First World War Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 17, 2011

This view of the Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station is somewhat deceptive insofar as it doesn't indicate the photo was taken from over 200 yards away, or that it is located several hundred feet above sea-level on the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover at the southern limit of the grounds of Dover Castle.

Additionally, only the front overhang of the concrete roof is visible from this vantage point: a separate photo of the large two-storey structure the rest of the roof covers will be uploaded later (see later "Comments" for the link).

The obsolete Hospital Battery of 1874 (contemporary with St Martin`s Battery on the Western Heights) was converted in 1905 to a Fire Command Post. Admiralty installations were added on top in 1914 (World War I) and the concrete roof in the photo was added in 1941 (World War II).

An information board inside the main building states:

GROUND FLOOR

Two rooms of the Fire Command Post are furnished with reproduction equipment to provide an impression of its appearance in 1918, during the First World War. In the observation room, a watch was kept around the clock for enemy warships or unidentified ships approaching the port. In the chart room, the Fire Commander gathered this and other information from several outposts under his command tn the Dover area.

FIRST FLOOR

In the Port War Signal Station, a display explores how Royal Navy staff kept watch for enemy ship movements, and used visual signalling and wireless to communicate with their own warships at sea. You can spot ships yourself using binoculars, see how enemy aircraft and ships were identified, talk to a friend through a speaking tube, and identify messages sent in code.

ROOF PLATFORM

By climbing the steps to the roof you can stand where naval signalers sent and received messages to and from ships in Dover Harbour. From there you can appreciate the position of Admiralty Lookout on the edge of the famous White Cliffs, and enjoy spectacular views over Dover, along the coast, and across the English Channel to France.

The Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station is located in front of the Main Entrance of the 120 yard-wide Victorian Officers Mess ("Officers New Barracks") on Queen Elizabeth Road.

In front of the West Wing near the cliff-edge is a Statue of Admiral Sir Betram Home Ramsay. Part of the inscription on an accompanying plaque reads:

OPERATION DYNAMO 26 May-4 June 1940

The German attack on France in May 1940 led to the rapid retreat of the British and French armies. By late May, the British Expeditionary Force was trapped on the French coast, facing defeat and capture. In an unparalleled feat of organisation and leadership, Vice-Admiral Ramsay in his headquarters in the tunnels below this castle (1), organised the evacuation of British forces, together with French and Belgium soldiers from the port and beaches of Dunkirk.

Prior to the beginning of the Second World War, Rear Admiral Bertram Ramsay had had a disagreement with Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse (C-in-C Home Fleet) and "Asked to be relieved, went on half-pay, and in 1938 was retired" (2):

"However he was nominated as Flag Officer Dover in the event of war, and during the Munich crisis began setting up the headquarters. There were no communication facilities but his newly appointed flag lieutenant. James Stopford, had taken the precaution of bringing with him from the Signal School a portable W/T (Wireless Telegraphy) set which he could just fit in his car. He found that the old Port War Signal Station had been converted into a public lavatory but, undaunted, he set up his equipment and, much to his surprise, it worked."

"By September 1939 Ramsay, now Vice Admiral on the retired list, was back in Dover. 'My flag is flying today for the first time over the signal station at Dover Castle, so I am once again an authority' he wrote to his wife. Initially under the C-in-C Nore, he soon became an independent command as Vice Admiral Dover, with Captain LV Morgan, another signal officer, as his Chief-of-Staff."

Earlier still, Ramsay had served in the Dover Patrol during the First World War and would have known of the Admiralty Lookout from that time.

Another famous person who served in the Dover Patrol was Charles Lightoller, second mate (second officer) on board the RMS Titanic, and the most senior officer to survive the 1912 iceberg disaster. In fact, the photo at the top of this page was taken nearly opposite the house where Charles Lightoller lived in Dover while he was stationed here.

During Operation Dynamo, Charles Lightoller, along with his eldest son Roger and an 18 year old Sea-Scout named Gerald, took a converted Admiralty launch named Sundowner - as one of the "little ships" - to the beaches of Dunkirk and rescued a total of 130 men (3).

Lightoller also has an association with the Spanish Prince blockship which was sunk in the Western Entrance to Dover Harbour in 1915 (recommended: sonar image and recovered artefacts photos).

More information on the building and personnel of the Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station will be appended to subsequent photos.

Dover Castle is a Grade I Listed Building (4).

The following is "© Crown Copyright". Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:

Building Name: DOVER CASTLE

Parish: DOVER

District: DOVER

County: KENT

Postcode:

Details:

LBS Number: 177823

Grade: I

Date Listed: 07/03/1974

Date Delisted:

NGR: TR3249141696

Listing Text:

1050 DOVER CASTLE

TR 3241 1/47

TR 34 SW 7/47

I

2.

Norman keep C.1155 of rag-stone ashlar blocks picked out flints with Caen stone dressings. Around the keep are ranges of C18 (=18th Century) houses of 2 to 3 storeys ashlar with a flint galleting. Round headed windows. Surrounding these ranges are 2 concentric rings of walls and towers dating from Mediaeval times. Beneath the castle are a whole series of subterranean passages dating from the C13 (13th Century) and improved for defence during the Napoleonic period. Ancient Monument.(Abridged).

Listing NGR: TR3249141696

Source: English Heritage. Click to see photos of Listed Buildings and English Heritage locations in the town of Dover, England.

(1) Dover Castle's "Secret Wartime Tunnels", see:

Casemates Balcony, Entrance to the Secret Wartime Tunnels of Dover Castle

Rare view of Casemates Balcony, Secret Wartime Tunnels of Dover Castle

(2) A History of Signalling in the Royal Navy, by Barrie H. Kent (2004)

(3) Encyclopedia Titanica

(4) Grade I: buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important".

Click to see all Dover Castle and Navy photos.

Dover Castle appears in the video, "Dover in World War Two: 1942", a ten minute British Ministry of Information film, released by the US Office of War Information, and narrated by the American journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on August 13, 2011
John Latter on February 16, 2013

The dwellings at the bottom of this part of the cliffs are shown in:

Houses of East Cliff Marine Parade, White Cliffs of Dover, United Kingdom

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on January 22, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/01/16 11:06:51
    • Exposure: 0.008s (1/125)
    • Focal Length: 0.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/10.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: -0.30 EV
    • No flash

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