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
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
The towers are topped with metal 'fortresses' - each
was supported by four slender, angled legs and comprised two
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
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...
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Life aboard the forts was basic and stark by modern
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
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
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
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.
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