2 July 1917 – On the beach

With the planned offensive in Belgium, the Navy has been readying itself with plans for an amphibious landing on the Belgian Coast. The places chosen for the landings of the military force were three beaches, a mile apart, between Nieuport and Middelkerke. The plan is to land troops off long pontoons (500 feet by 30 feet beam), pushed into place by monitors.

Early photography showed that the beaches were uneven and that the pontoons might ground on ridges with the surrounding water too deep for the troopsto get ashore. To avert this danger, it was imperative that the Navy carry out a close survey of the beaches.

Admiral Bacon took a two-fold approach, First he carried out a preliminary survey, to get the rise and fall of the tide curves along this stretch of coast. A submarine was sent to lie on the bottom off Nieuport for twenty-four hours and the height of water above her hull was continuously registered from readings on the depth gauge.

Second, he carried out an air photography survey. In preparation for the air survey, two surveys were made of a comparable section of beach near Dunkirk, one by air photography and calculation, the other by direct observations. The photography worked by observing the rise and fall of the sea at specific intervals to calculate the exact contours of the beach. The two independent results coincided almost exactly. It showed that it was possible to deduce the slope of the beach to within an accuracy of six inches from photographs taken 14,000 feet up in the air.

Today, 2 Squadron RNAS carried out the main photographic survey of the beaches From 1125 to 1736, batches of photographs were taken at intervals of twenty minutes. So that the attention of the enemy should not be unduly attracted to the vital beaches, other photographs were taken east of Ostend.

From the air photographs, charts and sections of the beach were compiled by a scientific officer on the Vice-Admiral’s staff.

In the end the effort proved fruitless as the failure of the offensive in Belguin led to the abandonment of the plans.

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