Fort Henry – Exercise Smash training area, Studland Bay.

Six weeks before D-Day, troops gathered in Studland to rehearse the epic operation. In front of the King, they used live ammunition to make the practise runs as realistic as possible, but the testing of a new type of tank ended in tragedy.

On April 18 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and General Dwight D. Eisenhower – Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and in charge of the military operation – met at Fort Henry on Redend Point at Studland to watch the combined power of the Allied Forces preparing for D-Day. The VIPs were kept safe in Fort Henry. Built in 1943, it was a specially constructed concrete bunker and observation post.It was 90 feet long with walls, floor and ceiling all three feet thick, and was considered a safe place for such VIPs to witness the rehearsal of the Normandy landings.

The exercise was not only the largest live ammunition exercise of the whole war, but it was the first opportunity for the new DD (Duplex Drive) tanks performing alongside other troops in a major practice landing. The DD tanks were designed to be able to float on water (on this occasion, Valentine tanks were used, rather than the Sherman DD tanks used on D-Day). Unfortunately all did not go to plan. Six of the tanks never made it to the beach: they became overwhelmed with the swell as the weather conditions changed and as a result the canvas structures were knocked flat and they sank to the sea bed, six men lost their lives.

Lessons were learned from this and it was a very embarrassing moment for the dignitaries, however in the shock of the real landings in Normandy, some DD Tanks were still unloaded too far out at sea and as a result many of them sank.

Photographs courtesy of:

www.warrenfamilyhistory.com, www.geograph.org.uk, www.bbc.co.uk

AddressFerry Road, Swanage, Dorset BH19 3AH, UK
CountyDorset
Location typeOther
AccessPublic Access
Site Ownership and Access InformationFort Henry can be found at the southern point of the Beach, with a piece of the pillbox at the foot of the cliffs. The Bunker is now owned by the National Trust and the public are able to go inside the Bunker and look out across the Bay. Two of the Valentine Tanks are still submerged about 15 metres under the water in the Bay.
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