smith collection)

The operation began the liberation of France, with the capital Paris being freed from Nazi rule in August 1944.

The war eventually ended with the German surrendering on VE Day in May 1945.

Richard’s exhibition includes displays by cadets from the local Air Training Corps who meet at their Elm Park drill hall in Wood Lane on Mondays and Thursdays.

Stands are also being run by the Royal British Legion’s Havering branch, the Spitfire Society and the Bristol Blenheim Society which maintains a surviving Blenheim twin-engine light bomber in Cambridgeshire.

The exhibition can be visited between 10am and 4pm on both days. Those wishing to take a look will need to make a donation as an entry fee.