Posted: 11 May 2008 23:12

I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at Newhaven Fort; arriving just after opening time, I wanted to get up onto the gun area to take photos before too many fellow visitors had the same idea.

The photo below is of one of the two 6-inch guns the fort had for coast defence. These were superceded by the 3-gun battery built to the west in 1943.

6-inch gun at Newhaven

This 12-pounder gun (below) was used for close defence of the harbour mouth.

12-pounder gun at Newhaven

The long expanse of flat beach that arcs round to Seaford was mined, wired and defended with cubes and scaffolding; I've already paid a visit and walked the length of this area with some interesting conclusions including the bridge demolition at Bishopstone.

Construction of the fort began in the 1860's, the armament being revised to meet various invasion threats, its military service finally ended with the abandonment of coast artillery in 1956.

Newhaven Fort

Newhaven was a pivotal area in 1940; being an important harbour, it's capture by the Germans would have been a severe blow. Defence schemes always seem to designate certain forces to be prepared to recapture the port in the event of its fall.

There was a Naval presence here as well as the military forces; the Dieppe Raid of August 1942 was launched from Newhaven and the port also played a part in Operation Overlord in 1944.

I visited in 1981, when the fort was opened for the first time as a visitor attraction, and despite closure not long after, it again became a museum, and I was knocked flat by the standard of the displays.

I had already seen the Royal Observer Corps exhibitions (including a reconstruction of an underground nuclear monitoring post and plotting room, not to mention the reconstructed WW2 ROC post up on the ramparts) and the walkthrough Blitzed street, but the air raid shelter experience and home front and First World War displays were new to me, but fantastic.

The fort also houses the collection of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry; this was of particular interest to me, being a former Yeoman myself (Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomany - my squadron was originally the Staffordshire Yeomanry) and my great uncle was in the Royal West Kent Yeomanry during WW1 and also in the Kent Home Guard during WW2.

However, I was here to do some fieldwork too; a plan I found in the Fort Record Book showed the location of defence posts, including some weapons pits dug into the northern parapet of the fort, facing inland. A quick recce revealed possible indentations in the earth, but nothing conclusive.

Leaving the fort, I went to down to beach level to see the pair of observation posts that had been constructed in the cliff face by tunnelling through the chalk from inside the fort; the entrance to the tunnels can be seen from within the fort, although access is denied due to their instability.

Newhaven Fort observation post

The photo above shows the two OPs in the cliff face; the eastern one has all but imploded, but the western one (seen below) shows how a circular tunnel seemingly lined with corrugated iron was driven through the chalk and faced with a concrete wall with embrasure. The rectangular holes are believed to have been the anchor points of a hoist used to raise shingle from the beach to the cliff top for use in the fort's original construction.

Newhaven Fort observation post

Newhaven Fort is the largest defence work in Sussex; you need several hours to do a proper visit and several more to write a comprehensive blog entry on it! Unfortunately, I don't have the time to write up my visit in full, so the best I can do is recommend you pay your own visit - I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

- Pete

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Cubes

Anti-tanks blocks, popularly known as dragon's teeth. Not to be confused with smaller blocks known as pimples, cubes can be upwards of 1m square. Many examples in Sussex have apexes or chamfered edges, leading to them being incorrectly recorded as coffins.


Defence scheme

A military plan of defence for a specified area. Defence Schemes were issued at numerous levels. Defence Schemes were later known as Plans to Defeat Invasion on the orders of General Montgomery.


Demolition

Term applied to a structure scheduled for demolition or already demolished. Walls and small buildings might be taken down to clear fields of fire or impede enemy passage by destroying a bridge. Some demolitions were not intended to be carried out until after invasion had begun, for example, certain bridges or road craters (pipe mines).


Embrasure

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


Operation Overlord

The codename for the Allied invasion of occupied Europe on 6th June 1944.


Scaffolding

Two designs of obstacle were constructed from scaffolding; Z0 anti-boat and Z1 anti-tank scaffolding. The framework was deemed the best anti-tank obstacle for beaches, providing a tank didn't have a good run up. Erected from about 1941, scaffolding was very labour-intensive and used an enormous amount of steel.



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Hibbs, Peter Newhaven Defences (2) (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216551/ Accessed: 23 November 2017

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