Posted: 11 April 2008 23:42

Pillbox at Rye Harbour I spent an interesting day investigating some of the defences of Rye Harbour.

As one of only two ports in East Sussex (Newhaven being by far the most important), Rye Harbour was within the general area that would have been visited by 7 Division of the German 16th Army had Operation Sealion been launched.

The pillboxes at Rye are unique; mostly shell-proof (1m thick concrete walls and roof) two well-known examples at the harbour mouth are almost suicidally exposed, as the photo shows.

Arriving in the car park beside Martello Tower 28 I took a short walk to familiarise myself with the area, as I hadn't been this way for 10-15 years.

I quickly stumbled upon an outcrop of about 20 cylinders beside a bridge, with a wartime mine as a reminder of the danger that regularly made its way along rivers from the sea. The photo below also shows a pair of cylinders flanking a gate.

Rye Harbour

Taking the path along the River Rother towards the harbour mouth, I stopped briefly by a concrete slab that the Defence of Britain Project database has recorded as the foundation of a gun emplacement. I've not yet seen any documentary evidence to support this, and assuming I saw the same concrete slab, it looks more like a hard standing for a small building, a handful of which are scattered about the deserted shingle expanse. I'll keep an open mind until I've done some research though.

A few hundred yards further on was the pillbox upon which my visit was to focus; an identical example was even further along, though inside the fencing erected as part of the ongoing beach maintenance operation.

Pillbox at Rye Harbour

Inside the pillbox are six tables for Vickers guns; a triangular arrangement of shallow indentations in each table top shows where the feet of the Vickers tripod were to be set. The embrasures themselves were 40cm high and over 2m and 3m wide; absolutely enormous. Judging by the complete lack of protection from the howling gale, there seems to be more embrasure than pillbox!

In each corner of the southern end is an embrasure of sensible proportions; I really do not know why all of them are not this size, as even at long distance, you can clearly see right though the pillbox.

I'll have to dig out the Rye Sector scheme and work out the fire task for this pillbox; it has incredible views across the harbour mouth to the flat beaches of Camber Sands, although this side was covered by pillboxes amongst the sand dunes.

I surveyed the pillbox and have begun to construct it in 3D using Sketchup. The embrasures have proved awkward to replicate so far, and have delayed progress. What I'm hoping is that the finished model will demonstrate just how vulnerable one feels standing in this pillbox.

Pillbox at Rye Harbour

- Pete



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Reinforced concrete cylindrical obstacles with a shaft down the centre in which could be inserted a crowbar for manhandling, or a picket for barbed wire. Cylinders were 90cm high and 60cm wide and deployed in groups of three as a more effective alternative for buoys.

Defence of Britain Project

A large project run by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) 1995-2002, collecting data on 20th century military structures submitted by a team of some 600 volunteers. The result was a database of nearly 20,000 records which is available online. The anti-invasion section of the database contains nearly 500 entries for East Sussex.


A loophole or slit that permits observation and/or weapons to be fired through a wall or similar solid construction.

Martello Tower

Napoleonic gun towers built along the vulnerable coasts of SE England 1805-1812. Most that still stood in 1940 were occupied for military defence, as artillery observation posts or by the Royal Observer Corps. Many towers had a concrete roof added for extra protection.


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.


(German Seel÷we) - Operation Sealion was the code name for the German plan for the invasion of Britain.

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Hibbs, Peter Rye Harbour Defences (2021) Available at: Accessed: 17 January 2021

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!