In 1942 Stokes Bay was chosen as an embarkation point for tanks and their support vehicles destined for the Normandy beaches as part of Project Overlord, the invasion of France. Sherman Duplex Drive Tanks, Centaurs, Armoured Vehicles R.E.s and Self propelled Artillery were loaded at Hards G1 to G4. The whole of the Bay became a restricted area although locals report that they still had some access. Binoculars and cameras were forbidden. All existing buildings at the Bay were commandeered and the bathing huts were all removed. Plans were drawn up to widen and strengthen certain key roads and corners in Alverstoke so that tanks and other military vehicles could more easily access the Bay. This included a section of Village Road. Two new concrete and tarmac roads were planned, one at the east end of the beach and promenade near to the Stokes Bay railway pier and another at the end of Village Road to connect Stokes Bay Road to the promenade near to the Stokes Bay bathing station. The initial plans indicated that three hards were to be built on the beach between these to points but the final plans used the whole of the Bay and provided four embarkation hards. The length of Stokes Bay Road between Village Road and No.2 Battery was added to the list of roads to be widened and strengthened. Western Way and Jellicoe Avenue were to be Transit Areas for the hards. Contrary to some local belief Jellicoe Avenue was not constructed or widened specially for the D Day embarkation hards. The plans show quite clearly that it already existed, however it was to be used as a tank holding area. In order to allow access from Jellicoe Avenue to the Stokes Bay hards the southern end of it was connected by a new concrete road to Village Road.
Each hard consisted of a concrete approach which led on to a sloping mat of flexible concrete blocks laid onto the beach (called ‘chocolate blocks’ by the locals because of their resemblance to Cadbury’s chocolate bars). These were cast on the beach itself using concrete sand and shingle.
Only L.C.T.s (Landing Craft Tank) left from Stokes Bay, no L.S.T.s (Landing Ship Tank) as the water was not deep enough and the tides not suitable to accommodate them. (L.S.T.s left from Hardway). A row of three concrete and steel dolphins was constructed down the centre of each hard for mooring the L.C.T.s connected by a scaffolding walkway. The first dolphin was positioned between half tide and low tide, the other two were in the sea. A power cable from a nearby generator provided lights and a fuel supply line allowed fuel for the L.C.T.s to be pumped from a large fuel tank at each hard. Water was stored at each hard in large tanks and a supply pipe ran out to the dolphins.
Maintenance staff and reserve crew for Hard G1 were to be quartered in Gomerina Camp, for Hard G2 in Gomerina Camp and Palmerston Way (Fishers, Stokes Bay Cottage and Windbrake), for Hard G3 in Palmerston Way and for Hard G4 in Fort Lane (Cottage by the Sea and Coppers).
Ancillary buildings also constructed at each hard consisted of a Hardmaster’s Office, Workshop Naval and Victualling Store, Canteen, Air Raid Precautions Shelter with first aid facilities in a marquee. The Senior Hardmaster’s Office, together with a mess and telephone room were situated in the existing Stokes Bay bathing station and restaurant.
Just prior to D Day a purpose built D Day Control Centre was added close to hard G3, alongside the existing Senior Hardmaster’s Office in the old Bathing Station.
After the War Stokes Bay was handed back to Gosport Borough Council. Most of the equipment had been removed including the huts, tanks, shelters and storage facilities. The approach roads and concrete mats to the hards were left. Gosport Council converted the ones at G1 and G2 to car parks. Areas of concrete for hards G3 and G4 still remain alongside the promenade. Some of the flexible concrete matting can still be seen at all four hards, when the tide and storms expose them. Most of the mooring dolphins also remained, but were demolished over a period of time. In April 1954 the minutes of Gosport Borough Council recorded that ‘2 of the 3 War Department dolphins at Stokes Bay are to be removed’. In May 1954 they had an offer to ‘cut off all dolphins at east and west ends of Stokes Bay’. The last one to survive, as a diving platform for locals, was at Hard G3. In 1982 Gosport Borough Council noted that it had accepted responsibility for this dolphin in 1972, and as it was suffering from underwater corrosion they decided to demolish it as soon as possible. It was removed shortly afterwards.
The hard at G2 uncovered during a storm in August 2019: Photos kindly supplied by Geoff Hinton.
During strong winds and scouring tides in December 2020 the hard at G2 was uncovered once more revealing the flexible concrete matting:
Thanks to Kip Miller for the link to these YouTube videos that explain the D Day constructions and Stokes Bay. They also contain a sequence taken at Stokes Bay.
Excellent commentary by Kip!