WE covered the ill-fated Second World War Valentine tanks exercise a few weeks ago.

During the exercise, which was the largest live firing exercise of the conflict, seven amphibious 'Valentine' tanks sunk off Studland, with the loss of six lives.

Operation Smash was carried out on April 4, 1944, as a dress rehearsal for the D-Day landings.

A Valentine 75 Project has been launched to map the history of these tanks and the men that died.

We recently heard from Ruth Boffey of Upwey, Weymouth, those father John Hampton took part in an exercise accompanying the tanks. He then took part in the D-Day landings.

Then we heard from historian Roger Holehouse, who was keen to research carry out further research.

He tells us: "Ruth Boffy’s father, John Hampton, was a Royal Marine serving in a Landing Craft Support (Medium) * – LCS(M) for short - some of the many specialised craft developed for the D-Day landings.

"The LCS(M) was designed to accompany the first waves of assault craft all the way into the beaches and provide them with the fire support (machine guns and mortars) that they would ordinarily have received from their own support weapons company immediately behind them (but in the first moments of an amphibious landing, not yet ashore of course).

"The design was modified from an ordinary Landing Craft with the provision of a proper bow for better sea keeping (no need for a ramp) so was able to operate in water too shallow for regular warships and right onto the beach if necessary. The Mk 2 and Mk 3 designs used on D-Day carried twin 0.5 inch heavy machine guns mounting (the infantry used 0.3 inch medium machine guns) and 3 inch or 4 inch mortars for firing smoke rounds or high explosive, as well as some light armour protection.

"The bit the crews probably tried not to think about too much is that they also served to draw enemy fire away from the vulnerable assault landing craft and onto themselves. So the action was all close range and personal as in Nelson’s day rather than long range as the Royal Navy was more used to."

Roger said it was 'a natural extension' of the LCS(M) role for them to escort the Duplex Drive (DD) swimming Valentines onto the beach.

He said: "They were trying to ‘form a lee’ to reduce the risk of waves swamping the tanks (the skirts only gave a very low free board) and shield them from enemy fire (if the skirt was holed, they sank like a stone).

"John’s notes confirm my suspicion that the driver was the most vulnerable to getting trapped and he indicates that to escape from the driver’s position they had to go back into the very cramped fighting compartment and out through the turret (after the others had left).

"Hardly surprising that the seven sinkings seems to have resulted in the loss of six drivers.

"As I read the records, while Valentine’s were used for training exercises like Operation Smash, they were replaced by DD Shermans which were more capable once they got ashore (although just as vulnerable before).

"Finally on the subject of escape: the veteran I spoke to last year who had served in DD Valentines told me that as a result of tragedies of Operation Smash at Studland, the crews were equipped with short duration breathing kits to give them a bit more time to get out."

*Thanks to Roger for providing us with more information about the landing craft support.