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Sunday 30 January 2011

Tank Range (??) - Minsmere; unidentified concrete structures

These two structures are a bit of a mystery.  The surviving structure clearly resembles something from the First War - many similar structures were built by both the Germans and British in low lying areas such as Flanders where it was not possible to dig trenches. They were normally used as Command Posts or troop shelters. However these are in Suffolk! They clearly do not relate to  defences constructed in Suffolk during the First War as they are not shown on a Luftwaffe aerial photo I have a copy of dating from the Summer of 1940. I am also certain they are not on an RAF photo taken sometime in 1941 (although this is less clear than the Luftwaffe photo).

The only reference I have come across  that refers to these structures is a memo from HQ 21 Army Group giving permission for 79th Armoured Division Assault Royal Engineers to make use of "the concrete structures referred to on Scotts Hall A Tk range as you see fit" - i.e. blow them up as part of training!! This memo is dated 2 Nov 1943.

Presumably 'Tk' refers to tank and these structures were within the area of this tank range. However they do not resemble any block house associated with a tank range that I have seen before - the surviving structure certainly was not a block house in which winch gear for targets was housed in. They may have been shelters in which to observe ranging?

The amount of reinforcing that has gone into constructing these is phenomenal - as shown by the rough floor plan and the photos.  They surely would have been proof against even the German 88mm firing at close range! The structures  do not appear to be identical - although not much can be ascertained from the destroyed structure it would appear to have a flat roof. 

These remain a mystery for the moment!!

Image 1 & 2: Destroyed structure - note the amount of reinforcing, the thickness of the concrete and the apparent flat roof.
Image 3-5: Exterior of second, intact, concrete structure
Images 6 & 7: Interior of intact concrete structure. 
Image 8: Entrance to intact structure.
Image 9: Weapons damage to intact structure
Image 10: Sketch plan of intact structure

Monday 17 January 2011

Sutton Heath - Woodbridge Cold war Airbase

Spent a fruitless Sun searching another area of Sutton Heath for any signs of training. Did not even find any anti-landing trenches on this part of the heath. However did take these photos of the Cold War airbase at Woodbridge, now closed. The Guard post is of interest - basically constructed of sunken sewer pipes with a concrete roof supported by brick pillars. Access was through a metal hatch in the roof. Also there is a pipe leading underground - either some sort of shelter or was it an underground escape passage? Whether the post relates to the airfield here during WW2 or the Cold War I do not know - such crude constructions were used in both periods (e.g. the Norcon pillbox for WW2 or the Yarnold Sangar for the Cold War era).

Image 1-4: A crude guard post constructed of sunken sewer-pipes
Image 5: Road Blocks
Image 6: Watch Tower
Image 7: Braithwaite Water Tank
Image 8: Munition igloos and Braithwaite Water Tank
Image 9: Another Guard Post and munition igloos

Thursday 13 January 2011

Bofors 40mm Gun Pits?- Operation Diver Welter Site TA2

I have found little information on  Operation Diver in Suffolk (defence against V1 Flying Bombs) except for the relevant AA War Diaries at TNA. Combining this with reference to a Military Training Pamphlet (Gun Drill for 40-MM A.A. Gun and Predictor A.A. No.3 - Land Service, W.O Feb 1945) and field work is the subject of this post. BUT I must admit I am still uncertain if my findings are correct!!!

In a recent post on Welter Site TA2 I mentioned four possible gun pits. These do seem to fit quite well with the illustration of a gun pit for the 40 mm Bofors. The object of any gun pit was to give protection to the gun crew and the gun. However would this have been necessary in Britain during 1944/45?- there was no threat of enemy troops and slit trenches were dug on Diver sites for protection of gunners from aircraft or the flying bombs themselves. Certainly some photos I have seen on 40mm's employed on Operation Diver were not dug in.

A problem I soon hit was finding similar pits at  another Diver Site  (or at least I think it's a Diver site!) - except this  site was a HAA site (i.e. only had four 3.7" HAA Guns) and not a Welter site (i.e. mix of 3.7" guns and 40mm guns). This site will be the subject of the next few posts - it also has an unanswered question on gun pits!.

Anyway, back to the pits. The manual gives examples of two pits - one for the Mk 1 and American supplied guns and one for the Mk 2,3 and 4 guns. The pits I found resemble those for the Mk 1. The manual gives the the dimensions as 14 ft across at the widest point by 19 ft long. In addition there is a ramp down into the pit. The pits were initially to be dug 2 ft deep although the height of the walls could be added to by digging borrow pits. 

It is now almost impossible to get accurate measurements from the pits I've come across - erosion, forestry operations and even rabbits have all had an their impact over the last 65 odd years. However, my best estimate of dimensions from the best preserved pit is 15 ft across at the widest point by 23 ft long (which includes what I think is the ramp down). The depth is about 2 ft.

The pits, as shown on the GPS plot on the earlier post on this site are laid out in a horse shoe. I still have no idea on the layout of Welter Sites - probably no standard layout existed. I am slightly sceptical that any guns employed on Operation Diver were employed in the horse shoe pattern - all the evidence I've seen so far would suggest they were laid out in a line.

So after all that no conclusion - the pits still remain a mystery!!

Image 1: Pits for 40mm Bofors (a is for Mk 1 and b and c are stage 1 and 2 in digging for the Mk 2,3 and 4).
Image 2: Pit for 40mm Bofors, Mk 1
Image 3: Pit at site of Welter Battery TA 2 which closely resembles that of the pit for the Mk 1 in the manual.
Image 4: 40mm Bofors employed on Operation Diver on the South Coast - note lack of digging in and linear deployment.
Image 5: 40mm Bofors employed on Operation Diver.
Image 6: Diagram of 40mm Bofors - Gun Drill for 40mm AA Gun and Predictor AA No 3, WO, 1945
Image 6 and 7: Bedford Tractor for 40mm Gun - Gun Drill for 40mm AA Gun and Predictor AA No 3, WO 1945

Monday 10 January 2011

More anti-landing trenches, Aldringham Walks

Some rather more mundane (but still enjoyable) recording last weekend after the excitement of the defence works near Walberswick described in my last post. Its 1 1/2 yrs since I started on the trenches at Aldringham (still a few to go) - the ones recorded today are only fragments remaining on the edge of the site, most covered in dense bracken and scrub as the photo shows. However did come across the base for a large hut / shed (Romney or curved asbestos type hut) and those concrete metal filled cones again that I've already posted on. Also the remains of just the concrete on two cones - the first I've found to date. Still no idea of their purpose! 

Finally a sullage or cess pit (or is it?) that has got me wondering - its deeper than normal and there is no 4" glazed stone-ware inlet pipe. But I'm still convinced its nothing more sinister than part of the sewage system for the near-by Diver battery.

Photo 1: Bracken covered anti-landing trench
Photo 2: GPS plan of trenches mapped
Photo 3: Base of hut with concrete filled metal cone at entrance
Photo 4: base of hut - concrete filled metal cone at each end of entrance
Photo 5: Concrete filled metal cone
Photo 6: Concrete casts (without the metal cone)
Photo 7: Sullage / cess pit?

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Walberswick - some 1941 defence works?

Some interesting finds recently in the area to the rear of Walberswick. During 1940 defences along the Suffolk Coast had only really been developed to a linear strip along the coast line with platoon localities sited to cover the main exits from the beaches. With the relief of 55th Div by first 42nd Div and then 15th Div in 1941, work was stepped up on developing more depth to the defence. The image below shows the platoon localities of 2/4th South lancs (55th Div) and 10th Cameronians (15th Div). As can be seen a chain of defences had been constructed in the rear of Walberswick by 1941. 

                               Platoon localities 1940 and 1941

In addition an anti-tank ditch had been dug just to the west of Westwood Lodge (or Blythbrough Lodge) from Westwood Marshes to the Blyth Estuary.

In the area of Westwood Lodge, a large ditch can be seen -  presumably part of the anti-tank ditch and I came across a section of trench overlooking the ditch. This is in the area of No 16 platoon , 10th Cams.

On the Estuary side, near Hill Covert I came across a remarkable survival - almost certainly a section post dug to full fire trench / communication trench specifications. I think it consisted of four sections of fire trench linked by communication trench. This was in the vicinity of No 18 platoon (or possibly No 7 platoon).

Surviving earth works with a defence role are extremely rare - much more common survivals are those with a training role. If both these are genuine defence works an interesting question arises over the difference in the two sections of trench. The one overlooking the ditch is either heavily eroded or dug to much narrower dimensions than those in the Hill Covert area. Perhaps the section overlooking the ditch was an infantry observation post instead of a fire trench?

Finally an interesting collection of what appear to be weapons-slits and pits around the tumulus near the small car park on the B1387. Attached is a GPS plot with main field of fire marked for each trench. No idea if these are WW2 earthworks and,  if they are, whether they had a defence or training role. Such is the nature of field work, finding holes in the ground, with no solid documentary evidence to state their purpose!

Image 1: Ditch - probably remains of anti-tank ditch
Image 2: GPS plot of trench and anti-tank ditch
Image 3: Zig-zag trench clearly visible
Image 4: View from trench overlooking anti-tank ditch
Image 5:GPS plot of section post, near Hill Covert
Image 6: Section of communication trench
Image 7: Communication trench leading to fire trench
Image 8: Fire trench - Manual of Field Engineering, Vol I 1933
Image 9: GPS plot of weapons-pits near tumulus.