Operation Redsand Forts

At the end of 2014 I was asked to try to help do something to make use of the Forts, instead of letting them slowly deteriorate and no doubt eventually fall under the sea. I came up with the idea of a Hotel/Leisure/Museum complex.

If my idea proceeds, after all consents have been obtained from the relevant authorities, we will have the preservation of the Redsand Forts in place. It is proposed to have both Catamaran and Helicopter access and egress to the Redsand Forts, which has already been negotiated.

David Marriot Cooper

The Redsand Towers & the Maunsell Forts of the Thames Estuary

Location of the Redsand Forts

During the first few months of the war over one hundred ships were sunk in the Thames Estuary alone. It was clear that urgent action was needed to stem these losses and, as most mines were laid by aircraft, ships were requisitioned and used as mobile anti-aircraft units. However, this was not altogether successful, and a more satisfactory solution was needed. In the early years of the war, Guy Maunsell, a civil engineer, had produced plans for offshore defences.

it was decided to build a type of Fort to deter German aircraft from using the River Thames as a navigational aid to find the centre of London and the hugely important Dockland area of that period; Guy Maunsell was asked to design a suitable structure to meet this need. He came up with a Fort to replicate a land gun battery in the shape of seven towers joined together by catwalks. The seven towers consisted of a Bofors Tower with two 40mm Bofors guns, four towers with 3.7" HHA guns, a Contol Tower housing predictors and radar and a Searchlight Tower.

Each tower was built off a reinforced concrete base of 'Oxford picture frame' design. Four hollow reinforced concrete legs of 3' diameter supported the 36' x 36' steel house of two floors, with the military equipment installed on the top deck. Each fort comprised seven towers linked by tubular steel catwalks. In addition to three Mersey forts, three forts of similar construction were built in the Thames estuary between May and December 1943. They were known as the Nore, Redsand and Shivering sands Army Forts. Each Fort accommodated up to 265 men.

The towers were built at the Red Lion Wharf site in Gravesend, towed down river and lowered by hand winch onto the sea bed, each tower taking up to eight hours to be placed in position. The first set of towers were placed at the Nore between May and July 1943, the second set were the Redsand Fort between July and September 1943. The final set, the Shivering Sand Fort, between September and December 1943. Crewed initially by 165 men this figure was increased to 265 after June 1944, when the German Luftwafe started to use the V1 Flying Bomb (Doodlebug). These new weapons were much faster than aircraft of that period and it was necessary to have men at their gun positions to have a chance of hitting them.

The period on board for the crew was four weeks followed by a ten day break ashore at the Drill Hall, Gillingham, Kent. The unit was known as the First A.A. Fort Regiment R.A. (Thames), which was disbanded at the end of the war and replaced by the "Fort Maintenance Detachment R.A". In wartime supplies were ferried out to the Forts by the R.A.S.C Water Transport Company from Sheerness in Kent using small armed trawlers.

The guns on the Thames forts shot down 22 planes and 30 flying bombs. After the war the forts were placed on 'care and maintenance'. However, as the need for their continued use diminished they were abandoned, and the guns removed from the Army forts in 1956. The Nore fort was dismantled in 1959, being considered a hazard to shipping [two towers were lost following a collision in 1953] whilst one of the Shivering Sands towers was similarly lost in 1963.

The maintenance crews were in occupation from May 1945 until April 1956, when it was decided to remove the guns and abandon the Forts. On March 1st 1953 a ship, the "Baalbeck", ran into the Nore group of towers in thick fog and knocked over the Bofors Tower and a gun tower killing four of the installed maintenance crew. The Army seemed more concerned with the loss of equipment, two Bofors guns, a 3.7" gun and a large amount of equipment and stores, then the personnel, whose relatives were paid paltry sums as compensation for the loss of their loved ones. Subsequently in 1959 the Nore group of towers was removed and scrapped.

Another accident happened in 1963 when in June a ship the "Riberborg" crashed into the Shivering Sand Fort and demolished a gun tower. Fortunately, no one was on board at the time and there were no casualties. Thus, Shivering Sand Fort today consists of only six towers.

In 1949 the classified plans for the Maunsell Forts were supplied to American offshore oil and gas exploration groups in the Gulf of Mexico. The plans aided the design and construction of the first oil and gas rigs.

In 1964 Radio Caroline began broadcasting from a ship moored outside UK Territorial Waters. Shortly after this, "Screaming Lord Sutch" boarded the Shivering Sand Towers off Herne Bay and began broadcasting pop music and readings from the book "Lady Chatterley's Lover", which had been banned by the BBC. All of the Thames Sea Forts were then designated outside British territorial waters. This enabled other operators to use these Forts for broadcasting, including the Redsand Towers which housed KING Radio, Radio Invicta and the very successful Radio 390. In February 1967, both the Thames Army Forts were designated within British territorial waters and subsequently the pirate radio operations were deemed untenable and the Forts abandoned.

In late 1967 the Forts were sanitized by the Admiralty, who removed access ladders and catwalks to deny people access.