Sitting off the coast of Whitstable are some of the most visible vestiges of the danger that Britain faced during WWII. They also symbolise the ingenuity and quick thinking of the engineer Guy Maunsell. They are Whitstable’s Maunsell Sea Forts.
(Copyright ©Stephen Fisher)
The Port of London has always been one of the busiest in the world and during the height of WW2, was one of the few ports that could still receive ships containing valuable supplies to keep the country on it’s feet. As a result, the shipping channel, visible from Whitstable, was a frequent German target for mines. The mine laying was so successful that by 1940, over 100 ships had been sunk in the Thames Estuary. Something had to be done.
At the start of the war Guy Maunsell created plans to build off shore forts, built on concrete bases. The designs were quite out there, but the designs were approved and a number of off shore forts were constructed between 1942 and 1943.
They were a success. Each fort accommodated up to 265 men, who manned and maintained anti-aircraft guns sited on the top of each fort. During their time in operation the Red Sand and Shivering Sand forts shot down 22 planes, numerous flying bombs and were integral in the sinking of a U-Boat.
When the war ended in 1945, the sea forts remained manned, with crews remaining in place until 1953. There was talk of dragging them back to shore and dismantling them, however this proved too expensive and so, instead, they were stripped of their machinery and left.
Red Sands Radio
Over the years a number of pirate radio stations used them for illegal broadcasting, including Screaming Lord Sutch’s radio station, Radio Sutch, and also Invicta Radio. More recently, the forts have been left abandoned, apart from a brief usage by Red Sands Radio and the filming of Dr Who and Slade’s film “Flame”.
The Red Sands Forts are currently funded and protected by Project Red Sand, who have made it their mission to preserve the forts and their history. Another idea in the pipeline is to turn the forts in to a luxury hotel complex, although this could be pie in the sky.
What is definitely unarguable is that they are now an embedded part of our coastal view, with artists and photographers creating Whitstable based work which includes their impressive structures. They are regularly included on lists of “must see” abandoned structures and carry a mystique about them that is unshakeable.
If you have the opportunity to visit them, you should grab it with both hands. There are a couple of operators who can take visitors out to the forts. The Greta sailing barge can take visitors out for the day to the Forts. Alternatively, X-Pilot operates from Queenborough on Sheppey.