D-day rehearsal wrecks given protection before 75th anniversary | World news


Wrecks and ruins that are among the last vestiges of the great engineering achievements for D-day have been given heritage protection before the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion on 6 June.

They include six concrete structures built as replica landing craft for troop training, and sunken tanks lost along with crew during assault rehearsals that went badly wrong off the south coast of England. Portions of the famed Mulberry floating harbours are also to be protected.

During the final preparations for D-day, General Dwight D Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, described the southern portion of England as “one vast camp, dump and airfield”.

Six weeks before 6 June 1944, troops rehearsed an assault codenamed Exercise Smash at Studland beach, Dorset, watched by Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and King George VI. Seven army tanks known as Duplex Drive (DD) Valentine tanks, modified to be amphibious tanks so they could leave their landing craft further from shore, were lost because of bad sea conditions. Six crew members died.

The wreck of a Valentine tank off Poole.

The wreck of a Valentine tank off Poole. Photograph: Paul Pettitt

A valuable lesson was learned, and on D-day the tanks were released only in shallow water. Today, the Valentine tanks in Poole Bay, which have been awarded scheduled monument status, represent the largest surviving group of their type anywhere in the world.

Also given monument status – reserved for nationally important sites – are two Centaur cruiser tanks, designed to fire at concrete targets such as pillboxes, and two armoured bulldozers, designed to clear the invasion beaches of obstacles, which were lost when a 286-ton landing craft capsized off Selsey Bill, West Sussex, en route to Normandy on D-day.

Components of the ingenious artificial Mulberry harbours, made in huge sections, towed across the Channel, and assembled off the beaches so the allies could rapidly land supplies and equipment, are also being saved off Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, after being damaged during stormy weather before being towed to France.

Replica landing craft in Braunton Burrrows, Devon.

Replica landing craft in Braunton Burrrows, Devon. Photograph: James O Davies/Historic England Archive, James O. Davies

Troops had to rehearse how to get on and off landing craft at speed, and for this purpose special replica landing craft installations were made from concrete, designed to represent the top deck of the craft with its front ramp down. Six of these structures, used for training American troops at Braunton Burrows in Devon, have now been given Grade II listing.

The culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, said: “By listing the landing crafts, tanks, bulldozers and floating harbours we can ensure that future generations can learn about this important moment in our history.”

Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said: “Evidence of D-day planning, rehearsal and the actual operations is all around us, on our coastline and in our waters, helping to tell the D-day story.”

Historic England and Wessex Archeology have been carrying out underwater surveys of two large American vessels, known as Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs), that were sunk as part of the ill-fated Exercise Tiger D-day practice landings at Slapton Sands in Devon.

The ships were carrying hundreds of American servicemen as well as tanks, vehicles and trucks, and were torpedoed as a result of nearby German E-boats intercepting their communications, resulting in the deaths of more than 600 men. It is hoped the ships can be granted protection later this year.

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