Dover Strait coastal guns

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The Dover Strait coastal guns were long-range coastal artillery batteries that were sited on both sides of the English Channel during the Second World War. The British built several gun positions along the coast of Kent, England while the Germans fortified the Pas-de-Calais in occupied France. The Strait of Dover was strategically important because it is the narrowest part of the English channel. Batteries on both sides attacked shipping as well as bombarding the coastal towns and military installations. The German fortifications would be incorporated into the Atlantic Wall which was built between 1942 and 1944.

Dover Strait coastal guns
Part of British coast defences/Atlantikwall
English Channel
Near Dover/Calais in Britain/occupied France
Strait of Dover map.png
Strait of Dover
CoordinatesCoordinates: 51°00′00″N 01°27′00″E / 51.00000°N 1.45000°E / 51.00000; 1.45000
Site information
OperatorDover Command/Kriegsmarine
Controlled byBritish Army/German Navy
ConditionMuseum pieces or demolished
Site history
Built1940 (1940)
Built byBritish civilian contractors/Organisation Todt
In use1944 (1944)
MaterialsSteel-reinforced concrete
Battles/warsChannel convoys
Channel Dash
Operation Undergo
EventsBattle of Britain
Normandy landings

German installationsEdit

After the Fall of France in June 1940, Adolf Hitler personally discussed the possibility of invasion with Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) Erich Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) on 21 May 1940. Almost a month later on 25 June he ordered Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, supreme command of the armed forces) to begin preparation and feasibility studies, which had to be completed by 2 July, for the invasion of Britain. In an OKW directive on 10 July, operational coastal batteries under the control of the Kriegsmarine would support the invasion fleet.

All preparations are to be made to provide strong frontal and flank artillery protection for the transportation and landing of troops in case of a possible crossing from the coastal strip Calais–Cape Gris Nez–Boulogne.

— Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel [1]

On 16 July Hitler issued Fuhrer Directive 16 to have guns in place to support Operation Sea Lion:

Strong forces of coastal artillery must command and protect the forward coastal area.

— Adolf Hitler 16 July 1940[2]

Commencing on 22 July 1940, Organisation Todt began work on artillery positions primarily at Pas-de-Calais for every heavy artillery piece available; the batteries were required to be capable of withstanding the heaviest bombardments.[3]

Batterie Todt was part of the Atlantic Wall.

The first German guns began to be installed around the end of July 1940. The German batteries in order of construction were:

By early August, Siegfried Battery and Grosser Kurfürst Battery were fully operational as were all of the Army’s railway guns. The first shells landed in the Dover area during the second week of August 1940. Seven of the railway guns, six 28 cm (11 in) K5 guns and a single 21 cm (8.3 in) K12 gun with a range of 115 km (71 mi), could only be used against land targets. The remainder, thirteen 28 cm (11 in) guns and five 24 cm (9.4 in) guns, plus additional motorised batteries comprising twelve 24 cm (9.4 in) guns and ten 21 cm (8.3 in) guns, could be fired at shipping but were of limited effectiveness due to their slow traverse speed, long loading time and ammunition types. Land-based guns have always been feared by navies because they are on a stationary platform and are thus more accurate (and can be larger, with more ammunition stowage) than those on board ships. Super-heavy railway guns can only be traversed by moving the entire gun and its carriage along a curved track, or by building a special cross track or turntable. This, combined with their slow rate of fire (measured in rounds per hour or even rounds per day), makes it difficult for them to hit moving targets. Another problem with super-heavy guns is that their barrels (which are difficult to make and expensive to replace) wear out relatively quickly, so they could not be fired often.

Better suited for use against naval targets were the four heavy naval batteries installed by mid-September: Friedrich August, Prinz Heinrich, Oldenburg and Siegfried (later renamed Todt) – a total of eleven guns, with the firepower of a battlecruiser. Fire control for these guns was provided by both spotter aircraft and by DeTeGerät radar sets installed at Blanc-Nez and Cap d’Alprech. These units were capable of detecting targets out to a range of 40 km (25 mi), including small British patrol craft near the English coast. Two additional radar sites were added by mid-September: a DeTeGerät at Cap de la Hague and a FernDeTeGerät long-range radar at Cap d’Antifer near Le Havre.[4]

The longest-ranged guns were 21 cm (8.3 in) Kanone 12 in Eisenbahnlafette, manned by the Heer. These guns had an effective range of 45 km (28 mi). Designed as successors to the World War I Paris gun, they had a maximum range of 115 km (71 mi). Shell fragments were found near Chatham, Kent, about 88 km (55 mi) from the French coast. Both guns, which were operated by Artillerie-Batterie 701 (E), remained on the Channel Coast until the Liberation of France in July 1944.

Most of the batteries continued firing until September 1944 when they were overrun during the clearing the Channel Coast. By then more than a thousand rounds had been fired by the German coastal batteries against England and shipping. The only two vessels to be sunk by German fire were:

  • Sambut,[5] 7,219 BRT, 6 June 1944
  • Empire Lough, 2,824 BRT, 24 June 1944[6]

Empire Lough was one of 21 coastal vessels in the convoy ETC-17, escorted by the frigate HMS Dakins and corvette HMS Sunflower. On 24 June 1944, the convoy left Southend en route to the Seine Bay when the ships were engaged by German long-range coastal artillery guns off Dover. Empire Lough was set on fire and declared a total loss after she was beached near Folkestone. The master Robert Robinson and one crew member were lost. The freighter Gurden Gates (1,791 grt, built 1943) was damaged in the same action.

British emplacementsEdit

"Winnie", a 14-inch gun at St Margaret's at Cliffe near Dover, March 1941

Having withdrawn in the Dunkirk evacuation and winning the Battle of Britain, the British did not have an immediate answer to the threat posed by the German coastal batteries. However, the high ground to either side of the Port of Dover was fortified on the personal order of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who had visited the area to see the situation in person) and wanted large calibre guns dug in there. The only British cross-Channel guns already in place were two BL 14 inch Mk VII (35.6 cm) guns Winnie (named after Churchill) and – later in 1940 – Pooh (named after the story book character Winnie the Pooh) at St Margaret's at Cliffe.[7] Both guns were spares taken from the stock of guns of the battleship HMS King George V. One gun used a mounting from HMS Furious, while the other had a mounting from a test range; neither was turret-mounted. Their separate and well-camouflaged cordite and shell magazines were buried under deep layers of earth and connected to the guns by railway lines. Both batteries were camouflaged and protected from aerial attack by anti-aircraft emplacements behind and below St. Margaret's.

"Pooh" in March 1941

Both guns were operated from separate firing-control rooms and were manned by 25-man troop of the Royal Marines Siege Regiment. Although Winnie fired Britain's first shell onto continental Europe in August 1940 boosting morale, the Mk VII naval guns were slow to reload and ineffectual compared to the German guns in the Pas-de-Calais. Both conducted extreme range counter-battery operations against the German's coastal guns but they were too inaccurate and slow to fire on enemy shipping.

Due to these guns' lack of success in targeting shipping, Churchill ordered three new heavy gun batteries to be built in Dover and manned by the Royal Artillery:

15-inch gun at Wanstone Battery under construction, May 1942

The guns were later joined by Lydden Spout Battery, consisting of three more BL 6-inch Mk VII guns. Also, three BL 13.5-inch (343 mm) Mk V naval guns from the First World War (named Gladiator, Scene Shifter and Piece Maker [sic]) were brought out of retirement in 1939 and mounted on railway chassis.[8]

The British coast batteries sank:

  • Pentiver, 2,382 BRT, 2 March 1943
  • Livadia 3,094 BRT, 4 October 1943
  • Munsterland 6,315 BRT, 20 January 1944
  • Recum 5,500 BRT, 20 March 1944
  • S.184 (sunk 5 September 1944, by its own troops)[6]

Operational historyEdit

Hellfire CornerEdit

A gunner of 428 Battery, Coast Defence Artillery, pushing a gun trolley loaded with shells, as guns fire at night, December 1942

This gunnery duel, along with heavy German shelling and bombing of Dover strait and the Dover area, led to this stretch of the Channel being nicknamed Hellfire Corner and led to 3,059 alerts, 216 civilian deaths and damage to 10,056 premises in the Dover area. British coastal convoys had to pass through the bottleneck of the Dover strait to transport supplies, particularly coal; Britain's road and rail network was not then able to cope with the volume of traffic that had to be handled. Although the German guns regularly fired on these slow moving convoys from 1940 to 1944, with an interlude in 1943, they only sank two ships and damaged several others. Two seamen were killed and others were injured by shell splinters from near misses. However, the civilian crews of the merchant ships found the shelling more unnerving than the attacks by aircraft or E-boats that they were also subjected to and there were instances of crews refusing to sail from their forming-up point at Southend-on-Sea because of the German guns.[9]

The Channel DashEdit

On 11 February 1942, the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and more than twenty smaller escort vessels sailed from Brest in Brittany to their home port of Wilhelmshaven by an audacious dash through the English Channel, codenamed Unternehmen Zerberus (Operation Cerberus). Due to poor visibility and a number of communication failures by British forces, the first response to the German squadron was by the 9.2-inch guns of the South Foreland Battery, which were the only guns which could be directed by radar but the 10-cm S band set had only recently been installed and had never been used in conjunction with the guns. As the visibility was only 5 nmi (5.8 mi; 9.3 km), it was hoped that the radar would be able to register the splashes as the shells landed so that the guns would be able to correct their aim but nothing was detected. After firing three two-gun salvoes without being able to detect the "fall of shot" – the shells were actually landing almost a mile astern of the main German ships – it was decided to fire full salvoes using only the ranging information from the radar. After six minutes of rapid fire, the last shots were fired at a range of 30,000 yd (27,000 m). None of the 33 shells fired came close to the German ships. A minute before the last shots were fired, South Foreland came under counter-battery fire from across the Channel but little damage was sustained.[10]

Final duelsEdit

During the Anglo-Canadian operation to capture Calais, on 26 September 1944 (the last day of shelling) fifty shells were fired, killing five people, the last of whom was 63-year-old Patience Ransley, who was killed by a shell from the Lindemann Battery while sheltering in the 900 ft (270 m) long "Barwick's Cave" reinforced cliff tunnel.[11] Accurate bombardment from the British heavy guns at Dover disabled the Grosser Kurfürst Battery at Floringzelle near Cap Gris Nez, ending the duels.[12] Dover was finally freed from bombardment and to mark the event the town's mayor was sent a German flag from the batteries.[13]


Preserved remains of the Batterie Todt c. 2004.
The now-derelict Observation Post at Hougham Battery was constructed in 1941 for three 8 inch Mk VIII naval guns.

Between Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer considerable parts of the concrete gun emplacements and associated bunkers remain accessible, although often in somewhat dangerous conditions. One of the casemates of the Todt Battery can be visited at the Musée du Mur de l'Atlantique, the Atlantic Wall Museum, at Audinghen.[14] One of the Krupp K5 guns is also there. Since 1954, a section of painted armour plating taken as a war trophy from a turret of the Lindemann Battery has been on display on the Dover seafront. Many of the British batteries remained until the decision was taken to retire all the coastal artillery in 1956. The big 15-inch guns at Wanstone Farm were not removed until 1959.[15] The sites have either been demolished, buried or left to decay. At Wanstone Farm Battery, ancillary buildings such as the plotting room and the guard house are visible, although overgrown and the sergeants' mess has reverted to its original use as a farm house.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ CARL 2008, pp. 106–107.
  2. ^ CARL 2008, p. 108.
  3. ^ CARL 2008, p. 109.
  4. ^ Schenk 1990, pp. 324–325.
  5. ^ "WRECKSITE - SAMBUT CARGO SHIP 1943-1944". Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  6. ^ a b Sakkers & Machielse 2013.
  7. ^ Evans 2004, p. 59.
  8. ^ Clarke 2005, pp. 41–42.
  9. ^ Hewitt 2008, p. 109.
  10. ^ Ford 2012, pp. 33–36.
  11. ^ Vaughan 2009.
  12. ^ Copp 2006, p. 82.
  13. ^ Stacey 1960, pp. 344–354.
  14. ^ "Musée du Mur de l'Atlantique - Batterie Todt". Musée du Mur de l'Atlantique. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  15. ^ Gander 2011.
  16. ^ Catford 2011.


Further readingEdit

  • Monaghan, J. W. (24 September 1947). "Part V: Clearing the Channel Ports, 3 Sep 44 – 6 Feb 45" (PDF). Operation "Wellhit", – The Capture of Boulogne. Canadian Participation in the Operations in North-West Europe 1944 (Report). Historical Section, Canadian Military Headquarters. pp. 11–37. Report 184. Retrieved 20 October 2016.

External linksEdit