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Saturday 31 December 2011

Westleton 30.12.2011

Spent yesterday mapping at Westleton. By the end of March I hope to have the main Kruschen site mapped at Westleton so may be able to start  making some sense of the data collected so far. However I will probably not have time to map the bit of the Kruschen site remaining at Dunwich. There will also be mapping to complete at Westleton in areas not part of the Kruschen site.

Three features of some curiosity mapped today.

Firstly  three pits created by deepening an existing old boundary ditch. I am not sure of the age of the boundary ditch but it is certainly not any time recently!

Above: Map of a crawl trench system along with three pits dug by deepening an existing boundary ditch (shown by the dotted line). The crawl trench is of interest in that its is the first I've seen which incorporates a V shaped weapons-slit. Photo shows pit dug in existing boundary ditch.

Secondly a series of slits dug alongside the anti-tank ditch.

Above: Plot of slits alongside the anti-tank ditch. Photo shows one of the slits and the anti-tank ditch. This section of the ditch was not dug as part of Kruschen but was excavated in early 1941 and ran from Minsmere to Dunwich.

Thirdly, when I went to map what I thought were only two slits that I had found previously, I ended up mapping 21! It just goes to show how easily they can be missed and the value of repeat visits. What puzzles me is the layout - I cannot see what it was hoped to achieve in training with them (except possibly just giving troops a chance to dig a 6 ft X 2 ft slit). They are way too close together to represent any kind of unit defence post or even for PAD. The ground was certainly shelled during live firing exercises (as the shell fragment shows) but presumably not when these slits were being dug! This is going to be the biggest headache when it comes to making sense of the data - deciding which earthworks were part of Exercise Kruschen and which were not. For the vast majority of the one or two man slits I've mapped to date, it will probably not be possible to come to a conclusion! Even so I think it still of value to map what is in effect the remains of a major training area, more or less undisturbed since the end of the War.

Above: Plot of 21 slits, which I can make no sense of the layout. Two photos show my bag in one of the slits, showing just how well preserved some of them are. Last photo shows a fragment of shell, indicating live firing in the area.

Finally thanks to all who have viewed the blog / website (which has now had 21,000 hits!!) and wishing you all the best for the New Year.

Thursday 22 December 2011

WW2 Mechanical Earth Moving Equipment - Part 3

Either the weather or other things have prevented me from getting out and recording in the field so it's  a good opportunity to post Part 3 in the Earth Moving equipment thread.

This post will concentrate on some of the attachments for the base RB machine used by the Army for defence works etc. 

This was considered to be the most universal equipment. It consisted of a long boom, or jib, and specially designed drag bucket. It is not positive in action but is rapid in operation. It requires a great deal of skill to operate. 
The bucket is thrown (or cast much the same way as in an angler casting a fly) by swinging the jib with the bucket held well up. The hoist and drag ropes were released allowing the bucket to fall forward of a vertical line from the top of the jib. The swing of the jib was checked at a point in line with the fall of the bucket. The drag rope was wound in dragging the bucket forwards to the base of the jib.
It could only be operated in soft materials and was ideal for dredging under water. This equipment would certainly have been used to widen and deepen existing ditches on Suffolk's coastal marshes to from anti-tank ditches. It may well have been used for digging anti-tank ditches elsewhere as well, much of the soil along the Suffolk coastal strip being sandy. 

Back Actor
This consisted of a digging shovel, downward and backward towards the machine, similar to the drag line but was positive in action.  The bucket was attached to a bucket or dipper arm, which was mounted on a stout boom.  The forward edge of the bucket is fitted with teeth and side cutters.It could be used to dig deep trenches or pits and can operate in fairly hard soils but it was not as rapid as the Dragline. This equipment may also have been used for anti-tank ditch construction in Suffolk although I have as yet found no specific reference to its use.

In Sept 1940 135 Excavator Coy R.E carried out experiments using excavators (Back Actors) to dig down to unexploded bombs.For example a 50 kg bomb buried 12 1/2 ft in clay was excavated, brought to the surface and defused in two hrs by 135 Coy; it would have taken five men with picks and shovels approx  two and a half days. Chief Engineer GHQ recommended that sub-units consisting of one Dragline and one Back Actor be employed for bomb disposal. Twelve sub units were required by Oct 31st of which six were required by Eastern Command. The War Diary of 135 Coy would suggest that Earth Augers were eventually used for bomb disposal works rather than Back Actors.

This equipment was used for excavating material at or above the level of the base of the machine. It could cut accurately within fine limits. It consisted of a short boom and bucket. The bucket is open at the forward end. The bottom is hinged at the forward end and secured by a trip at the rear. The bucket slides forwards and backwards along the boom on rollers. It is operated by lowering the boom to the digging position. The drag rope was then taken up drawing the bucket forward along the boom into the soil, filling the bucket. The bucket was emptied by operating the trip, allowing the bottom of the bucket to fall open on its hinge.

Monday 12 December 2011

WW2 Mechanical Earth Moving Equipment - Part 2

This post will look at the excavator. The base machine built by Ruston Bucyrus was the standardised  machine  used by the British Army during WW2. The normal base machines used were:

10 Roston Bucyrus
19 Roston Bucyrus
22 Ruston Bucyrus
37 Ruston Bucyrus

The RB 10 and RB 19 were normally employed in the field due ease of mobility. The RB 22 and 37 were considerably heavier and required special transport to move.

Above: Roston Bucyrus 19 Base Machine

All were powered by a diesel oil engine. The RB 19, 22 and 37 were started by compressed air - a small petrol driven donkey engine operating a compressor. The RB 10 was equipped with an electric self-starter assembly.

10 RB
Type of Engine: 3 VRON
Horse Power: 30
Weight of Base Machine: 9 tons
Ground Pressure lbs./sq.ft.: 1,440
Rated Capacity of Bucket: 3/8 cu.yd.

19 RB
Type of Engine: 3 VRON
Horse Power: 55
Weight of Base Machine: 17 tons
Ground Pressure lbs./sq.ft.: 1,650
Rated Capacity of Bucket: 5/8 cu.yd.

All the machines were fitted with three rope drums, or winches, which operated the jib or derricking rope, hoist rope and drag rope. Interchangeable front-end equipments were available for the base machines enabling the unit to be used for a variety of purposes.

Transporting Excavators
The only trailer normally available for the movemment of excavators was the Roston Bucyrus Trailer. It would take a load of up to 20 tons. It consisted of a triangular girder frame fitted with a removable platform. The front wheel assembly was detachable allowing the apex of the railer to be lowered to the ground. The usual prime mover was an A.E.C Matador or Scammell.

To transport excavators, the platform was removed and the front wheel assembly detached. A timber ramp was put in place  allowing the excavator to travel onto the trailer. The apex of the frame was then jacked up allowing the front wheel assembly to be slid back into position. With the platform in place the trailer could be used to tow any size tractor as well.

Above: Top - Excavator mounting trailer ramp. Bottom - 19 RB mounted on RB trailer attached to prime mover.

Subsequent posts on this thread will look at the various front-end equipments available to the base machine - dragline, back actor, skimmer and face shovel

Monday 28 November 2011

WW2 Mechanical Earth Moving Equipment - Part 1

Firstly I accept that I am going to labelled a first class anorak with this post. Declaring you have an interest in pillboxes is bad enough but tractors etc?? Anyway the reason for this post follows on from my visit to the TNA last week - highly successful with the highlight being the potential matching of many earthworks I found last winter to a training exercise held in 1943 (that's for future posts though!).

Anyway back to tractors - in one War Diary of Engineers involved firstly in the constrcution of anti-tank ditches on the GHQ line in Essex, before moving to Suffolk, a list of mechanical equipment was given. So I thought this post (and one or two subsequent) may be of interest to give a flavour of the machinery used to construct the anti-invasion defences in Britain. This is part 1 - the D4 and D8 tractor.

No 2 section 135 Mechanical Engineers commenced work on the GHQ Line in Essex on June 18th 1940 with:

  • 2 RB19 Dragline
  • 5 RB10 Dragline
  • 1 1/14 Smith Shovel
  • 1 D8 tractor and grader
  • 4 D4 tractor and bulldozer.
This post will cover the D4 and D8 tractor and grader. I hope to do the RB 10 and 19 in future posts. I have yet to find out what a Smith Shovel is - if anyone knows I would be extremely grateful if you would leave comment.

The most widely used 'caterpillar self-laying' tractor equipment by the Army during WW2  were the D4, D6, D7 and D8 tractors.

So sticking to the D4 and D8 mentioned in the War Diary, here is the technical information (you may want to hit the refresh button on your browsers now!!):

Horse Power: 35
Speeds forward:
1 - 1.7 mph; 2 - 2.4 mph; 3 - 3 mph; 4 - 3.7 mph; 5 - 5.5 mph
Speeds reverse:
1 - 1.9 mph
Drawbar Pull: 7,852 lbs
Fuel Tank capacity: 25 gallons
Weight: 10,240 lbs
Ground Pressure 860 lbs./sq.ft

Above: Two D4 tractors loaded on a S.M.T 20-ton trailer

Horse power: 120
Speeds forward:
1- 1.6 mph; 2 - 2.2mph; 3 - 2.6 mph; 4 - 3.0 mph; 5 - 3.6 mph; 6 - 4.0 mph
Speeds reverse:
1 - 1.6 mph; 2 - 2.2 mph
Drawbar Pull: 26,208 lbs
Fuel Tank capacity: 50 gallons
Weight: 34,170 lbs
Ground Pressure: 1,152 lbs./sq.ft

Above: D8 tractor with towing winch

Bulldozer refers to a special alloy high tensile straight steel blade, concave in the vertical plane. A bulldozer blade is permanently set at right angles to the centre line of the tractor. It can be lowered or raised in a vertical plane and could be used for pushing or dozing soils etc in forward direction. It was somewhat limited in its scope compared to the Angledozer which could be set at an angle up to 30 deg or tilted.

Above: Hydraulically Controlled Bulldozer Blade (photo shows it mounted on a D4 tractor, illustrations on a D7)

A grader was similar to a dozer blade but lighter. The War Diary only notes "D8 tractor and grader" so I assume this refers to an elevating grader No48 which was most likely to be towed by a D8. This machine was built up over a stout girder mounted on heavy iron wheels with steel tyres. A wide carrier belt was mounted on the centre of the arch, at right angle to the direction of travel. A steel plough disc loaded soil onto the conveyor belt which which could be discharged into accompanying trailers. A No 48 Grader needed a tractor with up to 120 HP to tow it.

Above: An elevating grader, towed by a D8 tractor, loading Athey Wagons in tandem, drawn by a D8 tractor.

Anyway that's the highlight of the technical details.  I am not sure how these tractors would have been used in anti-tank ditch construction but they were certainly used later for levelling sites for camps and aerodromes.

A plea to anyone who may know the answer to this question which would be useful for Part 2 of this blog:

What is skimmer shovel equipment?

Friday 18 November 2011

Diver Battery T5, RSPB Minsmere

This post is a good illustration of when recording by GPS can break down. The remains of the camp for this Diver battery is largely under tree cover which certainly affects the accuracy of GPS. Also in many cases only part of the concrete bases on which huts were built upon are visible - the rest hidden by years of leaf litter. The reduced accuracy of GPS under tree cover and having to guess some of the corners of the concrete bases means only a best guess of the outline of the camp can be produced.

Image 1: Location map of Diver Battery T5 and LAA Battery TD3
Image 2: Aerial photo of battery, 1945. The domestic camp and gun positions can be clearly seen. The gun position is in the area  just to the east of the current RSPB visitor centre.
Image 3 - GPS plot of the remains of the domestic camp, Diver battery T5.
Image 4 - Nail used for fastening corrugated iron sheets to wooden battens.
Image 5 and 6 - some of the remains of concrete bases on which  huts would have been erected upon.

Some interesting remains of the sewage / sullage system can be seen  including part of a 9" glazed stoneware pipe (if you are into drains!!).

Above Images - remains of the camp sewage / sullage system.

The battery itself was equipped with four 3.7" MkIIC, Predictor AA No. 10 and Radar AA No.3 Mk V. The location statement of Diver batteries for Oct 1944  notes a Light Anti-aircraft battery associated with T5 -  battery TD3 equipped with 8 X 40mm and two 3.7" MkIIC. 

I must admit I have done no research to date on the activity of these Diver batteries - I am for the moment just concentrating on searching for their remains. This will have to be something I rectify in the future!

Thursday 10 November 2011

11th November

Never got round to looking into these, visited during the summer, Ramsholt Churchyard. Today seems a good time for this post.

HMS Spartiate was RN establishment based in St Enoch Hotel, Glasgow. it was responsible for the security and safety of the River Clyde. A large number of motor boats were commandeered to form the River Clyde Patrol, crewed largely by local yachtsmen, many operating as volunteers. Chief Stoker Chambers died of illness.

I have not been able to find anything out about Private Stackhouse. The CWGC lists his age as unknown.

Monday 31 October 2011

More Trenches, Westleton Heath

As the vegetation begins to die back, it's back to trench mapping field work. As in previous years this will form the baulk of posts over the winter. Unless you are really interested in practice field works, these posts could be quite boring as one hole in the ground looks like another! So I thought I would start with what I think is an interesting survival. What makes this crawl trench system interesting is the surviving wire pickets. A line of long screw pickets and short pickets remain, without doubt the remains of a double apron wire fence. So assuming this earth work was dug for training purposes (to date I have found no Field force localities in the area), it would seem likely that wire was erected as part of the training in constructing this defence post.

Above: GPS plan showing the Crawl Trench system and the remains of the double apron fence. Bottom photo shows the general area  - the trench system is in the area of the gorse scrub and its easy to see how the position, located on the high ground, dominates the area.

I actually found this trench during the summer, deciding to visit an area I had never found any signs of earthworks in the past. Apart from a few isolated V shaped weapon-slits this is still the only earthwork I have found in this area to date. There is also no evidence of any live firing exercises (i.e no evidence of shell fragments or .303 cartridges).

Image 1 - Pit with Crawl trench. The pit could have been a dug-out, mortar pit or anti-aircraft gun pit (i.e Bren or Lewis on an AA mount).
Image 2 & 3: Long screw pickets.
Image 4: Short screw pickets - the diagonal wires of the apron fence would have run from the long pickets to the short pickets. These diagonal wires would have supported the apron wires.
Image 5: Shows my tape acting as a diagonal wire (unfortunately the long picket is bent!). The distance between the base of the two pickets is 5 ft.
Image 6: A sketch of the double apron fence.

Anyway will try and stick in the occasional non "Westleton crawl-trench" post between now and Feb. Other work planned for this winter is some more work on the Eastern Command Line and hopefully a resumption of my annual trip to the Somme in March (really missed not going last March!).
Check out the website - have begun to post some links to film dating from WW2. Also revisit the post on the Demonstration of Obstacle crossings (Part 3 I think for a link to film showing a scissor bridge). I love the footage of British troops in the exercise dressed up as Germans!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Corps Line : Ixworth - Euston

The last post on the section of the Corps Line from Elmswell to Euston which I visited back in September. This post will look at the remains of the line from Ixworth to Euston. Along this section of the line, the River Black Bourn formed the anti-tank obstacle and the line followed this river from Ixworth to Barnham.

Above: Corps Line, Ixworth to Barnham

Going north from Ixworth the first remaining pillbox can be found at Ixworth Thorpe, which was a defended place with 24 members of the Home Guard from "C" Coy, 2 Battalion Suffolk Home Guard. 

Above: Type 24 pillbox, Ixworth Thorpe, incorporated into a haystack on my visit!

Next up is a pillbox guarding a bridge over the Black Bourn at Fakenham Magna. This is completely overgrown and being in a private garden, there was no access to it.

Pillbox guarding a river crossing at Fakenham Magna. The pillbox is completely covered in vegetation and is just behind the bridge on the left hand side of the photo.

South of Euston are two more pillboxes. On is unusual as it still has remains of what appears to be black camouflage paint. The paint presumably would have helped hide the embrasures and its is notable that the paint is from approx embrasure level to the roof. 

Above : Two Type 24 pillboxes just south of Euston. The first two images show black camouflage paint still visible on one of the pillboxes, presumably to help hide the black shadow effect of the embrasures.

At Euston another Type 24 pillbox and a few concrete cylinders can be seen by a bridge, remains of a roadblock. Euston itself was a defended place with at 1941 a garrison of 10 Home Guard from "E" Coy, 2 Battalion Suffolk Home Guard.

Above: Type 24 pillbox and remains of a road block, Euston