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Big Guns At Dover

Discussion in 'Artillery' started by Kai-Petri, Feb 24, 2003.

  1. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The Big Guns At Dover World War Two

    http://www.doverpages.co.uk/bguns.htm

    Winnie - Pooh - Clem - Jane - Gladiator - Sceneshifter - Piecemaker


    After the Battle of Britain had abated the bombing of the South Coast began the Luftwafe making bombing raids on Dover and it's harbour night and day. They not only crossed directly over from France, they also made sweeping raids along the coast bombing and hitting Dover with cannon fire, they also targeted Air fields such as Hawkinge, Manston and Biggin Hill. The Luftwafe crossed the channel with as many as 300 planes in formation the sky was blackened by Luftwafe bombers and the town of Dover would go dark.

    As the bombing continued a new threat came from the French coast towards the end of 1940 the German Army started installing their huge guns on the French coast that could fire shells across the channel, the first was the 38cm gun at SIEGFRIED BATTERY just south of Cape-Gris-Nez, followed by Three 30.5 cm guns at FRIED AUGUST BATTERY north of Boulogne, Four 28 cm guns at GROSSER KURFURST at Cape-Gris-Nez, Two 21 cm guns at PRINZ HEINRICH BATTERY just outside Calais, Two 21 cm guns at OLDENBURG BATTERY in Calais, Three 40.6 cm guns at LINDEMANN BATTERY between Calais and Cap-Blanc-Nez, Four 38 cm guns at TODT BATTERY outside Cap-Gris-Nez. These guns were later backed up by three K5 railway mounted guns which were also capable of firing shells not only across the channel but also at allied shipping in the channel At this time the British had little answer to this formidable fire power, a worried Winston Churchill came to Dover to see the situation for himself, he had already ordered the high ground either side of the port of Dover to be heavily fortified with large caliber guns. The only answer this British had to these guns at this time were the Royal Marine Siege Regiment at St Margaret's Bay where they had two 14 inch guns nick named 'Winnie & Pooh' they had been fitted with 18 in turrets to increase the operating room.

    These guns were ineffective and slow and could never match the formidable firepower of the German guns. Winnie was the first gun to fire a shell that landed on main land Europe in August 1940, Winnie was joined later in the year by Pooh together they were used to bombard the long range guns on the French coast. These guns were manned by twenty five men of various ranks, there was also a separately manned firing control room, they were protected against Luftwafe low flying air attack by 'Pom-Pom' and 'Ack Ack' anti aircraft crews. Behind the guns were the shell and cordite magazines protected by layers of earth and heavily camouflage, each gun had a railway line running to it for delivery of the shells and cordite.

    Winnie and Pooh could not fire on German shipping in the channel as they were to slow and inaccurate, whilst the German K5 railway mounted guns were firing on British shipping in the channel with some degree of accuracy. Winston Churchill was incensed by this situation and ordered the building of new heavy gun batteries in Dover to stop German shipping moving up and down the English channel so freely. Three 6 in guns with a range of 25,000 yards were installed at Fan Bay Battery, Four 9.2 in guns with a range of 31,000 yards at South Foreland Battery, Two 15 in guns with a range of 42,000 yards at Wanstone Battery.


    In addition to these guns three railway 13.5 guns were added these were named Gladiator, Sceneshifter, and Piecemaker they were relics of WW1, the first of these to be used was Sceneshifter, when not in use it was hidden from the Luftwafe in Guston railway tunnel hauled there by the Royal Engineers using diesel locomotives.
     
  2. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    If anyone's interested to find out more about these guns I'd recommend After The Battle number 29 ( 'The Cross-Channel Guns' ).

    The whole issue is devoted to the guns on both sides of the Channel with, as usual, plenty of 'then & now' photos. ( Although sadly, since it was published, many vestiges of the German gun emplacements have vanished benath the Channel Tunnel excavations :( )
     
  3. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The big guns of Dover...
     
  4. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    The Channel guns which I would have liked to see in action were the ex-naval 8 inch. These were built with very high-angle mountings (the RN had some idea of using their heavy cruisers for AA fire!) and they were actually used to engage V-1 missiles in 1944. :eek:

    Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and discussion forum
     
  5. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    I was watching "Two men in a Trench" and they did a documentary on this so seeing that it is an old thread I thought I would bump it up for any of the newer members:)

    I found this very interesting and amazing, were they ever really effective, I mean other than in the counter battery role?

    Did they ever use these guns during the Invasion of Normandy, at Pas De Calias, as one of there many diversions?
     
  6. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Member

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    i wonder if these guns were manned,during the channel dash of the scharnhorst and gniesnau.lee.
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    My understanding is that they were manned but the German ships weren't detected until they were already running past the guns. I seam to recall reading that they got a few (less than a dozen ?) shots off but didn't hit any of the German ships. I think the Axis history forum (probably in one of the Sea Lion threads) had some very detailed into on these guns and their activities as well as links.
     
  8. Bethanne

    Bethanne Member

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    I noticed, on TV.com, there wasn't a DVD option for "Two Men in a Trench." I wonder, does anyone know if this show still air? I may have to find someone with DirectTv and BBC. I'm always amazed by stories such as this. Nothing like scrounging for defensive measures, eh?

    I find it interesting that the guns are named. Do you suppose this is still practiced today?
     
  9. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Today the guns arn't still manned, the gun pits were all filled in and the guns were scrapped after the war. The documentary I watched was about these guys digging up the the old sites and trying to find where these guns were.

    The 14" navy gun "winnie" was not that capable at firing at ships in the channel, it was designed in a counter battery fire role against the German Batteries in France. the allied guns were old ww1 navy pieces that were to slow and inaccurate to hit shipping.
    That is why Winston Churchill created the other railguns and navy pieces mentioned in the original thread.

     
  10. Mike Reeve

    Mike Reeve recruit

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    My Grandfather Major Richard 'Dick or Dicki' Shrive R.G.A. was at Dover Castle during the war and during the time of the Channel Dash".

    He told me and my father. That the coastal guns were held back (To let aircraft have a go) and not allowed to fire. As a result when they were allowed to fire they were on the edge of the coastal gun's range, but he maintained there were 3 hits but not effective.

    He had been installing and moving these coastal guns in Britain and on Gibraltar between the wars and on Gibraltar. He said that "If the guns had been allowed to shoot when the ship's had first been detected they would have had better results" An opportunity missed.

    I have never seen this explanation in print and wonder if the "Records" have still to be released. Of course as a R.G.A. Coastal gunner he had confidence in the ranging of these guns having seen them in action.

    Does anyone have any other information about R Shrive or the Channel Dash.

    Mike
     
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  11. nathaniel99

    nathaniel99 Member

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    Hi All..

    If anyone is interested in this subject I would suggest a look at the Kent History Forum (www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk). I've got a special interest in the Dover guns of 520 and 540 Coast Defence Regiments, which included the 9.2" battery at South Foreland, the 15" at Wanstone, the 8" batteries at Capel and Hougham, as well as the 6" sites. Loads of information has been posted including plenty of WWII construction and aerial photo's, plans etc. If there's an interest I could put a heck of a lot on this forum? An example of something I posted on the other forum, accompanied by loads of photo's...

    Capel Battery was constructed in 1941 on former Admiralty land on the clifftop alongside The Valiant Sailor public house. Of similar design to Hougham Battery and mounting the same class of guns (three x 8" Mark VIII naval guns), this battery operated in an anti shipping role and was manned by 424 Coast Battery RA, part of 520 Coast Regiment. The first two guns were sited by April 12th 1942 with the third following by May 15th. Proof firing was carried out on June 17th. Each gun position was supplied from huge magazines at the rear and other infrastructure included an underground Battery Plotting Room, OP, two generator blocks (engine rooms, each one providing power to compressor houses alongside all three gun positions in the event of one generator being put out of action) and an underground shelter / medical dressing station. Anti aircraft defence was initially provided by two 40mm Bofors guns. Between June 1942 and November 1944, Capel Battery engaged enemy ships on four separate occasions and also took part in fifteen practice shoots.

    The tunnelled part of this battery site was always going to prove to be a headache for 171 Tunnelling Company RE due to the nature of the ground - the chalk was interspersed with fissures and 'pipes' of clay and sand and many collapses occurred and the layout had to be changed occasionally. For examples of the problems encountered by No 4 Section as they attempted the excavations, a few extracts from the War Diary of the unit... W/E 24/5/41 "A fall of running sand occurred in the adit. This delayed progress and necessitated the use of close timber sets over approximately 20'. ... a further fall of running sand occurred on the north side of the hanging." W/E 31/5/41 "Work here was temporarily stopped at 02.00 on the 28.5.41 owing to a pipe of clay and sand caving above the working face. It is now decided to drive a pilot gallery from the present drift at a suitable point, to endeavour to locate an area of ground free from clay pipes and fissures. The area on the surface where subsidence may occur has been fenced and marked DANGER." Today a very small portion of the tunnels can be seen emerging in the face of the cliff but the rest has collapsed and been sealed.

    Capel Battery was placed into 'Care and Maintenance' in November 1944 due to the reduction in threat and the fact that the Royal Navy and its Allies now had complete superiority in the Channel - by the early 1950's the army had pulled out completely and the site was left to decay. In 1988 there was a tragedy when a young girl died after falling, possibly into the Plotting Room, while playing on the derelict site. The local council was then forced to take action to try to prevent further incidents like this happening and much of the site was 'made safe' by demolition, burying underground structures and covering over the gunsites and magazines with soil. In 1988 the then landowner tried to uncover the underground Dressing Station with the intention of reinstating it as some sort of museum / local attraction - this far fetched dream came to an end after he had descended only 80'. Collapses in this area are still happening today and soil / sand is tipped into the depressions that appear above the complex. An underground room to the rear of the cliff OP is occassionally opened by diggers, but the Battery Plotting Room remains (at the time of writing) firmly sealed.
     
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  12. nathaniel99

    nathaniel99 Member

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    And here's my info on South Foreland Battery, the one that took part in the 'Channel dash' action :)

    The four gun, 9.2" battery at South Foreland was officially sited by the War Office Siting Board on September 30th 1940 - consisting of 35 degree elevation mountings supplied by Shoeburyness and Woolwich Arsenal, and veteran 9.2" MkX barrels with a range of over 36,000 yards. The four gun positions were to be camouflaged with the addition of leafy 'hats', situated on a reverse slope to reduce the muzzle flash signature, and with hedgerows and trees placed to provide the impression of domestic use land to Luftwaffe overflights. Guns 1 and 4 were served by individual underground magazines and shell stores feeding directly into the rear of the gunpits, while Guns 2 and 3 were supplied from a huge twin-humped surface magazine protected by a very thick capping of reinforced concrete. Like all reinforced concrete structures designed to house explosives at this time, the reinforcing rods formed a mesh within the concrete that would act as a 'cone burster', ie would detonate any incoming projectile before it had succeeded in penetrating the whole depth of the concrete. This surface magazine, along with the huge power houses that provided the electricity supply to the gun positions, was (and still is) the dominating feature of the landscape. The two underground magazines for Guns 1 and 4 were obviously smaller and less visible as the roofs were at ground level, but the construction methods employed ensured that they should, in theory at least, have been able to withstand a direct hit from a bomb or a shell (although an unlucky hit from one of the German guns on the French coast, such as a 16", would probably have been enough to penetrate and destroy the buildings). Excavations on the Battery site commenced on December 28th 1940.

    Designated as 290 Coast Defence Battery, part of 540 Coast Defence Regiment, the site also housed the Regimental Headquarters alongside South Foreland Lighthouse. Underground facilities at the site (the mining of which commenced on 13th March 1941) included the Battery Plotting Room (BPR) and Fortress Plotting Room (FPR), with the FPR and RHQ sharing a tunnelled shelter. This complex was accessed by two sets of stairways that entered either end of the individual 100' long parallel tunnels, which were joined to each other by three 36' long chambers. To the rear of Guns 2 and 3 was the Battery Shelter itself, a vast underground complex with three protected stairway entrances leading down into two 150' long parallel tunnels interconnected by three 8' x 9', 50' long chambers that housed medical services and sleeping quarters. On the 28th March 1941 an accident occurred in this shelter when a sapper, 4691692 A.W. Beardmore of No.3 section 172 Tunnelling Coy, was struck by a runaway tub as he descended an incline "in the execution of his duty". Suffering a fractured skull, he was admitted to hospital in Haywards Heath where he died of his injuries on 7th April, the body being sent back to Wakefield in Yorkshire to the mining community from where he came.

    The first of the barrels and mountings arrived from Shoeburyness at South Foreland on March 25th 1941 for No.1 Gun, and the erection process was begun with the aid of a 20 ton gantry. No.2 gun made it's appearance (coming from Woolwich) six days later, with the remaining pedestals and barrels arriving between June 4th and June 10th. Shortly after this, the CD/CHL radar station also became operational. On July 9th the first three rounds were fired by No.1 Gun for 'proof of mounting' purposes. No.3 Gun was mounted and in place on July 28th with the first three proofing rounds being fired from this one on September 11th - which just goes to show the time needed between installing the weapons and actually being able to put them into action! Calibration of Guns 1-3 took place over two days in October, at around the same time No.4 Gun was being made ready for its first test firing, which eventually took place on November 28th, long after the other three were officially in service and the Regimental Headquarters had been occupied.

    Obviously, the whole purpose of the long range guns at South Foreland Battery was to deny the safe passage of enemy shipping through the English Channel - the biggest test of the ability to do this came on February 12th 1942. During the celebrated 'Channel Dash', the German warships Sharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen had broken out from the French port of Brest and with a screen of destroyers, U Boats and Luftwaffe air cover had headed up the Channel in an attempt to reach the safety of German waters. The K band radar at South Foreland began tracking the ships at around noon of February 12th and the Battery opened fire 20 minutes later. Unfortunately, due to the range and the weather there was no sighting of 'fall of shot' and the Battery commenced full salvo firing entirely under the control of the radar. With the range rapidly increasing (the German ships were steaming at a full 30 knots) a total of 33 rounds were expended at the targets but no hits were registered. As a point of interest, three of the four guns at South Foreland were named for these German capital ships (the fourth was named 'Shoeburyness) but if these names were given before the 'Dash' to symbolise the intention to deny the passage of these ships, or afterwards in celebration of this disappointing action, is unclear.
     
  13. nathaniel99

    nathaniel99 Member

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    The 5.5" battery at St Margaret's Bay

    Situated above St. Margaret's Bay is the site of a four gun, 5.5" battery that was one of the earliest of the protective emplacements that were rapidly established along this vulnerable area of the Kent coastline during the Second World War. Manned by 411 Battery, part of 540 Coast Defence Regiment, the limited range of these weapons meant that it rapidly became 'redundant' as a primary battery as the more powerful and flexible 6" weapons at Fan Hole Battery were commissioned. This led to the site becoming a training battery, until eventually the idea was hit on of establishing a 'flashing battery' here. Because of its exposed location near the edge of the cliff, any gun flash from here was fully visible from the occupied French coastline - this meant that when an enemy convoy was sited the 'flashing battery' could pretend to open fire using special charges, thus causing the ships to change course away from the expected danger and into the range of the (hidden behind reverse slopes) big guns at South Foreland, Wanstone and also 'Winnie' and 'Pooh'.

    Tunnelled accommodation was provided behind the four concrete emplacements, today this is about the only visible sign of the original battery site. Commonly referred to as 'Z Rocket Battery' by local explorers (due to a possible misunderstanding about what was here during the war - the battery was protected by Unrotated Projectile launchers at one point), two of the entrances to the system have been sealed leaving only one access point very close to the edge of the cliff. Anyone venturing into here should be advised that the chalk slope of this access tunnel descends to a junction - turning right at the bottom would be an unwise move as it opens directly into the cliff face. A left turn would be safer - the long tunnel heads back inland to open out into the main underground complex. Interestingly, the tunnels were altered after their original construction when 171 Tunnelling Coy RE added a chamber between the two parallel tunnels of the main system - this addition (known as 'Codger') was for the use of the medical services. As originally designed and built (before these alterations), this shelter could accommodate the entire complement of personnel (4 officers and 165 Other Ranks) in the floorspace of 3,480 square feet under an average of 60' of cover.

    Cliff erosion is a very big problem here, huge chunks of land are dropping into the Channel and a vantage point that allowed a view of the opening in the cliff has now disappeared - presumably the access to the tunnels will also vanish one day as it's only a few feet from the edge. This will be nature completing the job started in the 1970's when Official Vandalism (sorry, I mean 'Eyesore Clearance') resulted in the removal of the emplacements. This program of tidying the coastline and destroying what were then regarded as unsightly Second World War relics resulted in the loss of many important structures in the area - unfortunately due to the lightweight (in comparison to the German coastal defences along the occupied French coastline) construction of most of these gunsites, and associated buildings, it was relatively easy to destroy them and so lose a vital part of our heritage.
     
  14. nathaniel99

    nathaniel99 Member

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    Fan Hole Battery

    Fan Hole Battery was a WWII site originally comprising 3 x 6" guns with associated magazines, shelters, plotting room, administration and accommodation areas. Today only traces of the gun pits can be discerned among the undergrowth, and all surface buildings have been demolished. However there are still extensive underground remains at this site, the largest being the deep shelter, constructed in 1941 by No.172 Tunnelling Coy. Royal Engineers, which can still be accessed via a hole in the ground where the upper entrance once stood. This shelter, completed on the 28th August 1941, was designed to accommodate 4 officers and 185 other ranks. It can be very awkward getting in as it involves a scramble down the hole followed by a backwards descent of the first flight of stairs (very slippery as they are covered in soil that has fallen from above) and banging your head on the tunnel support rings is a real hazard - however once past the first flight the rest of the descent is easy. Beware of unsupported sections of the tunnel roof, also avoid walking beneath the remaining air conditioning ducting as it's been hanging there for a long time and could come down without warning.

    Fan Hole Battery was manned by the 203rd Coast Battery RA (commanded by Captain D H N Baker-Carr), part of the 540th Coast Regiment. Two of the 6" MkV guns for the battery arrived at Dover on the 1st November 1940 and they were erected at Fan Hole (as far as parts would allow) on 26th November - on this same day the third gun was delivered to Dover, which was then transported to the battery site and erected on 6th December, although much work would be needed before the guns were ready to fire. The 203rd Coast Battery joined at Dover in two parties on the 9th and 10th December 1940 and consisted of four officers and one hundred and eighteen other ranks. Two of the officers and seventy seven soldiers occupied the Battery site on the 15th February 1941, being joined on the 22nd February by a further fifteen soldiers - by this time Fan Hole Battery was structurally complete and the guns were ready to be test fired for the first time. This occurred on the 28th February when three rounds were fired from each gun to act as proof of mounting. Short range calibration of No2 gun took place on the 29th April. On the 7th August two torpedoes hit the beach below the Battery Observation Post - quite what the intended target was isn't known!

    In June the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, visited Fan Hole - he was but the first in a long list of distinguished visitors over the coming months. The commander of 12th Corps put in an appearance, as did the US Secretary of State for War accompanied by Major General K M Loch MC. Only one honour? Then how about Lt General Sir C G Liddell KCB, CMG, CBE, DSO... as the 203rd continued their training and got ready to become fully operational, many other worthies descended on the site to inspect the progress and to partake of the hospitality offered. In this task the three Duty Officers (Captain W D Picton, Lt A D Snowden and Lt A R Pugh) proved reasonably proficient. On the 22nd July 1941, a week before the arrival of the US Secretary of State for War, No1 Gun fired three rounds to test that the recoil system was working correctly - it was satisfactory and after a few more test shoots over the coming weeks the battery became operational. The only mention of 'active' use of the guns in the War Diary for 540th Coast Regiment is on the 11th November 1941, when all three guns fired two salvos at an unidentified ship that had been picked up on the CD/CHL sets. At a range of 21,000 yards no hits were registered but the vessel quickly fled towards Calais.

    Mounted in brick and concrete gun houses and supplied from underground magazines to the rear (all three are open at the time of writing and are reasonably clean and vandal-free), camouflage was taken very seriously at this site. The two seawards exits from the underground accommodation emerged behind the two sound mirrors (now buried) that had been in place since the 1920's, chalk spoil from construction was sprayed with tar and the surface buildings covered with netting. The underground Battery Plotting Room nestled among the huts beneath this netting - as an aside, it's not known if this structure still exists beneath what is now a ploughed field or if it was destroyed / infilled in the 1950's. Due to the design of the gun houses, No1 Gun was fairly restricted in its arc of fire but the other two guns could be directed onto land targets in the event of a German landing. These areas, given in the Fort Record Book for Fan Hole (held at the National Archives - WO192/201), are at Ash and Wingham. Grid references used in those days were Cassini (which differ from the modern Ordnance Survey grid ) and so these locations were inferred from the 1941 Sheet 117A map. All of the stores, weapons and associated metal was removed during the mid 50's by Bird's Commercial Motors Ltd.
     
  15. ted cogdell

    ted cogdell recruit

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    re 'two men in a trench. From july 1940 till feb 1941 ,i was a gunner on the bofor site at bob dares farm. I knew bob and have two shell cases the same as bob's off that site.Try "dover pubs, the prince regent ad find a story of mine ted
     
  16. helena

    helena recruit

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    hello,
    i am writing down my parent's family stories and forget the details of some of them. Perhaps someone here can help. My father was a sergeant stationed at Dover for much of the war. In 1945 he was at 412 battery at Langdon near dover. can anyone tell me what the big cross channel guns were that they fired. Would they have had Bofurs? They did have twin lewis guns as well.
    Also my mother was based for a time as a WRAF radar operator at St Margaret's Bay.
    I have been trying to find reports of an incident where a british merchant convoy was attacked, in the channel, by u boats with the loss of many lives. My mother was an operator on a new radar at St margaret's bay. The radar was much better than expected and they could see the u-boats approaching. Their officer informed th navy who replies, 'We have nothing there.' They refused to accept that the airforce could see the u-boats. By the time the army, at Dover, were informed it was too late as the u-boats were in amongst the convoy. My mother said that all they could do in their hut was sit and watch and cry. I half heard a few years ago that there was an incident which the high command let happen as they did not want the Germans to know about the improved radar. Does anyone know about this?
     

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