White Cliffs of Dover - History and Facts | History Hit

White Cliffs of Dover

Antara Bate

11 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About White Cliffs of Dover

The famous White Cliffs of Dover stand guard at the Gateway to England. In some places over 300 feet high, the White Cliffs are a symbol of the United Kingdom and a reassuring sight to travellers. The cliffs also have a special place in our national history and they were used for defence in both World Wars.

The Cliffs have been immortalised in song, in literature and in art.

White Cliffs of Dover history

The history of Britain is intricately linked with the White Cliffs. The first recorded description of Dover describes the scene that Julius Caesar saw in 55 BC when, with two legions of soldiers, he arrived near Dover looking for a suitable landing place for the Roman invasion. Shakespeare famously mentioned the cliffs in King Lear. They were also the backdrop to the historic moment when Charles II stepped back onto English soil in 1660 after years in exile.

In 1843 South Foreland Lighthouse was built as the first electric lighthouse in the world. This was used by Guglielmo Marconi for his work with radio waves and the place where he received the first international radio transmission from Wimereux, France, in 1899.

During the Second World War, the White Cliffs of Dover were Britain’s frontline from 1941 and large gun batteries were constructed along the coast. On the cliffs close to South Foreland, important gun positions were built which would attack enemy forces across the Channel. Although quickly constructed and only fired sparingly, the guns were an important aspect of the defence of Britain.

Winston Churchill visited Dover after the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. He was enraged to see German shipping moving freely in the Channel.

To help stop the German ships, Winston Churchill ordered a complex of military tunnels to be built as a military command post, hidden within the chalk at Fan Bay Deep Shelter. The building of long-range batteries was also ordered to attack German shipping and fortifications on the French coast.

Once operational, the guns became know collectively as a Fortress, with headquarters near the edge of the lighthouse grounds. The Geneva Convention stopped lighthouses from being used for military means. So the grounds of South Foreland became an island amidst the batteries. The light was turned off to prevent it from aiding German shipping and the tower was camouflaged.

In 1942, the South Foreland’s radar detected the German shipping in ‘The channel dash’. Twenty minutes after the first German vessel was detected, the battery fired, however, weather conditions and the speed of the three ships resulted in their escape.

After the D-day landings, coastal batteries became redundant and after the war, most of them were removed. The batteries had achieved their purpose of impeding the enemy movement in the channel, having seriously damaged 29 enemy vessels over the course of the war.

White Cliffs of Dover today

The best way to see the cliffs is to take a walk along the coastal path towards South Foreland Lighthouse. There are beautiful views of the cliffs and the chalk grassland. As well as the scenic walks, visitors can also enjoy guided tours around Fan Bay Deep Shelter and South Foreland Lighthouse.

The Battle of Britain Memorial is located on top of the Cliffs, honouring those who gave their lives and served in this battle.

Getting to the White Cliffs of Dover

The address to navigate to is Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, Dover, Kent, CT16 1HJ. The closest station is Dover Priory which is about 2 miles away. There is a paid car park nearby.

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