The Kent History Forum

Military History => Gun Batteries => Topic started by: Alastair on March 05, 2021, 12:49:12 PM

Title: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 05, 2021, 12:49:12 PM
I started an explanatory description of this Battery on the Old Forum but never finished it. So I shall start again with hopes of finishing it this time. It describes South Foreland 9.2" Battery as it was in 1941 but obviously looks very different when I was last there in 2007. I've since moved to Cornwall.

Go down Lighthouse Road, at that time called Summerhouse Hill, in St Margaret's (which doesn't go to the lighthouse) and follow it to the end, by which time it is unmade. The last house on the left is a red brick bungalow. This was the old Guardhouse, now a private dwelling and has been extended. The barrier was at the St Margaret's end of the Guard Room. To the right and just before the Guardroom, a path leads off at right angles towards the fields. It passes a depression cut out of the chalk and was originally a chalk pit. It is now full of trees but in 1941 was clear, the only vegetation being the bushes on the far side.
There is a large off white brick building with a flat roof which is Engine House No 2. There are two large doors in the wall to enable the three engines to be installed. On from that is a concrete base covered with rubble, etc. This was once a cottage - people tended to build houses in chalk pits. Beyond that is dense undergrowth but just past the remains of the cottage were three Nissan huts for those operating the engines. They backed up against the boundary fence which ran from the barrier, down the left of the path and turned to the left at the end of the path where it opens on to a field.
Running from left to right was the railway, an extension of Pearson's Railway, relaid during the war to supply the guns. This branch ran from near the Radar Station across the field, with spurs off for the rail-mounted guns, and on to the other side of St Margaret's to supply 'Bruce.'
Opposite the end of the path was a wooden stage or platform for unloading supplies. They were collected by lorry - the path was wider as the house on the right wasn't there then. 
There was another wooden stage further along to the left to service the other guns and provide provisions.
Back to the Barrier and on the left a little farther on is a gate. This opens on to a field containing (at the time) bulls with malicious intent on my wellbeing.
So watch out for them. In the field to the left towards the Guard House there are some spindly trees among which was Gun No 4. The back garden of the bungalow that the Guard House has now become, has extended into the Battery and now includes No 4 Gin's shelter for Other Ranks, Officer's shelter being in the entrance to the magazines.
Ahead of the gates the Magazines are clearly visible, their rooves flush with the ground. They were built in pits to allow airflow around them but the space is now filled with debris, of which more later. There are two magazines, one for shells the other for cordite with a patch of cement on the ground at the corner of one. This was a pair of wooden doors allowing access for ammunition to be lowered into the magazines. There was a simple crane - basically a length of bent steel, that stood by the doors with a pulley wheel on the end.
I shall continue this at a later date. Unless you'd rather I didn't.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Dave Smith on March 05, 2021, 06:18:00 PM
Alastair. I am all ears, so please continue. A couple of ?'s. What sort of engines were in the Engine Houses? 9.2" seems an odd size for a gun? were they for bombarding shipping in the English Channel? As an aside, many years ago I knew a chap who was in the RA during WW2 & was posted to Dover where he manned a 15"? long range gun that was kept in a tunnel in the cliffs. Every so often, they would bring it out on the railway, fire a few shots across the Channel & then take it back in.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 06, 2021, 12:46:13 PM
Thank you for your reply, Dave. I don't know what sort of engines were in the engine house. Diesel, probably but that's a guess. 9.2" is an odd size for a gun but that's what they were. The batteries on the White Cliffs were all aimed at targeting enemy shipping. By the end of the war they had sunk 26.
There was a railway gun in the tunnel between St Margaret's and Dover which, as you say, came out to fire then went back in again. I've got the name somewhere - can't think of it offhand. There were three other rail mounted guns just west of SF Battery - Sceneshifter, Piecemaker and Gladiator. They were on curved spurs of track off the line mentioned, the curve being to assist in aiming them.
Altogether there were seven Batteries on the cliffs, some single some multiple, not counting the rail-mounted guns.
They were Winnie, Pooh, Bruce, South Foreland, Wanstone Farm, Fan Bay and Langdon.
The Engine House was No 2. No 1 has been demolished but would have expected it held held much the same engines - sorry I can't help any more with that.
Will continue descriptive walk around the site when time permits.
Kind Regards
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Dave Smith on March 07, 2021, 11:25:46 AM
Alastair. All very interesting, thanks. Good guess I think, for maybe they were diesel generators for their own supply of electricity? 26 is not a bad total but it seems nothing was sunk during the infamous dash by the German navy through the Channel?
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 07, 2021, 12:53:23 PM
No, Dave, nothing was. The guns wanted to have a go but someone Up Top said let the RAF try. We all know how that turned out, sadly for the RAF.

Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Howardws on March 07, 2021, 09:32:19 PM
Was it not the Fleet Air Arm that launched torpedos from Swordfish biplanes and 13 out of 18 men died? Supported by the RAF but not with as many aircraft as had been hoped.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 08, 2021, 11:42:48 AM
You're probably right Howard - I just recall that it was an air attack.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: grandarog on March 08, 2021, 11:43:42 AM
Account  of the Fleet Air Arm operation Fuller against the Channel Dash. (
The 6 Swordfish A/C all took off from Manston.

Much more detailed account here,

Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 08, 2021, 03:13:03 PM
Tour of South Foreland Battery Part 2
Coming back out of the gate (there was no gate in 1941. Vehicles had to get through) to your right across the road is the line of bushes by the Engine House. Immediately to the left of that was a ruined cottage. What it looked like I don't know but if it was fit for use then the military would have used it. To the left of that is a circular gun pit. This originally held an anti-aircraft gun which was moved somewhere more strategic for Operation Diver, the defence against V1s. It was replaced by a Spigot Mortar. The shelves were lined with wooden slats to store the shells.
The ground here is open grass up to the flat-roofed farther up. On this ground were originally three, later increased to eight Nissen huts. There were paths in the chalk crossing it, one from the Engine House depression, which led up the bank opposite the cottage and across to the Mess. To the right of this path were urinals.
On the left hand side of the road a Workshop was set back from the road. I believe it was an existing building converted to military use. Like all the other buildings, Nissens, Accomodation, etc there was a of bank of earth piled in neat rectangles exactly matching the building but set out from it by a few feet. This was to attempt to lessen any blast from incoming shells or bombs.
Coming to the surviving flat-roofed building on the right, this was the kitchen. Or Galley, since the battery was manned by Marines and they used Royal Navy parlance. In front of that, almost up to the road, was the Dining Room, or Mess. To its right is the entrance to the Underground Shelter which stretched from the immediate right of the Workshop to level with the Mess.
Directly opposite the Mess across the road, slightly set back, was he Converter House. A smallish concrete structure slightly higher than the Mess which was, basically,a transformer. The Engines in the Engine House produced electricity in DC. The guns operated on DC but the Converter House was needed to convert the DC to Ac current for lighting,telephones,etc.
Up the front of the Converter House was a vertical iron ladder. At the top there was an unnecessarily large retaining rail running round the whole top of the building. It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that this was used as a lookout and Air Raid Warning Post.
Turn right down the concrete path by the Mess and the Galley and on the right of it was the Coal Store. This was for cooking and heating.
On the left were Regimental Offices and slightly further along was a toilet block. Next on the right was the Sergeant's Mess then the path turns left . On the left was the Ablutions and Showers and lastly the First Aid Post .The Soakaway was opposite the Ablutions - to the right of that the Incinerator and to the right of that the Sceptic Tank.
All for now, more later

Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Dave Smith on March 11, 2021, 11:40:30 AM
Alastair. Interesting reading , your travel through the site. One can almost be there at the time that it was active. I've recently read the official discourse on the infamous " Channel dash". In that it does mention that South Foreland Battery did fire, as they had radar controlled 9.2" guns. Didn't sink anything though! So for the radar, they would have needed a fair amount of electricity from the diesel generators. I'm sure that someone will tell us whether radar works on ac or dc, I suspect the latter? Having read, absorbed & pondered that report, I wonder whether the War Cabinet- probably Churchill- had done a Military Appreciation of the Situation? "Why do the Germans want to go West? To protect Norway from us invading. But we don't intend to invade Norway! Would we be better off if those deadly ships were in those waters rather than in the Atlantic, where they pose a considerable threat to the Atlantic convoys from the USA? Ponder, not for long! Let them through but try to sink them on the way"! I wonder?
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 12, 2021, 11:24:53 AM
Dave, thank you for your reply. I've often wondered about the Germans naval strategy. It had some incredibly powerful ships but made very little use of them. Tirpitz sat in a Norwegian fiord and only came out to attack. Surely the best use of such a vessel would be to keep it at sea where it could be better employed? Scharnhorst and Gneisnau were much the same and Prinz Eugen didn't shine at all, except to beat a hasty retreat from the Bismark's demise. It came to an ignominious end, being used by the American Navy for target practice.
My late mother said that the Germans were not good at marine warfare, unlike the British, who, being an island, were rather good at it.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: MartinR on March 12, 2021, 12:18:37 PM
My late father used to say something similar: "to a continental power the seas are a barrier which has to be crossed whereas to a maritime power the seas connect us to our allies".  This attitude seems to play out will with the Spanish, French and Germans.  It also plays well with the EU vs UK.  Like all such sayings it is of course a simplification.
Continuing with the simplification: the Germans in both WWs (with the notable exception of the submarines) tended to "day cruise".  They came out, performed their mission and retired to port for safety and repairs.  The British on the other hand tended to try to keep a substantial part of the fleet at sea, returning to harbour only when necessary.  Like I said, a pretty gross simplification but I think justified as a trend in general if not in particular.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Cosmo Smallpiece on March 12, 2021, 06:13:07 PM
Tirpitz staying in port is classic naval "fleet in being" strategy. Simply put, once sunk it's no longer a threat. Sometimes it's more menacing just to be sat there looking threatening.
see tiny link below........ (
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Nemo on March 13, 2021, 10:34:22 PM
A site visit report appears within
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Bill Jones on March 14, 2021, 09:09:47 AM
I asked John on the south east history site if I can post this map as it shows things there, very interesting and i will be visiting when I can leave the house
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Dave Smith on March 14, 2021, 02:02:37 PM
Thanks Bill. That map was interesting. I wonder where the radar was to control the guns? One might assume that those very tall masts that were in the area ( I well remember the early ones by the side of the road near Sandwich) collected the images & they were relayed by telephone to the site?
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: stuartwaters on March 14, 2021, 05:40:49 PM
Tirpitz staying in port is classic naval "fleet in being" strategy. Simply put, once sunk it's no longer a threat. Sometimes it's more menacing just to be sat there looking threatening.
see tiny link below........ (

Now not so tiny  ;D
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 15, 2021, 12:38:26 PM
Dave, I'm not sure that the guns were radar controlled. There was an OP which was connected to the Plotting Room (haven't got there yet in my narrative travels) but there was a radar dish by South Foreland Lighthouse designated Chain Home Low. As opposed to Swingate Radar which was Chain Home High.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Dave Smith on March 16, 2021, 02:31:13 PM
Alastair. I just read that they were radar controlled from the official writing of the episode. Either Hi or Lo could have been used but I think Hi was more for aircraft.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 17, 2021, 12:14:12 PM
Thanks, Dave, I didn't know that. Presumably it would have been from the Low radar by the lighthouse.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on March 24, 2021, 12:43:12 PM
Tour of the South Foreland Battery Part 3
Carry on down the path past the Incinerator and Sceptic Tank through the Boundary Fence and on to the railway. Here there was a wooden Platform as at the Chalk Pit but this one was bigger. Whereas the Chalk Pit platform had to deal with mainly Ammunition for No 4 gun and fuel oil, this one dealt with both Ammunition for guns 1, 2 and 3, fuel oil, coal and provisions for the entire Battery.
Back up the path, turn right passing the Battery Office and then the Officer's Mass on the right hand side. All the buildings mentioned, with the Exceptionof the Nissen huts, were of the same design, just differing in size according to use. They were single storey with flat roofs, like the one remaining building that was the Galley.
A large expanse of ground comes next, which I suspect was a parade ground. Chalk, rather than concrete, due to camouflage. Opposite this on the left hand side were three Nissen huts to house those operating Number 1 Engine House, which stood to the right of the concrete path which leads off to the left. It was called 'the Concrete Path' because it was a path made of concrete. The fact that it was called that at all implies that it was not there originally, at least, not in that form.
Turning on to said Concrete Path, there is a cattle grid, about which, more later. On ther right the Engine House No 1 and opposite that, on the left a shooting range. The Marines had to keep up their shooting skills, no doubt. Two more Nissen huts on the left and beyond them the magazines for No 1 gun. Exactly the same as those for No 4 gun, set in the ground with their roofs flush with the surface. The ground here was clear in 1941 with no vegetation as there is now .On the left is a large mound which conceals the magazines for Nos 2 and 3 guns. These were built above ground and covered in earth but with a reinforced steel 'burster over themin the earth. The idea was that if a shell or bomb landed it would explode, or burst, before it hit the magazine itself.
The Concrete Path joins Sea View Road here and I will continue later.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on April 20, 2021, 12:20:11 PM
Tour of the South Foreland Battery Part 4
Concrete Path has joined Sea View Road at a T junction.To the right is an open patch of grassland. This was Gun No 1, connected to its magazines behind by a tunnel, exactly the same as in Gun No 4. To the left, a little farther down the road, is the entrance to the magazines for Nos 1 & 2 guns,which, if you stand at the entrance and face the sea, are at 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock. No 4 gun was unique in having separate shelters for Officers and O/R - Nos 1, 2 and 3 had the shelters combined at the entrance to the tunnel leading off the gun pit.
There was a shelter more or less opposite where the Nissen huts were and next to that was the Battery Observation Post. This was a two storeyed concrete building with an observation slit running its full width looking out to sea. Immediately next to it is the remains of the entrance to the Battery Plotting Room, which is underground and received the information from the OP next door.
To the left is grassland, under which is the Deep Shelter. There was one entrance by the Galley, one opposite No 3 gun and one opposite the Plotting Room. The shelter was of standard WW2 construction, as seen in the tunnels at Dover - Circular tunnel cut from the chalk with a concrete floor lai and lined with sheets of corrugated iron held in place with regular hoops of steel braces.
To the right, near the lighthouse were the Officer's Quarters and Admin buildings, all of similar construction to the other buildings mentioned, i.e. single storey with flat rooves. On the seaward side was the Chain Home Low Radar. All this has disappeared and is now part of the farmer's field. There was also a Deep Shelter Here.
After the war, the guns were cut up and sold for scrap and a firm was eventually paid to remove what was now an 'Eyesore.' The Battery had defended our country but was now decreed an Eyesore by the local Council so it had to go. The royal Engineers would have demolished the site for nothing but would not have removed the debris, so a local contractor was paid to do it.
This is where I have my own theory. It is my firm belief that the contractor didn't remove the rubble from the buildings, only the metal he could sell. The rubble was tipped into the gun pits, understandably, but the rest, I think, was spread along the road and rolled flat. My reason for thinking this is the level of the ground outside the magazines of 1 & 2 guns There is no way the ground would have been 18" higher than the magazine floor when shells had to be wheeled out. Similarly, in the Concrete Path look in the cattle grid. Two feet down is a layer of concrete. I believe that to be the original Concrete Path.
That's my theory, anyway. Hope you have enjoyed my description of the site. Thousands of people have walked over it not having any idea of what they were walking over.
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Dave Smith on April 20, 2021, 07:13:22 PM
Alastair. I for one, enjoyed your article, thanks. I agree with your surmise that it was easier to roll the rubbish & stuff they couldn't easily sell into the top of the existing path. You will have to, surrupticially ( why does my word check tell me that's wrong but doesn't tell me what is right?grr) , take a pick axe & dig up a bit- who knows what treasures!
Title: Re: South Foreland Battery
Post by: Alastair on April 21, 2021, 12:25:34 PM
Thank you, Dave. I have been convinced of the rolling in of concrete debris for a long time. Time everyone who walks over the site knew they were walking on the actual battery.