A concrete practice rocket, or ‘Bazooka’, wall built for the American forces in 1943 as part of the training preparations for the D-Day landings.
Reasons for Designation
The concrete practice rocket wall at Braunton Burrows is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a key part in the Allied forces’ preparations for and a tangible reminder of Operation Overlord and its significance to national and world history;
* the concrete structure is largely intact, and the visible repairs provide evidence of its use;
* it is believed that the concrete practice rocket wall is an exceptional survivor in the national context;
* within the contextual history of the use of Braunton Burrows as an army assault training centre in the Second World War.
The United States of America entered the Second World War on 7 December 1941, following a surprise attack by Japanese aircraft on its Pacific Fleet Naval Base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, destroying ships and aeroplanes and killing almost 2,500 people. Initially unprepared for conflict in Europe, throughout 1942 America quickly mobilised its war industries and expanded its armed forces. Training for American troops began at home, but on arrival in Britain it was clear that they had not been fully-trained for assaulting the heavily-fortified and defensively-prepared French coastline.
From September 1943, the North Devon coast became an assault training centre for American troops as part of the preparations for an Allied attack on the Normandy beaches: this was codenamed Operation Overlord (more familiarly known as D-Day) and was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. The training areas were located along the coastline from Morte Point in the north to Crow Point in the south. Responsibility for the construction of the training areas was initially given to the United States army’s 398th Engineer Service Regiment, but was soon passed to their 146th Engineer Combat Battalion (ECB); many of the latter went on to experience the D-Day landings. The training facilities were divided into ten key areas, designated ‘A’ to ‘M’.
Along the west coast of Braunton Burrows areas ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ were designated as specialist US Army training areas for practicing and trialling weaponry that would disable heavy German concrete fortifications, including pillboxes and overcoming many defensive obstacles associated with a beach invasion of the heavily-fortified coast likely to be encountered in Normandy. Here were obstacle training courses, controlled demolition practice areas, rocket firing and flamethrower ranges. The concrete practice rocket, or ‘Bazooka’, wall was constructed in area ‘C’ in 1943, for use as a target for training American troops in practice firing the ‘Bazooka’. The shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket was adopted by the Americans as a weapon to be used in the D-Day invasions to destroy or neutralise enemy bunkers and pillboxes. The wall was built in an open area within the sand dunes so that a range of 50m to 75m could be achieved by the bazooka teams, firing in sitting, kneeling and prone positions. Archive photographs show that false embrasures were painted on the face of the wall to increase accuracy. The practice rocket wall may also have been used for explosive demonstration purposes, to show the different effect of pole charges placed flat or at an angle against the wall. Inevitably, the concrete structure was repaired during its use.
On the 1 September 1943, nine months before Operation Overlord, the first American units began arriving to use the training facilities. This training continued until May 1944 in the run up to D-Day.
The training structures along the coast were abandoned and a large number demolished in the late-C20. Large parts of Braunton Burrows are leased to the Ministry of Defence and some military training continues there today. A memorial service is held on 6 June each year at the concrete replica craft structures to the south to recognise and remember the important role that the members of the Allied forces played in the liberation of Europe.
The practice rocket wall, or range, is located to the west of the approximate centre of Braunton Burrows 45m from a former military track (‘H’ Lane). The structure is orientated longitudinally north to south, with the principal face of the wall facing east. The wall comprises shuttered concrete with steel reinforcing bars and is 30.5m (100ft) in length, 2m high and approximately 2m deep. The east face of the wall is pitted and several phases of concrete repairs are evident.