Posted: 20 April 2016
This page discusses the origins and scope of the project, plus a bit about me.
The project began by accident back in 2006; this story behind this happy event is told in my 10 Year blog post. Launching myself into the war diaries and reports at the National Archives (TNA) I quickly uncovered a wealth of hitherto undiscovered evidence in the landscape.
It quickly became apparent that much of what was "known" of the anti-invasion landscape was based on the surviving evidence, typically concrete structures. The documents, however, were allowing me to uncover an entire battlefield beyond the immediately obvious evidence. If you see a large concrete pillbox in the landscape, there is a tendency to focus on this and stop looking for further evidence, and this is where a large gap exists in the story. The "missing" evidence puts the surviving evidence into context - within a wider co-ordinated system of defence works.
There has been much mission creep over the years, but the project has hopefully now (2016) bottomed out and found its parameters; these are described below. It should be noted that there are many grey areas and some contradictions may be found within the project's coverage.
The project covers 1939-45 and the subsequent post-war clean-up of wartime evidence. This cleansing of the landscape is still going on today with the discovery of unexploded munitions and, sadly, the removal of defence works.
The project focuses on the activity and impact of the Allied armies that were based in East Sussex, from the mobilisation of the Territorial Army just prior to the outbreak of war, to the invasion scare of 1940-42 and the build up to Operation Overlord in 1944. 1945 sees the end of the war, but there are still large numbers of troops moving to and from the European mainland and a large number of enemy Prisoners of War in camps, working on Sussex farms. Military labour begins the massive task of restoring the pre-war landscape.
Both British and Canadian troops were stationed in East Sussex during the war. Infantry, artillery, medical, armoured, logistics, engineers, headquarters and command formations and Anti-Aircraft Command are all covered. The Home Guard acted in various capacities from anti-invasion troops to manning coast and anti-aircraft artillery as Army manpower was withdrawn to fight overseas.
There were, of course, other services in the county; the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Civil Defence organisations. These are outside of the project's scope as I'm no expert on them. However, Army resources were called upon to protect RAF and RN installations from radar stations and airfields to Newhaven Harbour and the Naval Headquarters at HMS Forward. Anti-aircraft flights of the RAF Regiment were also drafted in to defend airfields and participate in Operation Diver, the battle against the V1 flying bomb.
The Civil Defence Services also fall outside the project's remit, although air raids are covered. This is because much bomb damage is still evident and troops were often involved in air raids, either as casualties or assisting the rescue and medical services.
The geospatial coverage of the project is often hard to define, for several reasons.
Firstly, the East Sussex boundary changed in 1974, West Sussex taking on a portion of the western end of the county.
Secondly, military areas did not always follow municipal boundaries, but even then, changes to army sectors were frequent and often hard for the historian to keep up with and mark on a map. A map showing army responsibility would show a boundary for an infantry division, broken down into Sub-Areas (later known as Sectors) and another set of boundaries for Anti-Aircraft Command.
Thirdly, operations and military units could cut across boundaries. In the case of Overlord, troops embarking for Normandy from Sussex left from Newhaven and Shoreham. The latter port has always been in West Sussex, but to ignore it on this account would be to fail to tell the full story of Overlord in Sussex. Similarly, research has occasionally stretched over into Surrey and Kent.
I have been interested in military history since a very young age, having dabbled in many different areas of the subject such as scale models and collecting militaria. I have also been a volunteer in a regimental museum, served for three years in the Territorial Army and have a BA (Hons) in War Studies and History.
Photo: excavating Warningcamp Auxiliary Unit hideout with SMHS in 2011.
I began designing websites back in 1998 having taught myself the basics. With many years working in my local library service and later in secondary schools, I completed an MSc in Web Information Management in 2013. The combination of my military history/information management/web design work has created this project and website - I hope you enjoy it!
The plan to defend the UK against the German V1 Flying Bomb, which was codenamed Diver. Diver defences comprised barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns, initially situated in the Kentish Gun Belt. The guns were later moved to the coast. Aircraft were coordinated with both phases of gun belt defence.
The codename for the Allied invasion of occupied Europe on 6th June 1944.
Generic term for a hardened field defensive structure usually constructed from concrete and/or masonry. Pillboxes were built in numerous types and variants depending on location and role.
Sussex Military History Society
The National Archives (formerly The Public Records Office or PRO).
This site is copyright © Peter Hibbs 2006 - 2023. All rights reserved.
Hibbs, Peter About the Defence of East Sussex Project (2023) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/about/239691/ Accessed: 4 December 2023
The information on this website is intended solely to describe the ongoing research activity of The Defence of East Sussex Project; it is not comprehensive or properly presented. It is therefore NOT suitable as a basis for producing derivative works or surveys!