Swingate Chain Home Station
Before the outbreak of World War II, five radar stations were constructed to give early warning of approaching enemy aircraft around the Thames Estuary area. Dunkirk and Swingate were two of the five and constituted part of the Chain Home system. Certainly, the CHS played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain as Luftwaffe bomber formations could be detected even before they had crossed the coast of France.
Swingate at Dover is situated close to Dover Castle, with a commanding view over the harbour and out into the English Channel. It first came into prominence during the First World War when a series of trenches and redoubts were being constructed all around the Dover area. Aerial photographs of Swingate held at the Imperial War Museum show three redoubts, although there is little visible evidence for them today, apart from dense patches of bramble in some of the right places – always a good indicator of disturbed ground. Constructed within the first six weeks of the war by a local workforce, these redoubts would have formed part of an anti-invasion system to defend Dover against an inland attack. It was widely believed that should the Germans have had the opportunity to invade, and they would have done so by landing at a much more accessible area, in particular, the Romney Marsh or Sandwich Bay.
This type of earthwork redoubt seemed quite modern at the time of it’s construction, but by the advent of the Second World War, it was obsolete. By the 1930’s, a new technology, radar, was being developed, and it’s capacity to assist in the detection of enemy aircraft was quickly realised. In 1937 a series of towers were constructed at Swingate,originally consisting of four transmitting towers constructed of steel and four receiving towers built from timber. At the time of their construction radar was still new technology, and cover stories had to be made to prevent local speculation, as well as stemming the possibility of the Germans learning about radar. This in itself was difficult as the transmitting towers were some 350 ft high; in 1938 Swingate station tracked a Graf Zeppelin flying along the east coast – it’s purpose was to try and detect signals from these new towers that the Germans had just spotted! They came under even closer scrutiny when Hermann Goering himself looked at the towers through a pair of binoculars while he was visiting France. Radar had been kept such a closely guarded secret however, that Goering really had little idea that it was partly thanks to these towers that his Luftwaffe had been defeated in the Battle of Britain. This failure to understand the functions and importance of these towers was made even clearer when the Luftwaffe ceased to try and bomb the station at a relatively early stage, claiming that it was too difficult to hit.
As the war progressed and the Allies were in a much stronger position to make bombing raids over Germany, Swingate became part of the Gee Chain of radar stations. The purpose of this system was to greatly improve the accuracy of bombing raids, which had become a major priority for Bomber Command by 1942. Chain home radar was excellent for the detection of high flying aircraft, but could not track low flying aircraft so successfully. As a result of this, the Chain Home Low (CHL) system was developed, the nearest to Swingate was at Fan Bay. Nothing remains now of that station. After the war anti – aircraft defences were very quickly disbanded. Swingate retained its battery, but only until 1950’s. By this time warfare had taken a much more sinister turn in the form of nuclear weapons. Quite obviously AA batteries were of no use at all against an ICBM ( Inter Continental Ballistic Missile). Following the advent of the nuclear age and the threat posed to Britain the Royal Observer Corps was formed. It’s function was to monitor the force and aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain, and in 1962 an ROC post was built at Swingate. Government cutbacks meant that this post was closed only six years later. By this time most of the towers had been removed. By the seventies those that remained carried TV signals, but their military use was not totally abandoned; the USAF began to use Swingate as a communications link for their bases throughout Southern England. A great deal of reconstruction work had to be done during this phase to ensure that the towers complied with regulations.
Location: Nr Dover, Kent
Date Of Visit: 04/08/02