LEPE: THE D-DAY BEACH, HAMPSHIRE
Lepe is a small hamlet on the shore of the Solent in Hampshire which was a secret manufacturing site for parts of the Mulberry Harbours used in the D-Day landings. It was also an embarkation point for troops and equipment leaving for Normandy in 1944, as well as the start point for PLUTO, the pipeline under the ocean which was so crucial to the success of the mission. Parts of the buildings and harbours can still be seen on the beach, as well as a memorial to those from the Royal Dragoons who died during the landings.
Used as a port since Roman times, Lepe has had successive harbours and sea-based trades including 18th century shipbuilders and an oyster industry. In 1943 the local manor house was requisitioned by the Navy to be the Headquarters of J-Force Assault Group for the West Solent embarkations.
At the same time, Lepe was used as a secret manufacturing site for the breakwaters to build six massive reinforced concrete caissons as part of the artificial Mulberry Harbours. These were used as temporary, portable harbours off the shore of France after the D Day landings, until the French ports could be recaptured and used by the Allies.
Lepe was also the location where P.L.U.T.O (Pipeline Under The Ocean) left mainland England, carrying fuel across to the Isle of Wight and then further on under the channel to Normandy to keep the troops and their equipment supplied with POL - petrol, oil and lubricants.
VISITING LEPE BEACH TODAY
Lepe today is a country park, with a recently revamped visitor centre, café and car parks to accommodate the increase in visitors, as it can be really quite busy, even on overcast and gloomy days. The golden beaches are interspersed with wooden groynes to prevent coastal erosion, and higher up on the cliff is grassland where people enjoy BBQ’s and family time.
Few people make the effort to walk to the D-Day beach, with most of them sticking to the immediate area, so although the car parks may be overcrowded, you can rest assured that the interesting bits won't be.
If you walk further on than the beaches and follow the coast round, you come to Stansore Point, the main area where the factories and buildings once stood. The whole site is littered with fragments of them: piles of bricks, huge concrete slabs, reinforced roads, all in a massive jumble of weather-worn bricks and twisted metal.
There are beach hardening mats that look like chocolate bars, designed to take the weight of the Duplex Drive Sherman tanks as they moved onto landing craft, rusted bollards for tying up ships, invasion slipways used to launch the caissons, construction platforms, rolling track walls and housing for winching gear.
What really stands out are the ‘dolphins’ still in the sea, their thin frames belying the strength they once had when they formed the pier heads used to load the ships going to Normandy.
There is a lot to see and to explore, as everything is left exposed to the elements, and you can clamber over the ruins, everything still surprisingly sturdy after the main buildings had been dismantled. There are several information boards around so you can see what had been where, and it is a great way of focusing on the logistics and planning of D-Day, as so much these days is just focused on the actual day, that the sheer volume of work that went into getting it underway is often overlooked.
Near the shore is a memorial to 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards.
They left this beach on the 3rd June and spent over 2 days waiting at sea in the cold and wet, until they landed on GOLD Beach five minutes before the invasion, in Sherman Duplex Drive tanks, embarking from here rather than Southampton Docks due to the highly secretive nature of the DD Shermans.
The 4/7 Royal Dragoons lost 5 tanks in total - it could have been more if they had been released 2 miles out to sea as was originally planned, but the weather meant that they were released closer to the Normandy shore. You can learn more about the fascinating floating tanks, and see the only remaining complete one at The Bovington Tank Museum which is an 80 minute drive away from Lepe.
The memorial is topped with a stone and the inscription:
Take these men for your example.
Like them remember that prosperity can only be for the free,
that freedom is the sure possession of those
alone who have the courage to defend it.
Nearby is a memorial to PLUTO. These pipelines saved the sea based craft from having to carry all of the fuels needed for the invasion, freeing up space and weight for more men and armoury.
By the time the pipelines were closed down in 1945, they had pumped well over 180 million gallons of fuel to the Allied Forces.
Behind the mass of concrete and metal is a nature reserve filled with brackish pools, shingle and a multitude of sea shore wildlife.
“In early June 1944 we were having to walk to Hardley School due to the columns of American troops along with their jeeps, troop transporters and Sherman tanks using the road. We felt that something big was about to happen over the next few days, as the convoy of vehicles and tanks stretched down the concrete road to Stansore Point. On the night of the 5th-6th June we were kept awake by the constant wave after wave of aircraft heading South. My mother said the invasion had started and sure enough, this was confirmed the next day, the 6th June. All through that day, the sky across the Solent was full of squadrons of Thunderbolts, Typhoons and Marauders from airfields on the edges of the New Forest, carrying out sorties over France, returning to base and then going back out again”
From Memories of the War years, 1940 – 1946” by Brian Tillman
VISITING LEPE BEACH
How to get to Lepe Beach
Postcode: SO45 1AD
Public Transport: There is a bus stop, called Lepe Beach which will get you straight there. Find timetable >>
Parking: If you are driving, there is only one way to Lepe Beach which is on Lepe Road from either Exbury or Langley.
When is Lepe Beach open?
November - March: 7am - 7pm
April - October: 7am - 10pm
How much does it cost to visit Lepe Beach?
The only charges are parking costs, which is a maximum of £6.50 per day