Over the years, the range has been used by the UK's Army, Home Guard, RAF, Royal Navy and Special Forces.
In addition the facilities were used by other NATO countries, especially the USAF.
The Range closed in 1998 and there was an RAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team on site until 2013. A private company, Brimstone Site Investigations has since taken over the responsibility for the removal of old ordnance. Anyone wishing to visit this location should contact the company using the details shown below.
This road used to lead to a cliff top tower that observed the range......the tower has long since fallen onto the beach.
Erosion of these benign looking cliffs is exposing masses of military ordnance that have been embedded in the clay for many years.
In 1940, land requisitioned by the military was used for tank and infantry training. The triangular zones are two of the three WW2 tank ranges. Tanks would roll around these triangles firing at gantry raised targets located between them and the cliff top.
Driving around one of the old tank triangles.
There was also a railed target that was towed by a diesel engine mounted at the end of the line.
The above picture is a more modern self-propelled version but it illustrates the concept.
The railway track at Cowden has long since been removed (before it fell into the sea).
The Army stopped using the ranges in 1946.
A 1952 map shows the range of land and sea targets.......click on the map or this link to load a larger version (in a new window). Aircraft would approach Cowden from the west, enagage with the targets and then exit out to sea.
A Hawker Hunter fitted with Mk.12 rocket rails, each of which could carry three (or four) 3-inch rockets.
From 1952, RAF Cowden had two target areas for these weapons (see the map above).
In 1954, the ADEN cannon entered service on the Hawker Hunter and was used on every British gun-armed aircraft until the introduction of the Tornado in the 1980s.
The plug of a 'blank' 30mm ADEN round fired at RAF Cowden.
This later map shows the three disused WW2 tank firing triangles and the cliff top targets, some of which were in use until the 1998 closure. The old observation tower is marked in red.
The targets were frequently moved inland due to serious coastal erosion. The cliff top target locations shown on the map above have now fallen onto the beach.
The top pair of images are strafing and bombing targets - these examples are from Donna Nook and Holbeach.
The bottom pair show an unexploded 28lb practice bomb and one exploding on impact.
The head of the bomb was inert but the tail contained phosphorus and powdered aluminium. On impact this would create a flash and smoke to indicate the impact point.
When attacking the range, the aircraft would usually approach in a 15° dive at 400 KIAS and then do a 6g recovery.
In March 1961 a Hunter (XE604) of 1Sqn firing rockets (some reports say SNEB) stalled after its attack run. The aircraft crashed into the sea and the pilot was killed.
The image above is of a Hunter of that period but this example is XE532 of 92 Squadron.
For those aviation specialists, a Hunter test pilot explains the probable cause.........click this link to read his views (opens in a new window).
The rocket target (bottom right of the 1995 map) was also for the SNEB, 68mm folding fin missile fired from a pod......in this image, fitted to a Harrier.
A rare picture of a Hunter using the rocket firing targets at RAF Cowden (dated early 1960s)
Image courtesy of Mick Britton.
A second rare picture of an USAF A-10 using the Cowden range in 1981. The list of aircraft types using the range is extensive.
F.100 Super Sabres, Phantoms, Harriers, Jaguars, Buccaneers, A-10s, F-111s, F-104 Starfighters, Corsairs and Vulcans (including a 'Black Buck' trial prior to the Falklands operation).
Click the above Fighter Control icon to view (in a new window) an article by Mick Britton concerning aircraft using the Cowden ranges.
The erosion of the cliff line deposits large amounts of military ordnance onto the beach......some are solid rounds without explosives but many are bombs/shells that can explode and are extremely dangerous. An unexploded 28lb practice bomb is considered one of the most dangerous.
The author visited the beach in September 2021.....this one is safe, but was left well alone!
The remains of shelters that were constructed on the ranges in order to observe the tank firing and later, the bomb runs.
The distance from the current cliff line is significant.
This isolated location is well worth a visit but please read the safety information on this page before your visit.
This short video from the BBC shows an Army EOD team at work.
The disposal team maintain a small exhibition of some of the recovered ordnance.
Anything presenting a real threat will be destroyed 'in situ'.
Although the current EOD team are only responsible for the beach area they found a practice anti-tank mine in the range area. This was made from concrete but fitted with a smoke charge to indicate it has been activated during training.
The aesthetic side of the EOD team.
Click the banner above or this link to read more about the current beach clearance (opens in a new window)