As the war in Europe intensified and the struggle for the protection of Britain grew, so did the need for the storage of more and more ammunition. Storage predictions proved difficult, and soon the new but limited RAF underground storage sites became overwhelmed and the introduction of Air Ammunition Parks sought to alleviate this pressure. I have already written about one such park in a quarry at Snodland, and explored another temporary woodland depot in Mereworth Woods, but my research has led me to another similar site at Ide hill, on the Montreal Estate near Sevenoaks.
It is unclear when Ide Hill was constructed and came into use, but it would have been around or after the time when Air Ammunition Parks were renamed Forward Ammunition Depots (FAD) in 1941. From the Montreal Park residents history page, “the Army requisitioned Montreal Park as a training camp and did not move out until 11 years later;” halting construction of the estate until 1952 (1952 – 11 years = 1941). This camp, recorded as a Royal Engineer Camp was occupied by the US Army 72nd Medium Regiment, the 24th & 28th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squadrons.
The approach to ammunition storage had changed at this stage in the war from vast underground networks to temporary forest and roadside storage relying on the woodland for camouflage and dispersed storage clusters as protection to minimise damage as a result of air attack. The standard construction of these new facilities was 9ft wide concrete tracks, and either open air storage bays, or in some cases open ended Nissen Huts.
While storage may already have been taking place at Ide Hill before preparation for D-Day, one local resident recalled that in”1944 It became obvious military moves were afoot early during the summer. Open-ended Nissen huts appeared by the road to Ide Hill followed by the storage of ammunition and crates of explosives but no guards.” Contributed by A7431347 to the BBC WW2 People’s War, an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar
Location and Aerial Photographs
The site at Ide Hill is expansive stretching over 3km end to end by 2km wide, with around eighty eight visible ‘clusters’ of storage bays, and seven emergency water tanks (still extant). Very little remains today, the temporary nature of the camp resulting in a very rapid demolition. However, most of the tracks are still in use as walkways and access roads to the estate and farmland, and the brick built water tanks still remain.
I visited the site a number of times in the summer of 2018, exploring the estate via the numerous public footpaths and trials throughout – many of which are the tracks and roads that serviced the depot. While not much remains in terms of the depot buildings, other clues tell of the sites previous use.
The basic principles of storing military ammunition have been applied since the rapid development of large calibre guns in the 18th Century; and little has changed. However during WW2 the urgent requirement to store vast quantities of munitions often led to the rules being rewritten to support operations, but the development of new explosives less sensitive than the traditional TNT, and cartridged propellants and powders as opposed to barrels of ‘gun powder’ meant that the sensitivities of working with naked flames in confined spaces along side highly flammable munitions became less of a burden. I will attempt to explain very briefly the development of munition storage in support of war operations, based on a series of photographs I have taken from various magazines (military term applied to a building storing explosives) across the UK.