During late 1943, a number of beaches were identified in Eastern Command for Combined Operations training to practice the landing of men and vehicles from LCT* and LST** and the driving off of vehicles from the beaches. The beaches identified were:
North Denes Beach, Great Yarmouth – required for training of Force L and 49th Div
Gorleston Beach, Great Yarmouth – required for 2nd Army Driver Training School
Southwold North Beach – required for training of Force L and 49th Div
South Shoebury Common Beach, Southend – required for training of Force L and 49th Div
Subsequently, due to the need of additional beaches required for training, reconnaissance was carried out at Benacreness and Gunton. The former was found not to be satisfactory for such training, but the latter most satisfactory.
Combined Operations Pamphlet No. 33 – Armoured Fighting Vehicles, describes the preparations and techniques required to land vehicles:
(a) Before tanks are landed certain preparations will have been made by personnel of the beach group already working in the beach maintenance area.
i. Beaches marked by lights and signals
ii. Landing points for individual craft selected and marked
iii. Beach exits marked and improved
iv. Beach roadways laid
v. Recovery detachments available for assisting tanks and vehicles over difficult slopes and surfaces
vi. Routes to assembly positions marked and traffic control established”
The technique for driving off is described as follows:
“(a) Tanks and vehicles should engage bottom gear and drive slowly down the ramp. As soon as they touch the bottom they must continue at an even speed until they reach the shore. The vehicle must not be allowed to stop in the water and no attempt should be made to change gear.
(b) If the water is deep there may be a slight drop off the end of the ramp. The driver should not be put off by the drop, since the eater will have a cushioning effect. He should be able to take his vehicle fairly smoothly off the ramp.”
Before the beaches selected for training could be used, a certain amount of preparation was required. This included removing minefields, clearing and marking gaps through scaffolding and wire obstacles, creating a smoother beach profile with bulldozers and laying of Sommerfield track. The concrete blocks on Southwold’s north beach were already noted as having been blown up, presumably a result of training in demolitions. For vehicles to exit North Denes and Gorleston beaches, ramps were needed to cross seawalls; these were to be prepared either by repairing existing concrete ramps, or constructing ramps consisting of 4-Girder 64 ft small Box Girder bridges. Live firing was not to be used during any training, and each beach was expected to be required occasionally rather than on a permanent basis. No evacuation of civilians was required.
Mine clearance proved problematic as most were laid at or slightly above the high water mark and were subject to the result of the alteration of beach profiles due to gales. Mines could be destroyed by sea action, washed out to sea or buried by sand. Mines were often discovered on an area swept and declared to be safe after a switch in winds. Various methods were proposed to be fully certain that beaches were safe but were in the most prohibitive as a result of the amount of labour or explosives required. It was even proposed at Gunton to use a tank, with sandbags placed on its floor to protect the crew, to drive up and down the beach and explode any remaining mines. In the end GHQ Home Forces accepted the risk that viable mines could still be in situ on the beaches chosen for training.
The burden of carrying out the work to prepare the beaches fell mainly on 49th Division although some help was initially given by GHQ Home Forces; 21st Army Group was unable to spare any Royal Engineers to help. Uncertainty as to when training could actually take place arose because of a delay in the programme of arrival of LCT and LST at Lowestoft, Harwich and Southend. Although Sommerfield track was readily available, SBG bridge supplies were not (Bailey bridge equipment was suggested as an alternative) and to further complicate matters the railway and transport networks were already severely congested – 14 days notice of the requirement of materials was needed to ensure they arrived in time.
The estimated work required for two of the beaches is detailed below, as an example of what was required:
Work required for North Denes
Clear minefield (two platoons for 14 days)
Clear wire (one platoon for four days)
Remove tubular scaffolding (one platoon for six days)
Build four ramps and set into seawall (two platoons for one day)
Repair existing concrete ramps (two platoons for 14 days)
Repair west approach road to road over railway bridge (one platoon for four days)
Lay 1,000 yards of Sommerfield track (one platoon for one day)
Above: North Denes Combined Operations Training Assualt Beach
Work required for Southwold Beach:
Remove tubular scaffolding (four platoons for two days)
Bulldozing to level beach (two men for four days)
Bulldozing to lay Sommerfield track (two men for two days)
Laying 2,200 yards of Sommerfield track and 1,500 yards of coir matting (one platoon for two days)
Above: Southwold Combined Operations Training Assault Beach
Training does seem to have been underway by March 1944 in the Yarmouth area at least, with a list of times that LCT were available for training with No 3 Special Driving School listed in 49th Division’s War Diary. The decision was taken not to use Gunton beach in March as metal spikes (“Dragons Teeth”) ran along the whole stretch of beach, some dry at the low water level and others with a foot of water above them. They would have posed a serious hazard to any LCT and could not be removed in time for the required training.
*LCT = landing craft tank, a shallow draught craft designed to land tanks and vehicles directly on to beaches.
**LST = landing ships, tank, a shallow draught ship fitted to carry tanks and vehicles and capable of disembarking them under their own power direct on to the beach.