Exercise SMASH was a live-fire rehearsal for D-Day undertaken at Studland, Dorset, in April 1944. Of particular interest was the testing of a new variation of tank. This DD (Duplex Drive) Valentine was a 'floating' unit that could leave its landing ship at a further distance from shore than other tanks. During the exercise, seven of the tanks sank in Poole Bay, with the loss of 6 crewmen, shortly after driving off their attendant landing craft.
Reasons for Designation
The Poole Bay Valentine Tank assemblage, Dorset, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Period: as a material record and an eloquent witness to the engineering achievements, logistical preparations and practice assaults around England’s coast for the largest amphibious invasion ever undertaken on 6 June 1944;
* Potential: forming a primary source of evidence relating to the ingenuity of the wartime Allies in devising, creating, and building specialist equipment to overcome the challenges of attacking a heavily defended beach in a frontal assault;
* Rarity: the Valentine DD tanks in Poole Bay represent the largest surviving group of their type anywhere in the world;
* Group value: associated with the Grade II listed Fort Henry at Redend Point which overlooked Exercise SMASH in April 1944, as well as the other surviving Second World War structures in the area.
The Valentine tank was an infantry support tank produced in the UK during the Second World War. More than 8000 were produced and accounted for approximately a quarter of all wartime British tank production. One particular variant of the Valentine was the DD (Duplex-Drive) made amphibious by the use of a waterproof canvas shroud flotation system designed by the Hungarian born automotive engineer Nicholas Straussler (1891-1966); 625 DD variants were delivered to the Army in 1943-1944 and they were used by crews training for the M4 Sherman DD tanks for D-Day, thus, in theory, solving the problem of getting armour ashore with the first wave of infantry attacks without attracting the heavy fire that would otherwise be directed towards a fully-laden landing craft.
In June 1944 the Allies opened a Second Front in Europe with Operation Neptune, comprising a largely amphibious invasion. In preparation for the attack, the Allies undertook a series of practice assaults on beaches in southern England. Exercise SMASH was one such practice at Studland, Dorset, which involved live-ammunition, rocket attacks and an assault landing with thousands of infantry on 4 April 1944. A trial run of the Valentine DD tanks ran into immediate difficulty when a sudden change in the weather adversely affected sea conditions. Seven tanks sank fast in Poole Bay with the loss of six crew members of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards. However, a valuable lesson had been learned: the DD tanks would not survive being launched too far from a beach and consequently on D-Day itself the tanks were released in shallow water.
Exercise SMASH was watched by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower from Fort Henry on Redend Point, overlooking Studland Bay. The fort was listed at Grade II in 2012 as it provides an ‘impression of the scale and significance of the preparations for D-Day’, in much the same way as the DD tanks do (NHLE entry 1411809).
Only one DD Valentine tank is known to be in running order anywhere in the world; this is in private ownership in the UK and has had its canvas skirt recreated using a tarpaulin and fire-hose. Two further tanks are known to lie at the bottom of Moray Firth, Scotland, with another on the seabed in Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex (none of these tanks are designated). As such, the Valentine DD tanks in Poole Bay represent the largest surviving group of their type anywhere in the world, and their historic interest is considerably enhanced by their direct association with Fort Henry, the preparations for D-Day (and associated coastal military infrastructure) and the resultant loss of life of six Guardsmen.
Although four of the tanks have, on the grounds of safety, had their turrets removed by the Royal Navy, imagery shows that the forms of the tanks are clearly recognisable. Reports from divers indicate that the tanks have had portable material such as compasses, headphones, flare pistols and vehicle identification tags removed. In 2015 an attempt to lift the gun turrets from the sea bed was discussed in online forums and a recent assessment by Bournemouth University observed that one of the tank’s turret bustles had been stropped either for use to anchor a marker buoy or in preparation for lifting. There is also evidence that a compass from one of the tanks appeared on eBay in 2018. The value of the tanks would, therefore, be severely eroded if the removal of important archaeological material is left unmanaged and uncontrolled.