LANDGUARD FORT, IP11 3TW
Postcode: IP11 3TW
Lat/Long: 51.938769N 1.320853E
Notes: Fort is well signposted from Felixstowe. Head towards the port and keep going down View Point Road. Fort has a dedicated car park for visitors.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A superbly presented site with various elements dating from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. The audio guide is very comprehensive and aimed firmly at an adult audience. Felixstowe Museum is directly adjacent to the fort and some of the World War II defences can be seen nearby.
Landguard. The headland has been defended since the reign of Henry VIII. The initial bulwark and blockhouse were soon replaced with a bastioned fort which in turn was superseded by a battery. This formed the centre of a new fort built in 1744-50 which was augmented by additional defences as the headland was turned into an entrenched camp. Landguard Fort itself was upgraded by the Victorians and again in the twentieth century plus in 1913 it became a Royal Navy air station.
Casemated Battery. The heavy weapons of the casemated battery.
World War II Defences. With the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in 1940 and the subsequent fall of France, fears of German invasion prompted coastal defence across the UK. At Landguard numerous pillboxes were constructed.
The site of the last sea borne invasion of England and the first land battle of the Royal Marines, the eighteenth century Landguard Fort evolved from fortifications built during the Tudor and Stuart eras. It has been heavily modified since providing defence to Harwich Haven upto and including World War II.
HISTORY OF LANDGUARD FORT
The peninsula on which Landguard Fort sits shields the Harwich Haven at the mouth of the Rivers Orwell and Stour. The sheltered waters within have been used by mariners for thousands of years but it wasn’t until the introduction of effective, medium ranged artillery that the peninsula was first fortified.
In 1534, to international outrage, Henry VIII had signed the Act of Supremacy - a legal provision which had made the King, rather than the Pope, "supreme head" of the English church. Furthermore peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire united Henry’s enemies and gave them capacity to mount an invasion. To mitigate against this threat a massive castle building programme was initiated – a Device (Act) for the protection of the realm. Whilst Landguard wasn’t a recipient of such a fortification, five earthwork bulwarks were constructed in 1539. These were circular structures, protected by a ditch, that were capable of supporting a number of artillery pieces. Whilst the invasion fears passed without incident, prompting the subsequent neglect of the Henrician fortifications, the Spanish War of the late 1580s saw construction of a stone blockhouse on Landguard Point capable of supporting 46 guns.
Seventeenth Century Fort
The war with Spain was rapidly ended following the succession of James I (VI of Scotland) to the English throne. Despite the peace Harwich saw a number of new coastal defences commissioned; a Half-Moon Battery was built on the quayside whilst Landguard received a dedicated new fort. Constructed between 1625 and 1628 the new fortification was square with arrowhead bastions on each corner – a design similar to the contemporary structure at Sandown on the Isle of Wight. A ditch surrounded the structure with the spoil used to build the ramparts which were then revetted with clay slabs. A drawbridge and portcullis protected the single entrance into the fort.
Dutch Attack 1667
The fort saw action in 1667 when its garrison repulsed the last opposed seaborne invasion of England. At this time the country was engaged in a protracted struggle for maritime supremacy with Holland. A war had been fought between 1651 and 1654 over the Navigation Acts; legislation that imposed limits on third party carriers which impacted upon the Dutch. War broke out again in 1665 and had initially gone well for the British with a major victory at the St James’s Day Fight on 25 July 1666. But spiralling costs saw the Royal Navy laid up at Chatham and the Dutch seized the initiative. They launched a humiliating six day attack on the Medway in June 1667 where they captured the British flagship, the Royal Charles. Due to a lack of ammunition the defences of Upnor Castle had proven inadequate. After his success the Dutch commander, Admiral de Ruyter, dispatched twelve ships to attack Harwich which had become a Royal Navy dockyard the previous year. Landing 800 soldiers on Felixstowe beach the Dutch troops attempted to storm the fort but were repulsed by fire from the garrison – the musketeers of the Lord High Admiral’s Regiment (a unit that would later become the Royal Marines) under the command of Captain Nathaniel Darell.
The eighteenth century saw regular wars with France prompting Britain to enhance its coastal defence. Landguard Fort was surveyed in 1716 but was deemed beyond repair. Proposals to build an elaborate replacement fell foul of financing but a new gun battery was approved. Commenced in 1717 this brick built structure consisted of a single gun platform with two elongated sides pointing out to sea. A further two short flanks and a defendable barrack block protected the landward approaches. A drawbridge and ditch ensured additional defence.
The Landguard Battery was only ever intended as a supporting fortification for more substantive new defences at Harwich but, for various reasons, these were not built. Accordingly the battery was significantly upgraded in 1730-3 with expansion of the barracks and modifications for heavier guns. But the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, aided in part by France, led to funding for construction of a new fortification; Landguard Fort was built between 1744 and 1750.
The new fort consisted of a substantial enclosure built around the existing barracks. The two main faces of the battery were re-used for the South East side of the new fort but added four arrow shaped bastions at each corner of the new curtain wall. Beauclerk’s Battery was added in 1753 to augment the firepower of the fort.
The outbreak of the American War of Independence (the American Revolution) in 1775 prompted another European war with France, the Netherlands and Spain all declaring war on Great Britain. Again fears on invasion prompted modifications at Landguard. The fort was still relatively modern and in good repair at this time but the headland was converted into a defended camp capable of supporting a mobile force that could respond to any attack. A rampart was constructed across the width of the peninsula and over the course of the next decade these defences were consolidated and enhanced. Redoubts, fortified locations in which infantry could easily defend if attacked before launching a counter-attack, were built flanking Landguard Fort. With the peace of 1782 these additional structures were abandoned.
Peace with France was short lived with the Napoleonic wars being fought between 1793 and 1815. Invasion scares of 1797, 1801 and 1803 prompted a review of coastal defence and saw the introduction of a radical new fortification – the Martello Tower. These were small circular towers containing a small garrison and a small number of guns but, when Royal Navy ships had engaged such a structure off Cape Mortella, the design had proved resilient. Martello Towers were built along the South and East Coasts with five built around the Harwich Have between 1808-12. Nevertheless both Landguard Fort and Beauclerk’s Battery were also upgraded at this time with enhanced weaponry whilst a circular redoubt was constructed at Harwich.
By the mid-nineteenth century there had been almost four decades of peace with France. This, coupled with a Royal Navy larger than the combined might of the next two biggest navies, had meant the neglect of coastal defence. However this strategy was thrown into turmoil with the accession of Napoleon III in 1852. The new emperor commenced an arms race with Britain by development of the first Ironclad warship ('La Gloire'; the Glory); this armoured vessel outclassed anything in the Royal Navy threatening their maritime superiority. The British, whose prosperity depended upon the Royal Navy’s ability to protect both the homeland and the increasing number of colonies and possessions overseas, panicked and in 1859 initiated a Royal Commission to report on new fortifications. Initially no new work was commissioned at Landguard; instead a new battery was built on Shotley Point and the Martello Towers upgraded. However, fears that the Shotley Battery was insufficient to cover the Harwich Haven led to new funding for enhancements to Landguard Fort. In 1870 the South-West portion of the fort, the two flanks that had originally been part of the 1717 battery, were demolished and were replaced with an armoured casemated battery. The internal barracks, also part of the earlier structure, were replaced with a circular Keep. Work was complete by 1890.
Despite the original Victorian upgrades and its impressive casemated battery, new technological developments were rendering it obsolete. The fast motor torpedo boat required quick firing guns and accordingly between 1898 and 1902 new batteries were built to the north and south of the fort. Powerful searchlights were installed to enable night firing and an electronically controlled submarine minefield installed across the entrance to Harwich Haven.
World War I
Landguard Fort had been disarmed in the immediate years prior to World War I. However Harwich’s east coast location saw it utilised by the Royal Navy during World War I in support of operations blockading German ports. This prompted re-installation of anti-ship weaponry especially after German attacks on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. Landguard Fort was also utilised to control movements within the port via a control post on the roof. The importance of the site led to an attack by German bombers in July 1917. Following the armistice and subsequent peace, Harwich was used to berth 122 submarines of the German Navy which had been surrendered to Royal Navy custody.
The sheltered waters of Harwich Haven saw the site used as a Royal Navy Air Station (RNAS Felixstowe) from 1913. Sheds for seaplanes were built on the western side of the peninsula to the north of Landguard Fort. World War I saw the site used for aircraft conducting anti-submarine patrols.
World War II
Harwich again played an important role during World War II with regular Royal Navy operations deploying from the port. In May 1940 ships in support of Operational Dynamo sailed from here to the beaches of Dunkirk to recover the defeated British Expeditionary Force. Throughout this period and the rest of the war, Landguard Fort acted as the command post for Harwich Haven. Rapid fire guns, complete with searchlights and dedicated fire control towers, were added to the defences whilst extensive land defences were constructed around the peninsula. The fort also coordinated the air defence batteries in the area accounting for numerous enemy aircraft destroyed during the period. Finally the site was used to support the Normandy landings as part of Operation Overlord which Harwich Haven being used to support ships and equipments that would form the critical second wave. Landguard was finally de-armed in 1956.