Back Cley next the Sea, Norfolk

The Allan Williams Turret was a pre-fabricated steel defence structure designed to be manned by two men with a machine gun, the men entering the dome through an entrance pit at the rear. The turret could be rotated through 360 degrees and so had an unlimited field of fire. With a variety of mountings, the turret could be used to fire a Lewis Gun, Bren Gun, Boys Anti-Tank Gun and a Browning machine gun. The rectangular hatch was for forward firing, with the circular hole at the top intended for an anti-aircraft role.

The Allan-Williams turret was seen in 1940 as a viable alternative to a concrete pillbox as it had a lower profile and so was a less obvious target and also because it could be easily camouflaged. Approximately 200-300 were built, chiefly in 1940, but wartime Britain’s steel shortage prevented more being produced.

In the anti-aircraft role, the turret proved ineffective as it was difficult for the occupants to traverse and the field of fire was too small. In reality, the steel was not thick enough to withstand anti-tank rifle fire or shells from German light field guns and so production was discontinued after the 1940 invasion crisis had passed. Turrets did, however, find a short-lived role in beach defences or in the defence of airfields or vulnerable points.

A relatively large number seem to have been delivered to Eastern Command and were incorporated into beach defences. A number are known to have been built in Norfolk. At Cromer one was placed on top of a pillbox (since demolished). As the war progressed they proved to be of limited value; that at Oak Wood in Sheringham Park was prone to flooding and was abandoned in 1941.

The example at Cley is the most accessible in Norfolk and is relatively well-preserved. It is missing its front an top hatches, but the internal mechanism for rotating the turret can be seen, as can the steel walls for the entrance pit. This turret is in its original location and was intended to fire down the long track that leads to the beach. In 1940 this was one of the few exits from the coast and was blocked with barbed wire and by a line of anti-tank blocks. As with any obstacle, in order to be effective they needed to be covered by fire and the placing of the turret here is probably because the track was too narrow for a conventional pillbox. Where turrets were placed elsewhere on the Norfolk coast, they tended to be in similar locations to that at Cley, chiefly to cover beach exits.

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