Second World War on Orford Ness

During the Second World War experimental work concentrated on bomb ballistics and firing trials.

Lethality and vulnerability testing

Between 1938 and 1959 a majority of the firing trials were concentrated in the northern airfield, part of which is now reedbed. The firing trials were mainly concerned with determining the vulnerability of aircraft and aircraft components to attack by various projectiles. Whole aircraft or individual parts such as fuel tanks, oxygen tanks or running engines were subjected to carefully controlled and recorded simulations of attack.
A principal area of work involved improving the lethality of Allied ammunition and improving the protection of Allied aircraft against German ammunition. A wide range of aircraft including four-engine bombers would be lined up here undergoing trials.
To determine vulnerability the aircraft were shot at with .303 rifles from all angles, a single shot at a time, with each bullet hole marked and recorded after every shot. After the war work continued on machine gun ammunition, rockets and other projectiles, on the vulnerability of aircraft to attack and the development of techniques to record projectiles in flight and duplicate various effects experimentally.

The Plate Store

Connected with the 'lethality and vulnerability' firing trials a rather uninteresting looking building was home to a number of extraordinary experiments. During the 1940s the Plate Store was part of a plate range. The plates in question were sheets of experimental armour plate or paper targets. Initially built to house the plate armour, the end wall was later removed and various types of projectile were fired from smooth bore field guns into plates mounted inside the building to test their effectiveness. Tests on the fragmentation of projectiles employed old London telephone directories to determine how far the fragments would penetrate. The method of firing projectiles from smooth bore cannon was later employed in the Model Bombing Range (sited near the NAAFi bulding) to test models of bombs and rockets.
The Plate Store was last used by the AWRE as a technical base for experiments on the interaction of radio waves with the ionosphere. The bases of the radio masts can still be seen around the brackish lagoons just over the Chinese Wall in the King's Marsh.