Friday 17 June 2011

New Forest Military History

I've spent the past week working in the Esso Refinery at Fawley in Hampshire while staying near Ringwood. My morning commute has taken me through the heart of the New Forest - not a bad way to start the day. For obvious reasons the areas natural history is well known, but over the last few days I have discovered a little about the areas Military History as well.

I tried to visit the site of Beaulieu Airbase but that morning the rain was hammering down. I found a small plaque which I suspect games some details of the site and I thought to myself "shall I get out while its raining like this?". My Id replied "Wot? Yer avin a giraffe mate!" [For those that can't speak cockney like this translates as "You're joking aren't you".

Beaulieu  Airfield was built in 1942 and was initially used mainly as a base for anti-submarine patrol work. In February 1944 the airfield transferred to 2nd Tactical Air Force for preparation for D-Day. Another change in command in March 1944 saw the arrival of the 9th US Air Force who stayed until the end of August. Following the departure of USAAF, in December 1944 the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment (AFEE) arrived. The last air units were transferred out in 1950 and the site was put under Care and Maintenance. Beaulieu remained inactive until November 1959 when it was finally handed back to the Forestry Commission.

Another location I visited was Lepe Country Park on the coast facing the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Today at Lepe you can still see plenty of evidence of wartime activity. Lepe played three important roles in the D-Day landing, as a major departure point for troops, vehicles and supplies; as a construction site for part of the prefabricated floating Mulberry Harbor; and as the mainline base for the P.L.U.T.O pipeline. There is a small memorial by the car park and when I visited poppy wreaths were still in place from the D-Day services the week earlier.

The following list (lifted from this website) shows just how much still remains to be seen along this small stretch of coastline:

  • The Concrete Road was built to take troops, supplies and materials from Stanswood Lane to the construction and embarkation sites on the beach. The concrete blocks it was made from were brought in by horse and cart.
  • Concrete Floors are all that remain of the site buildings used by construction workers and the military. They are dotted about in the Country Park area.
  • Water Tower Base used for water purification, required because so little fresh water is available on site.
  • Construction Platforms where the caissons were constructed. Today, although parts are storm damaged, the platforms run for 374 metres and are 11m wide and 1.3m high. The platforms were large enough to construct all six caissons simultaneously, reflecting the urgency of the work.
  • Beach Hardening Mats which resemble huge bars of chocolate, were held in place by a series of iron hooks. They were laid out to strengthen the beach enough to take the weight of the tanks and other vehicles being driven onto landing craft.
  • Dolphins forming part of the pier head used to load ships departing for Normandy.
  • Bollards used to tie up the ships that were being loaded for the invasion.
  • Concrete Slipways run from the rolling track walls to the sea. These were used to launch the caissons at high tide.
  • Winching Gear Bases used to winch the caissons for launching.
  • Trigger Release Gear Site used to house the trigger release gear which held the caissons in position until they were ready to be launched.
  • Rolling-track Walls that run either side of the construction platforms, carried the timber rails used to move the caissons. Each caisson was carried on eighteen 2m carriages that rolled along the rails on 75mm steel balls. The completed caissons were winched along the walls to the launching area.

There are plenty more wartime sites in the area and I hope to visit more on future trips to the area.


  1. Hi Lee

    You should definitely check out Calshot Castle, which is just a couple of miles from Fawley and Lepe, and has a really interesting and varied military heritage:

    Best wishes


  2. Good stuff Lee. V interesting.

  3. I drove down to Calshot Castle one evening after work but it was obviously closed at that time. I'll check out the opening times and see if I can get an hour in there next time I'm in the area.


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