I’m Les Hooper and I’ve been on Lulworth Ranges for 26 years. Initially this was with the military and now it’s as a range manager with Landmarc, who hold the contract from DIO to manage the training estate.
2016 marks 100 years of gunfire at Lulworth ranges in Dorset in the South West. It all started when the tank was invented by the British in 1916 and Bovington and Lulworth were selected as the main training locations for this significant new weapon.
Lulworth had links with the military way before 1916 and the Yeomanry, or volunteer regiments, had always been frequent visitors to the training area. The towering coastal cliffs east of Lulworth Cove made an ideal ‘stop butt’ for gunnery so a machine gun school was quickly set up for the tank crews to train. Initially, the six pounder gun was fired on Salisbury Plain and at the Royal Navy range of Whale Island but by 1917, the Tank Gunnery School had been established at Lulworth and the sound of gunfire is still being heard 100 years later.
Armoured vehicles in conflict
After the First World War, it was recognised that armoured vehicles would have a major role to play in any future conflict and along with driver and signal training at nearby Bovington Camp, Lulworth grew in importance as the premier place to train in tank gunnery.
The land necessary for training had been leased from the local landowner and with the conversion of the cavalry regiments to tanks and armoured cars, the range became very busy indeed. More land adjoining the original range was acquired in the mid-1930s and training stepped up with the looming clouds of war.
During the Second World War, both Lulworth and Bovington were busy turning out trained tank crews on a daily basis to replenish operational regiments and also to keep crews current with all the new armoured vehicles being brought into service.
Centre of Excellence
Lulworth and Bovington have become the centre of excellence for all forms of armoured training and are a world renowned facility.
Soldiers from across the world can be seen training here in advanced gunnery and as instructors to maintain the level of expertise needed for modern war. Even the Royal Navy trains its sailors on machine guns here.
Influencing new weapon systems
Besides training, the school has always had a big influence on new weapon systems.
Trials are a part of life, from lightweight weapons for Special Forces to new tanks like the Challenger 2, and currently the new 40mm cannon system soon to be deployed on Scout Specialist Vehicles and Ajax as part of Army 2020.
Safety on the Training Estate
Safety is paramount and as systems develop, newer and more sophisticated methods are being used. Sentries with binoculars and range finders gave way to early radar systems operated on the clifftops reporting to a soldier with a large map and pencils, to computerised systems using fibre optic communications. Today we have CCTV cameras with thermal capability using microwave links into a central control ops room manned by both military and Landmarc staff.
The public are allowed to access specific routes for a minimum of 143 days each year. DIO keeps the upcoming programme of planned firing online so the public can always check when they are and aren’t allowed on the range. It’s vital that anyone using the training area understands when it is safe and acceptable to access the range – this video should help explain it.
Ignoring these rules could be very dangerous so please make sure you obey and understand the rules and any signs or flags on the range.
Our Landmarc commitment to Lulworth ranges and the Bovington training area consists of staff to man the radar/operations room, patrols, operation of the control towers for firing, presentation and manufacture of targets, operation of a multi-path railway target system and the maintenance and upkeep of all the buildings, tracks and infrastructure on the training area. It’s a varied role and I really enjoy it.
Comment by Paul Webb posted on
I am interested in arranging a visit to the standard gauge target railways at Lulworth Ranges, the one with the engine shed and electric locomotives near to Lulworth castle
Comment by helenpickering posted on
This is unlikely to be possible but you can contact the Range Office on 01929 404819.
Comment by Paul Doyle posted on
As you have been at Lulworth for a long time I wondered if you had heard of the Westland Whirlwind fighter P7003, that crashed on West Holme Heath on 21 September 1942, the crash being witnessed by an Army driver.
I have spoken with many of the staff at Lulworth, including Major Tony Stirling and John Meaden, but have got no further in finding just where it crashed, therefore if you can assist I would be very grateful.
Paul Doyle (aviation historian and writer, private pilot)
Comment by Aaron posted on
I can't give you any information on the Whirlwind but I'd like to ask you a few questions about other plane crashes in the local area.
My emails email@example.com
Comment by Paul Alfred Doyle posted on
I don't keep comprehensive crash lists for Dorset, etc, but there are other people who do; their sites can be found if you enter 'Dorset aircrashes' into the internet.
I am mainly interested in the 263 Sqn Whirlwind that crashed at/near 'West Holme Heath' on 21/9/42 and three 2(AC) Sqn Mustangs that crashed near Smedmore House, Kimmeridge on 26/5/43