Monday 29 May 2017

A Tale of two Batteries - Dungeness, England & Pinewood Battery, Hong Kong

A tale of two batteries

I was in London in May, and although not related to the Battle for Hong Kong, I thought I would begin with an article about the ruins of a coastal defence battery at Dungeness, in South East Kent, dating back to the Napoleonic Wars, and then finish with a look at the ruins of Pinewood AA Battery in Hong Kong.

Ruins of Napoleonic Battery at Dungeness

Dungeness is situated in the southeast corner of Kent. To day it is well known for the nuclear power station, for its bird life, the two lighthouses and the masses of shingle. There is a sense of windswept desolation. On foggy nights you could hear the blast of the foghorn from the new lighthouse. In bygone years this area was famous for smuggling. It was an important area of defence against continental invasion over the centuries.  There has always been a constant struggle against the sea. In Roman times Romney Marsh was a large shallow bay over which ships sailed to the Roman port of Portus Lemanis. There were sandbanks and shingle spits and in Saxon times these were "inned" and reclaimed from the sea. 

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
There have been several lighthouses over the years. The shingle spit keeps growing out to sea and the lighthouses gradually became too far from the point. This one (below) is referred to as the old lighthouse.

The old lighthouse 
The new lighthouse
The water at Dungeness is deep and drops away sharply
During the Napoleonic Wars it was this area known as Romney Marsh which was considered a likely landing ground for Napoleon's Army. A military canal was built from west to east along the base of the line of hills that mark the Saxon shoreline. Martello towers (circular forts with a gun on a swivel on top) were built along the coast together with redoubts and batteries. This post is about one of those batteries. No. 1 Battery at Dungeness. There is not much left of it now just a grass covered mound, and brick works, but the road sign nearby gives us a clue as to what that mound and walls once were.

The mound in the background is all that's left of No 1 Battery.  
The remains of Napoleonic ramparts
A swivel for the guns
Ruined battery walls and stonework. 
Surrounded by seaside houses 
Gun emplacement and swivel
Two hundred year old ramparts
Nobody ever goes there, there is no information sign, just the windswept ruins. Old maps of the area show the battery and nearby batteries numbered 1 to 4. In the 1904 map below the inlet can still be seen between Greatstone and Littlestone. This has now been reclaimed but the inlet originally led to the port of New Romney now some two miles from the sea. No. 1 battery was originally built close to the seashore but is now several hundred metres from the high water mark.

The Invasion Coast (1904 map)
1867 map showing the batteries at Dungeness (the Martello towers are numbered 21-27)

Dungeness is derived from the word Denge. The map shows Denge Marsh and Denge Beach.
The word Ness means headland in Old Norse. So Dungeness was once Denge Ness as depicted
on the 1819 map.

Ruins of Pinewood Battery in Hong Kong

Pinewood Battery was an AA Fort equipped with two 3-inch guns. It was built on the north west slopes of the Peak. It was heavily bombed and shelled by the Japanese after war broke out on 8th December 1941.  The photo below shows the battery being shelled and bombed.

Pinewood Battery under bombardement
The battery had to be abandoned because of damage to one of the guns, the emplacements and equipment. The damage is well depicted in the photo below showing one of the wrecked 3-inch guns.

One of the badly damaged 3-inch guns 
One of the two 3-inch gun emplacements
Battery buildings
Blast and fragmentation damage to battery walls
Battery buildings at Pinewood
The battery was originally built/completed in 1905 to house two 6-inch coastal defence guns. In 1936 the two 3-inch AA guns were installed. The battery was abandoned on 15th December 1941 after severe damage.

Further Reading and Photos on Romney Marsh and Napoleonic War fixed defences. Please click the link below:

Romney Marsh, the English Arcadia and Napoleonic War



  1. Many thanks, Phil, for a most interesting article on 2 completely different defensive positions in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.
    Thanks also for simplifying procedures whereby one can post a comment on your blogs!
    I know nothing about Dungeness so will therefore make no comment on that position, other than to say it looks very interesting and I would love to pay a visit there one day.
    I would like, however, to comment on the dates you quote for the Pinewood Battery.

    In your covering e-mail for this month's article, you quote the year 1936, and in the body of the piece above you mention that the "battery was originally built in 1905."
    I think a little clarification, or expansion, on these dates is required.

    Planning for the Pinewood Battery actually commenced in 1898 with construction being authorised by London in 1900. Construction began in 1901 and the battery was completed by 1903.
    The whole project, including the all-important construction of Hatton Road, had been completed by 1905.
    The following year the War Office decided that the position was superfluous to requirements, being superseded by Mount Davis, but the guns were only finally removed in 1913.

    I have read that Pinewood was "re-commissioned" and brought into use as an anti-aircraft battery in the 1920's, but I am sceptical as to this date.
    I feel it is far more likely to have been converted in the mid-1930's as part of the Defence Plan of that period, which corresponds with your date of 1935.
    At risk of being somewhat pedantic, for which I apologize, the battery wasn't exactly built in thatvyear though; merely re-commissioned.

    Once again, many thanks for a very interesting piece.

  2. Very interesting article, Phil, about 2 very different defensive positions. I have never been to Dungeness, although it looks like the sort of place I would love to visit one day.
    I feel, however, that some clarification (or perhaps expansion) is required with regard to the dates you quote regarding the Pinewood Battery, in particular since you quote the year 1936 in your covering e-mail.

    Planning for Pinewood actually commenced in 1898 and it was no coincidence that this was the year that the British took the New Territories on a 99 year lease.
    Construction of the battery as a coastal defence position, (due to perceived Russian and French aggrandizement), was authorised in 1900 and actually commenced in 1901. The battery was completed in 1903 although final completion of the whole project, including the all-important Hatton Road, was not achieved until 1905. (The date you give above).

    However, by 1906 the War Office was expressing concern at the cost of defence in the Colonies and it was decided that Pinewood had to go! This decision took some time to implement and the position was not "decommissioned" until 1913, to be superseded by Mount Davis.

    I have read somewhere that it was brought back into use in the 1920's, although I am sceptical of this date.
    I consider it far more likely that it was resurrected as an anti-aircraft battery as part of the 1930's Defence Plan for Hong Kong and I am inclined to agree, therefore, with the year 1936.

    Once again, a most interesting piece.

    1. Thank you very much for that additional information on the history of the battery.

  3. Just a quick line to say I do like the new arrangement regarding posting comments on this blog.
    Much better than what we had previously!

  4. Periodically I conduct guided tours of the Pinewood heritage trail for visitors. I'm pleased to note that the area is not only very scenic but also well-maintained. Obviously being located within the Lung Fu Shan Country Park helps greatly in that regard.
    At least there is no evidence of the "weekend warriors" playing silly war games there!