In 1943, a firing range was established at Boyton Marshes, just to the southwest of the Orford Battle Training area. Tanks drove around a concrete triangular track allowing the gunners to practice shooting from various angles, at a variety of targets at various ranges. Two concrete structures controlled flip up targets for the tank’s machine guns. They were also used to recorded hits on the targets. Two larger concrete structures, each built at the end of a linear earth bank, had a similar role but controlled tank shaped moving targets winched along a narrow gauged track which was behind the earth banks. These provided ranges of approximately 500 and 1,000 yards for gunners to practice at. The larger structures also probably controlled flip up targets as well. With firing taking place towards the sea, any misses would pass harmlessly out to sea
The concrete structures consist of a blockhouse, in which to house the gear to operate the targets and from which observers could record hits, and a wing wall on either side of the blockhouse for protection. The rear walls of the blockhouse, which faced the direction the tanks were firing from, were a massive 5 ft thick and were heavily reinforced. The front walls are only 1 ft 6 inches thick. Two loopholes in the side walls of the larger blockhouses were presumably for the winch cables. On the front side of both the large and small blockhouse, a loophole is clearly intended for the observation of the targets but the purpose of a much larger loophole is unclear – perhaps this was involved with controlling the flip up targets. The smaller blockhouses have two rows of glazed pipe along the bottom of the front side, while in the larger blockhouses two continuous narrow loopholes are used instead; again the purpose of these is uncertain.
Above: Top - the larger blockhouse which controlled moving tank targets. Bottom - the smaller blockhouse which controlled flip up targets.
Most target shooting was probably with solid shot but during May 1944, the range was used for practice firing of M61 HE filled rounds, which many failed to explode on the range. As the range was shortly to be put out of use, rendering the area safe for use was problematic as the earth banks, and to a lesser degree the sea wall, were full of the rounds. Sea wall repairs had to be organised in the first instance by the range commandant as the Catchment Board refused to allow their employees to carry out the work.
Today, both of the larger blockhouses survive and one of the smaller ones. One of the wing walls on the larger blockhouse has been damaged, presumably the result of poor aim from trainee tank gunners and demonstrating the need for 5 ft shell proof rear walls! The second smaller blockhouse has been destroyed, but measurements of the remains confirm it was identical to the surviving smaller structure. Why it was destroyed is unknown. If the range was put out of use in May 1944 it may well have been blown up by assault engineers as a training exercise. It could have been a post war attempt to clear agricultural land. Or perhaps, an attempt may have been made to destroy it in order to gain land for borrow ditches to repair the sea wall after the 1953 floods.
Also surviving are two original curved asbestos huts and the foundations of a third. Two concrete bridges, allowing access to the furthest blockhouse almost certainly date back to the construction of the range. The concrete access track and part of the concrete triangular track are also extant. There is no trace at all of the earth banks.
Above: Top left - large blockhouse. Top right - small blockhouse. Bottom left - entrance to one of the large blockhouses. Bottom right - interior of the small blockhouse.