Visit the Historic Maunsell Sea Forts with Whitstable Boat Tours, where you can, your gateway to maritime history. Our journey today takes us to the iconic Maunsell Forts off the coast of Whitstable. These remarkable structures have a tangled past, we will take you on a boat trip and talk about there history. There time they helped save London and there time as pirate radio stations.
Where were they built.
The Maunsell Forts, designed by British engineer Guy Maunsell as army forts, were constructed during World War II as defensive platforms. The forts were erected on the Thames, utilizing a deserted and dilapidated cement factory that Maunsell had discovered at Red Lion Wharf in Northfleet, near Gravesend.
The construction, towing, and installation of the forts took place between May and December 1943. Positioned off the coasts of Kent and Essex, these innovative structures were strategically located to protect vital shipping lanes and defend against enemy air raids. Here’s a closer look at their construction and significance:
Army forts, naval Forts.
Red sands army fort
Located at the mouth of the Thames Estuary, the Red Sands group consists of seven towers connected by metal grate walkways. Although there were considerations in 1959 to refloat the Red Sands Fort and bring the towers ashore, the costs were deemed prohibitive. One of the towers, known as the Red Sands Fort, housed the pirate radio station Radio 390 from 1965 to 1967.
In recent years, there have been proposals to demolish the fort, prompting the formation of Project Redsands. This group aims to preserve the fort, which is the only one accessible from a platform between the legs of a tower. However, a recent inspection by Structural Repairs in 2021 revealed severe structural defects in six of the towers, with some elements already lost to the sea. The seventh tower also exhibits the same defects, with elements on the verge of falling into the sea. Consequently, the fort cannot be safely accessed in its current condition.
Preserving the historic Red Sands Fort remains a challenge. Initiatives like Project Redsands strive to maintain its significance and heritage.
Shivering sands army fort
The Shivering Sands Fort, an anti-aircraft defence structure, was established just off the Thames estuary. Approximately 9.2 miles (14.8 kilometers) north of Herne Bay. Tragically, one of the seven towers collapsed in 1963 after the vessel Ribersborg deviated from its course due to fog and collided with the tower. The following year, the Port of London Authority installed equipment to monitor wind and tide conditions on the Shivering Sands searchlight tower, which had become isolated due to the destruction of the adjacent tower. This equipment transmitted data back to the mainland via radio. Artist Stephen Turner temporarily inhabited the Shivering Sands Fort’s searchlight tower alone for six weeks in the late summer of 2005. Turner described his experience as an “artistic exploration of isolation”. Studying the effects of isolation on one’s perception of time. Pondering the nature of creative contemplation in the context of the 21st century.
(U5) was the only fort built within British territorial waters when it was established. The other forts were located in international waters until the three-mile limit was extended to 12 nautical miles (14 miles; 22 kilometers). In 1953, the fort suffered severe damage during a storm. Later that year, the Norwegian ship Baalbek collided with it, resulting in the destruction of two towers, the loss of four civilian lives, and damage to guns, radar equipment, and supplies. Due to the ruins being a shipping hazard, they were dismantled in 1959-1960. Some parts of the bases were towed ashore near the village of Cliffe, Kent. Where they could still be seen during low tide.
1940-41: The Birth of the Idea
- Engineer Guy Maunsell proposed the construction of offshore anti-aircraft defenses to the British Admiralty and the British Army forts
1941-42: The Thames Estuary Forts Take Shape
The Maunsell naval forts were constructed as part of the British defenses during the Second World War. Primarily to deter and report German air raids and prevent mine-laying by aircraft along the Thames estuary. They were built similarly to early fixed offshore oil platforms. Each fort had a reinforced concrete pontoon base, measuring 168 by 88 feet. With a superstructure consisting of two 60-foot tall, 24-foot diameter hollow reinforced concrete towers. With walls approximately 3.5 inches thick and weighing around 4,500 tons. These towers were divided into seven floors. With four floors dedicated to crew quarters and the remaining for operational purposes. Others used as dining, storage for generators, fresh water tanks, and antiaircraft munitions. Additionally, there was a steel framework at one end supporting a landing jetty. A crane for hoisting supplies, known as a “dolphin”
These Naval forts are very unlike the Army forts that were constructed, Twin Cylinder apperance compared to the war of the worlds seven strictures joined by ladders.
1944: Operation “Diver
The Maunsell forts, nearing completion, played a significant role in Operation Diver, the British countermeasure strategy against the V-1 flying bomb attacks by the German Luftwaffe in 1944. These forts were part of the defense system that included anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons, and fighter aircraft1.
Anti-aircraft guns were particularly effective in the later stages of the campaign, enhanced by radar-based technology and proximity fuses. The strategic redeployment of these guns, facilitated by advancements in radar and control systems, significantly increased the rate of V-1 interceptions over time.
The Maunsell forts location in the Thames estuary helped to form a cordon that closed off the eastern approach to London. Contributing to the defensive network that increased the interception rate of V-1 bombs from 17% to 74% by the end of August 1944.
Radio Stations on the Maunsell Forts
The Maunsell Forts’ intriguing history doesn’t end with their wartime service. After the war, some of these forts found themselves repurposed for a very different mission as bases for pirate radio stations. Here’s a glimpse into this unique chapter
1960s: The Era of Pirate Radio
The Swashbuckling Broadcasters of the North Sea forts
Discover with Whitstable boat tours the daring saga of the pirate radio stations. That ruled the waves from the Historic Maunsell Sea Forts. In the 1960s and 1970s, these offshore platforms off Whitstable’s coast became the unlikely epicenters of pop culture. With free speech, broadcasting rock ‘n’ roll to a generation hungry for music that defied the establishment.
The Maunsell Forts: From War to Waves.
Originally erected during World War II, the Maunsell Forts found a second life as the base for pirate radio stations. Radio Invicta, KING Radio, and Radio 390. These rebels of the radio repurposed the military outposts into broadcasting havens. That floated in legal limbo, beyond the reach of British law.
The Soundtrack of Freedom
At a time when the BBC monopolized the airwaves with a limited selection, pirate radio offered an alternative voice. The stations aboard the Red Sands forts captured the zeitgeist. Playing the latest hits from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and other icons, often before they hit the mainstream.
The Tides of Change
The outlaw stations’ influence peaked as they rode the high tide of pop culture, but their days were numbered. The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 aimed to silence these buccaneers. Yet their spirit and impact on broadcasting freedoms resonate to this day.
Visiting the Red Sands Today.
Now silent sentinels off the coast of Whitstable. The Red Sands forts or the maunsell sea forts stand as rusting monuments to the pirate radio era an the brave souls that defended our country. While the stations are long gone. Whitstable boat tours offer a glimpse into the past, where maverick DJs once spun the soundtrack of a revolution. The expereiced skippers will talk you through the Maunsell fors colourful history.
- Knock John Fort ( a old Naval forts ) became the home of Radio Essex. An offshore pirate radio station, broadcasting rock ‘n’ roll music to enthusiastic listeners.
- Radio City, another pirate radio station, took residence on Shivering Sands Forts, broadcasting pop and rock tunes across the airwaves.
These pirate radio stations offered an alternative to the traditional airwaves and provided a platform for new and diverse music, making them popular among the youth of the time.
Visit the Historic Maunsell Sea Forts with Whitstable Boat Tours
Today, you can visit the historic Maunsell Sea Forts. you can embark on a voyage of discovery with Whitstable Boat Tours and explore the Maunsell Forts. Our tours offer an opportunity to step back in time and witness the history and significance of these offshore structures. Learn about their wartime service, their transformation into pirate radio stations, and their modern-day roles as historic relics.
Join us as we navigate through history and explore the remarkable Maunsell Forts off the coast of Whitstable. For bookings and more information, please visit our Booking Page contact us at [email protected]. We look forward to sharing this captivating journey with you! We do many other boat trips, and remember to check out the wildlife on our Whitstable boat tour.
Yes, Screaming Lord Sutch was indeed involved in pirate radio. In 1964, following the launch of Radio Caroline, he announced that he would start his own station. This led to the creation of Radio Sutch, which began broadcasting from the south tower of Shivering Sands, an abandoned Second World War Maunsell Sea Fort in the Thames Estuary. The station was a low-powered, low-budget operation. By September 1964, Sutch sold the station to his friend and manager, Reginald Calvert, who expanded the station and renamed it Radio City. So, while Sutch was not a DJ in the traditional sense, he was a key figure in the early days of pirate radio in the UK
Pirate radio stations had a significant influence on music in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the UK. They introduced pop, rock, hip-hop, soul, and other genres that were not played by the BBC or other licensed broadcasters. They also challenged the authority and monopoly of the established radio system and created a subculture of music fans and DJs. Here are some of the ways that pirate radio stations influenced music in those decades:
In the 1960s, pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London broadcast from ships or sea forts in international waters, defying the government’s ban on commercial radio. They played the latest pop and rock hits from the US and UK, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks, and attracted millions of listeners who were dissatisfied with the BBC’s conservative and classical music programming. Pirate radio also influenced the music industry, as record labels and artists sought to get their songs played on the pirate radio platforms.
Yes, the Maunsell Forts, which were designed by civil engineer Guy Maunsell to help defend against German bombing raids during World War II, were indeed successful in their mission. They destroyed almost two full squadrons of bombers before they could hit London. In total, the forts shot down 22 planes and intercepted 30 bombs. These defenses prevented a significant amount of destruction and saved countless lives. So, the Maunsell Forts played a crucial role in the UK’s air defense during the war.
Yes, there are several other sea forts in UK waters. Here are a few examples:
Principality of Sealand: This is an unrecognised, self-proclaimed micronation on HM Fort Roughs (also known as Roughs Tower), an offshore platform in the North Sea approximately twelve kilometres off the coast of Suffolk, England. It was one of the Maunsell Forts and was occupied by 150–300 Royal Navy personnel throughout World War II.
Horse Sands, Spitbank, St. Helens and No Man’s Land: These are other British sea forts that are no longer in use for military purposes. Notably, No Man’s Land has been converted into a full-scale luxury resort.
Nore, Red Sands, and Shivering Sands: These were three Army forts placed in the Thames Estuary during World War II. Only two of them, Red Sands and Shivering Sands, still stand today.
These sea forts, like the Maunsell Forts, were initially used for defensive purposes but many of them are now derelict or have taken on new uses.
Yes Whitsable boat Tours is a popular boat trip company, departing from Whitstable harbour through the Summer months.