DIVERS in Purbeck have marked the end of a two-year project commemorating the largest live-fire exercise of World War II by laying wreaths on the wrecks of seven sunken Valentine tanks.

Operation Smash, which took place off Studland, was a rehearsal of the D-Day landings, taking place six-weeks before the historic invasion

Seven army tanks known as Duplex Drive (DD) Valentine tanks were lost during this exercise which cost the lives of six tank crew.

The Valentine was modified to be a ‘floating’ or amphibious tank that could leave its landing ship further out from shore than other tanks.

However, during the exercise these tanks sank with the loss of the crewmen shortly after driving off their landing craft.

They ran into immediate difficulty when a sudden change in the weather adversely affected sea conditions.

A project, launched by the Isle of Purbeck Sub-Aqua Club (IPSAC), has been running for two years, recording and researching the history of the seven sunken Valentines, which lay on the sea bed in Poole Bay.

More than 20 divers took part in the commemorative wreath laying, which took place on June 3, on the 75th anniversary of troops loading into ships bound for Normandy.

Project coordinator Nick Reed, from IPSAC, said: "The dive was a fitting culmination of two years of work.

"We attempted to lay wreaths on the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the tanks but the weather was against us. As a backup, we pencilled in this day as it was when the soldiers form the 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards loaded their tanks for D-Day.

"This fitted in with several other regimental commemorations. The weather on Tuesday was ideal and we managed to complete the task.

"Each of the wreaths carried the names of each of the six men who died during the exercise.

"One of the aims of the project was to put faces to the names and we’ve managed to track down pictures of five of the men.”

The commemoration event also took place on the day that Historic England designated the tanks as scheduled monuments under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

This is the first time that the Act has been used to schedule underwater structures.

Mr Reed added: "It was great to work with friends from the leading dive school in Poole, Flippas n’ Fins, Arnewood Sub Aqua Club, from Christchurch and Bovington Sub Aqua Club to complete the task.

"We are also grateful to the skippers who took us out, Pete Williams from Divers Down and Trevor Small of Rocket Charters.

"We were also privileged to have both current and ex-servicemen taking part during the day."