Posted: 3 October 2010 12:31
A trio of Type 25 pillboxes on a golf course at Seaford have been generating traffic in my inbox regarding a supposed "secret" installation that they guarded. A bit of research provides the answer.
A club member provided me with safe passage across the course to have a closer look without getting hit by high-velocity golf balls.
Let's first put the pillboxes into context; the Google Earth view is shown below. Note the groundsman's yard in the depression between the pillboxes.
Below is the terrain seen at ground level.
Pillbox #1: the photo shows Martello Tower 74 at left and Newhaven Harbour directly above the pillbox, below the cliffs in the background. The pillbox has been backfilled to embrasure level with spoil and rubbish.
Pillbox #2 is dug in on higher ground; pillbox #3 is ringed in the photo below.
The interior is intact and hasn't been filled in, although there is some rubbish and debris inside.
View through the central embrasure looking up the course.
Pillbox #3 is on slightly lower ground; thick gorse prevents close approach, but the interior appears to be clean.
So that's a quick tour and description of the pillboxes - but what about the "secret" installation? It was written a few years ago that, because these pillboxes form a triangle around the depression and they face outwards, they seemingly protected whatever was in the depression. This little acorn has snowballed into the rumours of headquarters, radio stations or other top-secret activity that find their way into my inbox on a regular basis.
I can categorically state that there was no significant military activity in the area between these pillboxes in 1940-41!
The pillboxes were not guarding anything in particular; they were simply there as part of a coordinated infantry fire plan for defending the eastern flank of Seaford - that's all.
The defence scheme tells us that this was a platoon locality known to the troops as Sand Pit Post. The defences comprised three pillboxes and field works; the task was to "cover Golf Course and East boundary." The graphic below shows estimated possible fields of fire from the pillboxes fulfilling their fire task.
The depression is an awkward piece of dead ground that might provide cover to German troops, so by placing a defensive perimeter around it, it can be denied to the enemy whilst letting the defenders cover the ground. The depression also provides a covererd approach for the defenders to take up their positions. Place the pillboxes anywhere else and the fire task cannot be so easily fulfilled with mutually-supporting defences.
What can we deduce from this layout? We know from the documents that this is a platoon locality; this implies three 'fighting' sections each with a Bren gun team. As the Bren was the linchpin of infantry tactics, we can reasonably presume that the Bren teams had the protection of hardened field defences, with the riflemen in earthworks.
As to where the platoon HQ element was located, I have no firm evidence. The ideal layout of a platoon would be HQ in the centre surrounded by the three sections forming a triangle in all-round defence. We have our triangle, but I'm not convinced a platoon HQ would be down in the depression, as the commander would be unable to see the battle and direct his men. My money is on the HQ being sited in earthworks to the north of pillbox 3 where it could cover the approach gap not covered by the pillboxes.
There was no evidence of earthworks that I could see, aside from the spoil banks on either side of the entrance of pillbox 2 as seen below. These may have been more substantial when built; any other slit trenches etc. have probably been landscaped back into the golf course. The only area where other evidence of earthworks may still survive would be under all the dense gorse near pillbox 3.
All in all, an interesting little locality and an example of how documents and fieldwork can cut through myths and arrive at more plausible explanations when interpreting the landscape. There doesn't have to be a "top secret" or mythical aspect to every element of military activity - "mundane" was the norm and it can usually be identified and explained when you look at the sources!
A military plan of defence for a specified area. Defence Schemes were issued at numerous levels. Defence Schemes were later known as Plans to Defeat Invasion on the orders of General Montgomery.
A loophole or slit that permits observation and/or weapons to be fired through a wall or similar solid construction.
Napoleonic gun towers built along the vulnerable coasts of SE England 1805-1812. Most that still stood in 1940 were occupied for military defence, as artillery observation posts or by the Royal Observer Corps. Many towers had a concrete roof added for extra protection.
Generic term for a hardened field defensive structure usually constructed from concrete and/or masonry. Pillboxes were built in numerous types and variants depending on location and role.
A defended locality intended to be held by a platoon.
Small, narrow trench designed to provide protection against shrapnel and other battlefield hazards. Technically distinct from a weapon pit (which was intended soley as a defensive position) slit trenches were also used as defence works.
A small circular pillbox, usually cast in concrete shuttered with corrugated iron. Sometimes referred to as an Armco pillbox after its manufacturer.
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Hibbs, Peter Bunkers on a golf course (2020) Available at: http://wwww.pillbox.org.uk/blog/216665/ Accessed: 10 July 2020
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