Drop Redoubt
Dover, UK

Constructed: 1804 - 1808
Used by: Great Britain
Conflict in which it participated: None

In the 1770's, Great Britain found itself at odds with just about everybody everywhere. It was fighting to retain its colonies in the western hemisphere, while centuries-old conflicts with France, Spain and the Netherlands kept things interesting at home.

In 1778 France allied itself with the struggling United States, and also secretly allied with Spain, with one goal in mind: The invasion of England. A plan was hatched that would involve the American, French and Spanish navies acting in concert to swoop in, seize the Isle of Wight to use as a forward operating base and capture the British port of Portsmouth, which the French would retain after the war.

Though the Armada of 1779 failed in every one of its objectives (due in no small part to the weird combination of recalcitrance and wussiness particular to the Spanish of that era), the American naval contingent of the plan, led by John Paul Jones (1747-1792), caused a great deal of alarm along Britain's coast just by sailing in British waters and being generally belligerent.

Inside the Drop Redoubt's moat! Click it, it's slightly larger than this thumbnail.

The threat of invasion at the end of the 1770's is what brings us to Dover, which sits at the narrowest point of the English Channel, thus making it England's closest extremity to continental Europe, and more specifically France.

After the Romans invaded in 43AD, Portus Dubris, as the Romans named the town, was an important hub in their communications network, and they extensively fortified the port. A second-century Roman pharos (lighthouse) stood on the spot where Drop Redoubt would eventually appear.

Locals called the lighthouse the Devil's Drop of Mortar, which is where the fort got its name. Remains of the pharos were "lost" during Drop Redoubt's initial construction, but "found" in the 1860's when the fort was being renovated. Today these remains, known for some reason as Bredenstone, exist as an untidy pile of rubble.

But we're talking about 1779! Britain first started digging earthworks on Dover's Western Heights in that year, and plans for an extensive network of defenses got underway. Hostilities with the United States and her allies ended in 1783, however, and so did the perspiration over desperation for fortification at Dover.

To their credit, the British were still thinking about Dover's defenses, even if they weren't actively digging. Sir Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821), a military engineer and cartographer who had been wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), designed Drop Redoubt in 1784. Page's plan, for a fort that was initially named the Eastern Redoubt, called for a pentagonal structure dug into the ground with a surrounding dry moat.

The results of France's revolution in the 1790's got everybody thinking about the defense of the realm once again.

Drop Redoubt was built from 1804 to 1808. The fort was designed to mount 14 guns: Twelve smoothbore 24-pounders and two carronades. Most of the guns pointed inland, intending to thwart a dastardly attack on Dover from the landward side. Construction was completed on the fort long after the initial Napoleonic invasion scare, however, so it is unlikely that the fort was ever fully armed.

Drop Redoubt sported a swing bridge at its main gate. The swing bridge is a slightly ridiculous concept that probably made perfect sense at the time: A bridge that, when not in use or to deter attackers, would be swung perpendicular to the fort's walls, thus denying entry in a more complicated manner than seems necessary. Fort Montgomery in the US is the only other fort that I've found with such a swinging bridge, though surely there are others. Seeing as it's such a great idea and all. Seriously, drawbridges had been around for centuries, doing a bang-up job at keeping attackers out of things.

Another striking feature of Drop Redoubt are its five casemates, which are right there in plain view, though the casemate was generally thought to be something better constructed underground. Sure these are designed to be bombproof, attackers, but here they are, aim right for 'em! I dare thee! Four of the casemates were barracks, designed to house 50 men each, while the fifth was the fort's cookhouse.

The glorious insides of one of Drop Redoubt's casemates
By the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), Dover's Western Heights were armed with several defensive works. Napoleon (1769-1821) never got his invasion of Britain off the ground any more successfully than the previous generation of French folks, so Drop Redoubt remained untested.

Napoleon III (1808-1873)'s rise to power in the middle of the 19th century gave Great Britain the invasion jitters yet again. In 1859 Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) instigated the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, whose investigation into Britain's "defences" resulted in a series of fortifications known as the Palmerston Forts.

In the 1860's, Drop Redoubt received its four distinctive caponieres, which protruded into the dry moat, allowing for the efficient dispatch of any attacking party so foolish as to think leaping into a dry moat was a sensible thing to do. The naked barracks casemates and other structures within the fort's walls were also covered with earth for added protection against artillery, which certainly made me feel better at the time.

The Fort of Our Current Interest was rearmed during this period with eleven Armstrong 64-pounder Rifled Breech Loading guns, mounted on traversing carriages. These cannon were deemed unworthy, however, and they were replaced with old muzzle loaders.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Dover's Western Heights reached its peak of importance with over 4000 men stationed throughout the "honeycomb in a hill," but it had become evident that Napoleon III had never seriously considered an invasion. Lord Palmerston was roundly criticized for the massive expense and effort that had gone into fortification in this period, but the purpose of fortification is deterrence, and there had been no invasion. Deterred, or non-existent to begin with? You decide.

Drop Redoubt was unarmed by 1901, and very slightly armed (a single machine gun) during the Second World War (1939-1945).

Stationed at the fort during the Second World War was a secret squad of commandos, whose mission was to destroy Dover Harbor should it be under imminent threat of capture at the hands of the wicked Nazis. Fortunately, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) wasn't any more capable of pulling off the invasion of Britain than had been generations of fist-shaking Frenchmen.

Today, Drop Redoubt is owned by the Western Heights Preservation Society, and is open to the public on their "Open Days." Which seem sadly infrequent.