Mote Bulwark, ruins of which can still be seen, and the Dover Seaplane Base were on the east side of Dover Bay close to the present day A20 access road to Eastern Docks. Although both playing an important role in Dover’s, and indeed, national, history these days they have been forgotten. The story below is their story and is told in three parts:
1. Mote Bulwark
3. InterWar period, World War II, the Nuclear Age and Obscurity
1. Mote Bulwark
England in the late 1530s was in danger of invasion from the combined forces of France and Spain. France was England’s historical enemy and Henry VIII’s (1509-1547) divorce of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), had upset her nephew, Charles V Holy Roman Emperor (1519-1558) and King of Spain (1516-1558). In 1538, Francis I of France (1515-1547) and Charles V signed a peace treaty and this raised the possibility of invasion. Consequently, Henry instituted a massive defensive programme around the east and south coasts of England that included the building of Castles at Deal, Walmer and Sandown. In Dover, to defend the harbour, three batteries or bulwarks were begun in March 1539. The first, on the western side of the Bay, was a small platform cut into the cliff with caves for the magazines but this had disappeared by 1568. The second battery, also on the western side of the Bay, eventually became Archcliffe Fort and both batteries were aimed at protecting the recently created harbour on the west side of the bay.
Shortly before, the sea came up to the foot of the cliffs below the Castle. Due to the Eastward Drift, a natural phenomenon that deposits shingle along the coast line of Dover Bay, the sea was starting to recede leaving the Castle vulnerable and it was for this reason that the third battery was built. Known from the outset as Mote Bulwark – from Mote and Bailey, a defensive structure enclosed by a wall or palisade – like the other two bulwarks, it was made of earth revetted with timber. However, Mote Bulwark was more elaborate than the other two and consisted of a long platform and the two gun ports were semi-circular and pierced by six gun loops for mounted cannons. Behind the platform there was a long timber building which was probably a store house and the battery was connected to the Castle by a tunnelled stairway. Completed by midsummer 1540, the total cost for the three bulwarks was £1,496 and to pay for these the King appropriated lands from Dover Corporation! Following the crisis, Mote Bulwark remained occupied by the military and at the time of the Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the battery had five pieces of ordnance of mixed calibre.
The Bulwark was again put on alert during the Spanish Armada of 1588 when a defensive extension was built along the shore to the Three Gun Battery, at the east end of present day Snargate Street. In 1607-1608, an Assessment of Ordnance in Kent stated that a Captain, two soldiers, one porter and two gunners manned Mote Bulwark. War with Spain again threatened in 1623 and a survey was undertaken of Dover’s military strength. This showed that the Castle, Archcliffe Fort and Mote Bulwark were in a sound condition following repairs. The cost of these repairs came to £1,048 17shillings and the Mote Bulwark was mounted with 6 guns. Strife was never far away and national internal struggles eventually led to the Civil Wars (1642–1651). In 1648, the Mote Bulwark played a pivotal role in one of the major uprisings.
King Charles I (1625-1649) had been at loggerheads with Parliament and this culminated, in mid-1642, in the Civil Wars. In 1647 Kent was under Parliamentary rule and the government had decreed that Christmas festivities were illegal. Canterbury townsfolk refused to obey and their disobedience culminated with a rampage through the city with the crowd shouting, ‘For God, King Charles and Kent!’ The rioters took control of the City until a force of some 3,000 Parliamentarians recaptured it and subsequently, a special court was convened. The carefully selected jury were designed to return a verdict of guilty. However, the jury used the opportunity to organise a petition, which not only angered the Parliamentarians it led directly to a countywide uprising.
By May 1649, Walmer, Deal and Sandown Castles were captured from the Parliamentarians and the fleet, lying in the Downs, took the rebels side. This meant that only Dover Castle was in the hands of the Parliamentarians. One of the rebel leaders, Sir Richard Hardres (1606-1669), together with local Royalist, Arnold Braemes (1602-1681), marshalled some 2,000 men to mount an offensive and they seized the Mote Bulwark. The battery was full of ammunition and this they used to attack the Castle towers and corners. Although they fired some 500 cannon balls at the Castle, these were ‘without doing any material injury’ and on 30 May 1649, Parliamentarian Colonel Birkhamstead relieved the Castle. This spelt the end of the uprising and the Civil Wars came to an end.
Two years later, in October 1651, Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England (1649-1660), introduced the Act of Navigation (1651). In essence, any goods imported into England or transferred from one English colony to another could only be carried in English ships. This meant, for instance, Dutch ships passing through the Strait of Dover were searched and goods deemed as unlawful were confiscated. Further, all foreign ships had to strike, that is, lower their flag in acknowledgement of English supremacy, when passing Dover Castle or the British Fleet.
It was only a matter of time before a confrontation took place and this happened on 19 May 1652. The Dutch Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1598–1653) was leading a convoy of 44 ships along the Downs, off the east coast of Kent, and he refused to strike when he met the English fleet of fifteen vessels, headed by Admiral Robert Blake (1598–1657). In response, Blake ordered a shot to be fired across Tromp’s bows to which the Admiral retaliated with a broadside and a fierce battle began lasting 5 hours. The guns of the Castle and the Mote Bulwark fired but they lacked sufficient range to be of any use. The English were only saved by the poor gunnery on the part of the Dutch, which gave them time to send for reinforcements. Thomas Kelsey (d 1680) was, at the time, the Captain of Dover Castle and he arranged for eight ships from Dover, under the command of Captain Nehemiah Bourne (c.1611–1690), to join Blake’s fleet. At the same time, John Dixwell (1607-1689), Dover’s MP, used special powers to raise a county militia to guard the coast. During what was later called the Battle of Dover (1652), Blake’s forces sank one Dutch ship and took another. At nightfall the Dutch fleet retired towards Holland.
Following the Battle of Dover, Mote Bulwark was strengthened and the number of men increased and 1660 saw the Restoration (1660) of Charles II (1649-1685). On 4 August 1661, William Shellink, who kept a diary of his travels in England between 1661-1663, reported that he and his party visited Sir Wadeward the Commander at Mote Bulwark. Apparently, they were ‘hospitably entertained by him with claret wine.‘ During the visit, the Ambassador representing Frederick William the Elector of Brandenburg (1640-1688) embarked on a ship to Calais. He had been in England to discuss the guardianship and education of the ten-year-old orphaned Prince William of Orange (1650-1702), whose late mother, Mary the Princess Royal (1631-1660), was the sister of Charles II. However, as Charles II’s reign progressed the Castle garrison was reduced and so was Mote Bulwark’s.
Prince William became England’s William III (1689-1702), following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, who along with his wife Mary II 1689-1694), the daughter of Charles II, ruled. By that time, the Castle was in a ruinous and unarmed state and the remaining military contingency had moved into the equally neglected Mote Bulwark. In 1691, fearing an invasion from France in support of the deposed James II (1685-1688), repairs were made and 45 guns were installed in the Castle and 11 at Mote Bulwark.
Refurbishment of Mote Bulwark was started sometime before 1737, and it was rebuilt of stone below and to the west of the older Bulwark. This rebuilding was possibly provoked by the raising international tensions that eventually led to the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). This involved, amongst other nations, the ancient foes of England and France. The new Moat Bulwark consisted of a series of terraces cut into the cliff and in front of the lowest one was a new semi-circular Battery that had places for eight guns. On a higher terrace there was a paved area in front of a building which was marked on the Plans as the ‘Master Gunner’s House’ and nearby was another building labelled ‘Guard Room and Store House’.
The semi-circular Battery was enlarged in 1755-1756, as part of an extensive programme of defensive works at the Castle. They were being undertaken in order to address the potential of the Castle for artillery defence. Other works included the building of a number of Castle batteries, improving the defence of landward approaches from the north and east, and lowering the towers of Fitzwilliam Gate and Avranches to give the Castle guns an increased field of fire. A description of about 1772 states that Mote Bulwark consisted of a gate with rooms above and on both sides, a house for the gunner and an angled flight of brick steps connecting the different levels. The entrance to Mote Bulwark was from the east by a gradual ascent.
During the American War of Independence (1776-1783) France supported the colonials and Britain, fearing an invasion, strengthened the national defences. Four Batteries were built around the Bay by Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821). They were Amherst Battery – east of where the Clock Tower is today; Townsend Battery close to the present day Lord Warden House; North’s Battery was in front of New Bridge – present day Granville Gardens – and Guilford Battery, below Mote Bulwark. The latter was built on a strip of land that had accumulated following the building of Castle Jetty in 1753. This was a wooden pier below the Castle and like North’s Battery, was probably named after Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (1732-1792), who was the Lord Warden (1778-1792) at the time. Guilford Battery was armed with four 32-pounder guns and a number of carronades and Mote Bulwark’s defences were repaired and these, according to financial statements, cost £1,200. The Castle guard at Mote Bulwark were also in charge of the four new Batteries and they were manned by Volunteers of the Dover Association formed by Thomas Hyde Page.
Just before the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), the Guilford Shaft was excavated to link the Castle on top of the cliffs with Mote Bulwark below. In 1813, Reverend John Lyon, vicar of St Mary’s Church wrote, ‘near the edge of the cliff, and not far from the end of the wall, a shaft has been sunk, one hundred and ninety feet deep, to form a communication with Mote’s Bulwark … In this shaft there are circular stairs, and when the Prince of Wales visited the Castle in 1798 he was conducted down it, as the nearest way to the town.’ The Prince of Wales was later George IV (1820-1830).
A few months later, the Casemate Barracks were begun. Designed by Lieutenant Colonel William Twiss (1745-1827) they too were excavated in the chalk cliff and provided accommodation for soldiers. Initially, there were four parallel tunnels extending approximately 100-feet into the cliff with vertical ventilation shafts and reached by a terrace that extended from just above Canons Gate. Three larger tunnels with ventilation shafts and a communicating tunnel, were excavated in 1798 to provide officers quarters. Later another communicating tunnel was built along with another entrance out onto the cliff face. The tunnels and the cliff face were finished with bricks – the windows, casemates, verandas and brickwork can still be seen above Mote Bulwark. It was said that in Casemate Barracks, one room could accommodate 200 men. These rooms were lit by oil lamps and heated using fireplaces and the chimneys took the smoke out through the top of the cliffs. The men slept on iron bedsteads.
Napoleonic prisoners of war were held at the Castle and the caves that had been formed in the cliffs at sea level were also used to house them. To while away their time the prisoners made carvings and some of these works, it was said, were spectacular. In 1894, a Captain Lang gave the Cesar, a Man o’War model, made of bones, believed to have been made by a French prisoner out of bones left over from their food rations. The ship can still be seen in Dover Museum. The caves are now in the care of English Heritage as part of its Dover Castle property.
The strip of shingle, at the foot of the eastern cliffs under the Castle, created by the Eastward Drift, continued to widen and in the late 18th century, Captain John Smith owned the newly created land east of Mote Bulwark. By 1816, a windmill stood at the east end, below the cliffs. Sir Sidney Smith (1764-1840), the son of Captain Smith, sold the land to Willson Gates (c1758-1844) a builder who was responsible for the development of East Cliff and the adjacent Athol Terrace that we see today. The development took place between 1817 and 1840 but in 1847, when Colonel William Burton Tylden (1790-1854) was undertaking an audit of Dover defences, he was none too happy. He reported that three 18-pounder guns were mounted on Mote Bulwark but that their fire was restricted by the East Cliff houses. To deal with the problem Guilford Battery parapets were raised and 42-pounder guns installed on traversing platforms.
In 1870 a double set of stairs was built from the Castle to Cliff Casemates to ease access and by May 1886, the Guilford Battery was armed with six 8-inch, 65 cwt smooth bore guns. However, not long after it was recommended that they be removed, possibly due to their relative lack of firepower and the proximity of the East Cliff dwellings, and thereafter remained for ornamentation only. By that time, Fort Burgoyne, north of the Castle, and Castle batteries on the cliffs above Mote Bulwark both armed with heavy guns formed the real line of defence on the east side of the Bay. On the west side, similar armaments had been placed on Western Heights and together, this ensured that the whole Bay was protected. Of the Thomas Hyde Page (c1775-1783), original four Batteries, only Guilford Battery remained but had been disarmed. Eventually the building became the Headquarters South East Military District. A drill hall was built for the Territorial Army.
Work started on Dover’s Admiralty Harbour in 1898 and the cliffs at the east end of the Bay were cut back. The Eastern Arm of the new harbour, 2,800-feet (approx. 854 metres) in length and with depths between 26-32 feet (7.93-9.8 metres), was started in January 1901 and completed by 1904. The Admiralty Harbour was officially opened on Friday 15 October 1909, by George Prince of Wales later George V (1910-1936). Sir William Crundall (1847-1934), chairman of Dover Harbour Board (DHB), laid the last coping stone on the widened part of Admiralty Pier on 2 April 1913 and a month later work started on building the Marine Station at the landward end of Admiralty Pier with the foundations having been filled in by 1 million cubic yards of chalk from the eastern cliffs (see Dover, St Margaret’s and Martin Mill Railway Line part I). To enable the chalk to be transported across the bay Castle Jetty was extended and used for this purpose.
Prior to World War I (1914-1918) Mote Bulwark came under the care of the Ancient Monuments Branch of the Ministry of Works and no longer played a part in defence. Part of the old Guilford Battery grounds, next to the Territoral Army Drill Hall were rented out and the popular County Roller-Skating rink opened there. The rink doubled as a dance hall that was equally, if not more, popular. From September 1911, the remaining part of the grounds, were used as an open-air theatre and cinema.
On 31 October 1908 Louis Blériot, (1872-1936), designed a monoplane that managed to fly a distance of 17 miles from Toury to Ateny in France, making two landings en-route and setting a record for the distance flown. Two weeks before, 16 October, a former American cowboy, Samuel Cody (1867-1913), made the first powered flight in the British Isles. Together, these two events led the Daily Mail to offer a £1,000 prize to the first person to cross the English Channel in a heavier-than-air machine. This Blériot achieved on Sunday 25 July 1909, flying his Blériot No XI 25-horsepower monoplane from Sandgatte, France to Northfall Meadow, behind the Castle, Dover. From then on the progress in aviation developed rapidly.
In the summer of 1913 the Daily Mail offered £5,000 for the first hydroplane, waterplane or seaplane capable or rising and alighting on water and flying a 1,600 mile set course. The race was organised by the Royal Aero Club and started at Netley, Southampton Water. Each plane taking part had to stop for 30 minutes at eight control points and complete the course in 72hours or less. It had originally been planned that one of the compulsory stops would be Dover but by that time Europe was politically unstable and following the Aerial Navigation Acts of 1911 and 1913, Dover Harbour was a prohibited area. Therefore, the compulsory stop was Ramsgate and when the seaplanes flew near Dover they were obliged to pass at least 900yards from the seaward end of Admiralty Pier with the height above sea level not to exceed 300feet. Finally, with the coming hostilities in mind, a report noted that seaplanes would be efficient at reconnoitring and detection of hostile submarines as they could easily be seen underwater from a great height. Thus, it was mandatory that both the contestants and the machine had to be British.
The first British person to actually take off and land on water in an aeroplane appears to have been Commander Oliver Schwann / Swann (1878-1948) in 1910. Credit for building the first successful seaplanes apparently goes to the Short brothers who had set up the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. On 7 May 1913 the Royal Navy cruiser Hermes was specially commissioned and fitted out as the first experimental seaplane carrier. Under the command of qualified pilot Captain Gerald William Vivian (1869-1921) the Hermes had a launching platform and room to stow 3 seaplanes.
His team were all Royal Navy aviators and included Francis Rowland Scarlett (1875-1934) who eventually reached the rank of Air Vice-Marshal; James Louis Forbes (1880-1965) who eventually reached the rank of Air Commodore in the Royal Air Force and Francis Esme Theodore Hewlett (1891-1974), son of Hilda Beatrice Hewlett (1864-1943) the first English aviatrix to earn a pilot’s licence. He retired as a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force and emigrated to New Zealand where he distinguished himself in World War II (1939-1945) and was promoted to Air Commodore.
Trials then took place to test launching and recovery methods and by December, Captain Vivian and his team had developed tactics for use in fleet operations. Then on 23 December, Vivian was ordered to pay Hermes off and give the crew Christmas leave. At first effectively mothballed, the Hermes was recommissioned by Commander (later Air Vice Marshall) Charles Laverock Lambe (1875-1953) on 31 August 1914, as a seaplane tender. On October 30th, 1914, Captained by Lambe she arrived at Dunkirk having brought seaplanes from Portsmouth. On the following day, off Calais the Hermes was sunk by a German U-27 submarine. Commander Lambe and the crew were rescued by the South East and Chatham Railway Company’s cross Channel packet Invicta, and two destroyers.
Vivian’s and his teams work on the Hermes had impressed the Admiralty who procured the Ark Royal that was being built by Blyth Shipping Company, Northumbria for the Royal Navy. On the advice of Vivian and his team the Ark Royal was modified to accommodate seaplanes and was launched on 5 September 1914. She spent most of World War I in the Mediterranean then in 1922 was placed on reserve with occasional recommissioning. In 1932 the Ark Royal was renamed Pegasus. During World War II, amongst other duties, Pegasus served in her original role as a seaplane carrier. Following the War, she was sold to a Panamanian company but was seized, in 1949, for debts and scrapped the following year.
As a preparation for the impending War, in June 1913, the Royal Navy requisitioned Guilford Battery and the surrounding grounds. At the outbreak of War the area became the base for the Royal Naval Seaplane Patrol station as part of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had formed in 1912 and was made up of a military wing and a naval wing with a central flying school at Upavon, Wiltshire. The naval wing officially became the RNAS on 1 July 1914 and on 1 August 1915 the RFC was officially separated from the army. In the final year of the War, on 1 April 1918, the RNAS and the RFC merged to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). At the time War broke out, RNAS was made up of 125 officers and 500 men with 62 single seater seaplanes.
Some of these, possibly lower powered versions of the American Curtiss Model Es, were based at Dover. A hangar was built in the Guilford Battery grounds that had previously been used for an open-air theatre/ cinema. At the same time the skating rink was converted into workshops and the Territorial Army building, a training school. The whole came under the command of Sheerness Naval District and officially named the Dover Hydro Aeroplane Station. At the time, the seaplanes or flying boats lay at anchor in Admiralty Harbour and were only hoisted out for major repairs. This was done by the use of steam cranes on the eastern arm, where the repairs were carried out until the hanger was built. Then the seaplanes were manually carried over Marine Parade until steam cranes were moved there.
In May 1914, British pioneer aviator, Gustav Hamel (1889-1914), left Hardelot aerodrome, near Boulogne, France to fly to Hendon aerodrome, north west London. He then disappeared, last seen heading for the Channel. Hamel was flying a Morane-Saulnier monoplane and when he left a stiff westerly wind was blowing and there was mist over the Channel. The light cruiser Pathfinder and four Admiralty boats, Mullard, Osprey, Star and Bat, left Dover harbour in a vain search for Hamel. They were joined by a number of boats from the Royal Navy base at Nore in the Thames estuary and two seaplanes. By the evening the wind had become stronger and shifted to a north-easterly direction when seaplane number 72, piloted by Lieutenant Brodribb was about to land in Dover harbour. A heavy gust capsized his plane off the end of the Prince of Wales Pier but luckily Lieutenant Brodribb managed to escape and was rescued. However, the rough sea quickly broke up the plane and this raised concerns over their vulnerability. It was not until 6 July that anything was known of what had happened to Hamel, on that day the crew of a fishing vessel sighted what appeared to be his body off Boulogne.
At about the same time, mobilisation in preparation for War was taking place in Germany and most European countries, while in the UK, in order not to appear alarmist, such preparations were subjected to government spin. Typically, there was a flat denial that the works at Mote Bulwark were for the establishment of a seaplane base even though local workman were well aware of what they were building! While a news bulletin stated that the large squadron of seaplanes seen in Dover Harbour were there in order for George V to undertake a review!
How the authorities were going to explain away the constant stream of seaplanes flying over Dover on their way to Calshot, Southampton, where the RFC had established a Naval Air Station in July 1914, had become a local betting game! That is until one of the seaplanes broke down and landed in the harbour. According to the report published in the Dover Express of 17 July 1914, the seaplane was ‘was one of the latest type of machines with a very powerful engine and although great in size, by its wings folding back it could be reduced to such small compass that there was no difficulty stowing it away on the upper deck of the Shannon. It resumed flight at a quarter past ten.’ A Short type 74 seaplane also broke down near St Margaret’s Bay and was towed into the harbour on 13 July and a Dover Express photographer was there to capture the scene.
Land at Swingate and an airfield at Capel were commandeered by the RFC. The Swingate site was to be converted into an airfield for military purposes and in 1915 Capel aerodrome was classified as an RNAS airship station and small airships (Blimps) were based there. On 3 August 1914, thousands of people came to Dover from the surrounding areas and as a far away as London to see the preparations that were being made for War. At 13.00 the French cruiser squadron of six ships came up the Channel and the crowds lining the cliffs, cheered. During the evening the first aeroplanes arrived at Swingate where approximately £14,000 had been spent to create the Military Aeroplane Station, as it was called. The pilots of planes at that time did not possess any armaments, other than revolvers, automatic pistols and rifles.
At 23.00hrs on 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, immediately notices were signed by Mayor Edwin Farley (1864-1939) and Brigadier-General Fiennes Henry Crampton (1862-1938) the Dover Coast Defence Commander. From this date Rear Admiral Horace Hood (1870-1916) was appointed as the Commander in Chief of Fortress Dover and Brigadier-General Crampton the General Officer Commanding (G.O.C.) Fortress Dover. The notices stated that mobilisation had been ordered and the Defences of Dover were placed on a war footing on both land and at sea.
Entrance and exit to Dover could only take place by the railways and the main roads to Folkestone (now A20), Deal (now A258) and Canterbury (now A2). Special passes, limited in number, were necessary for those who required to enter or leave the town and were issued by Dover’s Chief Police Constable David Fox (1864-1924). The Military Authorities had the power to arrest and search. All local newspapers were subject to censorship by the military and anyone approaching any defensive works was to be stopped, questioned and searched. The South East and Chatham Railways triple screw turbine packets, Empress II launched in 1907, Engadine and the Riviera both launched in 1911, were commandeered by the Government and fitted out to carry sea planes.
Between Fort Burgoyne and the Duke of York’s school, to the east of Dover, officers and ground crew messes were constructed, along with tin huts (later called Tin Town) as accommodation for the RNAS. Adjacent, on a field that was commandeered by the RNAS, a runway of hardened earth was laid and named Guston aerodrome. Initially used for RNAS aeroplanes to carry personnel and goods in transit to the Mote Bulwark seaplane station. Both the seaplanes and the aeroplanes were extremely fragile and easily broke up so the Dover seaplane squadron’s main task was to observe German military and naval movements in order to provide information on exposed flanks and weak points in the German lines.
On Thursday 13 August, Dover seaplanes, along with seaplanes from elsewhere and aeroplanes from Swingate escorted the British Expeditionary Force. This included the occasional bombing achieved by the pilots dropping 10lb and 20lb bombs over the side of the plane! A seaplane base was established at Ostend, attached to Dover, to provide the same duties as the British Expeditionary Force moved further inland.
Albeit, the German troops swept through Belgium routing the Belgian army and then they defeated the French at Charleroi on 21 August 1914 and two days later the British Expeditionary Force of 90,000 men at Mons. This caused the entire Allied line in Belgium to retreat and the Ostend seaplane base to close. Although the Germans planned to capture the French ports, the Belgians prevented this by flooding the region of the Yser River. By the end of 1914 both sides had established lines extending approximately 800-kilometers (approximately 500 miles) from Switzerland to the North Sea.
Although the submarine base at the Camber, in the Eastern Dockyard was completed and the Sixth Destroyer Fleet was based in Dover, the general feeling by government was that the problems on the Continent were to be short lived. Peace was expected by Christmas and the seaplanes, aeroplanes and the destroyers would be transferred elsewhere and from then on, just the pre-War military bases would be stationed permanently at Dover. The military were not so optimistic and Brigadier-General Crampton issued a warning notice, through Mayor Farley’s office, to nearly every household in Dover. The notice stated that if the Military order them to evacuate the town they were to do so IMMEDIATELY.
The first of the German submarines (U-Boats) appeared in the Channel around the middle of September 1914, sinking the Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, off Zeebrugge. Immediately after the Admiralty gave notice for a moveable V-shaped boom to be fitted across the Eastern entrance of Dover harbour. This was to prevent U-boats entering but it fitted so badly that it was carried away during a heavy sea, as was its replacement! Blockships were sunk to prevent torpedoes entering the Western entrance and minefields were laid in the Channel between the East Goodwin Lightship and Ostend. The scout ship, Attentive, was attacked by a U-boat on 27 September and this led to the withdrawal of the scouts from patrol duties. They were replaced by the famous Dover Patrol to which the Dover seaplane base and the RNAS No 1, and not long after No 2, aeroplane Squadron
at Guston were based. Initially two Wright seaplanes, five Avro 504 seaplanes and two Henri-Farman F20 aeroplanes came on station. All the pilots were armed with either Winchester or Martini-Henri rifles and their own pistols and carried bombs.
At first the town’s only anti-aircraft defence was a single 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun at Langdon Cliff and there were no searchlights. In October 1914, two 6-pounder Hotchkiss quick-firers were placed on the Western Heights. In November 1914, a local Anti-Aircraft Corps was set up by the Admiralty under the command of local General Practitioner Dr Ian Howden supported by a Chief Executive Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Capper. The role of the Corps was to take charge of the new searchlights that were being erected at the Drop Redoubt, Castle Keep and Langdon Battery by the Admiralty much to the annoyance of the Military!
On 21 December 1914 a lone enemy plane flew over Dover and dropped a couple of bombs on the harbour before returning to the Continent. Three days later, at 11.00hours on 24 December, the first aerial bombing raid in the United Kingdom took place. The first landed in the garden of Thomas Achee Terson (1843-1936), of Leyburne Road, Dover and had been dropped by Lieutenant Alfred von Prondzynski. He was flying a Taube aeroplane and had been aiming to drop his bomb on the Castle. The blast broke an adjoining window and threw the St James Rectory gardener, James Banks, out of a tree though he was only slightly injured. There is a Dover Society plaque nearby commemorating the event. This was one of the rare occurrences of an aeroplane bombing attack in the early part of the War by the Germans. They preferred the less flimsy Zeppelins that could carry much larger bombs than the hand thrown ones carried by pilots of aeroplanes and seaplanes.
The next day, Christmas day, Royal Naval ships and submarines supported by seven seaplanes including some from Dover, battled against German Zeppelins, seaplanes and submarines. This was at Cuxhaven on the North Sea coast of Lower Saxony, Germany, some 30miles from the Kiel canal. There the German surface naval fleet had remained in the harbour throughout the fracas. This was the first time that the British had used the combination of ships, seaplanes and submarines and it was also the first time that seaplanes were involved in combat. The seaplanes, during the battle, flew as low as was consistent with safety and the pilots dropped their bombs by hand, over the sides of the cockpits onto targets. It was believed that they did considerable damage including the destruction of a Parseval airship shed and an airship.
On 21 January, German submarines moved into new submarine bases, the main one for the Channel was at Brugge with outlets at Zeebrugge and Ostend. Thus, the Guston aeroplane squadrons used the airfield at Dunkirk, and on 23 January 1915, they attacked German submarines at Zeebrugge. On 12 February, under the direction of Wing Commander Charles Sampson (1883-1931), 34 aeroplanes attacked various submarine bases in Belgium. On 16 February, 48 aeroplanes bombarded Ostend, Middelkerke, Ghuistelles and Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Flight Lieutenant Harold Rosher (1893-1916), of No 1 Squadron based at Guston and using the Dunkirk airfield, wrote to his parents of the raid. He said, ‘… my order were to drop all my bombs on Zeebrugge … we went in order … slowest machine first, at two minute intervals … we had four destroyers at intervals across the Channel in case our engines went wrong, also seaplanes. It was mighty comforting to see them below.’ Shortly after, the Admiralty decided to make Dunkirk an aeroplane base and future air raids on a large scale would be undertaken from Dunkirk and other bases in France.
About the same time the Dover seaplane establishment received an Admiralty directive informing them that the role of seaplanes was strictly to support the Dover Patrol by providing observations and intelligence. Following the directive, the seaplane personnel numbers were reduced and most of the seaplanes were relocated to other bases. The Dover Patrol had been set up by Rear Admiral Hood in order to try and stop German submarines passing down the Channel and into the Irish Sea and the Atlantic, where they were destroying British shipping. Hood’s perceived failure to achieve this goal led to him being replaced as the Commander in Chief of Fortress Dover in April 1915 by Admiral Reginald Bacon (1863-1947).
On taking over, Guilford Battery was demolished and two sheds were erected on the site. The Dover seaplane station and Guston aerodrome were brought under the Nore Command that covered all RNAS establishments from Felixstowe to Dover. Flight Commander John Henry Lidderdale (1890-1933) a founder member of the RNAS and later retired as a Squadron Leader. He was appointed commanding officer of Dover’s seaplane establishment and within days recently qualified personnel arrived along with Sopwith Baby seaplane fighters and ground support personnel. The remit remained that they were to work closely with the Dover Patrol but added was the statement to ‘hunt for German machines.’
During the summer, Dover seaplane establishment was equipped with Short Type 830 seaplanes, a Wight Type 840 anti-submarine patrol seaplane and on 14 September 1915, a White & Thompson No3 tractor biplane flying boat fitted with a Lewis gun on the port side of the cockpit for use in anti-submarine patrols. It would also seem that the base acquired a Franco-British Aviation (FBA) Type A and a Wight 171 pusher seaplane and a couple of experimental airships until the airship station was completed at Capel. Supporting the seaplane station was the converted South East and Chatham Railway packet, the seaplane carrier, Riviera.
Guston were supplied with Sopwith Schneider and Martinsyde G.100 aeroplanes with synchronised machine guns that fired through the propeller. The pilots there particularly liked the Sopwith Schneider for night flying. Much to the delight of locals, the recently qualified seaplane pilots practised over Dover harbour, testing the planes’ capabilities, particularly for speed along the Southern Breakwater. However, on 31 May, a Sopwith Type 830 and pilot had to be rescued from the sea by the crew of the South East and Chatham Railway’s ship Biarritz, which, at the time, had been commandeered for War service.
In early summer 1915, seaplanes accompanied the British fleet for the first time since the Cuxhaven attack on Christmas Day, nearly five months before. This was an exercise to northern waters to observe the movements of squadrons. Since the Cuxhaven attack, aeroplanes had been tried for this purpose but they had difficulties in rising from the deck of ships at sea. The 14 seaplanes were carried on the former Cunard Liner the Campania that had been gutted and converted by Cammell Laird shipyard, Birkenhead, for the purpose. In the initial trials the seaplanes were lowered into the water using a crane but it was then decided to extend the bow deck by 220feet to create a sort of flight deck and use land planes.
For this the Campania’s front funnel was removed and replaced with two narrower funnels. At the same time, at the request of the Admiral of the Fleet, Lord John Rushworth Jellicoe (1859-1935), the aft deck was cleared and the aft mast remove to enable the ship to carry kite observation balloons. From February 1915 to February 1918, the Campania was under the command of Captain Oliver Swann and it was probably due to his influence that seaplanes were used. They played their first significant role in the Battle of Jutland (31 May-1 June 1916) and continued to do so for the remainder of the War. As for the Campania, she sank on 5 November 1918 following a collision in the Firth of Forth. The wreck site is now classified of historical importance under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act.
A Zeppelin bombed Dover harbour near the western entrance killing one sailor and injuring three on 10 August 1915. Fifteen days later there was another Zeppelin attack on the town but there were no casualties. Then on 15 September the first fatal flying accident occurred when Guston based Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Hobbs age 19, was killed near Martin Mill. During his career he had flown between 45 and 50 hours but on that day he was flying one of the Martinsyde G.100 aeroplanes for the first time. Flying at something around 3,000 feet, all appeared to be well until the plane suddenly spun round two or three times and then turned over several times before falling to the ground.
On 23 September, Admiral Bacon welcomed George V (1910-1936) and showed the King round Admiralty harbour. This included the Mote Bulwark seaplane base, and the Guston and Capel aerodromes. During that day, the prospect of using planes as part of the offensive were discussed with top officials, particularly in the light of the continual attacks by the German Zeppelins, seaplanes and aeroplanes on Channel shipping. Flight Commander Lidderdale stated that the Dover Patrol preferred seaplanes to aeroplanes for Channel operations. Adding that, all planes were subject to engine failure but if an aeroplane came down over the sea, it sank.
Seaplanes, Lidderdale, went on to say, had wooden boat like hulls that were planked with mahogany and cedar with steps on the bottom. As the seaplane was pulled along by its propeller it rose onto these steps and skimmed along the water until it took off. If the seaplane came down over water problems could be dealt with at this point, once it had been done the seaplane could take off again. If the trouble was not too serious, then the pilot could possibly get the engine going sufficiently well for him to use the plane as a powered boat and if not, the plane would still stay afloat until help arrived. Lidderdale was thanked, relocated and Wing Captain Commander Charles Lambe replaced Flight Commander Lidderdale.
That summer ‘Blimps’ small airships, based at Capel, had come into operation and it was seen that they were better at spotting submarines in the Channel and dropping bombs onto them. Thus, preference was to be given to expanding Capel, reducing the number of seaplanes at Dover and augmenting both with aeroplanes based at Guston.
During the moonlit night of 23 January 1916, German seaplanes raided Dover dropping eight bombs. These killed one person and injured several others including children, some seriously. At lunchtime on the following day two German seaplanes circled Dover. The pilots then dropped bombs on Marine railway station, Western Heights barracks and the Western Docks. The following day an airship dropped bombs on the air sheds at Capel and questions were raised in the House of Commons. These centred on the lack of British aircraft to deal with the foe and those that did, only did so when the foe were returning to the Continent.
At the time, Field Marshall Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916), was the Secretary of State for War (1914-1916). His office acknowledged that for economic reasons, the number of seaplane pilots and seaplanes based at Dover had been reduced. Nonetheless, the Commons were told, there was still a large contingency of aeroplanes at Guston and they had seen off the attackers. To this, Canterbury MP Captain Bennet Goldney said that the previous weekend he had taken a walk to the RNAS Guston airfield and although the mess buildings were functioning, as the airfield had hardly been used since the previous autumn, the farmer was ploughing it up in preparation for crops!
Following Bennet’s relentless questioning, the House was told that on the day Dover was attacked, 24 January, the German planes had arrived when the seaplane pilots were at the mess having lunch at Guston, some two miles away. However, a seaplane pilot and a couple of ground crew were at the Mote Bulwark depot working on a faulty machine when the German planes arrived. Although they had not received permission from the Admiralty, the pilot managed to scramble the seaplane and armed only with his pistol, he gave chase. At Swingate an aviator also managed to get an aeroplane in the air and armed with a Winchester rifle and five rounds of ammunition, he too gave chase.
Unfortunately, the Swingate pilot mistook the seaplane as German, and opened fire and although he did little harm during the fracas the German seaplanes made off. Parliament was also told that although Fortress Dover had been fitted with some anti-aircraft guns, for economy, they were armed with percussion shells. These, the Members were told, required a high degree of accuracy to be of any use. As the gunners were firing at moving objects, high up in the air, success was only achieved by accident. On the day of the bombardment of Dover, the British gunners’ only significant impact was on Walmer Church tower!
The liner Maloja, the largest ship in the P&O fleet and carrying 456 passengers and crew was torpedoed on 24 February 1916 off Dover. 155 people drowned in the cold sea and many of the survivors were brought to the Lord Warden Hotel near the Admiralty Pier. The few seaplanes still based in Dover, helped in the operation. On the afternoon of Sunday 19 March two German seaplanes flew over Dover at about 14.00hours and dropped six bombs on the harbour and then heading north-west, dropped more bombs on the town. One of these went through the roof of St Vincent Convent in Eastbrook Place, which at the time cared for children and was crowded. Falling tiles injured Sister Vincent but luckily none of the children were hurt. This was the second air-raid attack the Convent had suffered in ten days and subsequently they moved to temporary accommodation in St Leonard’s-on-Sea, East Sussex.
In the 19 March attack on Dover a bomb wrecked the storehouse and stables near St Mary’s Church and another a bomb exploded some ten yards away from the Salem Chapel on Biggin Street blowing out the windows of nearby shops. In total, 7 people were killed in the town and many more were injured. Another seaplane dropped several bombs on Deal, while two others attacked Thanet. Once permission was given, several Dover seaplanes led by Flight-Commander Reginald John Bone (1888-1972), went in pursuit but 30 miles out to sea, after an action lasting 15minutes, they had to give up. Albeit, during the action a German machine was hit and an observer was killed while in East Kent, a total of 11 civilians were killed of which 5 were children and 28 were injured of which 9 were children.
At the time, warning sirens of an impending attack were not allowed to be sounded until, again, the Admiralty had granted permission. In Dover, the sirens were sounded at 14.15 hours, 20 minutes after the hostile seaplanes had been spotted and 15 minutes after the bombs had been dropped! After which the RNAS planes including the seaplanes had to wait for clearance from the Admiralty before they took off. This meant that unless seaplane pilots took off without permission and thus finding themselves in serious trouble, as had happened in January, the Germans were well on their way back home by the time permission granted.
In Ramsgate, locals said that the RNAS pilots and their crews were sitting around while raids were taking place. Initially, they were not believed, but on investigation it was found that what they had said was true. The reason given was that RNAS aeroplanes were not allowed to scramble until they too had received orders from the Admiralty. A deputation of Mayors from East Kent, led by Dover’s Mayor Farley, tried to see the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French (1852-1925), to rectify matters. However, their efforts was met with procrastination and eventually they were told that Field Marshall French had declined to give orders to change the procedures. Throughout the spring and summer that year, the attacks continued on East Kent and the number of fatalities and injured continued to rise.
Admiral Bacon had put the plight of East Kent and the lack of resources to both Lord Kitchener and Field Marshall French, including putting in writing what was needed. The response was a promise of a possible increase in the number of naval personal training as pilots. One of those who received the letter from the Air Ministry to train as a pilot was Clive Iron (1896-1985) of 3 Maison Dieu Road, Dover, the son of Dover’s Harbour Master John Iron (1858-1944).
Lord Kitchener was killed on 5 July 1916 while on board the Hampshire, when the ship struck a mine off Orkney. The next day David Lloyd George (1863-1945) was appointed the Secretary of State for War, a post he was to hold until then end of the year. Admiral Bacon used the opportunity and wrote to Lloyd George including emphasising the role of the Dover seaplanes within the context of the Dover Patrol. ‘Pilots’, he wrote, ‘were able to recognise sections of coastline from great heights and distances at the same time familiar with the different kinds of seagoing craft.’ Bacon followed this with a request for more seaplane and aeroplane pilots based at Dover, the need of specially trained gun crews on both types of planes, and an increase in the numbers of ground crew and for the provision of more effective seaplanes.
Before the month was out, the Short Type 830 seaplanes were replaced by the much better Short Type 184 machines at Dover. These being two-seater, not only increased the efficiency of reconnaissance and bombing, they could also carry a 14inch torpedo. At the same time a few single-seater naval patrol Fairey Hamble Baby’s were brought on station at Dover. Towards the end of 1916 the Dover seaplane base was supplied with more Short Type 184’s and also Wight Type 840 anti-submarine patrol seaplanes.
At about the same time, No 5 Wing was formed and based at Guston, with appropriate aeroplanes and together with members of No 6 Squadron, they were subsequently sent to France. Shortly after, Coastal batteries and patrol boats were given authority to take defensive action without clearance from Admiralty HQ! However, with a strength of 137 volunteers of the Dover Anti-Aircraft Corps, which each night for nearly two years, with inadequate searchlights and armaments had done their best to protect Dover from air attack, were stood down. The air defences were totally reorganised and manned by military personnel and new stations were also erected well outside the Dover boundary. The Admiralty had two 6-inch, anti-aircraft guns placed on the Prince of Wales Pier and the Eastern Arm respectively. Although they could not fire at a great angle their presence, it was believed, would act as a deterrent! They remained in use until after the May raid in 1918, when they were both removed.
Before the summer was out, the seaplane personnel, sanctioned by Bacon, started making modifications to the Short Type 184 seaplanes. These improvements were such that the Admiralty renamed them Dover Type Short and ensured that the modifications were incorporated into Short Type 184 based elsewhere. One of the modifications was to the radiator and was designed by Flight Lieutenant Charles Teverill Freeman (1894-1967). In October 1916 the Flight Lieutenant was awarded the Distinguish Service Cross in recognition of his gallantry and skill on the night of 2 August when he made a determined attack on a Zeppelin at sea. Returning a second and third time Freeman only abandoned his attack when he had exhausted his ammunition.
Freeman was one of the many seaplane pilots that spent time at the Dover base, others included Charles Langston Scott (1891-1972) who had been stationed at Dover before being assigned to command the Flying boat Development Flight at the Royal Naval Air Station Felixstowe. Before leaving Dover he had suggested to Hood, the use of flying boats at Dover. Scott was subsequently promoted to Wing Commander and in 1931 was in charge of an experimental flight from England to Egypt. In November 1916, after Scott had left for Felixstowe, eighteen-year-old Adrian Henry Paull (1898-1965) entered the RNAS. Two months later he was appointed Flotilla Squadron Leader on the Lightfoot, a Marksman-class flotilla leader destroyer and was seconded from Harwich to the Dover Patrol in charge of seaplane squadron of which there were 23.
In the Channel, regardless of the efforts of the Dover Patrol both Royal Navy and merchant ships were succumbing to torpedo attacks from German destroyers and U-boats. During the nights of January and February 1917 German destroyers and U-boats shelled, Dover, Southwold, Broadstairs, Margate, Ramsgate and Dunkirk. Each time, the vessels returned to their bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend undamaged. The German press made great play on the supposed British naval superiority especially as the British fleet were being decimated. In the air, there was not a great deal of success and the bombing by the German’s continued.
Just as the general public in Dover were becoming totally disheartened the German press falsely claimed that Dover Gas Works had been destroyed along with Swingate aerodrome. This was supposed to have taken place in March 1917 but neither had been attacked. Indeed, from October 1916 Swingate aerodrome was mainly involved in training and at the time of the supposed attack was preparing for new occupants. On 6 April 1917, the United States of America declared war on Germany and the US Air Force took over Swingate.
Albeit, on that day, the German press reported that one of their seaplane squadrons had successfully bombed British vessels lying in the Downs off Deal, as well as searchlights at Ramsgate. This was negated the following day by Reuters news agency based in London. They reported that a single hostile plane had passed over some of Kent’s coastal towns and eight bombs were dropped but most fell on open ground!
The German press, however, did not report that on 7 April the sea wall at Zeebrugge, or the Mole as it was correctly called, was bombed by Dover RNAS seaplanes and aeroplanes. Also bombed by the RNAS were ammunition dumps in Ghent and Brussels. At the same time G.88, a large German destroyer in Zeebrugge harbour, was torpedoed and sunk by the Dover based Coastal Motor Boats. Taking part were large Curtiss H.12 Flying boats based at Dover that had been sent to Dover on loan as a try out following the recommendation of Scott. He had said that they could be used for the same kind of work as seaplanes but had the advantage of greater power and endurance in bad weather. However, due to their size they were kept at sea in the harbour, when not in use.
On Friday 25 May 1917, the Germans sent a squadron of about 16 Gotha bomber aeroplanes, using the Thames for navigation, for a raid on Essex airfields but due to heavy cloud, they turned south. At about 18.20hours the sky cleared when the squadron was just north of Folkestone and they dropped their loads over the town. No sirens were sounded while Tontine Street, which received the brunt of the attack, was crowded with shoppers. The official response was initially to deny that the raid took place. Then when it became public knowledge, there was a blanket refusal to disclose the names of the victims.
Captain Alan Hughes Burgoyne (1881-1927) the Conservative Member of Parliament for Kensington brought this to the attention of the House of Commons. He asked, amongst other things, why had neither Folkestone nor Dover been warned of a possible impending attack. Further why, although many seaplanes lay ready for instant service in Dover harbour, orders to scramble were not given until 20minutes after the attack had taken place. Lord French responded by saying that it was not possible to prevent attacks by aeroplanes, but that one of the Dover aeroplanes had shot one of the German planes down. Further, ‘he hoped that the measures that had already been taken would make any future raid a risky operation.’
The response from the Germans was to say that the attack was on Dover harbour and that most of the naval and military ships and machinery had been destroyed and personnel had been killed. Their report went on to say that the British had fabricated that it was an attack on an unprotected South coast town and that the casualties were civilians to turn international feeling against the Germans. Following this communiqué, the Government agreed to make it officially known that the raid took place over Folkestone and that 71 people – 16 men, 28 women and 27 children – had been killed, while those injured amounted to more than 94. Still under attack by the German propaganda machine supported by news agencies in the UK, the British government eventually allowed publication of the names of those who had been killed in the attack.
On 5 June 1917, monitors of the Dover Patrol carried out a bombardment of Ostend. The Harwich Force, including the Lightfoot patrolled to the North East of Ostend to screen the bombarding force from attack. Taking part were Dover seaplanes and flying boats under the command of the Lightfoot’s Flotilla Squadron Leader Paull, still on secondment to the Dover Patrol. Although no longer having to await Admiralty permission to meet hostile planes until after they arrived, the problem of not knowing when they were coming remained.
This had been resolved at Binbury Castle near Maidstone, Kent and was being put into operation. Back in July 1915, a 16-foot sound mirror had been cut into the chalk face by Professor Mather who claimed that it could detect aircraft from 20 miles away. The mirror was hemispherical and the sound collector was mounted on a pivot at the focal point. This was a trumpet shaped cone and the listener, who wore a stethoscope, moved the sound collector across the face of the mirror. He listened with his stethoscope until he found the point where the sound was loudest. Bearings to the target were then read from vertical and horizontal scales on the collector. In 1917 these Sound Mirrors were being constructed along the south and east coast and the Thames estuary and several can still be seen.
By August 1917, sirens alerted locals some 10minutes before enemy seaplanes and aeroplanes arrived and naval and military personnel were alerted before if possible. That month saw a squadron of large Gotha aircraft attack the town but by the time they arrived, seaplanes were already in the air and along with coastal defence artillery, they fought off the invaders. About five bombs were dropped but, it was reported, they did little damage and two enemy aircraft were brought down. Knowing that enemy planes were en route meant that Dover seaplanes were being used extensively in action over the Channel and Belgium. However, both seaplanes and aeroplanes were lost and towards the end of the month Flight Sub-Lieutenant Cecil Barnaby Cook, age 19 was lost in a flying accident.
In June No 212 Squadron had been formed at Dover and the large Felixstowe F2 flying boats were brought on station to augment the existing fleet. These were designed and developed by Lieutenant-Commander John Cyril Porte (1884-1919) at the Royal Naval Air Station Felixstowe and were fitted with two 350horse-power Rolls Royce engines and soon after arrival hydrophones, so that while ‘sitting’ on water their occupants could listen for U-boats. To accommodate the F2s the Boundary Groyne was adapted to catapult the F2’s into the air. The launchway (the official name given at the time) consisted of two long shallow wooden channels to house the aircraft’s floats. The launchways were well greased and as the seaplane was prepared to take off, ground personnel held it down until the engine was opened up. As they let go, the seaplane was described as ‘leaping’ off the end of the launchway and into the air and sometimes into the sea! A concrete slipway was laid on the eastern side of the launchway and two more hangars were erected. A motor-powered winch for hauling the planes from the sea was housed in each hangar and thick wires, running over pulleys, hauled the seaplanes onto a cradle and up the slipway.
At about the same time, De Havilland DH9 and 9a and Sopwith 2FI Camel naval fighters arrived at the Guston airfield much to the delight of Wing Captain Commander Lambe. He had objected to the F2’s and the major alterations made at the Dover seaplane base to accommodate them. Further, on 10 June 1917, he officially wrote that the German heavily-armed fighter seaplanes based at Ostend and Zeebrugge could attack the British slow-flying seaplanes while protecting their own fighter seaplanes, as the British seaplanes had poor armaments and were inferior in performance compared to the German machines. He recognised that aeroplanes were likely to sink if shot down over the sea, he still felt that they were far superior to seaplanes and recommended that land aircraft should be fitted with airbags in the fuselage.
In December that year, Lambe reiterated his recommendations that aeroplanes were superior to seaplanes, suggesting the total abolition of seaplanes for anti-submarine patrols. He did, however suggest keeping the Short Type 184s for communication and short patrol work only. Two months before, in October 1917, a Gotha bomber dropped incendiaries along the length of the seafront and the seaplane sheds were set alight. Following the attack, Lambe strongly recommended the closure of the base but when Bacon refused, suggested just retaining a skeleton crew of ground staff to undertake repairs of seaplanes landing in Dover. Again, Bacon, did not agree and the base was quickly repaired.
When Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes (1872-1945) replaced Admiral Bacon on 31 December 1917, Captain Lambe at the first meeting with Keyes was quick to express his view that aeroplanes were superior to seaplanes. He particularly emphasised that Bristol F.2, a two-seat biplane fighter and reconnaissance aircraft made by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, some of which were based at Guston, were proving particularly successful against the German moonlight raids. Keyes accepted Lambe’s point of view but added that he concurred with Admiral Bacon over the importance of seaplanes. He said that ‘the daily round and the common task of the Dover Patrol was the coastal patrol kept up from dawn to dusk, through all seasons of the year, by the seaplanes, only intermitted because of fog or gale. But for this persistent anti-submarine patrol, of which very few people have heard of, the losses of British shipping would be far more serious, for hostile submarines are bound to keep well under the surface for fear of detection, and shipping is thus able to pass by in comparative safety.’
Keyes went on to say that the day to day work of the seaplanes involved two kinds of anti-submarine patrols, intensive and extensive. The intensive kind was concerned with spotting and escorting in the Channel. This was the area extending from the coast to a line marked by a number of buoys ten miles out. It was within that section that British and friendly convoys travelled and the older single-seater seaplanes in pairs, worked to protect them. Further out, Keyes said, often to beyond the 30-mile line the newer, faster seaplanes that could cope with heavy weather operated. In an emergency they could react swiftly as combat machines and if brought down, would stay afloat. Even further away from the coast of England, the airships from Capel operated and flying boats too when they came on station. The Channel, Keyes, finished, was therefore patrolled by every form of seaplane showing that they are essential for the defence of the country.
On 16 February 1918 seaplanes stationed at Dover were escorting a number of British ships crossing the Channel to Rotterdam when 16 German planes attacked the convoy. An air battle ensued and according to the Germans one of the seaplanes was brought down. According to Keyes, a seaplane pilot in a single-seater Fairey Hamble Baby, was in a fight against two of the hostile aeroplanes and his right arm was hit twice causing it to haemorrhage. Holding his arm tightly above the damaged artery, with his good hand, the pilot held the stick between his knees and safely navigated and landed the seaplane in Dover harbour. An Admiralty statement reported that none of the ships in the convoy were hit and that the seaplane patrol reformed and immediately returned to base.
By this time Keyes had brought on station Sopwith Camels, single-seater fighter aeroplanes based at Guston to escort and defend the seaplanes and flying boats. Following the fracas of 16 February, the German’s were quick to respond with reprisals and over the next four nights, commentators wrote, were the most anxious for Dovorians throughout the War. During the night of Saturday 17 February, twenty-three bombs, all one hundred weight (112 pound) each, rained on St Margaret’s Bay, to the east of Dover, in a line from Corner Cottage on the cliffs to the sports field near the village. The French Convent of the Annunciade or the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in 1904, suffered severely as did a number of residences. Both aeroplanes and seaplanes planes went up to meet the attackers and together with anti-aircraft fire, the enemy flew off with one machine falling into the sea off Dover.
On 1 April 1918 the Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Keyes called these combined forces at Fortress Dover, the Dover Patrol Air Force and he used them to great effect. By this time the access and egress to Dover had been tightened up and speculation was afoot that a major sea offensive was about to take place. This seemed to be verified on the 11 April when Royal Navy monitors left the harbour and bombarded Zeebrugge and Ostend harbours. Throughout the War U-boats based at Ostend and Brugge, with an outlet to the sea at Zeebrugge, had kept up a constant attack on British shipping and the 11 April attack was generally assumed to be the major British offensive on the ports.
That day seaplanes and aeroplanes also dropped bombs onto the one and half mile sea wall, or Mole, that protected Zeebrugge harbour. Built to protect the harbour from North Sea storms and with a fearsome array of mounted artillery equipment on it, to defend against any attack. Following that attack, planes from both bases flew over Zeebrugge harbour to assess the damage done and repairs that were taking place. Also what additional defence measures were being taken. Monday 22 April, was a lovely day with a blue sky, light winds and spring flowers everywhere. That morning a special service was held at Holy Trinity Church in the Pier District attended by Keyes, other senior officials and members of the Dover Patrol. While this was going on seaplanes left the base on the seafront and aeroplanes from No 6 Squadron based at Guston joined them as they headed for Zeebrugge.
The marine flotilla set off at 16.00hours on 22 April. It included destroyers, submarines, motor launches, coastal motorboats, two commandeered Mersey ferries with three commandeered ships filled with concrete in tow. Heading the convoy was Keyes on his flagship Warwick. Escorting the convoy were Dover seaplanes and Sopwith Camel fighters. The attack on Zeebrugge was in order to block the 7-mile canal from the U-boat base at Brugge to the port using the concrete filled ships. The fight that ensured the success of the mission lasted all night and the following day.
The raid is still annually celebrated in Dover on 23 April – St George’s Day, the Patron Saint of England. In St James Cemetery, off Old Charlton Road, there is a section dedicated to those in the armed services that lost their lives in World War I along with a memorial to Vice-Admiral Keyes. There are also Dover Society Plaques on the outside of the Maison Dieu, on Biggin Street and the exterior wall of the museum, in the Market Square, telling of the event. A further ceremony takes place at Dover’s Town Hall where the Zeebrugge Bell is rung at midday on April 23rd.
The second part of the mission was to seal off the canal from Brugge, at Ostend and that took place on Thursday 9 May, when again the weather was beautiful. Once more the Dover seaplanes and aeroplanes were involved in the preliminary operations, then escorting the flotilla across the Channel and during the raid, dropping bombs on gun emplacements. However, the raid was not so successful, primarily due to only one blockship being sunk and therefore not totally blocking the canal entrance. Albeit, the damaged done did inhibit the German’s use of the Brugge base and the port as a destroyer base. Thus the overall effect on the German’s was to make that part of the Channel coast useless to them and they withdrew their marine bases.
Albeit. the German’s retaliated with an air offensive against Dover based seaplanes and aeroplanes and a number of skirmishes took place over the next ten days. On the final day, Whit-Sunday, 19 May, the Germans lost seven machines, two of which were brought down off Dover. In one of them the body of a flight commander, wearing the Order of Merit, was found. Another German machine was brought down in flames near Canterbury. From then on, the Germans almost left England alone but increased the voracity on Calais and Boulogne, flying down the Channel and then turning in on the town they selected and bombing it.
The Dover Patrol Airforce, which included the Dunkirk base, turned their attention to the Continent, where they repeatedly, at low altitude, bombed aerodromes from where the German aeroplanes set out to bomb England. In Command at Dunkirk was Geoffrey Rhodes Bromet (1891-1983) who had gained his early experience flying seaplanes in Dover and rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal. He was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man 1945-1953. While the air offensive was taking place on the Continent, seaplanes and flying boats were attacking U-boats and some of the aeroplanes based at Guston, were chasing after and attacking Zepplins that came over Kent.
The War was coming to an end and in April 1918 Captain Lambe was promoted to colonel and the temporary Brigadier General of the Royal Air Force. In May he was sent to France but by that time the process of closing the Dover seaplane base had been started. On 1 July 1918, the order came that it was to be run down but just under three weeks later, on Saturday 20 July at 09.25 hours the sirens in Dover sounded and a German machine flew over the town from the direction of St Margaret’s Bay. Seaplanes went up to meet it and the plane was also heavily fired upon from the ground. Faced with the barrage, the plane turned away towards Ostend without dropping anything and this proved to be the last air raid on England. Thereafter, only one more air raid warning was given at Dover, this was to announce the end of the War at 11.00hours on 11 November 1918 – Armistice Day.
From when the RAF was formed, April 1 1918 to October 31 in UK anti-submarine patrols in Home waters was:
Total number of hours flown … 39,102
Hostile submarines sighted … 216
Hostile submarines attacked … 189
Hostile aircraft attacked … 351
Hostile aircraft destroyed … 184
Hostile aircraft damaged … 151
Hostile mines spotted … 69
Hostile mines destroyed by aircraft…. 32
Total number of bombs dropped … 15,313
This is equal to 666.5tons)
Total Convoy fights … 3,441
Total photographs taken … 3,440
Throughout World War I and for some weeks after the Armistice was signed, the town was Fortress Dover and under military rule. Strict regulations were applied including publicity and in consequence, a hundred years later, other towns which played a much lesser role in the defence of the country can, and have, made tourist capital over their role. So successful are they, that during the centenary coverage of the War in 2014, Dover and the key role the town played in the defence of nation was totally ignored by Royalty, Parliament and the main stream media such as the British Broadcasting Company – the BBC.
Nonetheless, the Squadrons that flew and maintained the Dover seaplanes and aeroplanes based at Mote Bulwark and Guston were part of the Dover Patrol. On 27 July 1921 a Memorial Obelisk was unveiled by Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972, later Edward VIII 1936) on Leathercote Point, St. Margaret’s Bay. Shortly after a second at Cap Blanc Nez and a third at New York harbour were erected in memory of the Dover Patrol’s French and American comrades. In 2015, the Dover Patrol Memorial at St Margaret’s Bay was given Grade II Status.
By the end of the War, there were only four of the Short 184s left at the Dover Seaplane establishment. On 26 March 1919, under Air Commodore Charles Lambe, the aeroplane squadrons at Guston were moved to Hawkshill, Walmer and the Dover Seaplane base was about to be formally closed. A debate in Parliament reversed the decision and it was decided to keep a token RAF ground crew there. All but one of the hangars was removed and the launchways and slipways were buried. The establishment was renamed the Marine Aircraft Repair Depot. Many of the seaplane pilots that had been based at Dover were highly decorated but a great many more lost their lives during the conflict.
3. InterWar period, World War II, the Nuclear Age and Obscurity
At Folkestone, during March 1919, arrangements were made for flying trips in seaplanes, as a tourist attraction. These machines were designed to carry four passengers in addition to the pilot and Jacob Pleydell-Bouverie, 6th Earl of Radnor (1868-1930) made the first flight. However, the Air Ministry quickly reminded the company that civilian flying was not allowed. On 1 May 1919, this was reversed and the Air Ministry issued the first official post-war rules and regulations. On 5 May the Government advertised the sale of former World War I aircraft. On the list were a number of seaplanes that had been based at Dover and these included the last four of Dover’s Short 184s. Former pilots set up flying companies bought these planes and a number contacted Dover Corporation with a view to using the harbour as a seaplane terminal. They stated that their companies would be offering flights to places within Britain and also Europe.
Although the War was over, the harbour was still in the hands of the Admiralty and in 1919, Dover Corporation had no authority to give permission to would be seaplane service promoters. Further, a skeleton RAF ground crew remained at the Mote Bulwark seaplane base in order to refuel and perhaps undertake emergency repairs on the occasional RAF seaplane or flying boat that landed in the harbour. Albeit, both the Corporation and the Dover Harbour Board were keen on the idea and suggested that aircraft companies made their own applications to the Air Ministry, adding that they would endorse such proposals. On 9 September 1923, by Act of Parliament, the Admiralty Harbour was transferred to Dover Harbour Board and British seaplane companies were contacted but the country was by then in a recession that was getting worse and there was no viable response.
On the Continent, in 1918, Pierre-Georges Latécoère (1883–1943) had set up the aviation company Société des Lignes Latécoère in Toulouse, France, to carry mail. He employed former French World War I pilots and manufactured his own aircraft, most notably the seaplane Latécoère 631. His first route, between Toulouse and Barcelona, Spain, quickly proved a success such that his operations to carry mail quickly expanded with services to Morocco, Senegal and South America. In Britain, there was a call for the British Post Office to set up a similar operation from Dover to the Continent but they were not interested in a seaplane service. By this time, what was left of the former seaplane buildings at Mote Bulwark had been converted into army married quarters and one of the hangers was used as a military riding school. The former skating rink building had reverted to its original use of the Territorial Army Drill Hall.
It was not until 1928 that seaplanes returned to Dover’s harbour when Henri Balleyguier’s Compagnie Aérienne Française set up the Channel Air Express. This started out as a seaplane taxi service between Dover and Calais and so keen on the idea was Dover Harbour Board that they designated a seaplane anchorage east of the Prince of Wales Pier with landing runs of 1,000, 1,200, 1,600 and 1,800 yards. The service quickly proved popular with the journey taking 20-minutes to Calais but passengers, on boarding the plane from the Pier, were almost guaranteed a wetting! However, the possibility of the rapid transhipment of mails was not lost on the French railways and this was put into operation.
Meanwhile, Southern Railway had submitted a Parliamentary Bill to enable the company to provide and run road vehicles in any of the districts where there was railway access. This was given Royal Assent on 3 August 1928 and within days along with the Great Western Railway and the London Midland & Scottish Railway, sought powers to undertake air transport. This, they stated, was to provide rapid transportation and to meet emergencies such as those brought about by the General Strike of 1926.
Because of the Compagnie Aérienne Française service at Dover harbour, in August 1931, it was designated as one of England’s eight official airports and only one of two for seaplanes. The other was at Woolston, Southampton. Lympne aerodrome, near Hythe was designated for aeroplanes and the report stated that it was the third largest such airport in England! Lympne airport operated from 1916 to 1984. By 1933, the French company was earning more from carrying post and light freight than from passengers and it was possibly this that galvanised Southern Railway into action. They employed consultants Airwork Services run by Air Vice Marshall Sir Henry ‘Nigel’ Norman (1897-1943) and Alan Muntz (1899-1985), with architect Graham Dawbarn (1893-1976) to look into possibilities of the Railway Company using aeroplanes for freight transport.
While compiling their report, the consultants liased through a junior officer James Leslie Harrington (1906-1993 – known by his middle name), within Southern Railway. Knowing Dover and remembering the seaplane base at Mote Bulwark, he suggested Dover harbour as an ideal place for Southern Railway to introduce a seaplane service. Dover’s main railway station, Marine Station was located on Admiralty Pier, to the west of the Prince of Wales Pier, from where Compagnie Aérienne Française operated. The report was published internally in March 1934 and suggested that Southern Railway could establish air transport facility at Dover.
On the proposition of opening a seaplane service, the report noted that besides Channel packet ships, ocean going and coal carrying ships were increasingly using the harbour. However, there were physical problems of using the harbour as a seaplane base. On the north-east side were/are cliffs and along the Eastern Arm was the Tilmanstone Colliery aerial ropeway, which could be a liability. The harbour, itself, was notorious for its major negative tidal and wind effects and although the Channel Air Express, by then owned by Air France, did offer a service, the previous summer had only operated 50 flights. Hardly any operated during the winter months.
Albeit, as the economy recovered people may wish to fly across the Channel and reclaim their cars, transported by ferries, on the other side. The report made reference to the former Swingate aerodrome, which would be a ‘splendid site’, being owned by the Ministry of Defence. Although, part of the site was rented out to a golf club it might be made available for civil aviation. Also mentioned was a landing field at Whitfield 3½ miles to the north of the harbour. By the time the report was published, Harrington had moved on, becoming Marine Manager at Dover and rising through the ranks of Southern Railway and its successors. He retired in 1969 as British Rail General Manager of the Shipping & International Services Division.
During 1934 the Royal Air Force was strengthened and several new types of aeroplanes were coming on station. These included Vickers-Scarpa twin engine flying boats and the four engine Short’s Singapore III with living and sleeping quarters for the crew. In November an exercise involving units of the Coastal Area, including supporting seaplanes, were engaged in operations against the Home Fleet, as the latter attempted to pass Dover harbour. Crowds turned out to watch and there was talk that Dover was to become a seaplane base again. By that time the riding school at Mote Bulwark had been refurbished as a second Territorial Army Drill Hall and space had been found in the older Drill Hall to open a Castle Garrison Library.
Correspondence was exchanged between Dover Harbour Board together with Southern Railway and the Royal Air Force but it slowly became evident, that the re-establishment of a seaplane base at Dover was not being considered. Albeit, Dover’s economy was picking up and the town was becoming increasingly popular with day-trippers. As the Mote Bulwark area was unlikely to be used as a seaplane base it was suggested that a lift from there to the Castle should be built. This was estimated to cost £9,788 and although Dover Corporation promoted the idea, World War II (1939-1945) was in the offing so the scheme was abandoned.
In the final days before the outbreak of World War II, Dover was again taken over by the armed forces and designated Fortress Dover. As in World War I, restrictions were imposed but this time, the Castle became the headquarters. From 24 August 1939, the Casemates above Mote Bulwark took on an important role as the offices for the Commander-in-Chief of Fortress Dover, Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay (1883-1945) and these can still be seen from the Seafront. The Vice-Admiral had served in the Dover Patrol between 1915-1918 and his first major duty was the planning and co-ordinating Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk Evacuation, (26 May to 4 June 1940). Some 100 Royal Navy Officers and 1000 Women’s Royal Naval Service worked in the Casemates, helping to co-ordinate the rescue of 338,680 British and Allied servicemen from the French coast in the face of invading Germans.
At the beginning of the War, the Guilford shafts, first excavated in the early 19th century and developed during periods of hostility throughout that century, were lined with steel. Tunnelling and excavations created an underground hospital, while further excavations took place on the former underground Casemate barracks and tunnels. These created accommodation and workplace for the Coastal Artillery, whose job it was to defend the Dover Strait. Below and to a depth of some 144-feet (43.9-metres), excavations were undertaken to create DUMPY – often translated as Deep Underground Military Position Yellow – which was to serve as the Channel Head Quarters. DUMPY was started in August 1942 and completed by April 1943.
The Drill Halls and married quarters at ground level, below Mote Bulwark, were used by the Royal Army Medical Corps to deal with medical emergencies from the naval ships in the harbour. An anti-aircraft battery was built nearby. In early 1944, the World War I seaplane launchways and slipways were unearthed, repaired and used as landing stages to train troops in assault landings ready for the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944. Throughout, there was heavy shell bombardment from across the Channel. As Allied troops were drawing closer to Calais, the attacks on Dover became intense. On Wednesday 28 June 1944, shells hit one of the Halls, killing three soldiers and injuring thirteen.
Following the War the metal parts of the launchways and slipways were removed, leaving the concrete foundations. The Drill Halls were repaired and eventually were refurbished for use by the Territorial Army Voluntary Reserve and Divisional Headquarters and on 30 November 1946, Dover ceased to be a naval base. In 1953, the Eastern Dock opened as Dover’s second major passenger terminal. Aimed at the car driver, the Dock quickly proved very popular and the town roads serving it soon became congested. In 1956, the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (1955-1959), Harold Watkinson (1910-1995) announced that a trunk road was to be created out of Townwall Street, Douro Place and parts of Marine Parade and East Cliff, in front of the Moat Bulwark buildings.
Completed in 1958, this, initially, helped with the congestion but from Townwall Street, there was a right turn, opposite Mote Bulwark, into Duoro Place next to Gateway Flats. From there was a sharp left turn on to the Seafront and then another sharp right turn on to Marine Parade towards the Eastern Docks. Traffic coming the opposite direction used the same two lane roads. In 1980, the Territorial Army moved to purpose built Head Quarters on the site of the old Odeon cinema, London Road, Buckland. The old Seaplane shed/ Drill Hall was demolished in the summer 1981 and the Mote Bulwark cliffs were ‘made safe’. The following year, the remaining Drill Hall and other buildings were demolished and a bypass of the Douro Place-Marine Parade junctions was created.
In 1958, the armed services moved out of the Casemates and the DUMPY level was taken over by the Home Office. The following year they were both refurbished as the top-secret Regional (South Eastern) Seat of Government in the event of nuclear war. The Complex provided radiation-proof living quarters for 420 people who may have had to remain underground for a considerable period of time. DUMPY was closed in the 1970s and in 1988 abandoned but was not declassified until 1992.
Also in 1958, the Castle ceased to be an army barracks and in February 1963 the Castle was handed over to the Ministry of Works, (Ancient Monument Branch), to preserve as an ancient monument. The military retained St Mary-in-Castro as the garrison Church and the Constable’s Tower as the official residence of the local military commander, who was also the Deputy Constable of the Castle. After a time the Castle came under the auspices of Dover Corporation and from 1974, Dover District Council. The Grade I Listed Buildings, are now in the care of English Heritage and in 1990 the Dunkirk Operations rooms and the Casemate Level were open to the public and more recently, part of DUMPY.
Following the Territorial Army moving to their new HQ at Buckland, their former HQ at Mote Bulwark was virtually rebuilt as an Army Recruitment Centre with an associated building the east. They closed in the late 1990s and in 2002 the 120-year lease of the then derelict buildings along with the site was put up for sale. They were sold through Avon Estates Ltd of London, to a private buyer but two years later the building and the site was on the market again. This time the asking price was £350,000, and there was a strong demand in the town for the site to be bought for an aeronautical museum. Although Dover Town Council were not interested a number of private local buyers were and offers were made, but turned down. The site was eventually sold in 2008 to a private buyer but it remained derelict, although in 2017 the smaller building appeared to have been taken over by an auction house.
Nonetheless, the demand for an aeronautical museum on the site remains. This would not only celebrate the Seaplane Base at Mote Bulwark but Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809) and Dr John Jeffries (1744-1819) – The first Aviators to cross the English Channel; Louis Blériot (1872-1936)- The first person fly across the Channel in a heavier-than-air craft; Charles Rolls (1877-1910) – the first two-way, non-stop English Channel flight; Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) – the first woman to fly across the Channel, as well as Capel, Guston, Swingate, Whitfield and Hawkshill – Walmer aerodromes.
Presented: 8 July 2017
Short version Published in the Dover Mercury on: 26 October 2014