NEXT month will see the 80th anniversary of a dress rehearsal for the D-Day landings which took place in Studland Bay. 

Exercise Smash was carried out in 1944 in Studland because it was deemed similar to the beaches of Normandy thanks to its long shores and sandy dunes. 

Thousands of men took part in the exercise and it’s here the British tested their amphibious tanks – the duplex-drive Valentine tank.    

The tanks were designed to be launched in the sea when big naval carriers couldn’t dock. However, on April 4, 1944, the exercise took a tragic turn when the tanks were launched too far out from the shore and, when the weather turned, they started taking on water.   

Bournemouth Echo: Fort Henry from the air. Credit National Trust Images, John MillarFort Henry from the air. Credit National Trust Images, John Millar (Image: National Trust)

Seven of them sank, killing six soldiers. The wrecks of the tanks still lie on the seabed at Studland Bay. Their final resting places are honoured as war graves.    

The exercise was watched by the prime minister Winston Churchill, George VI and American General Eisenhower, from Fort Henry at Middle Beach, a concrete bunker which can still be visited today.  

Now, 80 years on, the National Trust is commemorating the milestone with events including a visit by the last remaining duplex-drive Valentine tank of the type used in the exercise, guided WW2 walks along with an exhibition and talks in Studland’s village hall in association with the Isle of Purbeck Sub Aqua Club.    

On April 3 and 4 at Studland Village Hall there will be an exhibition of photographs, original pathe reels, physical ordnance and apparatus from the tanks as well as guided walks by historian Pam White. 

On April 4 and 5 there will be the Valentine tank at Knoll Beach. Also on April 5 will be a talk in Studland Village Hall by Major Graeme Green about the regiment and Exercise Small, by John Pearson about the restoration of the Valentines Tank and Nick Reed from the Sub Aqua Club about diving the site.   

Guided walks are £5 a ticket and bookable through the website All other events are free, though normal car parking charges apply. Free parking for National Trust members.