Bombs away? Take a stroll around the WW2 bombing range at Ashley Walk.
Some fascinating New Forest history - probably also news to most of us!
From our writing and cartooning pair Mark and Hugh to whom thank you - this is fascinating!
"During the second world war the military needed a range where bombs could be tested. There had been very little development work done since the end of the first world war and England needed to catch up with the Germans and fast. Despite some local opposition the range at Ashley Walk was created. Today if you were to go for a stroll in the area you would be lucky to stumble across anything that gave even the slightest clue to its importance all those years ago. To take a walk on Ashley Heath is, like most of the forest, a humbling and calming experience. However, in order to give yourself a little something to think about you might consider poring over a satellite image of the area. You might find strange symbols that stand out white against the browns and greens you would expect. There might be an arrow or a long line, seemingly without any purpose, again standing out in white. Also, the area appears to have suffered a terrible attack of acne! What can this all mean? I hear you say."
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A bird’s eye view can reveal wonders, and craters.
"The range was once a very busy place where the effects of bombs upon brick buildings, walls, steel plate and concrete structures were studied. It was also a very secret place with restricted access but if you had been allowed to watch you would have seen heavy bombers high in the sky and Mosquito bombers whizzing down the range at barely fifty feet. The target walls, accommodations, offices, fences and gates are now all gone but the bomb craters and the chalk inscriptions remain. To find these features on foot is difficult, not impossible though. To find them whilst at home, nursing a cold glass of wine with the radio in the background, is heaven. As you study the images you’ll find the history of the place jumping out at you. This is no ordinary heath; this is where weapons that changed the course of the war were tested! I won’t try to tell you all about the range as others, far more expert on the subject, have already done a wonderful job. I will give you a few hints though that might pique your interest.
Barnes Wallis, much more than just the designer of the bouncing bomb
You might associate this particularly brilliant engineer with the bouncing bombs that crippled German dams. But do you know about his part in the design of the R100 airship, or perhaps the Wellington bomber? Most of all a new design of bomb that put paid to some of the most critical threats to allied forces; threats that had easily withstood the power of conventional bombing. Wallis created the earthquake bomb! He reasoned that if it was almost impossible to hit a small target, such as the Bielefeld Viaduct, for example, then perhaps if a large enough bomb could be detonated close enough to the foundations, perhaps that might work. It did work, and how! Wallis contacted a steel expert and discussed his design for a ten-ton bomb which was to be delivered from around twelve thousand feet, would fall at a velocity close to the speed of sound and bury itself twenty metres into the earth. The expert confessed that there wasn’t presently a steel strong enough; but this was wartime and a steel was soon developed.
That was some crater
The bomb was tested at Ashley Walk and created a crater thirty feet deep and a hundred and thirty feet across, local houses in Godshill shuddered. This crater was filled in before the military left the site so don’t waste any of your precious time trying to find it.
And then, into service
The bomb went into service the following day and had a devastating effect against what had previously been impregnable targets. The viaduct was destroyed resulting in fewer supplies reaching the German army and thus fewer casualties for the allies crossing Europe and headed for Germany. Submarine pens were destroyed and the V3 weapon site was completely put out of action. The Germans had developed the V1, V2 and finally the V3 bombs as arbitrary killers of civilians. Wallis designed his bombs to have the maximum impact upon the military. After the war he was awarded ten thousand pounds for his war work as an inventor but such was his continued grief at the loss of RAF personnel during the Dambusters raids that he gave the money to charity in order that it would benefit the education of the children of RAF families. Engineers like Wallis are rare, engineers who have the gift of imagination and the engineering ability to make those incredible thoughts a reality. Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. The imagination and knowledge of Wallis must have shaken the Third Reich to its core. There is real history at Ashley Walk, right on your doorstep! Go find!
A final word on the subjects of prevention, navigation and hydration
Your smartphone is an astonishing device but also, occasionally, an unreliable one. Emergency services have been called more than once to rescue those who had put all of their navigational eggs into one basket. Why don’t you invest in an Ordnance Survey map and a compass? The two will cost less than the subscription for your phone and probably outlive it! You can make notes on your map with a thing called a pen. These notes will not be lost or deleted in order to free up memory (or when you change your phone for the next, shiniest model). Also, these two devices require neither a charging cable or signal, think about it.
All across the forest are ticks, more than you can shake a sprig of bracken at, and they are all waiting for something warm to hook their fangs into and then feed upon. To prevent these creatures from infecting you with the awful Lyme’s disease please consider slacks or trousers. Bare legs might be cooler but the consequences could be rather unpleasant to say the least.
Post properly locked-down Lockdown - a walk with a difference for New Forest lovers
And hopefully very soon you'll be able to take a pit stop...
A nice place to start your walk is Fritham, here there is a car park not far from a pub called the Royal Oak which is one of the nicest. Ever. After you have finished your walk, try to walk a little further, not far. Once in the bar find a chair as you send your man off for victuals and then, finally, hydrate. My wife and I lived abroad for a bit and the one thing we really missed was the pub, other nations just don’t do it as well. Please don’t ask me why.