Fort Henry - Atlas Obscura

Fort Henry

Swanage, England

Constructed for defense, this fort oversaw the dress rehearsal for one of the largest invasions in history. 


As the Germans stormed across Europe, fortifications were hurriedly constructed along the south coast of the United Kingdom to defend against invasion. Fort Henry was one of them. From its location overlooking Studland Bay, on a clear day, you could see for miles along the coastline and easily spot ships sailing into the West Solent.

Studland Bay was also a favored location for tank training and Fort Henry was frequently used to oversee these exercises. Tanks rolled up and down the bay, with the most famous training held there being Operation SMASH.

SMASH was a dress rehearsal for D-Day and one of the largest live-firing exercises in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. Tanks on this exercise were tasked with storming and taking the beach.

SMASH I was a disaster. Specialized Valentine Tanks with shells designed to make them float were dropped into the sea and started heading for the beach, however, the weather suddenly turned. Horrified onlookers at Fort Henry were unable to do anything but watch as the tanks flooded and plummeted to the bottom, where they remain on the seabed to this day. Six men were killed.

This tragedy didn’t deter the overall operation though, as SMASH was repeated a few times. SMASH III was even observed from Fort Henry by Winston Churchill, George VI, and later-to-be-President Eisenhower.

The exact history that Fort Henry has overseen is shrouded in a hint of mystery. After the conclusion of Operation SMASH, all documents related to it were destroyed as the Normandy Invasion was deemed too important to fail. While we know the names of the six men that were killed during Operation SMASH and even though we have the eyewitness testimony, the exact details of how those tanks made their way to the seabed will remain lost to time.

Know Before You Go

The Fort is only a couple minute walk away from Middle Beach Car Park. In the summer, this car park can be very busy, but there are toilets and cafes by this car park.

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December 28, 2023

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