Welcome to this blog which is intended to accompany a website on how Suffolk was defended during the Second War. The blog will describe my trips out and about looking for the remains of the Second War defences while the Website will concentrate on putting these into context.

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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Practice Trenches, Westleton - part 1

I must admit I enjoy wondering around looking for earthworks, quite often literally falling into them if they are covered in dense vegetation! You kind of feel in some cases its a race against time to record them before they disappear for good. They are obviously  much more ephemeral than the other surviving  icon of WW2 in Britain - the pillbox.

I've spent a few days recently mapping a number of slit trenches in one area of Westleton heath. I set out intending to 'mop up' what I thought were a few isolated trenches found on previous exploratory wanderings, but they turned out to be far more substantial than my initial findings suggested. The following posts will look at some some of these earthworks in more detail and I'll admit the following thoughts and interpretations are all guesswork! .

As I've said many times on this blog, the vast majority of earthworks on the Dunwich/Westleton complex of heaths are as a result of training. To date I have found no reference in War Diaries to any named Training Exercises in this particular area of the heath. It may well be that I have yet to find the correct document, or, it may well be that these earthworks were dug for platoon/company level training, of which details are seldom mention in War Diaries.

So why would trenches have been dug for training? I can only think of two reasons which are also laid out in 'Platoon Battle Drills for Offensive Defence' - The Instructors' Handbook on Fieldcraft and Battle Drill.

The first is to represent a German Fieldwork defensive position and perhaps demonstrate concealment and to consider methods of attacking it. The second would be to provide the platoon/company with practise in preparing a hasty defence position - i.e. part of Field Engineering for all Arms which new troops would need to learn.

The following image shows an overview plot of the trenches in the area that I've mapped - they seem to be in four distinct groups. All are also sighted on ridges, with some trenches sited on forward slopes to cover the valley / ravine.

So first the earthworks - not surprisingly, both the British and Germans used the same style of Fieldworks in preparing a hasty defence position -i.e. usually two or three men weapon-pits sited in groups all with interlocking arcs of fire and all mutually supporting. Communication trenches, if dug at all, would only be to the Crawl Trench stage. The basic field works of a hastily constructed defence position were:

One man /two man Weapon-Slits / Schutzenloch (Russenloch - i.e "Russian hole") / Schutzenloch fur 2 Gewehrschutzen

M.G Emplacement in Open Ground / Schutzenloch fur s.M.G

Crawl Trench / Kriechgraben

Above: The images illustrate how both the British and Germans used the same type of Field Works for hasty defence. The Germans used such field works in the defence of Normandy; for example the defences of Hill 112 were described as weapon-pits bristling with "Spandau's", connected by covered crawl trenches in one British Regimental History. The Normandy Bocage was also ideal countryside for constructing and concealing such defences.

The vast majority of the weapon-slits in these areas have been dug to  stage 1 (to a depth where a man use his weapon while sitting) or stage 2 (to a depth where a man could use his weapon kneeling). Some however are just shallow depressions, as if the turf had been removed but not dug any further. None were dug to stage 3 (to a depth where a man could use his weapon standing). There is no indication of any spoil, suggesting that it was removed to aid the concealment of the pits as laid out in the relevant training manuals. Some of the slits have been linked by crawl trenches.

In part two of this post I will look at the GPS plots of the four groups of trenches shown in the overview plot above.

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