Burton Bradstock at War

By Brad King

Looking at the pretty village of Burton Bradstock today one could be forgiven for thinking that the Second World War had past it by. Nothing however could be further from the truth.

In the early days of the War, German planners had identified the town of Bridport in the centre of Lyme Bay as an ideal landing spot for the forces of Operation Sealion, the proposed invasion of Britain in 1940. Being so close to Bridport, the 6th Army of the German Army (later to be annihilated at Stalingrad) would also have landed at Burton, with its sloping beaches and easy access to a coast road.

In 1940, and with the invasion scare, that part of Lyme Bay from Bridport to Portland became part of the main defences of the United Kingdom, with the coast here forming an important “stop line” against invading forces. Stop Lines were intended to be the first line of defence with all efforts being made to contain any enemy from moving further inland. Burton would always be part of this defensive line, but when thoughts turned to hitting back, with the army at least – Burton became part of the training ground of the forces which would take the fight back to the Continent.

When the raid on Dieppe was planned, all the forces designated for that task were involved in exercises near Bridport, with the main force focussing on Burton Bradstock. The first of these exercises in June 1942 - Yukon- was an unmitigated disaster, with troops being landed on the wrong beach, late or never. Lessons of co-operation between the various forces led to better communications and the term “Combined Operations” being considered more than just a name.

Yukon II went far better and proved that the raid on the French Coast was feasible. The Dieppe Raid was therefore sanctioned.

After the Home guard, Observer Corps, Canadians and British Forces, it was Dorset’s turn to host that flood of personnel from the United States. All along the coast, troops were gathering for the great invasion of France. In Burton Bradstock, elements of the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Us Division (HQ at Parnham House) were billeted to the East and West of the village. Local reports also suggest that US coloured troops (then segregated in the US Army) were camped at Freshwater, now a caravan (trailer) park.

Its position and geographical properties had not gone unnoticed by British planners however, and it was the similarity to the coast of Normandy – especially the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc – that could have been responsible for Burton’s attempt at anonymity to ironically, go unnoticed.

As part of the preparations for D-Day, soldiers of the US Rangers (similar to our Commandos) and British Commandos (billeted in the village itself) used the cliffs at Burton to train for the tough climb they would have to silence the guns thought to be installed at Pointe du Hoc. Fortunately film of this exercise survives at the Imperial War Museum, London unfortunately one US Ranger is reported to have fallen to his death from the cliff top during this exercise.

An extensive range of photos exist showing US troops in Burton Bradstock with local people, and it is these images which reinforce fond memories of the older inhabitants of the village of the special relationship they had with their guests from 1940 to 1945.