Bury St Edmunds HG

Bury St Edmunds was a designated nodal point in 1940, later classified as a category A Defended Place. It was an important rail and road centre. With regards to railways, it was the junction of the Cambridge and Ipswich lines, branch lines to Thetford and Norwich and to the Colne Valley line and Ipswich-London line. With regards to roads, it lay on a direct line between Aldeburgh and London whilst lateral roads ran north and south through the town. Large food and petrol stocks were held in the town. Its capture by the enemy would give him an important communication centre as well as these stocks.

The expected threat from the enemy was that a main attack would develop from the east following a successful landing on the Suffolk coast, as the enemy pressed onto London. Bury was not expected to be a target for a large airborne force as it was considered there were more important targets, but infiltration attacks from any direction by airborne troops could be expected once the main attack developed.

A fairly detailed defence scheme exists for the town, dated October 1941, but unfortunately the maps showing the exact location of the defences is missing. The strength of the force available for the defence of Bury according to the 1942 Combined Civil and Military Defence scheme was:

  • Home Guard - “A” Company 2nd Suffolk Home Guard, approx 400 in number of which 200 worked in the town.
  • I.T.C – all men of No.3 I.T.C under 8 weeks training, approx 700 in number.
  • Observer Corps – about 50 men available if they could not perform their normal duties.
    • The Home Guard weapon strength in 1941 was given as :

      • 291 rifles, 39 Browning light automatic rifles, two A.A Lewis guns, two sub machine guns, four Hotchkiss guns, eight Browning medium machine guns, two six pounder anti-tank guns and 18 Northover projectors.
        • By 1943 the Home Guard weapon strength was:

          • 282 rifles,2 Lewis guns, 32 Spigot mortars, 8 Hotchkiss guns, 10 Smith Guns, two 6 pdr guns, 994 anti-tank mines, 170 Sten guns, 11 Browning medium machine guns, 38 Browning light automatic rifles and 20 EY rifles (EY rifles were the Enfield SMLE Mk III or No 4 fitted with a cup for launching a No. 38 grenade. The barrel was reinforced by rapping wire around the wooden stock to prevent the wood shattering on discharge of the grenade. The grenade was fired with a special blank cartridge).
            • To be added to the above weapon strength was that of No. 3 I.T.C., which included a number of anti-tank rifles. The 6 pdr guns were two out of only three ever installed on the Eastern Command Line (the third was at Sudbury). Significantly, the Eastern Command Line is not mentioned at all in the Bury Defence Scheme, indicating that by then the anti-tank 'Island' had replaced the linear 'Stop Line'.

              The Westley Home Guard (“D” Company 3rd Suffolk Home Guard) which had strength of eight rifles (as at 1941) was to form observation posts for Bury, withdrawing to Bury if attacked in strength.

              The defence of Bury was based on a series of strong points situated at the entrances to the town. A further series of more lightly held posts (platoon strength) linked up the strong points; these posts watched the anti-tank ditch which surrounded the town. An inner area of road blocks had been established in case the enemy broke through the strong points. The usual instruction to hold the strong points to the last man and round were given. Forward posts were prepared to deny observation and tactical ground to the enemy but these were not to be held in force and if attacked in strength the defenders were to move back behind the anti-tank ditch.

              Above: Bury Defence Scheme - Anti-tank ditch, Keep and Strong Points

              The Keep, where the reserve was to be held, was established at the Old Barracks, Kings Road. It was also a designated Strong Point. The Defence Headquarters were at Gibraltar Barracks, but would move to the Old Barracks if necessary.

              Right: - The Keep, Bury St Edmunds

              A mobile force for the Suffolk Sub-area was to be detailed by Officer Commanding I.T.C and as an alternative role it could be used to deal with parachutists dropped within a limited radius of Bury or to act as a mobile relief for the defence of Bury. The force was to comprise of six rifle platoons, one carrier platoon and one 3” mortar platoon.

              Obstacles included a double apron fence on both sides of the anti-tank ditch, minefields (with mines held in shelters near the minefields) and plans for the demolition of bridges over the anti-tank ditch.

Bury Def Scheme
Bury keep

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