South Foreland is a chalk headland on the Kent coast of southeast England. It presents a bold cliff to the sea, and commands views over the Strait of Dover. It is 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Dover and 15 miles south of North Foreland. It is the closest point on the British mainland to the European continent at a distance of only 20.6 miles (33.2 km).
This proximity gives it military significance and during the Second World War a coastal battery was sited on the headland along with a radar station. Lying between the busy Port of Dover and the deadly Goodwin Sands, the two lighthouses were important for navigation but both have now been retired. Much of the area is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public; it is traversed by the Saxon Shore Way.
Geography and geology
South Foreland marks the south-western limit of St Margaret's Bay (named after the village of St Margaret's at Cliffe). It is the geological counterpart of Cap Blanc Nez, at the northern extremity of the Boulonnais in the French département of Pas-de-Calais. The two are the landward ends of the Strait of Dover land bridge and their chalk geological stratum dictates the route of the Channel Tunnel.
Second World War
South Foreland battery
This was a coastal artillery battery with four Mark X 9.2 inch guns and a network of bunkers and ammunition stores, northeast of the lighthouse on the road to St Margaret's. The site was cleared after the war, but traces remain, albeit heavily overgrown.
Excavations started on 28 December 1940 and the first gun arrived on 25 March 1941, although No. 4 gun was not test fired until 28 November of that year. Their best-known action came a few months later, on 12 February 1942, when the light battleships Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen attempted the Channel Dash from Brest back to Germany. The K band radar at South Foreland started to track the ships of the Brest Group coming up the Channel towards Cap Gris Nez. At 12:19, the first salvo was fired; since maximum visibility was five miles, there was no observation of fall of shot by either sight or radar. The "blips" of the K-set clearly showed the zig-zagging of the ships and full battery salvo firing began without verifying fall-of-shot. 33 rounds were fired at the German ships, which were moving out of range at 30 kn (35 mph; 56 km/h). Initially it was thought that four hits had been made, but the Germans revealed that all had missed.
By the end of the war the four guns had expended 2,248 shells, most in the months before and after the Normandy landings. 28 enemy ships were confirmed sunk between all the coastal batteries around Dover and the deterrent effect was significant.
- St Margaret's Bay Windmill is just east of the lighthouse