The four gun, 9.2" battery at South Foreland was officially sited by the War Office Siting Board on September 30th 1940 - consisting of 35 degree elevation mountings supplied by Shoeburyness and Woolwich Arsenal, and veteran 9.2" MkX barrels with a range of over 36,000 yards. The four gun positions were to be camouflaged with the addition of leafy 'hats', situated on a reverse slope to reduce the muzzle flash signature, and with hedgerows and trees placed to provide the impression of domestic use land to Luftwaffe overflights. Guns 1 and 4 were served by individual underground magazines and shell stores feeding directly into the rear of the gun pits, while Guns 2 and 3 were supplied from a huge twin-humped surface magazine protected by a very thick capping of reinforced concrete. (The original design called for underground magazines for Guns 2 and 3, but this was altered at an early stage). Like all reinforced concrete structures designed to house explosives at this time, the reinforcing rods formed a mesh within the concrete that would act as a 'cone burster', i.e. would detonate any incoming projectile before it had succeeded in penetrating the whole depth of the concrete. This surface magazine, along with the huge power houses that provided the electricity supply to the gun positions, was (and still is) the dominating feature of the landscape. The two underground magazines for Guns 1 and 4 were obviously smaller and less visible as the roofs were at ground level, but the construction methods employed ensured that they should, in theory at least, have been able to withstand a direct hit from a bomb or a shell (although an unlucky hit from one of the German guns on the French coast, such as a 16", would probably have been enough to penetrate and destroy the buildings).

 

 

Excavations on the Battery site commenced on 28th December 1940, with the civilian firm of Richard Costain Ltd being the prime contractor for the surface structures such as the gun emplacements, engine rooms and the like. 702 Constructional Coy, R.E. were responsible for the accommodation. Designated as 290 Coast Defence Battery, part of 540 Coast Defence Regiment, the site also housed the Regimental Headquarters alongside South Foreland Lighthouse. Underground facilities at the site (the mining of which commenced on 13th March 1941) included the Battery Plotting Room (BPR) and Fortress Plotting Room (FPR), with the FPR and RHQ sharing a tunnelled shelter. This complex was accessed by two sets of stairways that entered either end of the individual 100' long parallel tunnels, which were joined to each other by three 36' long chambers. To the rear of Guns 2 and 3 was the Battery Shelter itself, a vast underground complex with three protected stairway entrances leading down into two 150' long parallel tunnels interconnected by three 8' x 9', 50' long chambers that housed medical services and sleeping quarters. On 28th March 1941 an accident occurred in this shelter when a sapper, 4691692 A.W. Beardmore of No.3 section 172 Tunnelling Coy, was struck by a runaway tub as he descended an incline "in the execution of his duty". Suffering a fractured skull, he was admitted to hospital in Hayward's Heath where he died of his injuries on 7th April, the body being sent back to Wakefield in Yorkshire to the mining community from where he came.

 

The first of the barrels and mountings arrived from Shoeburyness at South Foreland on 25th March 1941 for No.1 Gun, and the erection process was begun with the aid of a 20 ton gantry. No.2 gun made its appearance (coming from Woolwich) six days later, with the remaining pedestals and barrels arriving between 4th June and 10th June. Shortly after this, the CD/CHL radar station also became operational. On 9th July the first three rounds were fired by No.1 Gun for 'proof of mounting' purposes. No.3 Gun was mounted and in place on 28th July with the first three proofing rounds being fired from this one on 11th September - which just goes to show the time needed between installing the weapons and actually being able to put them into action! Calibration of Guns 1-3 took place over two days in October, at around the same time No.4 Gun was being made ready for its first test firing, which eventually took place on 28th November, long after the other three were officially in service and the Regimental Headquarters had been occupied.

 

Obviously, the whole purpose of the long range guns at South Foreland Battery was to deny the safe passage of enemy shipping through the English Channel - the biggest test of the ability to do this came on 12th February 1942. During the celebrated 'Channel Dash', the German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen had broken out from the French port of Brest and with a screen of destroyers, U Boats and Luftwaffe air cover had headed up the Channel in an attempt to reach the safety of German waters. Although long expected, it had always been assumed that the Germans would try to break out and force passage during the hours of darkness - this bold daylight attempt caught the British defences almost completely off guard. The K band radar at South Foreland began tracking the ships at around noon of 12th February, and the Battery opened fire 20 minutes later. Unfortunately, due to the range and the weather conditions at the time, there was no sighting of 'fall of shot' and the Battery commenced full salvo firing entirely under the control of the radar. With the range rapidly increasing (the German ships were steaming at a full 30 knots) a total of 33 rounds were expended at the targets and it was believed at the time that four hits were registered. Donald Thomsett, writing for the Kent History Forum regarding his Second World War experiences, made the following comment about working at South Foreland Battery as a civilian contractor at the time of the 'Dash'.

 

"As an apprentice I worked on several Defence sites in the Dover District during the years 1940-1943 when I then joined the RAF. We were mainly working on installation of main cables to the various sites; most of the control equipment was done by the R.E.M.E. At the time of the 'Channel Dash' although we were working in the Battery control room all that we knew was that they were firing at something in the Straits of Dover. Next day, or maybe the day after, we read about what had happened in the papers. While working there of course security was very strict and a special pass was needed."

 

 The escape of these German warships was a huge blow to the country and to the prestige of the Dover batteries, although the newspapers at the time made much of the gallant sacrifice of the Swordfish crews from the Fleet Air Arm, flying from RAF Manston in Thanet, who bravely pressed home their attack (the leader, Eugene Esmonde, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for this action). The noted M.P and diarist Henry 'Chips' Channon said;

 

"The country is more upset about the escape of the German battleships than over Singapore.."

 

As a point of interest, three of the four guns at South Foreland were, at one stage, named for these German capital ships (the fourth was named 'Shoeburyness) but if these names were given before the 'Dash' to symbolise the intention to deny the passage of these ships, or afterwards in celebration of this disappointing action, is unclear. South Foreland Battery often suffered at the hands of the German gunners, always eager to try and silence the harassing fire that affected their convoys so badly. One mild example, quoted from an official history of 540 Coast Defence Regiment, mentions the following from 1944;

 

"During this action, the German batteries staged a very strenuous "hate" against the Fire Command and did some superficial damage in the 9.2-inch Battery. As a result the 15-inch Battery were ordered to retaliate, in conjunction with the Royal Marine Guns which were firing for the first time since 1941. 10 salvoes were dropped in each of three enemy sites".

 

By the end of the war, the four guns of South Foreland 9.2" Battery had expended a grand total of 2,248 shells between them, the majority in 1944 - a huge amount considering that  enemy shipping losses credited to, and shared between, all of the Dover batteries during the Second World War was listed as a confirmed 28 vessels.. A fair exchange? Possibly, as it must be taken into account that not only were these ships carrying vital supplies, but also that every round fired acted as a deterrent to the enemy trying to force passage through the Straits. Just to the west of the Battery area itself was the Regimental Headquarters for 540 Coast Defence Regiment. Underground shelter was provided here (and shared with the occupants of the nearby Fortress Plotting Room). The R.H.Q. was comprised of workshops, Nissen Huts and an M.T. Section that was also responsible for maintaining the powered trolleys that transported the ammunition from the surface magazines to No.2 and 3 Guns. Totally demolished after the demise of the Coast Training Regiment that took over here after the end of the Second World War, today there is nothing to see apart from a field and the remains of the military road to the north of South Foreland Lighthouse.