SHAEF meeting SHAEF meeting in London 1944

Two different reputable sources indicate two different time frames for SHAEF's move from London to Versailles:

  1. The Military Agency Records of the National Archives indicates "SHAEF was located at London until August 1944; at Versailles, France, August 1944-May 1945; and at Frankfurt, Germany, May-July 1945."
  2. Wikipedia cites noted military historian Stephen E. Ambrose (Citizen Soldiers, Simon & Schuster, 1997, p. 199) as SHAEF having moved from London to Versailles "by December, 1944" (four months after the date indicated in the National Archives).

Which (if either) is correct - and can additional substantiating documentation be cited?

  • 3
    One might assume it would take some time to move all of SHAEF. 4-5 months seems quite reasonable all in all.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 27 '18 at 19:19
  • 2
    In today’s world I could see 4 to 5 months, but in the fast paced environment of a fast moving war in 1944, it doesn’t sound reasonable. I don’t have Ambrose’s book so I don’t know if he cites a source for December ‘44 but it could be that both August and December statements are in fact true, it just doesn’t seem plausible given the nature of the times in 1944.
    – Kerry L
    Aug 27 '18 at 19:40
  • 2
    Cross-Channel shipping constraints may have factored in. Do you want to send over that huge box of files, or a box of bullets...
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 27 '18 at 20:06
  • 1
    Thanks Jon - we can speculate as to how long it may have taken (though again during the total war effort in '44 and the massive amount of transport ability available to the Allies at that time, a quick HQ relocation is not out of bounds - in fact for an HQ to be able to operate efficiently one would expect in that kind of wartime environment it wold be critical to move as much as possible as fast as possible). Speculation aside though, there is documentary evidence available somewhere which should indicate the date(s) and time(s) of the SHAEF HQ relocation from London to Versailles. Thanks.
    – Kerry L
    Aug 27 '18 at 20:17

A comprehensive history of SHAEF can be found at the US Army's Centre for Military History. The relevant volume of the US official history, The Supreme Command, can be downloaded here. Pages 275-78 have the history of SHAEF locations.

To summarise, at the time of D-Day the Main headquarters was in Bushy Park, near London, and the Forward HQ was at Portsmouth, both in the UK. The first advance HQ on the continent was opened at Tournieres, twelve miles southwest of Bayeux, on 7th August, and was quite small.

The Forward HQ started to move to Jullouville, France, on 28th August. This was near the HQs of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces, and the French command, which were located in and around Granville. The Forward HQ started to move to Versailles on 15th September, and officially opened there on the 20th. A small advance headquarters was opened on 19 September at Gueux, about seven miles north-west of Reims, and the Forward HQ moved there on 17th February 1945.

At the end of September, the Main SHAEF HQ started to move to Versailles, and that was completed on 5th October. A Rear HQ was left in England, which moved from Bushy Park to Bryanston Square in London on 9-10 October.

So both the sources in the question are partly wrong, but an accurate answer is quite complicated.

  • Thank you John for the info and the linked reference. Much appreciated! I will review the documentation you provided (mostly looking for details on when Eisenhower himself relocated from the UK to the continent, but your info is spot on for my purposes).
    – Kerry L
    Aug 27 '18 at 21:05

From Dwight D Eisenhower we get a list of residences, including:

Early 1944 - Early March 1944 Grosvenor Square, London, England (SHAEF Headquarters)

March 1944 - Early August 1944 Bushy Park, England (SHAEF Headquarters and Portsmouth, Advance Command Post)

Part of August 1944 Tournieres, France (Advance Command Post in Normandy)

Part of September 1944 Granville, France (SHAEF Forward)

September 1944 - February 1945 Trianon Palace Hotel, Versailles, France (SHAEF Headquarters)

February 1945 - May 1945 Reims, France (SHAEF Forward)

where they distinguish between SHAEF HQ in England, Portsmouth Advance Command Post, Advance Command Post in Normandy, and SHAEF Forward in various places, and SHAEF Headquarters in Versailles.

At ixengineercommand.com one finds a thread on SHAEF HQ movement, quoting a book from the Office of the Chief of Military History (Army). There it states that

At the end of September, various echelons of SHAEF Main began their move from the United Kingdom to Versailles by air. The move was completed by 5 October. Rear Headquarters, SHAEF, consisting of approximately 1,500 officers and men, moved from Bushy Park to Bryanston Square in London on 9-10 October. A small contingent was located at Goodge Street Tunnel, which was now used as an underground storage place for important SHAEF records.

Apparently the book is available at ibiblio.org so you can read the entire section. Even at the end of the war portions of SHAEF remained in the UK. Interesting reading though.


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