If one saw them looming on the horizon without having a minimum of historical knowledge, he would think he was suddenly catapulted into an unspecified moment in the near future. Or, at best, on the set of a science fiction film, of those in which the planet is made unlivable by some extraterrestrial spell and some diehards are convinced that they can resist and entrench themselves in rusty but effective structures from the war point of view.
A panorama that seems typical of a film script rather than the romantic English coast of Kent. Yet it is precisely there that there are what have been called the “Maunsell maritime fortresses”, military platforms placed during the Second World War on the Thames estuary to protect the naval entrance to London, threatened by the German navy and air force.
The structures do not recall any other similar architectural form and this is why our thoughts turn to the many science fiction films in which fantasy settings paradoxically inspired by those found on the sea-facing the town of Whitstable appear.
Today they have become one of the most important tourist attractions in the area and have even ended up obscuring the fame of the coast, known as the “pearl of Kent” and famous above all for the goodness of its oysters.
But the fortresses have slowly imposed themselves on the curiosity of visitors, who have begun to frequent them with increasing intensity, to the point that today guided boat tours are organized that reach the bases of the enormous pillars that support them.
Yes, because these are platforms built on top of concrete pillars positioned on barges made to sink to support the dislocation. Above there was a radar station and four anti-aircraft guns, while the more than one hundred men of “crew” – at the time were assimilated to the boats that patrolled the Channel to defend the British coasts – were housed in the seven floors created inside the sections of the pillars.
They were among the most effective tools among those used to stem the German offensive following the invasion of France in 1940, so much so that they were responsible for the shooting down of 22 aircraft, 30 V1 rockets, and a torpedo boat. At the end of the hostilities, the fortresses were in fact abandoned: some of them collapsed under the blows of the storms, others due to ramming by some ships, but those that were saved starting in the early 1960s became the headquarters of various pirate radios, given that they were in fact located outside the English territorial waters and therefore could not undergo the intervention of the judiciary.
In 1965 Paddy Roy Bates went further and, after having created the usual radio on one of them, he decided to transform it into the headquarters of the Principality of Sealand, claiming the right to independence.
The matter was resolved at its root by the British government with the modification of the definition of territorial waters and the matter ended there. But today people come to those parts also for this: it is incredible how bizarre military constructions could have affected the collective imagination so much. Yet their strength today is precisely this.