British Coastal Weapons vs German Coastal Weapons: The Dover Strait 1940-1944
By NEIL SHORT
(Osprey Publishing – £15.99)
On page 77, Neil Short states that the duel between British and German coastal artillery “…has been largely overlooked in the history books. Hopefully this title goes some way to redress the balance…”. It certainly did for me, as I knew next to nothing about the topic. The focus for the book is exclusively the artillery, no surprise given the Osprey format: brief, informative text, supported by some superb illustrations by Adam Hook, as well as numerous black & white and colour photographs of both sides’ guns.
Coastal batteries assumed great importance following the evacuation from Dunkirk. In preparation for Operation SEELÖWE, the proposed invasion of Britain, both sides established heavy artillery in both fixed positions, and on railway mounts. German guns were usually newer (circa 1936) and were eventually protected by reinforced concrete bunkers, and their batteries had martial sounding names: ‘Lindemann’, ‘Grosser Kurfurst’, ‘Pommern’, and the like, whereas the British guns, many of them old naval guns which wore out quickly, relied more on camouflage for protection, and gloried in names such as ‘Winnie’, ‘Pooh’, ‘Jane’ or, the exception that proved the rule, the 18”, railway mounted, ‘Boche Buster’.
Both sides’ guns were active throughout the war. South coast towns were regularly hit, Dover especially (but not exclusively) so. It proved more difficult, but not impossible, to hit shipping, especially given the dependence on the ‘Mark 1 Eyeball’ for fire control. Even with radar, results could be disappointing, as illustrated by the failure of the South Foreland battery to hit the German ships during Operation CERBERUS. Radar and aerial spotting did produce good results as well, and when combined with MTBs, British guns were more successful against coastal shipping in 1943.
Both sides guns were active during 1944, the German batteries bombarding the coastal ports and shipping, but strangely leaving the slow moving, Mulberry harbour sections, unengaged as they were towed towards Normandy. German batteries ceased to be a problem from 1944, once the Canadian units were able to overrun their sites, and the remaining guns were lost. On both sides of the English Channel, the guns were silenced.
After the war, many of the British battery sites were levelled, although some evidence of their existence still remains. There is also a 14” shell and an 18” gun in the Royal Armouries Museum, Fort Nelson, as well as exhibitions in Dover Castle and Dover Museum which include information on the coastal batteries. There is, of course, more evidence on the French side, as many of the concrete bunkers still exist. One casemate from Batterie Todt survives as Musée du Mur d’Atlantique, and has a German K5 railway gun on display, whilst another, the former site for the proposed V-3 supergun is now home to another museum, Forteresse de Mimoyecques.
I enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it to members who either just want to learn more, or who are maybe thinking of exploring the British and French coasts sometime.