View Full Version : Dengie Flats

04-04-2010, 22:44
I have been re-reading Paul Doyles article in AR88 about Dengie Flats. Looking at 1960s maps I noticed that targets were not only marked but labelled as such. Armed with all that info I pulled together this KMZ file marking the obvious locations plus some that have now gone. The original range had a practice bombing target (northern end) and an air to ground target (southern end) but by 1940 the bombing target was not used, the emphasis on ground attack.

There are some questions in that file and I wondered if anyone could confirm some of the features I have marked. The other anomolly is that an internet source suggests the range was still in use in 1960. I'm not sure about that.

05-04-2010, 08:34
I shall take a look and respond in due course.

Just want to say that I just caught the tail-end of the clearance job of Dengie Flats when I joined RAF Bomb Disposal at Debden in 1964. We were at the mercy of the tides which would wash quickly in and out over the mud flats so operations were planned to follow the tide out and race back in when it turned!
There was a lot of stuff there mostly inert scrap but a few surprising items which shows that wartime ranges often had unauthorised 'drops' made on them. Also, wartime ranges were the places that RAF BD teams recovering bombs from reported incidents would take the items for final disposal by demolition, burning or steaming out.

Fortunately, accommodation was in a local pub so it was fair exchange for the work involved!

So, yes, it must have closed around 1960.

05-04-2010, 09:21
A quick one.

If you look at the area in Google Earth and select Layers and then click on the Panoramia 'button' a number of image links appear.

Two of them are adjacent to the northernmost QS and show it very nicely albeit labelled as a bird watch.

The most interesting is the location in the far north of Sales Point which you queried as A/G Targets. There is an image link which shows these as a line of barges sunk into the sand. Although my memory is rusty, I certainly recall the other line of barges to the south in the A/G Gunnery range area but recall that they were for coastal defence, i.e. anti-invasion.



05-04-2010, 09:47
Just rang an old friend.

The two lines of sunken barges were put there as anti-erosion defences to protect the coastline but he can't recall when.

EDIT - Both lines of barges were put there in 1986, spaced 20 metres apart and filled with gravel.

If they had been used as targets even with practice ammo you would expect to see some damage but it aint there.

05-04-2010, 11:08
Many thanks Peter. The barges didn't seem to be range related as I have seen them used similarly elsewhere.

Found the range in SEAX under Bradwell and not Dengie. :roll:


Seems to answer most of the questions as well!

06-04-2010, 07:37
Great, I had a quick look under Bradwell on the Essex site when I couldn't find much under Dengie but didn't see that page. The locals pronounce it Denjie.

Although my brain recalls seeing barges in 1964 it must have been the target wrecks plus other bric-a-brac.

The standard Air to Ground gunnery target was a 'screen' target, usually hessian 15 feet square with a reinforced hem and brass eyelets through which rope could be attached. Each screen required two stout posts, often telegraph poles which were dropped into sockets cast into a concrete footing in the mudflat. A pulley sheave was roped to the top of each post. A rope would be attached to the top corners of each target and rove through the pulley and back down to the ground. The bottom two corners would be attached by ropes to an anchor point (a stake driven into the sand forward of the baseline) and the target raised by heaving on the ropes - no mean feat when a strong breeze was blowing - and the ropes secured to cleats on the bottom of the posts. The target now should be at an angle to the horizontal of around 60 degrees so that a pilot in a shallow dive could see the screen full face. Sometimes a crude bulls eye might be painted on.

Each aircraft was then directed to shoot at a specific target e.g. No 2 and following the departure of the shooters, the range party would count the number of new holes on the target and the score would be relayed back to base. Holes would be 'marked' with a splash of paint to 'cancel' it and the target reused.

Rifle calibre ammo did little damage but once 20mm and later 30mm came into use, even using BALL only, it would take only a few hits on the posts to bring it down disabling the target. Now the range party had to lift out the shot-up post and drop in a new one, or two, or three......Steel post fared little better, even worse, and timber seemed to be capable of absorbing more damage before failing. Coconut palm trunks were even better but that's another story....

30-12-2010, 18:58
Reposting images soon

30-12-2010, 19:25
Peter, a brilliant description of how the strafe targets were erected. As for the poles, steel or any kind of metal was a no-no due to the possibility of ricochets.

30-12-2010, 20:50
A visit to Dengie looking for aircraft wreck parts in 1979-80.

Remains of a F-100.
Sticky conditions!
Some of Peters handywork??
Me with the poor attempt at a beard!

31-12-2010, 08:16
It could not have been 'ours' Denis.

The clearance task at Dengie Flats was carried out by the RAF Bomb Disposal Flight based at Debden during the early to mid 60's. We were so conscientious that we would think nothing of carrying an empty (demolished) 1000 pound bomb casing on one's back a mile or more across treacherous swampy sands in gale force winds and driving rain and near freezing temperatures to dump with our non-explosive scrap for disposal..............(he lied):)

31-12-2010, 13:35
What was the structure in the first shot? Were there any signs of the railway then?

01-01-2011, 12:12
To be honest PNK, I didnt look for such things then. I was more interested in the several aircraft crash sites in the area. No idea on the nature of the structure, but my companions that day did know a fair bit about the site. Unfortunately I have lost contact with both of them now.

HF Dave
29-09-2011, 12:41
A few photos of the site from October 2009. The concrete control room shown in the earlier photo is now almost down to its base. The vertical posts of the wooden walkways are well preserved.


29-09-2011, 20:45
Do you have a grid reference for the control room? I must admit I didn't relate it to the range but it might have been a markers shelter as the quadrant shelters were wooden.

HF Dave
30-09-2011, 19:45
Approximately TM036056.
My understanding is that this was the central control for the air-to-ground firing range, as distinct from the bombing range.
There was a wooden walkway running approx NS with the targets branching off. There were two further shelters at each end of this walkway.
Burnham Museum produce a booklet on the range - I can provide you contact details if you want to buy a copy; I think it was only a few pounds.

30-09-2011, 21:21
Contact details would be great. Either post or PM them. Thanks for the grid ref, I will get my sketches of the range and remains out again. I had the walkway down as a tramway so I will also check that again.

01-10-2011, 16:00
Had a quick look at the area again, with a slightly more informed eye. The extant remains (in most cases just remains) appear to be as follows :-

Quadrant Shelters : TM 03182 02626 & TM 03167 08254 (The northern one is intact but the southern one is topless)
Markers shelter (control?) : TM 03535 05662
Wing markers shelters : TM 035591 05881 & TM 03505 05432
Post war ship target (near to site of original target) : TM 04798 06870
Possible low level target (looks like traingular pile shape?): TM 04198 06211

The wooden posts in the photos are related to the air to ground targets and connected the three markers shelters with branches to the targets. I'm not sure of their vintage but probably are original from the laste 1930s. I am curious as to the foundatuions of the concrete markers shelters since this looks to be salt marsh mud. The trackway indicates dodgy ground too. I wonder if the MS & WMS were raised slightly? The ship target is at the end of a raised "tramway" whose route is still visible on Google Earth. There was another target further south where a similar "tramway" curced southwards but this is just off the GE coverage. The tramway emerged from the area near Sandbeach Outfall and extended out for a while befroe splitting to the north and south.

My only maps of the range are from bye-laws and show no detail, although the air to ground range "funnel" is marked at the base only.

The range was used into the Jet (Gas Turbine) era and used by the USAF as well as their predecessor.

Re-looking at Denis' pictures of the Markers shelter it does look taller than I would have expected so may have been raised so that the board walk was at floor height (no steps). Maybe the local archives hold pictures? The only othe mystery is the missing third quadrant shelter which must have been in the vicinity on the air to ground range?

HF Dave
03-10-2011, 21:30
Yes, the firing range buildings were all built on the saltings mud, and I understand their bases had to be piled and then reinforced. The wooden walkway was about 15" above the mud, held up by 4" by 4" wooden piles (many of which are still visible).

There was a four storey lookout tower the other side of the sea wall next to the generator house and some ground signals (i.e. just to the south of the firing range). This may be what you call the third quadrant shelter (I'm not really familiar with the purpose / names of such buildings). There was also a lighthouse-type building. There is absolutely no trace of any of these (i.e. landward side of seawall) buildings now. I think the sea wall may have been rebuilt and new dykes dug after the bad floods in the 1960s.

03-10-2011, 22:58
The four storey building would have been the master quadrant/range control which controlled all parts of the range. Each bombing target would have had two qudrant shelters, in this case the four storey would have been shared between the two. The quadrant shelters each contained a sighting instrument mounted on a quadrant so that the range staff could measure the angle of the bomb smoke from the base line which was drawn between the two quadrant shelters. These two angles would be transferred to a prepared chart of the bombing target to locate the bomb strike and this was fed back to the crews. The markers and wing markers shelters were used for staff to take cover whilst firing was taking place and to then go out and count the strikes on the fabric targets and also to carry out repairs. Wing markers shelters were present when the number of targets required it.

HF Dave
03-11-2011, 21:54
Photo of northern observation post (quadrant shelter) from Oct 2011. Until recently this was in reasonable condition, being used as a bird hide. It is now derelict.


The southern post has been derelict for many years, and just part of the wooden skeleton remains. Photo from 2009:


03-11-2011, 23:12
Looks like the northern one won't last long without regular repairs. The next big gale might see the end of it.

It is likely that the northen one is an original 1938(?) build, if so a rare survivor as most others are of brick or concrete construction. Worth preserving?

04-11-2011, 06:59
Thanks Dave, I thought that the use as a bird watch would ensure its survival but looks like the end is near.

HF Dave
17-11-2011, 12:24
After WWII the USAF started to use the range extensively for bombing, and around 1948 two ships were deliberately wrecked near the ends of tramway spurs (N one at approximately TM 048069 and the S one at TM 045035. The N one and its warning post can still clearly been seen on Google Earth). Perhaps later, and certainly by 1959, two further wrecks were added, each about 1km further out to sea from the existings ones (locations TM 058067 and TM054038). These new targets were both ex motor minesweepers of length 120' and beam 25', deliberately holed and painted white for use as targets.
[Information from English Heritage Pastscape and notes by Doug Joslin, former farmer at Sandbeach Farm which was adjacent to the range.]

HF Dave
17-11-2011, 12:26
Sorry that last reference should be TM 054038 !

17-11-2011, 14:22
Thanks for the update. Pastscape is good at giving aerial photo references making ordering copies a lot easier

13-12-2011, 22:43
I live locally to the Dengie Flats and have visited them on many occasions over the last 40 odd years. Our local museum at Burnham on Crouch published a paper on the building of the range prior to WW2 and before the existance of Bradwell Bay Airfield.
Where to start! The 'blockhouses' as we used to call them (as in one of the previous photos), on the edge of the saltings, dissapeared in the late seventies, to facillitate an early warning sea level radar station(unmanned). These were derelict when I first saw them in the early seventies. One was a lot larger than the other and had three rooms, all five walls of which had been penetrated by some kind of ordnance, travelling at about 6 foot above the mud! The hole at one end was approx 24" and about 4ft at the other end!!. Just to the south of these buildings, a small guage railway (same as a tram) ran out to two sunken barges (this line appears on maps of the period). At the start of the line (actually called Sandbeach Outfall) a good amount of live ordnance had been dumped, everything from 9mm parabellum to No.247 fuses for grenades. I recall finding a whole box(wooden, rotted away) of belted 20mm hispano cannon ammunition! his area is now buried under several feet of mud since the sinking of the line of barges, previously mentioned, to preserve the saltings.
Another of the earlier photos on this thread shows guys standing around bits sticking out of the mud, these are JATO bottles, and what appears to be their carrier. These are the early type of U.S manufacture. These Jet Assisted Take Off bottles were used to get larger aircraft, who had effected an emergency landing, off Bradwells short runways. (Got a couple in me shed...)
All large ordnance dropped or fired at the range were inert or had spotting charges. 500lb G.P bombs were full of sharp sand, 4" rockets had a chalky substance in the head. 11 1/2lb and 25lb had a spotting charge in the tail.
20mm cannon fire had all but destroyed the 'blockhouses' on the edge of the saltings, next to these were large metal frames (still lying in the mud) around which are thousands of 50cal heads.
It is inadviseable to visit the area infront of the new Radar installation, for obvious reasons!!
I have also recovered remains of 2 Gloster Meteor aircraft which crashed at the range shortly before it closed.
Most of this information I have gathered from people who were stationed at Bradwell and at the Dengie Flats and the local farmer, who published the afore mentioned book.
Finally, the RAF sign for Dengie Flats is still in existance in private hands (not me!)

14-12-2011, 00:23
Welcome Dodgydave. Many thanks for the personal memories. The original traingular targets at the end of the two branche of the tramway were replaced by the wrecks at some point. I can't recall if I found a date or not. Usually someone knows the names of wrecks used as targets but if they were barges it might not be so easy. The two blockhouses I assume were the main markers shelter, the larger and wing markers shelter, the smaller. There was a tall quadrant tower on the land that jutted out just to the south of the blockhouses. I also noticed on a 1945 aerial photo of the site that there were two buidings at the main markers shelter site, so maybe it wasn't a wing markers shelter. The three rooms is odd as they were not designed with them. The image below shows the main markers shelter with a smaller building to the left. The wing markers shelters were away off to the laeft and right. Are these the blockhouses?


14-12-2011, 20:59
Hi; yes, they're the ones. The southern most one (right) was the one with 3 rooms. I could easily get through the large hole, which was on the north side. When the military demolished these, they told the farmer that they had found "unexploded ordnance under them" 2 years later, the radar appeared! The main Quadrant tower must have been where the railway ran from; this is where the live ammo was dumped. You could see the old rail tracks quite clearly as lugworms liked the wood and left telltail marks on the mud. As you got to the southern most barge, the rails stuck up out the mud! When I first visited the range, one of the carriages was still on the saltings. The next time we looked, it had gone. It is now at the Railway Museum at Mangapps, Burnham on Crouch. I saw identical carriages at the tramway in Seaton, Devon! Some of the original targets, 3 yellow pyramids constructed from corrugated tin, could be seen on the saltings just off from St Peters chapel. They were full of .303 holes! I think they've all collapsed now. Incidentally, this area infront of the Chapel was also used as a mortar range, remains of 2" and 3" shells everywhere (perhaps they were to do with that?)
There were two Gloster Meteor crashes at the Dengie range, both while shooting at an inland target. I have a few bits from these. I have tried to find out information on these aircraft, but with no luck; any ideas?

14-12-2011, 21:27
The three yellow pyramids were almost certainly direction indicators to the air to sea firing target (barges??) used post war, probably rockets. The standard layout would have been two yellows at the base 300ft apart and a red one at the apex 500ft from the line drawn between the two yellows. The pyramids were supposed to be 10ft square on the base and 10ft high. Dengies would have been mounted on piles. Was one red?
I will have a look online for Mangapps and see if they identify the carriage. Many thanks for the information.

I emailed the contact at the museum in Burnham about the booklet on Dengie being built but didn't get a reply sadly.

14-12-2011, 22:27
All three pyramids were yellow. The email for the Burnham Museum on the website is u/s. I'll (try to) pm you the contact email. I knew the farmer at the range, Doug Joslin, who wrote the book. He said the Yanks were always dropping stuff in his fields! They used to practice dropping bombs by flying quite low, parallel to the sea wall and then pull up sharply and release the bomb at the same time, so it "popped up in the air" (his words) and then procede back the way they came, inverted! F86's I believe.

15-12-2011, 06:53
Ah, the 'toss' bombing manoeuvre to simulate the delivery of a tactical nuclear weapon. Officially known as LABS (Low Altitude Bombing System) and discussed (I think) under the Tain thread.

Probably USAF F84s rather than F86 Sabres 'though.

15-12-2011, 09:52
I think the modern version of the pyramids are all the colour. Anoth slight change from the 50s to the modern era.

HF Dave
22-12-2011, 22:16


28-12-2011, 00:23
Probably USAF F84s rather than F86 Sabres 'though.[/QUOTE]

I spoke to my father regarding the aircraft he had seen over Bradwell/Dengie in those days, and he reckoned they were "Shooting Stars" (F80). Would this be a possibility? Not up on my early U.S jets; did F84's have wingtip tanks similar to F80's? If so this could be what he saw.

28-12-2011, 06:09
Yes, they could have been F80s or F84s; both had tip tanks.

20-01-2012, 22:19
I regained contact this week with old friend Mike Rushen, he is the chap in the old images I originally posted on page one of this thread.
Mike has kindly passed on some images of Dengie for the forum. The source for the range map, targets and railway are unknown, if there is a problem, then they can be removed.

27-02-2012, 13:05
I live just down the road from Bradwell-on-Sea if anybody ever fancies a little mission to go take a look?

Richard Flagg
27-02-2012, 13:15
Great to see you on here Paul! As you know I still want to head down to Bradwell, we will sort a day out one day soon

29-02-2012, 13:49
Great to see you on here Paul! As you know I still want to head down to Bradwell, we will sort a day out one day soon

I really want to get back in to what I enjoy Rich :) Joining the forum makes a lot of sense!!!

Richard Flagg
29-02-2012, 15:41
Joining the forum makes a lot of sense!!!

Sure does Paul! Glad you are enjoying it!

Now I've taken this thread off topic! Whoops!!! Back to Dengie Flats!

HF Dave
26-09-2013, 19:33
Sad to report that the condition of the N observation tower continues to deteriorate. The wooden steps have now gone, and there is a friendly yellow sign warning that this is a dangerous structure:


28-09-2013, 15:23
Shame, I was hoping to go and measure the stair case (if I can fool the wife to go and see the birdies). I dare say the dimensions can be worked backwards relative to the rest.

I assume parking is simple?

HF Dave
30-09-2013, 20:00
Shame, I was hoping to go and measure the stair case (if I can fool the wife to go and see the birdies). I dare say the dimensions can be worked backwards relative to the rest.

I assume parking is simple?

Yes, turn right at the Kings Head (if you're coming from the Maldon direction), keep going past the Cricketers (haunt of the airmen, so I understand) and you'll reach a large parking area, nominally for visitors to St. Peter's chapel (which being from c.650 is worth a look). King's Head was always good for lunch, and has a large plan of the airfield as well.

30-09-2013, 20:52
Many thanks. Hopefully lunch solved as well :)

03-10-2013, 14:54
Many thanks. Hopefully lunch solved as well :)

I recommend the Kings Head. I highly recommend the Lemon Meringue for afters :)

31-10-2013, 18:15
Just a footnote to this thread; BBC4 is showing a series of programmes made by the Rank organisation in the early 1960s. On one episode, I believe on peoples jobs, it showed the Dengie Flats range being cleared of ordnance and the blowing up of a U.S bomb on the saltings, only a small explosion as they were full of sharp sand! I instantly recognised the 'blockhouses' on the edge of the saltings on the film. Incidentally, on the same programme, check out the Navy officer defusing a seamine in his no.1 uniform:lol:

31-10-2013, 19:11
Any idea when that episode was on as iPlayer only has one episode available and it isn't on there?

01-11-2013, 09:32
Incidentally, on the same programme, check out the Navy officer defusing a seamine in his no.1 uniform

....on the basis that, if it all goes wrong, he will be ready to be 'laid out' to the strains of Hearts of Oak!

Of course, I can't view that stuff here my location prohibits it.