For four years parts of Kent were regularly bombarded by German heavy artillery on the French coast around Calais. In response the British built a smaller number of heavy batteries on the Kent coast, starting a four year long dual between the two. This book looks at the guns themselves, how they were deployed and manned, and the fighting that involved them - both the cross channel gun battles and the land campaign to capture them in 1944.
Most of the British guns only just had the range to reach France, with three of the batteries just about able to hit the coast west of Calais. Two could only hit targets at sea, and one of these was mainly deployed as a defensive weapon, to hit any invasion beach. Only ‘Bruce’ had the range to reach further into France, but this battery was never used in anger.
The Germans installed many more guns on the French coast, and their K 12 rail guns had the range to reach Southend-on-Sea, Chatham and Maidstone. However their fixed guns had shorter range, and could only reach the Kent coast around Margate and Dover.
We get a good section on the actual guns, which ranged from First World War veterans and obsolete naval guns to the ambitious V-3 ‘super gun’, which thankfully was never finished. The information on the guns is split into two chapters – Design and Development and Technical Specifications, with the Strategic Situation chapter between them – personally I would have moved it to after the two technical chapters.
The Strategic Situation chapter makes the point that the British and Germans had different plans for their coastal guns. When the batteries were first built in 1940, the British needed to spread their guns around to coast to protect a whole series of potentially vulnerable ports and landing areas. In contrast the Germans were able to concentrate their guns around Calais, in preparation for the planned invasion of Britain. These guns were to win control of the narrow straits between Dover and Calais and protect the vulnerable invasion fleet. As a result the Germans always had more guns involved in the cross-channel duel.
The combat chapter shows another difference between the two sides. Both sides fired on enemy shipping, and on the other sides coastal guns, but the Germans were firing at an enemy shore, so were wiling to directly target coastal towns, killing civilians. For most of the war gun fire was actually quite rare, with a round of combat often triggered by one side firing on a convoy. This changed after D-Day, when the Germans began a more regular bombardment of Kent, and peaked as Canadian troops approached the batteries. Dover suffered its worst month in September 1944, when the town was bombarded most days and 62 people killed.
We finish the combat section with an account of the Canadian campaign to clear the Channel ports, which also saw them capture the German gun batteries. Luckily most of the guns were in concrete emplacements and could only fire out to sea, but even so many of these batteries were heavily defended.
The analysis chapter is unusually detailed, providing charts showing numbers of shells fired, changing accuracy, damage at Dover etc. This matches the rest of the book, where we get detailed lists of batteries, stats for the guns etc. Including the land campaign that captured the German guns is a nice touch, rounding out the story.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Author: Neil Short