Operation London Bridge: What To Expect Following the Death of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II London Bridge

Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-serving monarch in British history. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Queen Elizabeth II died Thursday at the age of 96. She was surrounded by members of the royal family at her Scottish Highlands estate, Balmoral Castle. A sophisticated process known as Operation London Bridge will now be put into action.

Known internally as “D-Day,” the process is an elaborate series of events that includes announcing the queen’s death to the public, a period of official mourning, and planning the details of her state funeral. Similar to the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, the 10 days following her death are labeled as D+1, D+2, and so forth.

The royal family established this intricate system during the 1960s. The mother of four who first took the throne in 1952 and once served as a military truck driver during World War II outlasted 13 US presidents and was the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

“The last time a British monarch died, 65 years ago, the demise of George VI was conveyed in a code word — ‘Hyde Park Corner’ — to Buckingham Palace, to prevent switchboard operators from finding out,” reported The Guardian in 2017. “For Elizabeth II, the plan for what happens next is known as ‘London Bridge.’ The prime minister will be woken, if she is not already awake, and civil servants will say ‘London Bridge is down’ on secure lines.”

Princess Elizabeth WWII

Queen Elizabeth, center, and Princess Elizabeth, at right, talk to paratroopers in front of a Halifax aircraft during a tour of airborne forces preparing for D-Day, May 19, 1944. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The delivery method to announce the queen’s death has evolved over the years to meet the complexities of modern times— including strategies for navigating social media and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since plans were first envisioned during a period when the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear armageddon, the BBC prepared to spread the news through its “radio alert transmission system” or RATS. The Cold War-era alarm was designed to withstand an attack against the nation’s infrastructure and still transmit the information amid a conflict.

The royal family had also created survival contingencies in the event she needed to escape such an attack. Code-named Operation Candid, the plan involved evacuating Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, to a royal yacht named Britannia, where they would hide in the sea lochs of Scotland. Though the plan was never needed, additional contingencies were developed, including following the 2019 Brexit backlash.

Despite the BBC’s exclusive access to royal death news since the 1930s, the latest plan, according to British news magazine The Week, calls for an announcement to “go out on a newsflash to the Press Association news agency, and the rest of the world’s media at once.”

The royal household released an “official notification” delivering the news to the public. Scripted messages, emails, and correspondence will be used for all further communication. According to The Guardian, the Foreign Office’s Global Response Center, at an undisclosed location in the capital, will spread the news to 15 governments outside the UK, where the queen is considered the head of state. Additional messages will alert more than 35 nations of the Commonwealth who identify the queen as a symbolic figure of royalty. In the internet age, tweets and other social media resources will help spread the news.

A remembrance service is expected to be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Every detail of the next 10 days will be well orchestrated — down to the mode of transportation that will be used to transport her body.

Elizabeth II WWII

Princess Elizabeth, as a second subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, leans against a vehicle during training. Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, TR 2835.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, TR 2835.

“There will be a thousand final preparations in the nine days before the funeral,” reported The Guardian.

Tomorrow, D+1, a proclamation confirming Prince Charles of Wales as king will be read at St. James’ Palace and the Royal Exchange in the City of London. On D+2, the queen’s remains will return to Buckingham Palace. Since the queen died at Balmoral Castle, Operation Unicorn will be launched to transport her body to London via train. A contingency for Unicorn called Operation Overstudy ensures if a train is not available, the coffin will be transferred by plane. A rehearsal for the coffin procession — Operation Lion — from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster follows on D+4, while the actual procession will take place the following day.

“The queen will lie in state at the Palace of Westminster for three days, in an operation codenamed FEATHER,” reported Politico. “Her coffin will lie on a raised box known as a catafalque in the middle of Westminster Hall, which will be open to the public for 23 hours per day. Tickets will be issued for VIPs so they can have a time slot.”

On D+10, the state funeral is set to be held at Westminster Abbey.

“The occasion will feel familiar, even though it is new: the Queen will be the first British monarch to have her funeral in the Abbey since 1760,” writes The Guardian. “The 2,000 guests will be sitting inside. Television cameras, in hides made of painted bricks, will search for the images that we will remember.”

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Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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