Thursday, July 23, 2009

From War Machines to Eco Warriors: The Thames Sea Forts

What do you do with a number of rusty old seventy year old sea forts that still tower above the waves once they have done their job? The possibilities are huge if not quite endless.

The Maunsell Sea Forts occupied positions in the Thames and the Mersey estuaries during World War Two.  The rivers were vital in terms of transporting food and the vital equipment needed to sustain the beleaguered island and were designed to protect the two most important ports in the United Kingdom - those of London and Liverpool.  The ones designed for anti-aircraft defence, such as those pictured in Redsands, Kent, remain by far the most striking.  Although people are strongly advised not to enter on safety grounds, you can still see the ladders at the base of the far one - an invitation to the foolhardy seafarer.

Britain wasn't going down with a fight and designer Guy Maunsell was up to the challenge.  As France fell to the Nazis the Germans were beginning, with frightening regularity, to target the Allied ships in the Channel.  Moreover, enemy planes were finding that their route to London Docks was unhampered by much resistance.   The Admiralty sought out Maunsell and demanded that he create five new sea forts.  The foundations were sunk in to the seabed in a way that allowed the movement of shingle and sand around them.

Seven steel platforms, interconnected, carried five guns in a semi-circle.  At the middle of the diameter of this semi-circle there was the control tower.  The seventh structure was for a searchlight.  In their heyday they must have been something to behold.  The design of the towers above water was based very much on the gun batteries found on shore.  It was a proven design and would enable the towers to be defended with a greater degree of success.  If you are worried about how the men would get between the forts then don't.  There was a system of sturdy, tubular steel walkways between the towers that ensured no unfortunate plunges in to the sea.

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