Hellfire Corner

The Secret Wartime Tunnels


Useful Information

Image: The White Cliffs of Dover.
Location: Dover. Follow the signs to Dover Castle.
Open: Apr-Sep daily 10-18, tours every 15min., last tour 17. Oct-Mar daily 10-16, tours every 45min., last tour 15. Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan.
Fee: Adults £7.00, Concessions £5.30, Children £3.50, overseas visitors pass holders Free.
Classification: Historic Casemats in chalk.  World War II Bunkers.
Light: electric.
Dimension:  
Guided tours: D=50min.
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography:  
Address: Dover Castle and Hellfire Corner, Dover, Kent. Tel: +44-1304-211067
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
Last update:$Date: 2015/08/30 21:55:09 $

History

 
1797Napoleonic engineers built a system of underground barracks, called Casements.
18032,000 soldiers occupied the Casements.
1939Vice-Admiral Bertram Home Ramsey took command of Channel defences and developed the Casements as headquarter.
MAY-1940Ramsey ran Operation Dynamo from this place and evacuated 338,000 British troops from the shores of Dunkirk.
1945at the end of the war the intensive use of the tunnels ended.
1958the army left Dover Castle giving it to the Ministry of Works.
1984the underground installation was decommissioned by the army and turned over to the English Heritage.


Description

Image: Dover Castle, above Hellfire Corner.

The famous White Cliffs of Dover are not the only cretaceous cliffs on the south coast of England. But they are definitely the most famous ones! Dover is the closest point to France, it is only 27km across the Channel. The closeness to the continent was one reason to start the first tunnel from here, several hundred years ago, but it was never completed. Todays Chunnel starts at nearly the same place.

The Castle of Dover is located on the highest point above the cliff. Already during the Middle Ages, the cliffs were used to build fortifications. That is rather easy because of the softness of the cretaceous chalk. It is possible to dig tunnels using a pick or an axe and a shovel. But the history is much older: more than two thousand years of settlement in the area, almost without break from the Iron Age until today.

The construction of the huge caverns started in 1797. Napoleonic engineers needed to house large numbers of soldiers, but they were not able to build enough barracks, because they ran out of ground. So they decided to go underground, building seven parallel brick vaults linked by a tunnel to the rear. At the rear end the vaults are 18m underground, at the front end a balcony offers a view over Dover Harbour. The so-called Casements were first occupied in 1803 and held 2,000 soldiers.

Image: Churchill standing at the balcony of Hellfire Corner looking over the Canal during World War II. This Casements balcony was favoured by Admiral Ramsey.

During World War II the old tunnels were reused. Vice-Admiral Bertram Home Ramsey took command of Channel defences in 1939 and developed the Casements as a headquarter. It was easy to widen them and to build any kind of bunker needed. Then the balcony was overlooking the Channel, against the enemy. It was usefull as an lookout, but also as an ideal place for radar and radio stations. The bunker system was named Hellfire Corner.

Hellfire Corner was used as a control centre for the World War II operation "Dynamo" in 1940. In this operation the British evacuated 338,000 soldiers from Dunkirk. The troops were already enclosed by German tanks, but they were rescued using anything available, which was able to float: battle ships or simple sailing boats.

The war continued, under Ramsey's command, the Casements became crowded with offices and communications equipment. He expanded the tunnels in two sections:

Image: Inside Hellfire Corner.

During the Cold War, in the 1960s, the caverns were reused as a nuclear command centre. They converted them into a regional seat of post war government. The intensive modernization included new air filtration, power generation, and communications equipment. The existence of these tunnels remained a military secret until 1984, when the underground installation was decommissioned by the army and turned over to the English Heritage. They left hospital equipment from World War II, original telephone exchange equipment from the 1930s and 1940s, and equipment from Ramsey's operations rooms. Some tunnels from this period are still not open to the public.

The tour shows the Secret Operations Room and the Communications Room with its large quantities of old switchboards, amplifiers and other equipment. The Hospital is visited and the Napoleonic Casements. The vault that contained Admiral Ramsey's office has been cleared but left unrestored to give an impression of the size of the Napoleonic barracks.


See also


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