During the spring and summer of 1940, a comprehensive survey was carried out along the beaches and hinterland of Suffolk to determine if the beaches were suitable for the disembarkation and operation of armoured fighting vehicles or landing aircraft.
The survey was carried out by Lt-col Spicer, Royal Marines. This survey looked at various sections of beaches as follows:
Landguard to River Deben
The approach to the beaches is generally clear. Beach was steep shingle replaced by sand around the Deben Estuary. The whole sector was suitable for landing infantry and tanks although the sandy sector would be more problematical for tanks. Felixstowe pier would be suitable to berth small crafts. Exits from beach in the urban area with a good road network. Cliffs north of the Pier provided an anti-tank obstacle.
River Deben to Slaughden
A sand bar about ¼ mile offshore would limit passage to boats with a draft of four or five ft to half tide and above. The mouth to the Deben was narrow and difficult to approach. Beaches are steep shingle and were considered suitable for landing a force of all arms. Steep cliffs ran from The Deben to Shingle Street. The River Ore provided a formidable anti-tank obstacle but infantry in collapsible boats could easily operate. There were no lateral roads along the coast with exits only at Shingle Street and Slaughden.
Orford Haven is difficult to approach and would need local knowledge. There was a suitable landing ground for aircraft at Kings Marshes (RAF Experimental station).
Slaughden to Dunwich
Two bars were approx. 50 and 100 yards offshore and extended from Slaughden to Dunwich and beyond. In winter these bars often generated heavy surf making boat work difficult. However during the summer months surf conditions seldom applied. The beaches were characterized by shingle along the whole length with a slope of approx 15˚ and were suitable for landing a force of all arms. The beach was flat between Slaughden and Thorpeness. From Thorpeness to Sizewell House there steep cliffs which would hinder movement of AFV’s. Between Sizewell House and Coney Hill (Minsmere) the coast was again flat. Between Coney Hill and Dunwich there were steep cliffs, up to 50 ft high.
The beaches were considered suitable to land a force of all arms for a period of six hours from half tide and above. The cliffs would be passable to infantry only. Some exits existed for tanks and the whole area except for the area ½ mile north of The Sluice was considered ideal for tanks. A lateral coast road ran between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness. Coney Hill was a locally tactically important feature as it dominated the beach to the Sluice. The hinterland was considered to be ideal tank country.
Dunwich to Southwold
Two bars were approx 200-300 yards offshore. There were navigable channels through the bars but would require local knowledge. The approach to Walberswick Harbour was difficult and accessible to boats drawing 10 ft or less only at high water. Heavy surf in easterly winds but surf conditions in summer seldom applied. Beach was steep shingle form Dunwich to Corporation Marshes but less steep from Corporation to Wlaberswick Harbour.
The beaches were suitable for landing a force of all arms for a period of six hours from half tide and above. However Corporation Marshes, crossed with dykes and the River Dunwich provided an excellent anti-tank obstacle and at Southwold Buss Creek and the marshy ground it enclosed would also restrict tanks to the roads. Road exits from the beach were at Dunwich, Wlaberswick and Southwold. There was not lateral coast road except between Walberswick Ferry to Southwold Pier.
Southwold to Kessingland
A sand bar approx 50 to 100 yards offshore would restrict any boat drawing three ft or more from approaching for a period of six hours from half tide and above. The beaches consisted of sand topped with shingle. The shingle was liable to shift in westerly winds.
The beaches were suitable to land a force of arms. Lateral movement along the beach would be required as steep cliffs up to 50 ft extended along the whole sector except for short stretches at Easton Broad and the Denes. Easton Broad provided a good anti-tank obstacle. Exits from the beach existed at the flanks of Easton Broad and the Denes. The hinterland was considered good tank country.
Kessingland to Lowestoft
The beach as characterized by shingle. There are steep cliffs north of Kessingland and a seawall along the front of Lowestoft. The beaches were considered suitable for landing infantry but not tanks (exits for tanks possible only at Pakefield and Lowestoft). Lowestoft Harbour was considered vulnerable to shallow draft craft.
Lowestoft to Gorleston Cliffs
Approach to the beaches was clear. The beaches were generally flat comprising of shingle and sand. It was considered suitable for landing infantry but not tanks. Exits from the beach for AFV’s barred along its full length due to the seawall for 1 ½ miles north of Ness Point and Gorleston Cliffs.
In summary Lt- Col Spicer considered the sector Slaughden to Minsmere Sluice the most vulnerable area as:
The beaches were suitable for landing a force of all arms
Good exits from the beach with free access inland
Good tank country in the hinterland.
Even today it is possible to see why the
beach between Slaughden and Minsmere
Sluice was considered so vulnerable. The
aerial photo (left) shows the section of beach
between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness with
suitable tank exits and a lateral road between
Aldeburgh and Thorpeness.
During June 1940 Admiral Dreyer also visited the beaches of Suffolk. He made the point that “modern tanks can only be dealt with by artillery fire, air bombing, land mines, tank traps and anti-tank obstacles, once the tanks have got past the naval and aircraft patrols at sea and are on the beach”. He also noted good cooperation by the three branches of the Armed Forces along with the LDV’s (Local Defence Volunteers) and ARP workers in preparing “every possible form of obstacle to the passage of tanks up and from our beaches, along our roads, and across country”. He notes that single 18 pounder field guns were in sand bagged emplacements at Thorpeness and Minsmere Cliffs to cover the beach between these areas. Four 25 pounders were also in support at Westleton . Contractors were employed on the construction of concrete obstacles on the beach but the civil population was still largely employed on gathering the harvest. Admiral Dryer suggested that the tank threat was so grave that they would be better employed on the construction of beach defences. It is uncertain whether this ever happened.
Invasion Beaches, Eastern Command, TNA