Braunton Burrow’s important role in the Second World War D-Day Landings

by Rupert Hawley

North Devon, in common with various other coastal locations of the UK, was used to train soldiers for the D-Day Landings.

The British forces had chosen the estuaries, beaches and sand dune areas along the south coast of England, as well as in Scotland.  These were considered to be the best because they were most like the coast of Normandy.  When the Americans joined the war they were offered the less preferred North Devon coast.  However the beaches and sand dunes of Braunton Burrows and Woolacombe proved to be both excellent training areas, and very similar to the beaches where the men landed on 6th June 1944.

Training at the Bazooka wall, Butts Slack, Braunton Burrows
Training at the Bazooka wall, Butts Slack, Braunton Burrows

Over just eight months, more than 10,000 American General Infantrymen (GIs) lived and trained in North Devon, most of them camped out in tents and 505 Nissen Huts on the edge of Braunton.  The American troops were paid five times more than the British troops and their war-time supplies of chocolate, sweets, chewing gum, women’s stockings and cigarettes were very popular with the locals who had been rationing for more than 30 months.  Braunton’s population was about 3,000 at this time and it is hard to imagine the impact of so many boisterous young men on the local community.  They filled the pubs and shops, attended tea dances and courted the girls.

Training at the Bazooka wall, Butts Slack, Braunton Burrows
Training at the Bazooka wall, Butts Slack, Braunton Burrows

The expansive four square miles of sand dunes at Braunton Burrows became the “Assault Training Center”.  The dunes were split into different areas for specific military exercises including the use of machine guns, flame throwers, Bangalore torpedoes for blowing up barbed wire defences, demolition and rockets in the form of the newly invented Bazooka.  The beaches of Woolacombe and Saunton were used to simulate the D-Day Landings using Landing Craft vehicles, and replica concrete Landing Crafts were made in the dunes to train on.  These concrete structures and a Bazooka wall can still be visited today and have recently been Listed by the government in recognition of the part played by the Americans and Braunton Burrows in the successful Normandy landings.  They are a powerful reminder and memorial for future generations.

Find out more about our work in Devon

Beautiful Braunton Burrows is home to the second largest sand dune system in the UK and, as it’s an internationally important site for wildlife and sand dune habitats, the area is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and part of the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Our project in Devon will help rejuvenate sand dune systems at Braunton Burrows and Woolacombe. Work in Devon is led by Plantlife and National Trust, working closely with Christie Estates.