Studland Bay, Dorset

Studland beach is located near the entrance to Poole Harbour on the Dorset coast. The beach became a vital site for D-Day preparations during WWII and was also fortified in 1940 when the threat of invasion was at its height. Evidence of this can be seen along the beach and up on the cliffs overlooking Studland bay. CITiZAN have worked with the National Trust to run guided dog walks talking about these remains and how people can help us to monitor them as they are gradually lost to the sea. Area ranger for the National Trust, Stewart Rainbird also runs regular talks on the history of the beach. 

One of the first things you see walking along the beach are the remains of concrete anti-tank defences, many have been removed but some still remain behind the beach huts and down on the beach. These concrete blocks were designed to hinder tank advancement in the event of invasion. Alongside the concrete anti-tank defences the beach would have also been covered with scaffolding and barbed wire entanglements to prevent enemy landings. The remains of these have since been cleared. 

Further around the bay there is also the remains of a pillbox, these allowed probably up to four soldiers with machine guns to fire over the beach whilst remaining largely protected. The example at Studland is a type 25 and was made using corrugated iron as a mould. The majority of defences like this along the English coast never saw any live action, however, Studland witnessed the largest live fire exercise ahead of D-Day and pillboxes such as this would have actually been fired on by amphibious assault troops. 

Nearby up on the cliff top is Fort Henry, this concrete bunker is probably one of the best known and most obvious remains from WWII in Studland. In April 1944, Winston Churchill, George VI and General Eisenhower stood at this Fort and watched some of the major rehearsals for D-Day, also known as Exercise Smash. The Fort itself was built by Canadian troops who were stationed here.

Exercise Smash was the biggest live ammunition exercise of the war, in order to maintain secrecy the locals were moved out and a smokescreen was used between Studland and Bournemouth so that no one knew what was going on, including the trials of the Valentine Duplex Drive tank, essentially a floating tank which could be launched at sea from a Landing Craft and was fitted with a canvas skirt and propellers. As part of Exercise Smash several of the tanks were launched out in the bay, however, seven of them subsequently sank with the loss of six lives, there is now a memorial to these men by Fort Henry.

 

The reason for the tanks sinking has been much debated and work is being carried out by the Isle of Purbeck Sub Aqua Club as well as Bournemouth University. Some theories suggest that bad weather was to blame and that the waves swamped the tanks causing them to sink, however, work led by Dave Parham and Tom Cousins at Bournemouth University on the location of the tanks on the seabed suggest that they were actually launched in the wrong place and in the wrong direction which caused the disaster. 

 

CITiZAN and the National Trust are working to monitor the WWII remains on Studland Beach. If you would like to help and submit a feature update or see more images of the remains check out the entries on our interactive map:

Anti-Tank defences

Fort Henry

Pillbox