Simply Whitstable Logo - Click for home page

 The Simply Whitstable Web Site

Whitstable and The Maunsell Forts


The Army Forts 

   

During 1943, the army forts followed in the wake of their successful navy cousins. However, as mentioned on our background page, they were sited on sand banks much closer to the mouth of the Thames and formed a west-east line of protection alongside the main shipping lanes. It is worth revisiting our map briefly as a reminder. The army forts are shown in red....

  

  

The forts ensured that the names Nore, Red Sands and Shivering Sands would become deeply embedded in the vocabulary of all Whitstable people rather than remaining maritime terms used only by sailors. 

 

Design and Appearance

  

The army forts shared the same basic concept as their Navy counterparts in that much of the initial construction took place on land before the prefabricated elements were mounted on the shallow sand banks of the estuary. However, the design was markedly different. This reflected the slightly different function of the structures and the rather different engineering problems posed by the sea beds at the proposed locations.

Rather than a single tower, each army fort comprised seven towers arranged in a very distinct formation. This can be seen from Peter Dalrymple's photo of the Reds Sands structure taken in 2006....

   

 

  

The towers are topped with metal 'fortresses' - each was supported by four slender, angled legs and comprised two storeys. 

The seven structures are not all identical because they served different functions. One tower is set slightly apart from the cluster and provided a home for a searchlight. A control tower sits at the centre of the main cluster - surrounded by a bofors gun tower and four 3.7" (anti-aircraft) gun towers. The bofors was a 40 mm gun. 

Back in 1943, the seven towers were linked by six steel catwalks but, as our earlier photo shows, these have long since disappeared. The photo below identifies the towers and shows the layout of those catwalks...

  

     

Orientation...

  

The photo below shows Red Sands from the Thames barge Greta as the vessel approached from Whitstable.  The coastline of Essex can just be seen on the northern horizon.

  

  

This helps us to discuss the orientation of the fort and seek help... because it suggests that the Bofors gun tower is located to the west/south west. If this is so, the four gun towers surround the eastern side of the control tower and the searchlight takes up a position on the northern edge of the cluster - closest to the sea lanes.

If this is so, enemy aircraft approaching the mouth of the Thames estuary from continental Europe would be confronted with an arc of gun emplacements backed by the bofors gun.....

  

   

However, I would have expected the searchlight tower to appear behind the gun towers. So, is our description of the orientation correct?  Which direction did the architects see as the most likely point of attack and why were the towers laid out in this way?. 

Another question that I would like to resolve is whether all three army forts were orientated in the same way...  or were they varied in order to provide an overall pattern of defence? After studying Peter's photos, I suspect that the oreintation of Shivering Sands was broadly similar to that of Red Sands.... but, of course, we have no photographic evidence of the Nore.

If we have any anti-aircraft personnel amongst our readership, your help would be appreciated!

 

Location of the Army Forts..

   

The aim was to establish the forts well into the estuary and thereby provide protection for shipping that could not be afforded by land-based batteries. Peter's photo below demonstrates this quite beautifully. The Red Sands fort can be seen with the Essex coastline skirting the horizon some 7 miles away and the main shipping lanes close by. The coastline of Kent is a further seven miles to the south. 

   

 

In terms of personal comfort and safety, there were no doubt worse places to be stationed during World War II than an army fort in the Thames estuary. However, the photo demonstrates the isolated and exposed location of the forts.... with the distant Essex coastline to the North, the welcoming harbour mouth of Whitstable seven miles to the south.... and, in 1943, the Luftwaffe just a few hundred feet overhead. One can only wonder what must have passed through the minds of the army personnel who manned these remote outposts.

  

Basic Construction of a Tower...

  

As a kid gazing out from Tankerton Slopes, I assumed that the structures were entirely of metal construction. However, closer inspection confirms that the legs are actually concrete creations......

The metal 'cabins' were supported by girders balanced precariously on surprisingly small concrete platforms. 

 

   

The cabins provided not just operational rooms but also living accommodation and storage areas. This is rather different from the Navy forts which housed their personnel in the concrete  legs. 

The view from the beach at Tankerton gave me the impression that the forts were quite small! However, the shot below gives some idea of their actual size....

   

   

 On Top of an Army Fort

   

The roofs of the towers provided  flat platforms on which the armaments were mounted. The photos below shows one of the 3.7" gun towers. (Note: The communications mast in the centre is a modern addition).  

  

 

   

The bofors tower looked a little different...

 

 

  

Shells were stored in a solid, metal cabinets affixed to the perimeter of the roof.... for safety reasons and protection against the estuary weather....

  

  

Inside an Army Fort....

 

Life aboard the forts was basic and stark by modern standards....

 

   

However, the structures did have their comforts.....

  

 

Rooms received natural light from windows and generators provided power. If you look closely below the window, you will also spot a radiator - part of the oil fired central heating. I presume the object below is also part of the heating system....

  

  

 Sanitary matters were also provided for...

  

  

However, the facility below has an absence of taps.. which suggests to me that bathtime may not have been all it might have been...

  

 

 

With the towers extending to several floors, there was a need for agility when enemy aircraft approached.....

   

   

Vertigo might also have been a problem when accessing the sea via near vertical ladders...

  

    

The Ravages of Time...

 

The forts were abandoned by the army by the late 1950s and later suffered decay in the harsh environment of the Thames estuary. Some towers were also involved in collisions with passing vessels. 

The Nore Fort was removed at the end of the 1950s after one such collision.

The Shivering Sands Fort was also involved in a collision which led to the demise of one of its towers. This occurred during the 1960s during occupation by a pirate radio station. If you look closely at the photo below you will spot the remains of the tower on the left.  

  

 

The six remaining towers survive for the time being.

  

 
Shivering Sands

   

Red Sands was used by several pirate radio stations during the 1960s. Today, it remains the best preserved of the army forts with all seven towers in tact.....

  


The Red Sands Fort with all Seven Towers standing

   



 

 The Simply Whitstable Web Site