Posted: 8 August 2009 22:50
I spent today in the St. Leonards - Hastings area investigating platoon localities on the seafront, based on maps I found in the National Archives.
I was combining this with visits to roadblock sites in the area.
I started off at Bulverhythe where a footbridge passes over the railway line and onto the beach. Situated here were some pillboxes and an anti-tank gun. Platoon HQ was in a nearby house and two other houses became defended buildings in 1940, but were seemingly not part of the defence scheme by 1941.
This position was covering the beach to the west with a Bren gun on a fixed arc that swept the beach and the railway line up to a point where the neighbouring company situated on the high ground of what the army called "Bull Point" (it's not a locally-recognised name) could overlap their own defensive fire.
The photo below was taken from the bridge looking west; Bull Point is clearly visible, as is the searchlight housing on Galley Hill (centre, horizon). The rock armour illustrates how the coastline has retreated since the war.
Now looking east; the red line indicates the extent of the fixed arcs of two Bren guns. In the background can be seen the high cliffs behind St. Leonards. These cliffs are only about 100m back from the high water mark, making it a dangerous choke point for any attempt to land here; an advance would have to be along the roads east or west, although the 1 Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Troops) Division were to land somewhere between St. Leonards and Hastings probably in response to this terrain. Seeing this on the ground you realise why this stretch of seafront is covered by comparitively few machine guns.
The red line is also just by a well-known outcop of cubes that are still in situ; a group of five and another of three about 25m to the east.
The next locality was at West Marina; and here was situated Minefield MB71 which comprised 49 Naval Beach Mines (anti-personnel). The site is now occupied by beach huts.
There are a few more uprooted dragon's teeth along this section of front; they've been used to block vehicle access to the beach.
I've often wondered quite how such isolated cubes have survived when hundreds of others in the line have been destroyed. Of course, many were washed away by the encroaching tides, but just enough remain in place to indicate where the anti-tank line was.
Moving further east, another pair of cubes remain in situ and angled, suggesting that it was here that the cube line ended and the promenade wall became the anti-tank obstacle along the coast through to the cliffs just to the east of Hastings at Rock-A-Nore.
This area was another locality with pillboxes and defended posts. A Bren with fixed arc covered the beach to the west, overlapping the red line in the photo above, while another Bren was set on a fixed line to fire straight along the promenade all the way down to St. Leonards Pier (removed in the 1950's). A pair of Vickers guns reinforced the fire in both directions.
I headed inland to visit a reserve platoon locality; the map trace I had indicates a staggering seven pillboxes at this point, a very dense concentration. However, arriving on site I immediately realised why so many; the road around which they were situated was effectively a built-up ramp up onto the high ground, with low ground on either side of it. This meant that positions had to be placed either side of this 'ramp', some on the low ground and others up high, explaining why so many pillboxes were in a small area.
I say "pillboxes", but moving down the road I came across Judges Postcards on a bend. The map trace marks pillboxes as black squares, but I remembered once seeing a reference to this building being fortified. As its location is roughly where a 'pillbox' is marked, I suspect they may be one and the same. Upon arriving home, I checked the reference and found the following in a War Diary:
"July 22 1940: Work (state of defence) completed at Judges Postcard Factory, Hastings".
What work was done is uncertain; there was no obvious evidence of loopholed walls and it may be that a window was sandbagged and a room shored up to thicken the walls. Either way, it's good to be able to tie in the evidence.
Moving to the site of St. Leonards Pier, yet more pillboxes were situated on the promenade to fire back towards West Marina and onto Hastings Pier (photo above), which provided a suitable point at which to bring the day's wandering to a close, to be continued another time...
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.
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.
An existing building occupied as a fighting position, usually incorporating some form of fortification such as sandbagging, shoring up of ceilings or cutting of loopholes in external walls.
An existing (e.g. garden) wall into which a loophole has been made by the removal of bricks or stones. Usually applied to freestanding walls as opposed to walls in buildings, which are known as defended buildings.
Known as mushrooms these anti-personnel mines were buried on beaches according to set procedures. Numerous fatalities were caused by incorrect handling or mechanical defects.
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.
A defended locality intended to be held by a platoon.
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.
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Hibbs, Peter Defended localities - St. Leonards - Hastings (2024) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216632/ Accessed: 5 March 2024
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