“The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh.”

Second World War

The closeness of Romney Marsh to the continent, its flat shores and hinterland and easy accessible beaches, has meant that the Marsh has been in the front line whenever invasion has threatened, particularly from across the English Channel. This was certainly the case in the Second World War.

Blue Line

Operation Sea Lion

Any German invasion of Britain would have to involve the landing of troops and equipment somewhere on the coast, and one of the most vulnerable area was Romney Marsh, the planned invasion site of Operation Sea Lion

The German invasion maps, see right, clearly showed the Romney Marsh as the main area for their planned invasion of Britain in 1940.

Operation Sealion was Hitler’s last big obstacle to own the whole of Europe since Britain was the only country standing between him and the total dominance of Europe. The Fuhrer signed the official document authorizing the Operation Sealion in June of 1940. However Hitler met his match in the Battle of Britain when Royal Air Force defended its territory with unmatched bravery and paramount professionalism.

In the German invasion plan, codenamed Operation Sea Lion, the paratroopers of the 7th Flieger-Division were tasked with a parachute landing to secure crossing points across the Royal Military Canal on the first day of the invasion.

German map of their planned invasion in 1940
German map of their planned invasion in 1940 larger map

The resistance was unexpected and robust; RAF’s Hurricanes and Spitfires fought gallantly and pushed Luftwaffe where they came from. Not for a single day did RAF allow Luftwaffe to claim superiority over British skies. Despite the fact that these maps depict a very casual approach towards a certain land invasion of Britain, RAF’s response and sacrifices to win the Battle of Britain successfully restricted Hitler’s dream of executing Sealion on the papers.

Emergency Coastal Batteries were constructed to protect the most likely landing places. They were fitted with whatever guns were available, which mainly came from naval vessels scrapped since the end of the First World War. 

Auxiliary Units or GHQ Auxiliary Units were specially trained, highly secret units created by the with the aim of resisting the expected occupation of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.

Beaches were blocked with entanglements of barbed wire, usually in the form of three coils of concertina wire fixed by metal posts, or a simple fence of straight wires supported on waist-high posts.The wire would also demarcate extensive minefields, with both anti-tank and anti-personnel mines on and behind the beaches. On many of the more remote beaches this combination of wire and mines represented the full extent of the passive defences.

Portions of the Romney Marsh were flooded and there were plans to flood more of the Marsh if the invasion were to materialise.

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Mobile 4 ins Gun LIttlestone in July 1940
Mobile 4 ins Gun Littlestone in July 1940

Pillboxes

Pillboxes are concrete dug-in guard posts, normally equipped with loopholes through which to fire weapons. About 28,000 pillboxes and other hardened field fortifications were constructed in England in 1940 as part of the British anti-invasion preparations of the Second World War. About 6,500 of these structures still survive, many on Romney Marsh.

Pillbo nr Appledore
Pillbox nr Appledore


Pillbox at St Mary's Bay             Pillbox at St Mary's Bay
Pillboxes net to the RH&DR track at St Mary's Bay

Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR)

The war years took their toll of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, the miniature railway being requisitioned by the War Department. They even created the only miniature armoured train in the world and was credited with shooting down 3 German planes. The railway line was used extensively during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fuelled the Allied invasion force.

A spur line to the Sound Mirrors was built off the RH&DR, known at the time as the War Department Branch, which was used to transport men, equipment and building materials to the mirrors site.The branch line was close in 1951,

Lookout Posts

Many of the high buildings on the coast of Romney Marsh coast were used as observation posts by the Military and the Observer Corps during the Second World War. They were looking out for any signs of enemy activity but their main function was observing and identifying aircraft and the Flying Bombs as they crossed the Romney Marsh coastline.

These Romney Marsh buildings included the tower of All Saints Church in Lydd, at 132 feet one of the tallest church towers in Kent. The military also used the 120ft Water Tower at Littlestone and Martello Tower No. 24 at Dymchurch as lookout posts.

 


Armoured train on the RH&DR
Armoured train on the RH&DR

Auxiliary Units

Auxiliary Units or GHQ Auxiliary Units were specially trained, highly secret units created by the United Kingdom government during the Second World War, with the aim of resisting the expected occupation of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.
More about Auxiliary Units

Sound Mirrors

The Sound Mirrors at Greatstone are large concrete structures built between 1928-30 as an early warning system for Britain to detect enemy aircraft.
More about Sound Mirrors

Royal Military Canal

The Royal Military Canal was created as a major military defence against Napoleon in the early 19th century. During the early stages of the Second World War, during preparations for a threatened German invasion, the canal was manned by 31st Independent Brigade Group, who fortified each salient with a concrete pillbox and barbed wire entanglements; numerous pillboxes survive today. 

 


Sound Mirrors
Sound Mirrors

PLUTO

The Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO) ran from Dungeness and Greatstone under the English Channel to the French coast to supply fuel to the allied D Day invasion army in the second world war.  
More about PLUTO

Flying Bombs

The V-1 flying bomb, also known as the Buzz Bomb or Doodlebug, was an early pulse-jet-powered predecessor of the cruise missiles developed by the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War. The V1 was first launched against Britain in June 1944, just one week after D-Day, with one of the first being sited by the Royal Observer Corps crew manning their post in Dymchurch.

V1 Flying Bomb
V1 Flying Bomb

The Flying Bombs traveled at 360 miles an hour (a mile in 10 seconds), a bit slower than the fighter of 1944 - typically reaching their target about 22-25 minutes later.

At its peak, more than one hundred V-1s a day were fired at south-east England, 9,521 in total, decreasing in number as sites were overrun until October 1944, when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was overrun by Allied forces. Overall, the main onslaught by ‘flying bombs’ ended about 5½ months after that first ranging attack in June 1944.

There were 3 forms of defence against V1s - fighter aircraft, anti aircraft guns and balloons. Given one of the main routes of the flying bombs was over the Romney Marsh coast, many of the fighter aircraft were based at one from the four Advanced Landing Grounds on Romney Marsh and shooting the flying bombs down over the sea.
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Read about the Second World War on the Marsh in Romney Marsh at War by Edward Carpenter.

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Flying bombs crashed on land and brought down over sea, 1944
Flying bombs crashed on land and brought down over sea, 1944