Valentine DD tanks were designed by industrial giants Vickers-Armstrongs in 1938. By 1944, the United Kingdom had produced 8,275 of them. These amphibious tanks had a maximum speed of 24 km/h on land and an operational range of 140 km on roads. The term DD officially stood for Duplex Drive, but the soldiers nicknamed them Donald Duck Tanks.
- Six British soldiers died in a D-Day rehearsal on 4th April, 1944.
- Seven Valentine DD tanks sank 60ft to the seabed during the operation.
- A previously well-preserved amphibious tank was found significantly damaged in September
- The discovery resulted in a full-blown police investigation.
The British, New Zealand, and the Red Army used Valentine tanks from the 1940s through to the 1960s. Due to their inexpensive production and maintenance costs, these tanks were widely used in World War Two, the Arab-Israeli War, and the Cyprus Crisis of the 1950s.
The DD Valentine tanks came equipped with canvas screens and propellers that allowed flotation. It meant that ships could drop them farther from the shores during an amphibious assault. This ability to float was particularly advantageous during the D-Day landings that preceded the Battle of Normandy in 1944.
Valentine Tanks & Operation Smash
Before D-Day, however, the British Army had arranged several rehearsal drills. Among those was Operation Smash, which was the largest live firing exercise of World War Two. The rehearsal was set up six weeks before the invasion to test the manoeuvrability of the Valentine tanks whilst afloat.
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From Fort Henry, in Dorset, Winston Churchill, King George VI, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery watched the operation. The fort was originally built in 1943 to defend the bay from possible German invasion.
On a seemingly fine day, the weather deteriorated quickly. The waves were unforgiving and soon a disaster began to unfold. As a result, seven Valentine tanks sank just off the Dorset coast across Studland Bay. Although 32 personnel onboard managed to survive, six were not so lucky.
The following personnel lost their lives on the fateful day:
Lieutenant C Gould
Sergeant V Hartley
Corporal Arthur Park
Corporal V Townson
Trooper A Kirby
Trooper E Petty
The tanks currently lie under the protection of Historic England. Of the seven tanks, one had remained remarkably intact for more than seven decades. To ensure its safety, divers from the Isle of Purbeck Sub-Aqua Club regularly visit the site. But shockingly, the team found the Valentine significantly damaged in late September.
Nick Reed, Chairman of the Club, described the damage as a disrespect to maritime history. “I’m quite upset about it. I met one of the survivors of that exercise. It was an important part of our history,” Reed expressed.
Professor David Parham, a maritime archaeologist, reflected on the severity of the situation. “We put two divers into the water. They came back and reported that the turret was lying to the side. Moreover, there’d been significant damage to the body.”
The professor further highlighted that the tank’s internal components were now exposed even more to the sea. “No other tanks known to us are still equipped as if they were invading Normandy in June 1944.” Given the situation, the precious artefacts inside lie vulnerable.
A Dorset Police Spokesperson confirmed they had received damage reports. Moreover, he assured, “we are working with Historic England, the MMO, and Bournemouth University. We will get to the bottom of the situation.”
“One of our local skippers said he’d heard a rumour that something had happened,” maritime archaeologist Tom Cousins of Bournemouth University told Swanage News. “I didn’t believe it, but as we were in the area we went to check and found a big scene of destruction down there.
“It was a real shock… I don’t want to speculate on what might have caused it while there’s a criminal investigation going on, but we will have to go down again to secure the area.”
“It’s a very upsetting incident,” IPSAC chairman Nick Reed told the paper. “It was an important part of maritime history and a very popular site for divers out of Swanage.”
The police department believes the damage occurred between the 24th and 28th of September.
A Historic England spokesperson added, “we are working with Dorset Police and our partner agencies to investigate the situation. We are also deploying extra safety measures to prevent further damage to the tank.”
It is undeniable that finding an age-old war relic desecrated is a shocking discovery. Whether it is a natural cause or a predetermined act of vandalism, authorities must unravel the mystery!