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Tuesday 11 November 2014

Exercise Hedgehog - 79th Armoured Division

This Exercise, actually in five parts, was held in the summer of 1943 at the Orfordness Battle Training Area and is of interest as it clearly based on the drill of assault on strongly prepared positions established in Exercise Kruschen: Exercises Hedgehog I-V were held to study the action of an assault group of armoured fighting vehicles, Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers (AVRE's) and infantry, supported by artillery, mortars and MMG's in the assault on a strongly defended position.

Part I was a  TEWT (Tactical Exercise Without Troops) while II and III where Skeleton Exercises to practice Command and Communications down to troop and platoon level. Parts IV and V were exercises with troops, to practice the attack.

The enemy position was described as: 

“The enemy posn consists of hedgehogs manned by coy gps incl Fd and A.Tk Arty, mortars, M.M.G’s and L.M.G’s.  Weapons are sited in concrete and field emplacements and weapon pits.  There are reinforced concrete personnel shelters with 6ft thick walls.

The whole is enclosed in a mine  marsh which includes belts of close spaced mines (A.Tk and A/Personnel) and there are stretches of ditch or wall across the best tk runs.  Each locality is surrounded by a double belt of wire”.

Above: Map of Hedgehog "A", Exercise Hedgehog

The basic drill was to clear lanes through the minefield with flail tanks, when the infantry then fought their way through the enemy position, supported by crocodile tanks.

Above: Map of Exercise Hedgehog, showing Assembly Area, Forming Up Point (F.U.P), Start Line and the four lanes of advance

The drill used in these exercises was more or less that used in Europe in 1944. For example, on the assault on Le Havre, the attack opened up with bombing and an artillery barrage to soften up the defences. Flails were used to clear three lanes through the minefield, which then infantry and tanks supported by Crocodiles passed through to deal with individual strongpoints. This technique can be traced back to Brigadier Wale’s drill developed in Kruschen, although at the time he only had the use of snakes to breach minefields and Ronsons instead of Crocodiles; the Kruschen drill involved clearing lanes through the obstacle when troops then fought their way through the hedgehog, supported by Ronsons and Engineers to deal with individual strongpoints. It is interesting to note that on one occasion, the attack on Boulogne, the drill was ‘reversed’, i.e. the infantry were to seize and hold a penetration through the “crust”, heavy bombers in great force being used to make the initial breaches.  The exploitation was then to be carried out by three columns entirely armoured.

Above: Infantry and tanks passing through one of the cleared lanes, Le Havre. 
Bottom image shows crocodile flame thrower tanks attacking an individual strongpoint. 

The Exercise is also of interest as it is easy to visualize the landscape where Part IV and V were held. The area for the Orfordness Battle Training Area was chosen well; it was sparsely inhabited, remote, and consisted of good country for tank training. Today it is still reasonably sparsely inhabited, consisting mostly of arable land. When General Hobart was given command of the 79th Armoured Division, he was ordered to continue to develop the drill established in Kruschen, including the construction of replica German beach and inland defences. It is uncertain whether or not replica defences were constructed for Exercise Hedgehog, but if they were nothing remains today.

Above: Image 1 - aerial view of the ground over which Part IV and V took place. The buildings in the area where the F.U.P. and the Start Line are Poplar Farm.
Image 2 - View of the area today, showing the Start Line at Poplar Farm and the "marshy ground" - see detailed map of Hedgehog "A"
Image 3: View  of the ground today; Hedgehog "A" would have been in the foreground, Hedgehog "B" in  the background. 

A more detailed account of this Exercise will soon be posted on the main website

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Tett Turrets - Docking, Norfolk

On the way up to visit family in Yorkshire, I stopped off in Docking, Norfolk, to view a couple of Tett Turrets discovered by Justin Aldis.  Justin remembers playing in these turrets as a child, and they are basically the same 30 years on. They have survived in a strip of scrub between pasture and housing in the village. As far as I am aware, the only other known remaining examples of Tett’s are at RAF Hornchurch and on the Isle of Man, so these are an incredible survival and just illustrate what is still out there to be found.

Above: Location and fields of fire of the Tett turrets. They were presumably located to control the approach to the village

The Tett turret was designed and manufactured by Burbidge Ltd of East Horsley, Surrey. The specification was a mounted turret on a sunken concrete pipe. They also recommended siting turrets in inter-connecting trios (reference:  “Pillboxes of Britain and Ireland”, M Osborne).

Above: Two sketches of the Tett Turret. Top image shows the manufactures specification of mounting the turret over a sunken concrete pipe.

The two turrets are about 12 ft apart, joined by a concrete tunnel (approx 29” diameter). The turrets are mounted on a sunken brick structure, the walls being 1 ½ bricks wide (giving an approx 15” thick wall).  The internal dimensions of the brick structure are 42” wide, 72” long and 53” high. One of the structures has an apparent entrance, which I assume would have originally opened into a slit trench allowing access to the turret.  A spur concrete tunnel leads off the tunnel joining the two turrets; I did not explore this as Justin informed me that it has already collapsed along its length (where did it lead to - perhaps a third turret??). The turrets are cast concrete and are mounted on a concrete ring. A 6” thick concrete slab forms the remaining roof of the brick structure. A metal seat (or step) is suspended from the turret. The turrets have an 8” wide embrasure and five splayed observation slits.  

Above: Plan of brick structures and concrete pipes (with turrets shown) and profile of the brick structure.

The basic design seems similar to the example at Sudbury (which has sadly now been destroyed) i.e. the turret mounted on a brick chamber rather than the manufactures specification of a sunken concrete pipe.

Above: The Sudbury Tett turret (now destroyed), also mounted on a brick structure.

So what exactly was the purpose of a Tett turret? The following text is from my website:

“An alternative to concrete works capable of withstanding determined attack was the small steel machine gun post distributed in depth as found during the last year of the Great War – the Hobbs casemate.  This was basically a steel cupola mounted over a 3ft 9 in pit with only 18in showing above ground level. The rationale for this was the age old problem of gun and armour – the gun would always win in the end. Even the Maginot type of fortification was not impregnable. These small posts were inconspicuous, easily hidden and were bullet and splinter proof. It would be hard for a tank to hit except at short range. GHQ noted that a number of similar designs existed at the War Office and were worthy of further trial. They would require less steel per weapon to be protected than reinforced pillboxes. They were designed to fit into a system of field defences. Presumably the Tett Turret and Allan Williams Turret were examples of these designs. The idea was never really taken up as so few of these structures were constructed.

The design for the Tett Turret was a rotating steel turret mounted onto a sunken concrete pipe but the only known examples (including one at Sudbury, Suffolk – now destroyed) actually had concrete turrets. It could incorporate two rifle men or a Bren gunner and his number two. It was primarily designed to defend road junctions, its lower profile than a pillbox being its main selling point. It proved too cramped and it was argued a slit trench would provide similar protection so only a handful were ever constructed.”

Images 1 to 5 - the turrets
Image 6 - interior showing suspended seat / step and entrance to concrete tunnel
Image 7 - entrance to concrete tunnel
Image 8 - concrete tunnel (note the spur tunnel running off the main tunnel)
Image 9 - view through the embrasure
Image 10 - observation slit
Image 11 - entrance to the brick structure of the southerly turret 
Image 12 - bearings on which the turret rotated on

I must admit I don’t know much in detail about Norfolk’s defences. Docking was a category A Nodal Point / Defended Place and also a Brigade HQ. The military seem to have adopted quick and easy constructed prefabricated structures to defend Docking – a number of Norcon pillboxes also survive in the village. More conventional pillboxes can be found in nearby villages and at RAF Docking. Justin informs me there is an active local history group in Docking, currently concentrating on WW I but hopefully they will turn their attention to WW II soon, so we may get to find out more about these amazing survivals and the history of Docking during WW II. 

Above: Top - a Norcon pillbox which is nearby to the two Tett turrets. Bottom two images show a conventional Type 22 pillbox at the site of what was nearby RAF Docking.

Friday 4 July 2014

54th Div Exercise - crossing of obstacles, 1942: Update - July 2014

Looking at the posts in this thread, I don't seem to have posted an image of the anti-tank ditch as it was when I was doing the initial field work. Probably because it was in a dense forestry plantation! Drove past the ditch this Tue on a visit to Orfordness and noticed that the forestry plantation had been clear felled and the litter/stumps rowed up. Luckily the ditch does not seem to have been affected, and it is now much easier to visualize in the landscape than before. However the nearby anti-landing ditches did not fare so well in the forestry operations being much damaged, although it is still just about possible to trace them. 

Above: Images of the anti-tank ditch used in this training exercise, July 2014. Last image shows lengths of what appear to be 2" scaffolding poles. Many traces of barbed wire were also found, although this just crumbled to dust when handled, the acidic sandy soil taking its toll.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Cobra Mist

Ok, not WW2, but the story of 'Cobra Mist' is surely worthy of a post? At the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon was in the process of developing a number of intelligence gathering systems, one of them being 'Cobra Mist'.  This was part of the 'Cobra' programme, a series of systems to monitor Russian and potentially Chinese missile tests.  'Cobra Mist' was an over-the-horizon  'backscatter'  radar designed to bounce a strong signal off the ionosphere to cover a range of between 575 miles to 2300 miles to the east. Its purpose was to monitor aircraft, detect missile and satellite launchings behind the 'Iron Curtain'. If successful, it was hoped an early warning of a nuclear attack could be increased from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. It was essentially a private project between the US and UK Governments,  largely excluding NATO. It was almost entirely funded by the US Government to the sum of anything between £35M - £55M. The construction site was on Orfordness, Suffolk, the contract being awarded to Balfour  Beatty & Co as a concession to the British. 

Above: Planned coverage of 'Cobra Mist'.

Such a construction project would not go unnoticed, and the purpose of this project was 'explained' as purely an ionospheric research station, the same explanation given for the development of RDF at Orfordness in 1935!!

The construction programme began in in 1968, and at its height employed nearly 500 people. 

Above: Construction of 'Cobra Mist'

The system comprised a vast 18 string fan shaped antenna, consisting of 189 aerials arranged in a semicircular fan covering half a square mile facing directly at the Soviet Plesetsk missile testing site in north-western Russia. The transmission equipment was buried in a building known as the Ballum Pit and the receivers etc housed in a large building (known as the Integrated Technical Services Building)  built on piles to protect against flooding.  

Above: Top two images show the fan-shaped array. Bottom image shows the ground net associated with the array made up of high quality aluminium wire and designed to cut out 'noise'. 

The 'Cobra Mist' project was run by the Signals and Intelligence specialists from the 81st Radio Research Squadron . 

Badge of 81st Radio Research Squadron

The project was scheduled for operation by July 1972, but due to 'noise' problems this was rescheduled to 1973. The 'noise' problems were never resolved and due to economic considerations the project was terminated in June 1973. The 'noise' was described as a sharp repetitive tapping noise, at first thought to originate from Russian trawlers attempting to jam the signal. Apparently it was later confirmed as coming from a Russian over the horizon radar system, known as Duga-3 (actually known to NATO at the time and code named as the 'Steel Yard')

Above: Duga-3

The secrecy of 'Cobra Mist' has led to  stories linking it to UFO's.  The signals were so strong that ships were warned if they carried potentially explosive materials which could be exploded by sparks caused from static, an aircraft exclusion was set up, reports received of interference to TV signals and even a local bus company complaining that the 'death rays' were causing its buses to brake down!  The building was taken over by BBC World Service (they have recently vacated it). 

Above: 'Cobra Mist' ITS building today, recently vacated by BBC World Service. 

Thursday 3 April 2014

Monchy le Preux , Arras (Somme trip 2014)

On a beautiful spring day with the temperature easily in the 60’s, we decided on a quick drive up to the Arras battlefields and had a pleasant walk around the south east side of Monchy, covering the area around Bois du Sart and Bois du Vert, The Mound and Infantry Hill. 

On the way we stopped off at the two German blockhouses at Wancourt and two cemeteries, Henin Communal Extension and Wancourt British Cemetery.

Above: Images of the larger blockhouse, presumably a command post that was built for defence with several embrasures. The entrance and an embrasure can be seen in the first image. Interior images are poor as my cameras flash decided not to work!!

ABOVE:  HENIN COMMUNAL CEMETREY EXTENSION, HENIN-SUR-COJIEUL (P. De C.). 5 miles S. of Arras, 2 ½ miles NE. of Boyelles Sta., 750 yards S. of village, near St. Leger road. Henin was 1 ½ mile behind front line at beginning of Battle of Arras April 1917, and was used from April to Nov. 1917. Records 191 U.K. burials and 2 special memorials. First image and above text from "Silent Cities"

Capt. and Adj. H. Burkett, Kings Own Yorkshire LI, died 5th June 1917: “POURED OUT THE SWEET RED WINE OF YOUTH”.


ABOVE: WANCOURT BRITISH CEMETERY (P. De C.). 5 ¾ miles SE. Of Arras Sta. S. of main road from Arras to Cambrai. Captured on April 12th 1917, after very heavy fighting. Records 1,026 U.K., 246 Can., 1 Bermuda, 566 Unknown burials, and 96 special memorials.

The  area Bois du Sart / Bois du Vert / The Mound / Infantry Hill, to the east of Monchy,  was  reached by the British  at the formal end to the Battle of Arras.    After the Battle of Arras drew to an official close, the British continued with a policy of active defence in order to cause doubt in the mind of the enemy as to whether the Battle of Arras was to be further developed. The British also hoped to capture the high ground of Infantry Hill – Bois du Vert which would give views almost to Cambrai. Bois du Vert itself was on ground which sloped down to the valley of the River Cojeul, and the enemy positions where not visible to the British.  Fighting consisted of confusing and fierce raids launched by both sides during the remainder of 1917. 

Above: Map showing battlefield to the east of Monchy le Preux.

Above: Looking back towards Monchy from Tites Copse

The site of Bois du Vert, now removed. This wood was on the reverse slope so not visible to the British observers. 

Above: British 18 pdr HE shell and battered trenches, Bois du Sart. Last image shows a British Mills bomb with Bois du Sart in the background. 

Finally, three images which caused a bit of discussion between myself and my brother; was this a British observation post constructed in an old cellar?? At the time of the fighting the British were unable to occupy Monchy due to German shelling with the exception of  a handful of observation posts. The photos show an obvious old cellar with a hole knocked in the wall giving excellent observation over the Bois du Sart and the battlefield but is it period, who knows!!!