Monday 21 April 2014

Fort Henry

This is the last post of the many Museums and Historical sites that I was lucky enough to visit on my recent holiday to Dorset. Fort Henry is a secluded and very poorly signposted National Trust property overlooking Studland Bay near Swanage. It has a huge historical significance because it was here that the final 'live fire' exercises were conducted in preperation for the D-Day landings in Normandy. A full scale mock invasion was conducted on the beach across the bay and Fort Henry was an excellent observation position for the organisers and dignatories to watch the unfolding operation. 

Indeed the greatest figures in goverment and the military were gathered here for the test just six weeks before D-Day and included Winston Churchill, King George VI, the Supreme Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and Acting Admiral Louis Mountbatten. 

The massive concrete structure that is Fort henry is very well preserved and accessible to the public...if you can find it! There are no road signs or other markers and I had to guess where I thought it might be and then ramble through some woods until I found it. One wonders if the National Trust are hoping nobody will visit! 
The view from the Fort is clear acorss the bay towards the beaches upon which the mock invasion would take place.
Inside there are four compartments allowing a relatively safe position from which to watch the live fire exercise
The structure is massive and of course built from reinforced concrete.
A view of one of the blast partitions seperating the four sections of the bunker from each other.
The operation included the first operational use of the Duplex Drive system fitted to Valentine tanks so they could 'swim' inshore with the landing troops. The tanks were launched too far out in rough water and several tanks sank with the loss of six crew members. Lessons learned during Operation Smash were put in place for the real invasion, although some of the DD Shermans were still laucnhed too far out and in rough seas during the actual invasion. 
A memorial to the six Valentine Crewmen that lost their lives during this Exercise. 

This site is incredibly hard to find. There are no road signs indicating its presence and no signage even in the nearest car park just 250 yards away. I only found it because I had seen pictures of it before and had a reasonable idea where it should have been sighted. I then left the car and headed in what I hoped was the right direction, finally finding one small stome marker on a footpath indicating the fort was ahead. This meant that I had the site to myself and could happily get some great pictures without other people in the way but its a terrible waste of what should be a much better celebrated site, especially given its illustrious combo of visiors during the Exercise. 

If you want to visit Fort Henry you need to park in the South Beach Car Park and walk south (right when looking out to sea) until you find a waymarked coast path. Fort henry is just a few hundred metres along this route at OS Map ref SZ037828. 


  1. Just typical, been there and walked up to the point and beyond, but there was nothing about Fort Henry on the information boards. Will have to remember for my next visit.

  2. Very strange that they hide it so well.

    1. Everything about the National Trust mystifies me frankly... I'm guessing signage isn't a priority here because there isn't an overpriced shop and cafe on the site that needs supporting!

  3. Just checked out the area on Google Earth. They sure had a nice view for the mock landings.

  4. An interesting site. It's great to go inside old bunkers like this.

  5. Looks very interesting. Thanks, Lee.


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