Operation Smash 75 years on

A duplex-drive Valentine tank at Knoll Beach, Studland

This spring we are marking the 75th anniversary of Operation Smash, a full-scale dress rehearsal for the Allied invasion of Europe, which took place in Studland Bay in April 1944.

From Saturday 30 March to Sunday 7 April, 10am-4pm, Knoll Beach will be hosting the last remaining duplex-drive Valentine tank of the type used in the exercise.

There will also be a chance to see it in action on the beach each day — times dependent on the state of the tide.

Tragically, on 4 April 1944 many of the amphibious tanks sank and six lives were lost.

Their wrecks still lie some 800m off the beach where Isle of Purbeck Sub-Aqua Club have been diving on them in the run-up to the anniversary.

The club’s research forms the basis of an exhibition at the Discovery Centre, Knoll Beach from Saturday 23 March to Friday 5 April, 10am-4pm.

It includes 3-D interactive images created by Bournemouth University, photographs and a video.

The tank’s owner, military vehicle expert Jon Pearson, along with Nick Reed of Isle of Purbeck Sub-Aqua Club, will be giving a talk entitled Studland Submerged on Sunday 31 March at 3.30pm in the Discovery Centre, Knoll Beach.

The talk costs £5 per person — please call 01929 450500 to book a place.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D Eisenhower watched Operation Smash from Fort Henry at Middle Beach.

You can still visit Fort Henry today, just beside the South West Coast Path — follow the signs from the car park at Middle Beach.

A memorial to those who died stands alongside it.

The duplex tanks were modified versions of the existing Valentine model which had propellers and a fabric ‘skirt’ added so they could be launched from offshore as part of the assault on the Normandy beaches.

But poor weather during Operation Smash meant many never made it ashore and today their final resting places are honoured as war graves.