Remembering the D-Day rehearsal at Studland

APRIL marks the 80th anniversary of Exercise Smash at Studland, a dress rehearsal for the D-Day landings, which took place at Studland Bay, and many other points along the south west coast, in 1944. The event will be marked with a series of commemoration events on 3rd, 4th and 5th April, including a display of Second World War Valentine tanks at Knoll Beach, guided walks and an exhibition at Studland village hall.

Studland Bay was chosen for Exercise Smash because it was similar to the beaches in Normandy – with long shores and sandy dunes.

Damage at Studland Bay, Dorset, following Storm Ciaran

Thousands of men took part in the exercise and it was here that the British tested their amphibious duplex-drive Valentine tank. These were designed to be launched in the sea where big naval carriers couldn’t dock.

However, on 4th April 1944, the exercise took a tragic turn when the tanks were launched too far out from the shore. When the weather turned, they started taking on water and seven sank, with six soldiers dying. The wrecks of the tanks still lie on the seabed at Studland Bay. Their final resting places are honoured as war graves.

The exercise was watched by the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, by King George VI and the American General Eisenhower from Fort Henry at Middle Beach, a concrete bunker which can still be visited today.

The National Trust is marking the anniversary with events including a visit by the last remaining duplex-drive Valentine tank of the type used in the exercise. It will be at Knoll Beach on Thursday 4th from 12.30 to 4pm, and Friday 5th from 10am to 3pm.

World War II defences and beach huts at Middle beach, Studland Bay, Dorset

The exhibition and talks in Studland village hall are being held in association with the Isle of Purbeck Sub Aqua Club. The exhibition of photographs, original pathe reels, physical ordnance and apparatus from the tanks will be on view on Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4th from 10.30am to 3pm, and on Friday 5th from 12.30 to 3.30. Members of the Sub Aqua club and the National Trust will be available to answer any questions.

Fort Henry, WW2 viewing structure at Studland Bay, Dorset

The guided walks on Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4th, starting at 2pm, will be led by local historian Pam White.

On Friday 5th at 10am, there will be a talk in the hall by Major Graeme Green about the regiment and Exercise Small, by John Pearson about the restoration of the Valentine tank, and by Nick Reed from the Sub Aqua Club about diving at the site.

Pictured: Dragons Teeth at Studland Bay, © National Trust, Jon Bish; Exercise Smash, courtesy of the Tank Museum; Fort Henry from the air, © National Trust, John Millar; Fort Henry, Studland, © National Trust, Clive Whitbourn; Valentine tank, Studland Bay, © National Trust, John Pearson.