Posted: 21 July 2009 20:22

The tunnels that form part of the underground Naval HQ at South Heighton seem to be causing damage to a road in a housing estate built on top of them.

More details from BBC News.

The underground tunnels were lined with mine tunnel shuttering as seen below in a Google Sketchup model I constructed some time ago regarding an underground Battle HQ dug into the Downs by the Canadians in 1941-42.

HMS Forward

The BBC report indicates that 'pillboxes' are to blame for the damage to the road. The pillboxes themselves have long been demolished, but they were entered via underground shafts and it would seem that one of these shafts is now causing the road to subside under the weight of heavy vehicles.

My fear is that calls to have the tunnels filled in will result in the loss of yet another important part of East Sussex's heritage. While I sleep soundly in the knowledge that my house is not built on top of tunnels, the current problem appears to exist where an underground shaft actually rises up to the surface; the main tunnel complex is much deeper. As the pillboxes into which these rising shafts entered are long gone, I don't see why they shouldn't be partly blocked up and stabilised from below, as long as the deeper system is preserved.

For more info on HMS Forward, see Geoffrey Ellis' fantastic book The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton; there's also a website at:

As HMS Forward was a Naval establishment I won't be covering it in enormous depth as the definitive work on it has already been produced and my interest is in army defence works. However, the defence of HMS Forward was a Home Guard and military affair and I have found some interesting documentary evidence on this. According to a Canadian war diary of February 1942 the pillboxes had not yet been built.

Prior to this General Montgomery had suggested that the local Canadian infantry brigade should have its battle HQ situated in HMS Forward. A military liaison officer was appointed, but the Brigadier felt that he could not effectively fight the invasion battle so deep underground, hence the HQ up on the Downs mentioned above being excavated in an area where almost the entire sector battlefront could be observed.

Following the loss of the concrete roof on Martello Tower 55 and the imminent danger to the Cuckmere Haven defence works are we to lose yet another important part of our heritage?

- Pete



Blog Latest

Review of 2018
31 December 2018


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.

War diary

A record of events kept by all units from the point of mobilisation. A diary's contents vary enormously from unit to unit; some give detailed entries by the hour on a daily basis while others merely summarise events on a weekly/monthly basis.

This site is copyright © Peter Hibbs 2006 - 2024. All rights reserved.

Hibbs, Peter Is HMS Forward sunk? (2024) Available at: Accessed: 17 July 2024

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!