Historic WW2 defences uncovered on Suffolk coast

Touching the Tide, a £900,000 project funded by the Heritage Lottery and The Crown Estate, through our Marine Stewardship Programme, is working with the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service to explore the remains of World War Two defences on Suffolk’s beaches.

29 September 2014

Pillbox off Suffolk coast

Three sample surveys at Bawdsey, Sizewell and Walberswick have revealed numerous World War Two structures that offer not only a fascinating insight into preparations to prevent invasion but also the pace and extent of coastal change over the last seventy years.

Bill Jenman, Touching the Tide, Project Manager, said: “We know that all sorts of military buildings and equipment were left behind after World War Two. Looking at pillboxes out at sea is a graphic illustration of just how rapidly this coast is changing.”

Gary Thompson, The Crown Estate’s Coastal and Stewardship Manager, said: “This project has given us a fascinating insight into the nation’s wartime preparations and provided a reliable data source charting the effects of erosion and coastal morphology along the Suffolk coastline since the 1940s.”

Suffolk’s coast is one of the most ‘dynamic’ in Britain with 46 per cent of the shoreline eroding, while new beach is growing along 32 per cent of coast. 

At Bawdsey Beach, the survey revealed square concrete bases known as Admiralty scaffolding. These anti-invasion defences were designed to impede seaborne invasion. The Bawdsey survey also revealed a number of World War Two pillboxes which were originally positioned at the cliff top; however since 2001, due to erosion, the pillboxes are now sited some distance down the beach. Research indicates that the shoreline at Bawdsey has eroded by 260 metres since the 1940s.

Suffolk’s coast is one of the most ‘dynamic’ in Britain with 46 per cent of the shoreline eroding, while new beach is growing along 32 per cent of coast.”

The Sizewell survey revealed numerous reinforced concrete cubes. Thousands of these anti-tank defences would have been cast in situ, set three to four deep, on beaches across Britain. At Sizewell some were still clearly visible whilst others were partly buried in the sand dunes, with a small number having tumbled on to the beach itself, again as a result of erosion.

At Walberswick anti-tank cubes in the area to the south of Valley Farm were identified. Comparisons with aerial photographs from the 1940s show that whilst many of the cubes are in their original positions the pillboxes and scaffolding recorded at the time are now thought to be submerged approximately 50m from the shoreline.

Touching the Tide is a three year project set up in spring 2013 to help celebrate and conserve the heritage of the Suffolk coast, and increase understanding of coastal change.

The Crown Estate’s Marine Stewardship Fund, established in 1999, is widely recognised throughout the UK for supporting community initiatives and scientific research that help to promote the long-term sustainable management of the marine environments within its portfolio.

Further information

Touching the Tide

Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service