Posted: 25 December 2010 00:33
'Blowing things up' formed part of the the "Viking" unit's specialist training; this included removing obstacles on assault landing beaches to crossing minefields and acts of sabotage.
One of the Viking training areas still retains evidence of barbed wire entanglements as seen in the photograph of a corkscrew picket at right.
The weapon used to tackle such entanglements was the Bangalore Torpedo which comprised a pipe of explosive pushed under the obstacle and detonated; it was also used in crossing minefields.
The documents describe cooperation with the local Home Guard:
They (the Home Guard) demonstrated the Northover Projector and Spigot Mortar and we demonstrated the Fougasse and the Bangalore Torpedo. The latter demonstration proved quite interesting; the Bangalore was blown to show its effectiveness against wire and minefields. Several 7- or 8-foot lengths of pipe were attached and pushed over the minefields.
Another exercise involved destroying enemy troop-carrying aircraft, presumably with high explosive; these were actually delapidated cars in a field that had previously been shot up in an exercise by low-flying aircraft.
Our next piece of evidence in the landscape involves one Lieutenant Turner, whom we briefly met in my previous post which saw him being injured by flying brick during the street fighting exercise in Eastbourne. His repertoire on the training course included demolitions, booby traps, minefields and sabotage.
It is to the latter instruction session we turn, entitled: Sabotage (what, where, when, how) - Installations - Gun Positions - Railway - Ships.
Whilst walking though Death Gulch a few weeks back I encountered the object visible in the photo at right lying in the earth.
A quick kick of my foot and a short, jagged length of railway track emerged from the topsoil.
The question I immediately asked myself was what was it and why was it there?
Unable to answer, I left it there but returned a week later to examine it closely.
A brief description: flat-bottomed rail; greatest length - 18 inches; weight 21 lbs. The photo below shows the rail in profile.
If we work through the evidence we can come to some conclusions. Firstly, why does a length of rail 18" long exist in the first place? I have no logical answer to this; if you're cutting short lengths of rail, your likely methods are either sawing or oxy-acetylene and cutting straight, but both ends are jagged. There is no explicable use for a piece of rail this length.
The broken ends have shattered along irregular lines; this is steel rail and I'm not convinced this piece is a product of trauma such as a train derailment or metallugical failure; something sudden and violent has happened here to break this rail in this way.
My estimate is that the rail was of about 65lb; standard rail weight was 80-90lb per yard, meaning my piece perhaps was from a narrow gauge railway such as a crane or tram. If such light rails were being used for demolition training, it wouldn't surprise me as 'permanent way materials' were in short supply for use in roadblocks and other military uses.
An important and decisive piece of evidence comes from Field Engineering Pamphlet No.7: Demolitions (1940) which states that a slab of gun cotton can cut 90lb (or lighter) rail, creating two fractures about 16 inches apart as shown in the diagram below. My slightly longer (but lighter) segment of rail therefore fits in with what the manual says.
The piece of rail was found at a location that we know Lt. Turner was conducting demolition training (including sabotaging railway track) and at a place many miles from the nearest railway of any gauge.
The rail is of a length which serves no useful purpose, and it has been traumatically shattered at both ends; I'm satisfied this rail was blown up by the Vikings - one of my favourite finds!
Term applied to a structure scheduled for demolition or already demolished. Walls and small buildings might be taken down to clear fields of fire or impede enemy passage by destroying a bridge. Some demolitions were not intended to be carried out until after invasion had begun, for example, certain bridges or road craters (pipe mines).
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Hibbs, Peter Viking School (5) - Demolitions (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216675/ Accessed: 23 November 2017
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