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Sunday, 24 March 2019

Exercise Smash - 4 April 1944

As we reach the 75th anniversary of Exercise Smash, the National Trust at Studland have put on display information and photographs relating to the top secret project, and it's tragic consequences.

Exercise Smash consisted of four linked exercises and played a crucial part in preparing for the D Day landings. Training with the DD (Duplex drive) Valentine tanks, which were effectively tanks that swam, took place off Studland beach because it was similar to the beaches in Normandy.

Albert Price the last remaining survivor of this exercise has contributed to a memorial project along with the Royal Dragoon guards and the Purbeck Sub-acqua club. On the 75th anniversary they will lay a poppy wreath on each of the tanks, in the location they sank in Studland bay between 4-23 April 1944.

Six soldiers from the Royal Armoured Corps 4th/7th Royal Dragoon guards died inside their tank and sank to the sea bed just off Old Harry rocks during a live ammunition trial in front of King George VI, Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery, who watched from Fort Henry.

  • 269616 Lieutenant Charles Robert Gould age 20
  • 5772493 Sergeant Victor Hartley age 27
  • 14301770 Trooper Albert Victor Kirkby age 19
  • 7907384 Corporal Arthur Jackson Park age 24
  • 7952162 Trooper Ernest Granville Petty age 20
  • 320390 Corporal Victor Noel Townson age 20

Lieutenant Gould was the only one to be recovered from the tank and is buried in St Mark's church in Highcliffe. The other soldiers are commemorated at Brookwood Military Cemetary, Hampshire.

Albert Price recalls,

"My tank was one of the ones that sank. We launched about three thousand yards offshore but soon lost control as the sea was so rough. Eventually, my tank hit a rock. We got out and hung on the screen but when the tank began to slip off we soon had nowhere to go but into the sea. We were floundering round for a while but luckily a naval boat came and picked us up".

Following his ordeal, 17 year old Albert was given some rum and told he was not allowed to divulge what had happened to him other than he fell in the sea. He was put back to training at Bovington for the D Day landings immediately. Eight weeks later he landed at Sword beach during the landings and was wounded.

On 4 April 1944 seven tanks were lost off the coast of Studland and six men were lost. Twenty five of the tanks returned and based on this trial it was decided that the Valentine tanks would be used on D-Day.

Ron West, a former soldier recalled that the soldiers were frightened inside the tanks because any shrapnel would tear through the tank's canvas skirt and it would drop like a stone to the bottom of the sea.

The tanks could not withstand choppy water conditions and would sink with the canvas skirt blocking the escape of the soldiers inside. They were not provided breathing apparatus in the event of a failure, although one soldier did hide a 'Mae-West' breathing device in his tank and survived as a result.

Studland beach where the tanks sank and still remain

Fort Henry

Inside Fort Henry where the King and Political leaders watched

Fort Henry

Dragon's teeth, a visual reminder of Studland's wartime heritage