Burton upon Stather Heritage Group
Rescuing the ramp…
Valentine DD Tank
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Tank Sheds Tank Sheds Examining a tank Tank with floatation screen up A tank in The Trent A Valentine lands A Sherman DD tank on the ramp A tank in The Trent A view from The Trent

The Tank Ramp

Burton Stather WWII Tank slipway

Please note research into history of the slipway is on going and this page may contain errors. Changes and corrections will be made as and when information comes to light. If you are able to help with our research please contact us.

Introduction

The Slipway or Tank Ramp as it is known locally lies north of the village of Burton Stather on the eastern bank of the River Trent immediately below the steep escarpment that forms the northern end of the Lincoln Edge (Centre: OS grid ref SE 8662 1896). It was constructed in the May of 1944 by the 79th Armoured Division and saw military use until around 1948. It's primary purpose was for secret testing of the Duplex Drive Amphibious Tank, amphibious craft and associated equipment, prior to their use for River Crossing Assaults. The River Crossing Wing, as it became known, undertook trials on the Trent, and trained Squadrons of men for operations in Europe between August 1944 and April 1945. After the War, the Wing remained in use as an experimental centre for prototype equipment to deal with the challenges of muddy, steep banks, and crossing fast flowing rivers.

There were two other contemporary sites in Britain used for Duplex Drive Tank testing. One such site was Fritton Lake on the Somerleyton Estate near Great Yarmouth in Suffolk; the other was Stokes Bay at Gosport, Hampshire. Fritton Lake was for Freshwater Training (Wing A), Stokes Bay for Saltwater Training (Wing B). It is believed the Burton site was chosen as the River Trent at this point, with its muddy banks and silted tidal flow, very closely matched that of European rivers such as the Seine and Rhine.

Burton Upon Stather is definitely a significant and unique site. That is without doubt. The military spent much time carefully choosing a suitable site that resembled areas of the Rhine which could enable them to perfect river crossing techniques. Its significance in the DD tank story is unparalleled. The Tank Ramp is an important piece of archaeology and its relevance in WW2 is highly significant. Pill boxes and other WW2 relicts are protected, and I would like see rare survivals such as this receive the same statutory protection.

Layout

The Slipway can be divided into four separate parts or platforms. The main platform is level concrete and measures 31m x 6.1m and appears to have been cast in two bays, one measuring 31 x 3m and the other 31 x 3.1m. This is located at the top of, and is parallel to the riverbank. The front edge of the platform has two 7.3m iron beams set into the concrete at both ends with a distance of 6m apart in the centre. The beams are actually lengths of railway line with only the top face visible just proud of the concrete. This forms the peak of the slipway as it begins the decent to the river and would have protected the concrete at this point from ware. At the south end of each beam 7 equally spaced flat iron bars radiate to form a quadrant of approximately 80°. Each bar measures 1.55m x 32mm, again set into the concrete so only the top face is visible. The quadrants are required because Tanks are skid steer vehicles, and the motionless inside track is able to skid or pivot on them without damaging the concrete during a turn. Both quadrants are laid the same way and facilitate a tank approaching from the south and turning left onto the slipway.

To the front (river side) of the platform, a second concrete platform slopes toward the river at an angle of approx 15°. This measures 2m from front to back and may have been the same length as the main platform when constructed but has since broken away at both ends and is now only 20.5m at its longest. This platform was cast in two bays each of 15.5m x 2m.

Turning Irons

Irons set into the concrete for turning.

From the second platform to more or less the low water mark, and maintaining the same 15° decline, the third platform is made up of approximately 175 railway sleepers laid perpendicular to the concrete. The sleepers are tightly laid end to and parallel to one another. Each joint is staggered from the next at a minimum distance of 0.3m. There are 43 sleepers across the width of the ramp and four or five from top to bottom. The sleepers are 0.3m wide and 0.15m deep. Lengths vary from over 5m to about 3.5m They are bedded on concrete and concrete appears also to have been used as a filler between gaps. Each sleeper is fixed to the concrete via two or three ½" X 3" threaded rods set into the concrete. The sleeper was then drilled and placed over the threaded rods. A second rod with an internal threaded end was then screwed down onto the first rod. The top of that was then hammered over to secure the sleeper in place. Each sleeper is secured to the end of its neighbour with a large iron staple overlapping the joint and hammered into each.

Many of the sleepers are still in good condition; particularly those situated low down the ramp, as they are soaked twice a day by the tide and can never dry. Of those that have rotted most are in the top quarter of the ramp where they occasionally dry out.

Beyond the sleepers and for an as yet undermined distance into the river, the forth platform is once again concrete. This has led to speculation that the sleepers were actually an after thought and the whole ramp was originally meant to be concrete. However, sleepers are an obvious choice as they would be less sensitive to impact and vibration and possibly offer the tank tracks something to bite into and grip whilst climbing the slope. And of course they are quickly and easily replaced if damaged.

Ring

Iron rings set into the top edge of the ramp.

To the rear of the main platform, approximately 6.5m either side of the centre are two 1.3m concrete squares. These are sunk into the ground so as to be level with the main platform. In the top of each is a rectangular recess with an iron loop and ring set into it. These are clearly anchor points for pulling heavy vehicles etc up and down the ramp. These would have been used in conjunction with block and pulleys. Whether these are contemporary or added later is not known.

The Slipway was originally accessed from the South following the Stather road and through the gates of the property known as Villa Farm. Then on to the site along the riverside via a purpose built concrete and gravel track way. This track more or less followed the line of the old public footpath. The footpath is shown on the 1907 OS map but omitted from later OS maps presumably because the site had been commandeered for military use and was top secret. We do not see it appear again on an OS map until 1957. Once the military abandoned the site life soon returned to normal and the footpath was well trod once again. Many locals soon took advantage of the concrete playground the military had left for them and the Tank Ramp began a new life as a haven for fishing and launching boats etc. This remained the case until about 1986 when the owners of Villa Farm removed the old stile and erected a fence effectively closing the footpath. Currently the only access to the slipway is from the Burton Hills via paths created by the Heritage Group. The Heritage Group are currently campaigning to get the original riverbank footpath reopened. See here for details.


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DD Tank Archive Films

Some archive films featuring DD Tanks.

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Normanby Hall

Water Assault Tem at normanby Hall

The Water Assault Team billeted at Normanby Hall during WWII

© North Lincolnshire Museum

We have been able to obtain this interesting photo from North Lincolnshire Museum showing the water assault team billeted at Normanby Hall during WWII.