Back Brancaster Beach, Norfolk

An Emergency Coastal Defence Battery was placed here in 1940 and was built into the sand dunes that now border onto the modern golf course. Although parts of the concrete structures are still visible, the buildings are now subsumed within the sand and cannot be entered. The area around the golf course clubhouse contains two pillboxes. The first is a unique hexagonal design and would have had an excellent field of fire over the whole beach. This was probably based on a pre-war design, but as built, it seems to be unique. The second is partly covered in vegetation, but is a pillbox for a medium machine gun that would have been used to enfilade the beach. It is otherwise unremarkable, but it does show clearly how corrugated iron was used as shuttering during the construction.

The beach at Brancaster has an interesting Second World War history. Along with much of Britain’s coastline, it was fortified from 1940 onwards and the long expanse of sandy beach that made an excellent landing ground meant that it was marked out for defence throughout the war.

In common with the rest of the military coastal landscape, from the mid-war period training started to take precedence over anti-invasion measures. The area around Brancaster beach was used as a practice bombing range for allied pilots. One of the targets can be seen at extreme low tide. This is the wreak of the SS Vina, which was a cargo ship that operated from the east coast before the war. In 1940 the ship was aging and was requisitioned for use as a block ship, which in the event of invasion would have been sunk in Great Yarmouth harbour, thus denying the port’s use to any German invading force. When the threat of invasion receded the Vina was towed to Brancaster and used as a target by RAF pilots training for D-Day. She was originally placed offshore and regularly strafed but during a gale she slipped her moorings and ran ashore.

Be advised that Brancaster beach is notorious for its dangerous tidal currents. Under NO circumstances should you try to walk to the site of the SS Vina; as to do so risks being cut off by the tide.

In the run up to the D-Day landings, Brancaster beach suddenly became critical to the successful implementation of operation Overlord due to its similarity with some of the proposed landing beaches in Normandy. Brancaster was used for training by COPP (Combined Operations Assault Pilotage Parties); teams who were tasked with gaining operational information about the beaches by examining them in minute detail, including taking photographs and reconnoitring sandbars and water courses. This was specialist and dangerous work which involved landing teams at night by canoe.

In the weeks before the D-Day landings, doubts were expressed about the feasibility of landing the specialised DD amphibious tanks developed by the Allies on Sword beach as it was believed that the sand might be too soft. The particular blue-grey sand found on Sword was closely matched by that on Brancaster beach and so units from 79th Armoured brigade immediately came here to practice landing. It was discovered that landing the tanks on the sand could be undertaken without difficulty, but the scare had put part of the D-Day strategy into major doubt just weeks before the operation.

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