Yorkshire Post: “The sea takes what the Nazis couldn’t, as creeping coastal erosion eats away the east coast”
FOR years it has stood as an evocative reminder of the days when Yorkshire’s East Coast faced up to German aggression. But now the East Coast landmark looks set to fall victim to a far more insidious opponent – coastal erosion. [watch video]
The artillery battery that sits on the clifftops near Aldbrough was more than 300ft from the edge when it was built in 1943 to stop shells being fired from enemy ships at Hull.
But by 2000, as the images show, the heavily reinforced gun emplacements had collapsed into the sea, leaving the tunnels used to carry the shells hanging over the edge.
Since then 100ft (around 30m) has been gobbled away, leaving the battery observation tower teetering precariously on its concrete plinth on the edge of the cliff.
What is likely to be one of the last pictures of the tower still standing – it may have just days, but more likely months left – has been taken as part of a nationwide survey.
The Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, funded by English Heritage, aims to increase understanding of the entire English coastline’s historic environment and assess the impact of erosion.
Field walkers from Humber Field Archaeology have spent weeks carrying out surveys of the cliffs from Whitby to Spurn Point, and will later cross the Humber and go into Lincolnshire.
The battery is falling prey to the same elemental forces that saw Holbeck Hall at Scarborough finally slip into the sea – large semi-circular areas of slippage, caused by bouts of heavy rain and then drying, combined with the pounding of the waves.
A military support officer for English Heritage, Roger Thomas, has paid regular visits to the site at Ringborough over the last 12 years.
Mr Thomas said: “There are stretches of coast where erosion seems to be slowing down and there are others where it seems to be speeding up. Whether it’s a cyclical pattern you can’t be sure.
“Under normal circumstances the battery may well have been designated but there’s absolutely no point because it is literally crumbling away.”
The battery was meant to prevent shells being fired over the coastal Holderness plain into Hull. But it went up too late to serve its real purpose. A second line of heavy anti-aircraft guns – long since lost to the North Sea – was then built in front of them to act as a defence against feared V1 “Doodlebugs”.
But it’s not only Second World War remnants that are disappearing into the North Sea. The latest survey has revealed the remains of several meres or shallow lakes, part of the wetland of pre-historic Holderness.
At Flamborough coastal changes have revealed clearly for the first time in years the outlines of the entrance into a medieval harbour at South Landing and, further south, Romano-British ditches have been exposed at Barmston.
Trevor Brigham, from Humber Field Archaeology, said: “We are extremely concerned at the rate of erosion on the Holderness section. We’d be hoping to go back and examine more of the sites in detail but the big fear is that by the time we can do that they will be gone or severely damaged.
“Last year at Ulrome we found a human skeleton dating back to the Bronze Age falling out of the cliff. That site has now completely gone.”
Despite the remorseless advance of the sea there are still a few buildings at Ringborough dating from the wartime years. In the farm complex there is the engine and switch room and a large reinforced concrete building which was the Battery Plotting Room, containing an early computer which worked out the future position of the enemy ships.
Even then they were amazingly accurate,being able to fire shells with an accuracy of 25 yards at 20 miles range.
Deadly firepower – guarded coast
The three six-inch Mk24 guns – able to fire shells weighing more than 100lb 14 miles out to sea – were installed in 1942 and the battery finally became operational in February 1943.
But its use was limited and in October the same year the guns were fired for the last time as part of training practice.
For a brief period in 1944 3.7 inch guns were installed to answer the threat of Doodlebugs off the North Sea coast. Shortly after the end of the war the battery was finally closed down.
Story by Alexandra Wood in the Yorkshire Post