British troops practising for D-Day, 1944

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Second World War

The Second World War took place between 1939 and 1945 and was the bloodiest conflict in human history. It split the world's nations into two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis Powers.

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Explore Second World War stories

Major David Stirling, c1942

David Stirling: The Phantom Major

Colonel David Stirling was a pioneer of British Special Forces. In 1941, he founded the Special Air Service (SAS) in Egypt to undertake small-scale raids behind enemy lines.

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Gun disguised as a pen for use by SOE agents, 1945

Special Operations Executive

Formed in 1940, SOE was an underground army that waged a secret war in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia. Its agents demonstrated incredible courage and resourcefulness in their guerrilla war.

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Sergeant Herbert Chambers with fellow Special Boat Service soldiers in Athens, 1944

Origins of the Special Forces

During the Second World War, Britain created a range of special units who undertook a variety of daring operations against the Axis Powers. The bravery and commitment of these forces has become the stuff of legend.

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Bagnold sun compass used by the LRDG, c1942

Desert innovator: Bagnold's sun-compass

The Long Range Desert Group were masters of navigation. They owed much of their success to the scientific talents of Major Ralph Bagnold, whose sun-compass invention revolutionised desert travel.

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Propaganda poster depicting a commando raid on a German-held port in Norway, 1940

The Commandos

In 1940, the British established a new raiding and reconnaissance force. Well-trained and highly mobile, they were to carry on the war against the Axis after the evacuation from Dunkirk.

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Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Wavell, 1938

Archibald Wavell: Britain's first wartime victor

Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell led an imaginative and flexible campaign against the Italians in North Africa. His triumph over their vastly superior forces was Britain’s first success of the war and paved the way for later victories.

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Model of a London and North Eastern Railway engine, c1943

A prisoner's model masterpiece

A British prisoner of war’s model train, painstakingly made from scraps of rubbish, sheds light on the experiences of soldiers incarcerated in Germany during the Second World War.

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Antony Mallaby's dressing gown with formation badges sewn on it, c1943

Dressing gowns that earned their stripes

A child’s dressing gowns, decorated with patchworks of military badges, reveal a moving story of growing up in Britain during the Second World War and the loss of a beloved parent.

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Field Marshal Viscount Slim, 1967

William Slim: The soldiers' soldier

Field Marshal William Slim led 14th Army in Burma during the Second World War. Despite inheriting a disastrous situation, he restored his men's morale and led them to victory against the Japanese.

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Dropping parachutists and supplies, Arnhem, September 1944

Operation Market Garden

In September 1944, the Allies launched a daring airborne operation to cross the Rhine and advance into northern Germany. Market Garden remains one of the Second World War’s most famous battles.

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The Battle of El Alamein, 1942

Second Battle of El Alamein

Fought in October-November 1942, this was the climax and turning point of the North African campaign of the Second World War. The armies of Italy and Germany suffered a decisive defeat by the British Eighth Army.

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The Norfolk Volunteers at Gunton Park, 1864

Civilian soldiers

Throughout its long history the British Army has relied on part-time soldiers to support its operations, guard British shores and maintain law and order.

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Explore Second World War events

What is Total War?
Secondary workshop

3 September 2018 - 30 July 2020

FREE

What is Total War?

Investigate the concept of Total War by tracing the steps taken to prepare for industrialised conflict in the First and Second World Wars.

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London in the Second World War: The Blitz
Primary workshop

3 September 2018 - 30 July 2020

FREE

London in the Second World War: The Blitz

Use sleuthing skills to discover the stories revealed in our Second World War time capsules. Delivered in partnership with the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

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The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games
Exhibition

6 April 2019 - 24 November 2019

£6.00

The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games

This major exhibition explores the life and legacy of the iconic designer Abram Games, focusing on his time as ‘Official War Poster Artist’ during the Second World War.

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Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition
Workshop

21 October 2019 - 26 October 2019

FREE

Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition

Step inside our life-size board game this October half-term and battle it out to see who wins.

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Churchill's German Army
Talk

24 October 2019, 6.30pm

£5.00

Churchill's German Army

Dr Helen Fry uncovers the story of the German and Austrian refugees, most of them Jewish, who fought for Britain in the Second World War.

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Curator tour: The art of persuasion
Tour

26 October 2019, 2.00pm

£10.50

Curator tour: The art of persuasion

Join a curator on an hour-long guided tour of our special exhibition, 'The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games'.

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British Forces in Germany, 1945-2019: The Lived Experience
Book Launch

31 October 2019, 6.30pm

£5.00

British Forces in Germany, 1945-2019: The Lived Experience

Join historian and curator Dr Peter Johnston as he launches his new book - the authorised history of the British military's time in Germany.

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SAS Shadow Raiders
Talk

1 November 2019, 6.30pm

£8.00

SAS Shadow Raiders

Damien Lewis tells the incredible story of the radar wars and the secret mission that changed the course of the Second World War.

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Curator tour: The art of persuasion
Tour

7 November 2019, 11.00am

£10.50

Curator tour: The art of persuasion

Join a curator on an hour-long guided tour of our special exhibition, 'The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games'.

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Curator tour: The art of persuasion
Tour

23 November 2019, 2.00pm

£10.50

Curator tour: The art of persuasion

Join a curator on an hour-long guided tour of our special exhibition, 'The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games'.

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Jingle bell jive
Late

8 December 2019, 6.00pm

£16.00

Jingle bell jive

Jive back in time for an evening of swing and gin at our authentic Christmas-themed ‘40s dance night.

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Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day
Talk

11 December 2019, 6.30pm

£8.00

Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day

Dr Peter Caddick-Adams presents a panoramic new account of one of the Second World War's most important campaigns.

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"First time @NAM_London today. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thought the presentation & interpretation made the subject accessible..."