On the 4th of April 1944, just two months before D-Day, a large-scale, live-fire amphibious landing exercise “Exercise Smash I” took place in Studland Bay. Unfortunately, the sea conditions on the day resulted in the sinking of six of the DD (Duplex-Drive) Valentine amphibious tanks used, also resulting in the loss of six lives. In 2014 BU Maritime Archaeology conducted a search for the tank wrecks, as the location of some of them had been lost, and carried out a survey of archaeological remains. In 2018 they returned to the wrecks and created 3D photogrammetric scans of the tanks.
Following a brief developed by Dr Eike Falk Anderson of the National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA) in cooperation with Tom Cousins of BU Maritime Archaeology, and on the basis of the 3D scans of the sunk tanks, a group of undergraduate students of the NCCA created the “Exercise Smash” virtual heritage experience, leveraging modern video games infrastructure (in this case the Unreal Engine 4). Blending a historical serious game with a virtual dive trail, in a snapshot in time, users live the past and try to land an amphibious tank while taking part in “Exercise Smash”, and then return to the present to explore the tank wrecks in Studland Bay during a virtual dive. The project was conducted as part of the 2nd year Group Project unit (led by Susan Sloan) by students from three of the NCCA’s undergraduate programmes, BA (Hons) Computer Animation Art and Design (Arran Bidwell, Alexander Lechev and Manuella Nagiel), BA (Hons) Computer Animation Technical Arts (Joseph Adams and Dawid Kupinski) and BSc (Hons) Software Development for Animation, Games and Effects (Radu Rosca).
At the end of June, the “Exercise Smash” virtual heritage experience was presented to the public for all three days of Tankfest 2019 at The Tank Museum in Bovington (this year enjoyed by a record of around 24000 visitors according to the Dorset Echo) at the BU Maritime Archaeology stand. There, the project was very well received by the museum as well as by the visitors of Tankfest. Visiting children especially loved the virtual heritage experience and “had to be peeled away from driving the tank by their parents”.