Thursday, August 18, 2011

I have been to... the Nab Tower

In my alter ego as a yachtsman I had cause to visit the Nab Tower last week on my boat [click here]... in light of the recent post by Bob Cordery [click here] (jealous? moi? Free Happy Smileys) where he also mentioned it, I thought I'd put a little post up with a more wargaming slant... always a pleasure when the two hobbies coincide, and this was one of those occasions......

The Nab Tower is located about 5 miles east of foreland (the easternmost point of the Isle of Wight) and although it is now primarily a navigation mark and lighthouse (it marks the start of the deep water channel into the Solent used by large ships going to the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth) it was originally designed as part of a First World War submarine defence.

In 1917 the British Admiralty, alarmed by the losses of allies shipping to German U-boats, planned a series of twelve giant fort towers, codenamed M_N, that would support steel anti submarine nets. They would be deployed from Dungeness to Cap Gris Nez, protecting the Dover straights. Guns mounted on the towers and surrounding mines would protect the constructions from enemy intervention and destroy enemy submarines (other accounts say only 8 towers were planned). The towers were to be 90ft high and 40ft across standing on an 80ft hollow concrete base that could be flooded to put it down into position. The design was by civilian designer, Mr G. Menzies (bit of a shame, I can't find out anything about him).

The towers were to be armed with two 4-inch guns with the idea of closing the English Channel to enemy ships. They accommodated 100 men & all their equipment

By the end of the war in 1918 only one had been completed, at a fantastic cost (at the time) of over two million pounds, and was located at Shoreham Harbour, awaiting deployment. Another part-built tower was eventually dismantled in 1924.

The picture shows the first two being constructed in Shoreham Harbour (just down the coast from me)

In 1920 The Admiralty offered the completed tower to be used as a lighthouse, to replace the Nab lightship which had reached end of life.

The completed tower was towed by two paddle wheel tugs to the Nab rock (see left!), buoyancy was provided by the honeycomb construction of the concrete base, creating 18 water-tight compartments. While dignitaries stood atop the tower (hah - no health and safety in those days! Free Happy Smileys), valves were opened to allow sea water to flood the vast tanks. As the tower slowly sunk to its resting place it began to list, leaving it with a 3 or 4 degree list that it still has today.

The Tower was manned as a lighthouse, and during World War II it also provided some defence to the Solent approach, and shot down several aircraft. The lighthouse is still functional but since 1983 it has been unmanned.

(two whom I need to acknowledge the photo of the tower being constructed - please contact me if you'd rather I removed it)


  1. Steve
    I made the trip myself (OMG it was over 30 years ago!) in a round the Nab race from the Hamble and back.

    Nice to hear the history side of things.


  2. Fascinating post - there's something gloriously bats about a line of towers with a line of nets between them.

  3. Great post - drove around it many times in a Destroyer myself!

  4. Agree with Conrad, completely nutty idea! Still standing though, they knew how to build stuff that lasted back them!

  5. Great post, very interesting stuff, thanks for sharing!

  6. I think the thing that always fascinated me most was how the hell they had managed to build it - so the stuff about the floating concrete base was very interesting...

    Being the inventive folks we are, we re-used the technology in the second world war - but rather than waste the opportunity I may put up a short post on the "next stage"...

    Mr Kinch is correct of course - totally batty - there's something very Victorian Sci-Fi/HG Wells/Jules Verne about the whole project!