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Author Topic: Defence of Chatham Dockyard  (Read 4283 times)

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Offline kyn

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Re: Defence of Chatham Dockyard
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2016, 17:48:08 »
Hi, I am glad these were interesting and useful.  It amazes me what gets reported in other counties, but sometimes these reports actually give more information than locally.  Maybe they need a fuller feature as locally we would already know the basics?

Offline CommanderChuff

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Re: Defence of Chatham Dockyard
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2016, 10:00:37 »
Kyn,

An excellent bit of information and very welcome to my own notes, it is interesting that we should find local subject matter in a newspaper on the other side of the country, and a reminder that collecting intelligence is all about looking outside the box.
David,
Royal Navy, Aircraft Engineer, Project Manager, Yachtsman, Eroica Cyclist,  Railway Modeller

Offline kyn

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Re: Defence of Chatham Dockyard
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2014, 10:50:35 »
Liverpool Mercury – Monday, 26th September, 1864

The Defences of the Sea Ports of England.

The New Works on the Thames and Medway.

The new military lines which it is proposed to construct around the great arsenals at Chatham and Sheerness, and to extend to the Thames in the neighbourhood of Tilbury Fort will, when completed, form the most extensive fortified position in the United Kingdom, and the one that will be of the greatest military importance if a hostile army should ever succeed either in stealing over in the night or in fighting a passage by day across that very narrow channel which separates France from England.  The position of Chatham is of great importance in a military point of view.  It is situated on the main road from Dover and East Kent to London, at the point where the river Medway (which flows from south to north, and is there a very considerable stream) is crossed by two bridges, one of them a railway bridge.  Above this point the river is for several miles impassable for an army unprovided with a pontoon train; and the difficulty of effecting a passage between these bridges and the mouth of the Medway, owing to the marshy nature of the banks of the river and the general conformation of the neighbouring country, renders it extremely improbable that an army would attempt to cross below the bridges.  Chatham is, moreover, neat the left flank of the commanding range of chalk hills which extends to the south of London, through Kent and Surrey to Guildford, terminating near the other great camp at Aldershot.  It is also near the right flank of a range of hills of a similar character which runs towards Dover.  It has thus a strategical importance which might render it very useful in case of attack by an invading army advancing either from the coast of Kent or the coasts of Sussex or Hampshire; whilst from its easy communication with the north bank of the Thames it would be scarcely less useful resisting the attack of an army moving on London from the coasts of Essex or Suffolk.  As these are incomparably the most likely lines of invasion and of attack upon London, the great fortress which it is proposed to erect at Chatham will be a national bulwark of the highest importance.  On this subject the Commissioners observe that “an enemy who had landed on the Kentish coast, near Deal, and should be marching on London, would be obliged to attack the fortifications at Chatham or to make a considerable detour by Maidstone.  In the latter case Chatham would be on his right flank; and after he had crossed the high chalk range near Wrothem, the garrison of Chatham might harass his rear, unless he detached a considerable force to mask it.  Again, the garrison of Chatham, aided by that of Dover, operating along the chalk ridge between those two places, would threaten the communications of a hostile fore which had succeeded in landing on the coast to the westward of Dover.  Further, in the event of an enemy having effected a successful disembarkation on the coast near Harwich, the garrison at Chatham would be favourably placed for moving across the Thames to the aid of our army operating in that direction, or for the purpose of acting on the left flank of the enemy.”

The military works at present existing at Chatham consist of the Old Chatham Lines, constructed at intervals between the years 1710 and 1806.  The escarps of these lines are in some places only fourteen or fifteen feet high, and the lines run in extent only a mile and a half, immediately enclosing the dockyard, Gunwharf, and military establishments, and with both their flanks resting on the river Medway.  To the right of these lines the position is extended so as to cover the bridges, and is occupied by two forts, called Fort Pitt and Fort Clarence.  The total length of Chatham Lines, including these forts, is about three miles.  On the left bank of the river, opposite the dockyard, is Eipnor (Upnor) Castle, an obsolete work, built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and at present occupied by a portion of the great powder magazine establishment of the Chatham district.

The existing works afford some protection against an attack upon Chatham from the eastward, but their profile is for the most part so insignificant that they would be liable to be carried by escalade without much difficulty.  In order to guard against such an attack on the east and south sides, the Commissioners on National Defences propose that six forts should be constructed at such a distance in front of the existing works as would render them secure against anything but a very serious and protracted attack by a powerful force.  The two most important of these new works it is proposed to place at Gillingham, on the east bank of the river Medway, below the town of Chatham, and on the Star Hill, a very commanding position in advance of the east front of the existing lines.  These works are to be about a mile in advance of the existing lines.  The fort at Gillingham is to mount thirty guns and to have a garrison of 300 men; and that on the Star Hill is to mount forty guns and to be garrisoned by 400 men.  Each of these works is to be constructed so as to secure against escalade and to be defensible as a separate work.

To protect the place, the shipping, and the dockyard from bombardment from the ground to the southward if Fort Pitt, four other forts are to be constructed, at intervals of nearly a mile from each other, and about three-quarters of a mile in advance of the existing works.  These are to be erected on the lofty chalk hills to the south of the ‘present lines, and will fill up and guard the whole of the south and south-east approaches from the Star Fort to the river Medway above Rochester.  These forts are in progress, and the one nearest the river makes a very commanding appearance.  The whole of these six forts on the east defences of Chatham will mount 175 guns; will have barrack accommodation for 1750 men, and are estimated to cost the sum of £650,000.

In addition to these forts on the east and south sides of Chatham, which are improvements and extension of the existing works, it is proposed to run an entirely new line of fortifications along the west front of the place, from the river Medway, above Rochester bridge, to the river Thames, two or three miles below Gravesend.  The centre point in this western line of defence will be a great fort mounting   80 guns and with barrack accommodation for 1000 men, which is to be built on top of the famous Gad’s Hill, the well-known scene of Falstaff’s highway robbery.  This position is chosen as the most commanding point on the main ridge of hills between the Thames and the Medway.  Two other strong forts are also to be built on the west front of Chatham, between Gad’s Hill and Rochester.  These also will stand on commanding hills, and each of them will be mounted with 30 guns and have barrack accommodation for 300 men.  To the north of Gad’s Hill another fort is to be erected about halfway between Gad’s Hill and the batteries on the south side of the Thames, at Shornmead.  These works will protect the dockyard from bombardment on the western side of Chatham.  They will also enclose and render perfectly defensible as an entrenched camp the whole of the extensive peninsula of land which lies between the western lines and the mouth of the Medway at Sheerness.

To guard against the possibility of the landing of a hostile force from the river Thames, on the north approaches to Chatham several new forts are also to be constructed at elevated points, and sluices are to be formed, by means of which the lower land in front of the works can, in case of need, be laid under water to the depth of two or three feet.  When the sluices for thus flooding the lower lands are completed the north front of Chatham will only be approachable at three or four points, and these are to be provided with very powerful works.

The first of the works on this side is the great fort, with two smaller forts, which it is proposed to construct on Furze Hill, on the Isle of Sheppey, which will also serve as an outwork for the lines of Sheerness.  The second is a strong fort which it is proposed to construct on what is called the Isle of Grain.  The third is a fort on the high grounds at Slough, commanding the landing from the Thames at Brickfield Point.  The fourth is a circular fort at Cliffe Creek, which will serve the double purpose of defending the north approach of the defences of Chatham and of assisting in case of need in the defence of the main channel of the Thames, opposite the new batteries at east Tilbury.

The whole number if the new works which it is proposed to construct in and around the lines at Chatham is twenty-five.  They will mount 649 guns, in addition to those of the existing works, and be furnished with barrack accommodation for 6050 men.  The cost of constructing these works is estimated to be £1,980,000.  The Commissioners are of opinion that at a time of expected attack these positions will require a total garrison of 13,000 men in all arms.  But the area of land enclosed within the lines is of very great extent, and well calculated to accommodate a large army.

Offline kyn

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Defence of Chatham Dockyard
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2013, 17:37:05 »
Monday 5th September, 1864 – Liverpool Mercury

The Defences of the Sea-Ports of England.

The New Works in the Thames and the Medway.

The river Thames, and the river Medway (which flows into the Thames at Sheerness, about twenty miles below London, on the Kentish side of the estuary), have for many ages been amongst the most important naval stations in England; and the progress of the art of naval construction, as well as the great increase in the wealth and population of London, tends to render them still more important than they have hitherto been.  There are already four Government dockyards in the Thames and Medway – at Deptford, Woolwich, Sheerness, and Chatham – in addition to the great powder magazines at Purfleet and the great national arsenal at Woolwich; and at the present time the Admiralty is constructing new shipbuilding yards and dockyards at Chatham, which will be the largest establishment of the kind in any of the naval ports of England, and will be specially constructed with the view to the building and repairing of the great class of iron armour-clad steamships which will in future form the main strength of the navy of Great Britain.

Since the introduction of steam in the navy, the only objection which formerly existed to the Thames and Medway as naval stations has ceased to exist.  So long as the navy consisted of sailings ships, dependent on the wind alone for the power of going to sea, the Thames and Medway were subject to the very serious disadvantage of frequently being closed by adverse winds at the time when those very winds enabled the fleets of France, Spain, and Holland to put to sea from Brest, Antwerp, and the great ports on the Dutch coast.  A most remarkable instance of the inconvenience and danger which might arise from this cause occurred in the year 1688, when the English fleet commanded by the admirals of James the Second, remained wind-bound in the Thames, whilst the fleet of the Prince of Orange, afterwards William the Third, issued from the Dutch ports, where it had been fitted out, and was carried past the mouth of the Thames and down the channel to Torbay, on the coast of Devonshire, bearing an invading army of 15,000 men, which landed there without meeting a single English ship of war.  The east wind, or, as it was called, “the Protestant wind,” which carried the Dutch fleet and army down the channel to their desired haven, kept James’s fleet weather-bound within the Thames.  The danger of the recurrence of so fatal an accident induced the Government, subsequently, to send the ships of war which had been fitted out in the Thames and the Medway into the downs, off the coast of Kent, from which celebrated anchorage they could make their way either down the channel or into the German Sea, according to the direction of the wind and the demands of the service.  But the downs are a mere open anchorage, and can never be a substitute for a well-fortified and well-furnished naval arsenal.  Hence the Thames and the Medway were always considered inferior as naval stations to Portsmouth and Plymouth, both of which had free access to the channel at all times.  But the introduction of steam has rendered the navy independent of the wind and its changes, so that a fleet fitted out in the Thames can go to sea at any time and in any state of the wind.  Hence the naval stations in the Thames have become of greatly increased importance, and the Government has decided to construct at Chatham a set of new docks for the building and repairing of iron ships of war, which, when completed, will be more extensive and more perfect than anything of the kind existing in any of the naval ports of England.

The primary object of the great fortifications which are now in course of construction at Sheerness and Chatham is to protect the dockyards there and the vessels in the Medway from a similar disaster to that which occurred to them in the inglorious reign of Charles the second, when a Dutch fleet forced a passage into the Medway and burnt the ships and Government establishment there.  What has happened once may happen again, if not from a Dutch fleet, from the fleet of a still more formidable power.  The reason why the Dutch were able to do so much mischief in the Medway was that the English fleet was then at sea, looking after another fleet of the enemy’s vessels.  A similar accident might occur again under like circumstances, especially at the present time, when the power of steam gives such facilities for making sudden and unexpected attacks, and for escaping after a blow has been struck.  A still greater danger, however, is that of a bombardment at some exposed point from enemy’s vessels arriving and departing in a few hours.  The Commissioners in the Defences of the United Kingdom express great doubts as to whether the dockyard at Sheerness, on the east side of the entrance into the Medway, could be protected against a distant bombardment by any number of land batteries; but they consider the grand harbour within the Medway, which runs up for thirteen miles into the interior, and terminates at Chatham dockyard, might be rendered perfectly secure against any attack by a fleet or an army, by the works they propose and which are now in course of construction.

The width of the entrance to the Medway at Sheerness is as nearly as possible one mile, and through this passage any fleet must enter that is to get up to the Chatham dockyard, or to make the attempt to do so.  The distance from the fortifications of Sheerness, on the east side of the entrance to the Medway, to the granite fort on the west side, which was constructed during the late Russian war, is 1200 yards, so that a hostile fleet passing up the middle of the stream would be exposed to the fire of batteries on both sides at the moderate distance of 600 yards.  The north front of the Sheerness lines, facing the Thames, is well armed, and is capable of bringing its heavy fire to bear on the channel by which ships must approach to enter the Medway; and very powerful batteries are now in course of construction in continuation of the Sheerness lines, which would keep up a heavy fire on any such ships, both as they passed into the river and for a considerable distance up the stream.  In addition to the existing and to the enlarged fortifications fronting the channel on the Sheerness side of the river, it is proposed to enlarge the three-gun tower on the opposite side of the river, situate on what is called the Grain Spit, or Spit of the Isle of Grain, and to arm it with fifty of the heaviest guns.  It is also proposed to construct another fort a little higher up the channel, whose guns shall bear down the channel and across the Medway.  There will thus be three lines of fire from the heaviest guns on any fleet attempting to force a passage into the Medway; and as none of these batteries would be more than 600 yards from the centre of the channel, it is believed that their fire would be sufficient to stop a hostile fleet, or at least to damage is so severely that it would be unable to force a passage between the great forts which are in course of erection higher up the river.

That part of the river Medway which lies between Sheerness and the granite forts building at Oakham Ness on one side of the river and at the Beacon on the other side is too wide to be commanded by batteries erected on either bank.  It is here that the great reserve of the English steam fleet is kept in time of peace, and at the present time there is a larger fleet laid up there and one much more powerfully armed, than Nelson commanded in his greatest battles.  This fleet consists partly of old sailing vessels, some of them apparently as old as the days of Nelson, but chiefly of noble vessels, built within twenty years of the present time.  Unfortunately these vessels are all built of wood, and would probably be destroyed if taken into action against the enormous guns of the present time.  Such at least is the general belief, though the exploit of Admiral Farragut at Mobile shows that there is still some fight left in wooden vessels when manned by good sailors and commanded by a determined officer.  Still we must take it for granted that these noble vessels belong rather to the past than to the present or the future, and that before long they will be superseded by iron-clad ships of war like that splendid iron ship Achilles, which now has amongst them, looking like an entirely new creation; or like that curious construction, the Research, just completed by Mr. Reed, the constructor of the navy, which resembles a long iron box; or like that grandest of all naval constructions, the Great Eastern, of 18,000 tons, which now lies in the Medway, towering above the largest of the three-deckers, and looking as if she was waiting for the time when the world can find her something to do worthy of her greatness.

Supposing a hostile fleet to have made its way past the fortifications of Sheerness and through the lower channel of the Medway, it would be caught, as it turned into the bend which separates the lower Medway from the Long Reach, by the fire of the guns of the forts which are now in course of erection at Oakham Ness and the Beacon, in front of the Lower Stayway.  These batteries are together to carry 50 guns, and, as the river is much narrower at this point than it is at Sheerness, their fire would be proportionately destructive.  The Commissioners also recommend that a boom should be placed, at a time of expected attack, between the two works, under the protection of their fire, “thus,” as they say, “effectually closing the passage of the river against the ships of an enemy.”

These are the principal works which it is proposed to construct for the defence of the approaches by water to the great dockyard at Chatham; but one of the forts which are primarily intended as part of the land defences, and which is to be erected near the village of Gillingham, as well as the fort already known as Gillingham Fort, would both command the river approach to the dockyard, and would compel any enemy’s fleet which might get past the fortifications of Sheerness and those of Oakham Ness, to fight a third battle in Gillingham Reach, before it arrived within reach of the dockyard.

The new works of the dockyard on St. Mary’s Island, below Chatham, which is now in course of construction for the use of the steam fleet, together with the line of fortifications which is being built to protect the land approaches to Chatham, and which it is proposed to continue to the River Thames, and to connect with the defences of that river, are among the most remarkable works going on in England, and well deserve a separate article.

 

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