Ashley Walk

The Ashley Walk Bombing Range Observation Shelter

The site of the WW2 Ashley Walk bombing range covers more than 5,000 acres in a northwest area of the New Forest. Established in mid-1940, the entire area was fenced off and used for testing bombs and explosives until the end of the war.

The observation shelter you see in my photos here was built to let the testing team watch the bombs being dropped from a safe distance.

The military also set up cameras and other observation positions on the range, but this brick observation shelter is the only one that remains today. 

Short video walk around

You can see photos of the observation shelter lower down the page, and also watch a short video I made below.

For more videos of New Forest and Hampshire Second World War heritage, please subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Design of the observation shelter

Ashley walk bomb shelter
The front of the bomb observation shelter has three viewing slits built in.

It’s a very similar design to surface air raid shelters, but with 2 key differences:

  • (1) The rear of the observation shelter is open to allow people to enter and…
  • (2) watch through the observation slits in the front of the brickwork.
rear of shelter open
The rear of the bomb observation shelter is open to allow easy viewing of bombing tests.

Different bombing tests carried out at the Ashley Walk range

If you had been looking through these viewing slits during the Second World War you would have been witness to planes dropping payloads onto the land with huge bangs and flashes. 

the only Ashley walk observation position that still exists
This is the only observation position that still exists at the Ashley Walk bombing range.

Target types

You would have seen the planes targeting various targets on the bombing range including:

  • Air to ground targets such as mock-up aircraft pens.
  • Fragmentation targets
  • Line target which could represent a railway line.
  • Wall targets for tests such as the bouncing bomb.
  • Ship target to simulate attacking German boats.
viewing slit
The viewing slits offer a wide view over 5,000 acres of New Forest heathland.

The planes involved in the tests would have flown from RAF Boscombe Down in Salisbury.

The bombs witnessed from the Ashley Walk observation shelter

The Ashley Walk bombing range was the scene for the largest bomb to ever be dropped on UK soil, the Grand Slam. This was a 22,000 lb (10 ton) earthquake bomb used by RAF Bomber Command against German targets during the Second World War. 

new forest bombing range shelter
The New Forest National Park have placed an information board inside the shelter.

The Grand Slam was a larger version of the Tallboy bomb and closer to the size that its inventor, Barnes Wallis, had envisaged when he developed the idea of an earthquake bomb.

Ashley walk viewing position
The bomb viewing position is the only WW2 structure that remains at Ashley Walk.

The Grand Slam bomb test

If the testing team had watched from the observation bomb shelter as the Grand Slam was dropped on Ashley Walk, the explosion would have been deafening. It left a 70 foot deep crater (which has since been filled in).

There would have been a large flash, so the slits in the bomb observation shelter would have helped to protect their eyes. Local people were also told to leave their windows open during the Grand Slam test to stop the glass shattering.

concrete degrading
The concrete that makes up the viewing slits is starting to degrade a little.

The Tallboy bomb was also tested on the bombing range, and the crater for this bomb remains on Ashley Walk to this day. 

The Bouncing Bomb test

But possibly the most famous bomb to be tested at Ashley Walk was the bouncing bomb, designed by Barnes Wallis. It was dropped on the heathland, bouncing a few times, before smashing into one of the wall targets. 

bomb shelter
The observation shelter is the only structure as far as the eye can see.

Bombing tests continued on Ashley Walk until 1946 when the war had already finished. At this point, the heathland was peppered with large bomb craters, many of which you can still see to this day. 

The V for Victory brickwork on the shelter

If you look carefully on the external side wall to the bomb shelter, you can just about make out what looks like a V shape created using different colour shades of brick to the red ones. 

v for victory brickwork
Look carefully and you can see the V for Victory in the brickwork of the shelter.

Whilst there is no documented evidence to prove it, it’s commonly thought that this was a V to represent “Victory” placed into the brickwork by the construction worker who built the shelter. 

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