Tanks on the Winchester bypass – an update

Churchill Mk IV tanks in storage on the Winchester by-pass in Hampshire, in readiness for the invasion of Europe, 16 May 1944 © IWM (H 38510)

I couldn’t resist posting this picture when I found it in the Imperial War Museums online collection – and I’ve uncovered a snippet about further liberties taken with the Winchester bypass. Before the D-Day invasion, the War Office politely asked Hampshire County Council for permission to use one carriageway of the bypass as a parking space for tanks. But by February 1945, both carriageways were being used in places and workshops had been built beside and on top of the road. The Country Surveyor, Brigadier “Archie” Hughes, was summoned to a meeting at the War Office (presuambly after he had complained about this state of affairs) and was informed that £30 000 had been spent on the workshops, hutments and camp equipment and the senior officers who had been party to the agreement were serving in France and therefore unavailable for questioning. ‘Quit whining’ in other words. The M3 smart motorway roadworks seem tame in comparison!

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

Echoes of the Winchester bypass from 70 years ago

Imperial War Museum Photographs

 Hampshire’s Highways Under Military Occupation, Malcolm Walford

Where did all our trees go?

I took a scenic route into Alresford this afternoon – along the A272 and up through Cheriton. The trees were just turning colour and I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of shiny conkers as I walked along Sun Lane. ‘There used to be far more trees around Alresford and Tichbourne,’ Maurice Russell used to reminisce. ‘They were all cut down for the war effort.’ But was this nostalgia, or the germ of an interesting story?

I’ve written about the ‘hards’ constructed at Lepe for the launching of the invasion forces in Operation Seashell , and I’ve discovered since that the construction project for D-Day also included the roads leading up to the embarkation points. In December 1943, the County Surveyor received instructions to widen the A32 to Droxford, the A272 to Winchester and a huge amount of road improvements in the New Forest and Hambledon area – all to be finished by 1st May 1944. What would a modern project manager do? Say it couldn’t possibly be done and negotiate an extension, of course. The County Surveyor must have objected, for the deadline was moved out – a meagre fortnight to 15th May.

Considerable areas of land had to be acquired very quickly and it is the land beside the A272 that interests me. The gardens of six cottages at Cheriton were ‘gifted’ to the project and two more at Bramdean, garage frontage at West Meon, arable land, pasture and copses were compulsorily purchased. The front gardens, farm hedges and fields were cut back and re-fenced and mature trees were sadly felled to allow the military convoys through without obstruction. The council widened the road to 22 feet (to allow for 2-way traffic), improved junctions and built refuges for broken-down vehicles (which became lay-bys like the one I photographed above). In some places the road had to be reinforced to take the weight of the tanks (a Sherman weighs over 31 tons). It seems that Maurice’s memory served him well.

Who was doing all this hard labour? Most of the young, able-bodied men of Hampshire were serving in the forces, after all. Women joined the road crews, as well as older labourers whose work was now considered to be of national importance. As D-Day approached, convoys from the training camps converged towards the Marshalling Areas, their tracked vehicles scouring the road surfaces as they changed direction, and gangs of road workers were on hand to shovel material back into the holes. After D-Day, security restrictions were relaxed, and Italian prisoners of war joined the teams repairing our roads. And as we know, there were no major delays in getting the vehicles, soldiers and materiel to the embarkation points, either on D-Day or in the months which followed – all credit to the Hampshire County Surveyor and the men and women who worked for him.

This story may explain the trees lost along our highways, but does anyone have memories they can share of other trees felled ‘for the war effort’?

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

Hampshire’s Highways Under Military Occupation, Malcolm Walford

From skateboards to cycles to trailers to Sherman tanks…

I photographed Big Minnow skate-boarding down Pound Hill this afternoon, in front of a terrace of fine brick and flint cottages, which were workshops during the early 20th century. He’s just passed a modern brick garage building with a green door: this was the site of a bicycle repair shop in 1900 (see the photo in Alresford Heritage). By the time Hambone Junior and Company arrived in 1943, the cycle shop belonged to Dudley Grace, and Derry and Stan Warwick were working for him, welding vehicles and trailers in the flint workshop next door.

Hambone’s comrades included teams of GIs who were assembling and waterproofing Sherman tanks in The Dean, then testing them in the river. And when they departed in June 1944, as well as leaving parcels and coins for the children (‘The Cricketers’), they left engineering tools and equipment which benefitted local businesses. The Warwick brothers bought Dudley’s business in 1956 and grew it into Warwick Trailers, the international company based in The Dean today. The present owner, Chris Jones, is Derry Warwick’s son-in-law. He recalls that the original trailer colour was grey, because of the copious amounts of military grey paint available after the war, and that jeeps were still being used to move the trailers around the factory yard in the 1960s!

Sources

Many people have helped me piece together this week’s post: Richard Knasel, Chris Jones, Ann Hone and Godfrey Andrews, thank you!

Bursting through Utah Beach

We couldn’t resist visiting the Utah Beach D-Day Museum on our way home from our holiday in France this summer, to see where Hambone Junior’s comrades  landed after they crossed The Channel on D-Day+4.

IMG_7590_LR

Little Minnow had a go at controlling a LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), which would have deposited an entire platoon of soldiers onto the beach in 1944

 

 

IMG_7545_LRI spotted an Alligator (Landing Vehicle Tracked)

 

 

 

IMG_7576_LR

and a DUCKW which I recently blogged about in my post on Driving Alligators along a Sheep Track

 

 

 

IMG_4864(1)

and Big Minnow contemplated this ‘Deuce-and-a-Half’ (2 and half ton) truck. 5,958 of these vehicles supplied about 12,500 tons of materiel per day in ‘The Red Ball Express’ to the Allied Divisions as they swept through Northern France.

 

 

Sadly, a ‘Deuce-and-a half’ ran poor Hambone Junior over just before the 47th Regiment left Alresford.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources

You Tube World War II – Red Ball Express

The Utah Beach D-Day Museum

Driving alligators along a sheep track

I thought I heard bleating as I walked up Drove Lane last week: it was easy to imagine ghostly sheep filling the lane around me on their way to the Alresford Sheep Fair. And no wonder – shepherds and their dogs have been driving Hampshire sheep along that track since the middle ages. Harder to imagine though, was the use the GIs put the lane to in 1944.

The 9th Infantry Division were the US Army experts in amphibious warfare: they had already invaded the beaches of French Morocco and Sicily before they arrived in Hampshire. Alresford, with its branching streams and lakes, was the perfect location for the 47th Regiment to prepare themselves for the biggest amphibious invasion in history. On the map above, you’ll notice that Drove Lane crosses a branch of the River Arle, and it was here that the American soldiers dammed the trout stream to build a deep vehicle testing pool beside the bridge. (I’ve read they did some grenade fishing there, too.)

I’ve found three amphibious vehicles listed in service with the US Amy in 1944: the famous DUKW (Duck), a 6×6 wheeled armoured truck; the LV-2/LV-4 (Alligator/Water Buffalo), a tracked landing vehicle; and the M29 (Water Weasel), a personnel carrier. Wouldn’t it have been extraordinary to see these creatures being driven along the lanes of Alresford on their way to have their water-proofing tested? I just hope Hambone Junior liked swimming.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

Alresford Heritage, photgraph R003 – sheep being driven along West Street

The Mobile Riverine Force – Army 9th Infantry Division

Military Combat Tanks

Alresford Around D-Day 6th June 1944, Colin Metcalfe

Operation Sea Shell

‘What are these lovely shells, Mum?’ Little Minnow held out a hinged pair to me, as we walked along the tide line of Lepe beach on Saturday. ‘Clams – they’re bi-valves,’ I said, not really concentrating. He looked confused. ‘You need two of them, working together, to protect the fragile creature inside.’ That was better. He scuttled off to probe the tide-wrack for some more.

We were walking past the bollards used to tie the ships up as they were loaded for the invasion in 1944. Big Minnow jaywalked along a groyne, pointing out an oil tanker turning into Southampton Water on its way to the Fawley refinery. Fawley was used as a storage depot during WWII: bomb-proof underground pipelines were used to supply airfields throughout the south of England. Little Minnow held out a palm full of shells to show Big and he jumped down to pick up more for the collection.

Looking over the fence running behind the beach, we saw gas pipeline signs snaking through the nature reserve. These give a clue to Fawley’s other great contribution to the war effort – preventing the invasion from being stalled by fuel shortages. Petroleum tankers would have been bombed by the Luftwaffe if they tried to dock in French ports and so the Pipe Line Under The Ocean (PLUTO) was developed. US tankers could unload their fuel at Fawley instead. PLUTO took it from Lepe across the Solent (15 minutes by windsurfer in the stiff breeze last Saturday), on to a pumping station on the Isle of Wight, and 70 miles across the Channel to Cherbourg. ‘Our pockets are full,’ whinged the minnows. ‘Can we put some shells in yours?’

Meanwhile, Pike was having a wonderful time photographing concrete tetrahedrons – winching gear bases for the Mulberry Harbour components constructed at Lepe – casting their geometric shadows along the shingle. Hardening mats, used to strengthen the beach to take the weight of the tanks and other vehicles being driven onto the landing craft, created photogenic square patterns in the sand. ‘No you can’t put those shells in my camera case. They’ll scratch my lenses,’ Pike said, when the minnows asked.

The family walked back towards the car park, pockets rattling. Whatever were we going to do with all those clam shells? Then we read the plaque on a war memorial

4th/7th ROYAL DRAGOON GUARDS

On 3rd June 1944 the Regiment left from here to land on D-Day 5 minutes before the main assault on GOLD BEACH in Sherman amphibious Duplex Drive tanks for the campaign in NW Europe

In proud memory of our comrades and the 124 who did not return to these shores

-and used them to write T H A N K  Y O U on the beach.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

D-Day at Lepe

Combined Operations Command – Mulberry Harbours

 

Echoes of the Winchester bypass from 70 years ago

I walked over the Highcliffe Footbridge across the M3 during the rush hour last Friday. The South Downs looked gorgeous in the evening sunshine, but I’m sure the motorway drivers didn’t appreciate them. As usual, the southbound traffic was crawling – the tired commuters, a lorry driver returning to the docks and a weekender with a jet ski on a trailer must have been longing to reach the coast.

The scene can’t have been so very different in 1944, when the Winchester bypass was ‘repurposed’ as a tank park. One of the first dual carriageways in the country, the bypass was perfect for the job: the US Army lined up their tanks on one carriageway and set up camp on the other. More tanks were parked up along The Avenue, a staging post from Alresford Station, where they were off-loaded from the railway by the 47th Regiment (with Hambone Junior’s assistance, of course!) I doubt the tank drivers were as eager to push onwards as a motorist in a modern traffic jam, but as tension built up to D-Day, they must have been keen to get moving again.

There’s another memory from WWII days preserved in the name of the ‘Spitfire Link’, a road leading up to the modern M3. The boring concrete bridge spanning the motorway near here used to be an elegant parabolic arch – until a Curtiss Tomahawk fighter plane flew under it in 1941. The pilot clipped the bridge and left three feet of his plane behind, but walked away unscathed. Local folk assumed that only a Spitfire pilot would dare to do such a thing and so the name has stuck.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

D-Day The Winchester Connection, Bill Yates & George Fothergill

Roader’s Digest – Spitfire Bridge