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Tongue Tower

Issue : 11 Updated : 10th August 2021

Construction had begun on all three Naval Forts in early 1942

The Third designated U3 was named HMS Tongue Fort on 3rd June

The tow to the grounding site at Tongue Sands commenced at 05.20 am on Saturday 27th June 1942

U3 HMS Tongue Fort off Margate

U3 arrives at the site 5.5 nautical (6.32) miles off Margate at 16.15 pm (27th June 1942)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort ready for sinking

Final preparations prior to grounding (sinking) (27th June 1942)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort sinking

08.35 pm sea cocks open the Fort sinks to the prepared sea bed (27th June 1942)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort settled

By 08.52 pm the operation was complete with the Fort settled in position (27th June 1942)

Tongue was to be the penultimate Naval Fort it saw action for 3 years until decommissioned in 1945 due to the Forts instability caused by poor grounding and severe under-scouring

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Naval Message Pad 1

Original WWII Naval Message Pad retrieved from Tongue

The Tower was left under care & maintenance but hastily abandoned after the Fort shook violently with parts falling into the sea in December 1947

The crew returned until 1949 when the Fort broke its back - See Fort Facts

Tongue Tower 1950's

Tongue Tower pictured in the (Early 1950's)

Distortion of the Southern leg apparent

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Naval Message Pad 2

Alternative WWII Naval Message Pad retrieved from Tongue

Following photographs 8 - 11 of Tongue Fort circa 1960

Tongue Fort view East 1960

View East even then the leg distortion apparent (1960)

Tongue Fort view West 1960

Looking West, note the Tower still boasted it's observation turret & radar house (1960)

Tongue Light Vessel just visible through the haze (enhanced)

Tongue Fort view North 1960

Looking North at South Leg, remarkable the Fort would stand 36 more years (1960)

Tongue Fort under South Leg 1960

Under the distorted South Leg (1960)

Photographs 6 - 9 By Ted Ingham a former Merchant Naval Officer in his career had often passed the Thames Estuary Forts

These pictures are Tongue Fort circa 1960 from GSNC* MV 'Royal Sovereign' on a special pleasure trip to Tongue Fort & Light Ship

* General Steam Navigation Company

MV Royal Sovereign postcard

The MV Royal Sovereign (Postcard)

Launched in 1948 she normally sailed along the North Kent coast to North Foreland from Tower Pier to Southend, Sheerness, Margate & Ramsgate

Sister ship MV Queen of the Channel can be viewed in Old Ships

She would follow a similar pattern but would call at Herne Bay, Margate & Deal piers before setting off for Calais


In the summer of 1966 the Fort was boarded by a small crew led by Fort Captain Dick Palmer from Radio Essex

Despite the Tower's run down and dangerous state, Roy Bates talked about starting Radio Kent from Tongue

Press Cutting Press Cutting

Original Press Cuttings (5th September 1966)

You can hear recordings in our documentary the Radio Essex Story between Knock John - Tongue about the preparations and pending arrival of a transmitter from America

An radio anorak boat visited, circled the Fort then came alongside. Disheveled and dirty sporting a pair of leatherette shorts Tony Mandell clambered down the Dolphin to sign autographs

With funds depleted the idea was dropped; Dick, Tony and Dave Belasco set about stripping electrical cables and burning off the insulation for the copper and lead to buy diesel, food, and perhaps pay some long due salaries!

Press Cutting

Original Press Cutting (5th September 1966)

On a Sunday afternoon attracted by the smoke, an air-sea rescue helicopter was dispatched from Manston. A line lowered in readiness for boarding was grabbed by Dave Belesco, the static discharge throwing him across the Fort deck

The Helicopter backed off returning to Manston, soon after the RNLI Lifeboat appeared, asked who they were. A quick thinking Dick Palmer shouted 'we're a radio station' even though by now just 'totting' for scrap

* A little later Roy Bates raided the Army Forts taking away the crane jib lanterns, they appeared in a Southend Antique (Junk Shop) window selling for an unknown amount

The RNLI shouted 'Which radio station' Dick replied 'Radio Albatross'

That evening on Radio Essex, Guy Hamilton said hello to all the guys on Tongue especially Albert Ross!

The official visit had apparently prompted questions in the House of Commons

Daily Telegraph 5th September 1966

Daily Telegraph (5th September 1966)

Roy made the most of the fiasco releasing a 'story' to the Media

Various useful parts including the ammunition hoist motor, which was missing on Knock John, benches plus odds and ends were removed and taken to Knock John, some items survive & are still on Roughs Fort (Sealand)

The telephone exchange had already been removed by others

* The hoist with brake mechanism was reconditioned and fitted on Knock John, until then they'd tried running a pulley from the generator drive shaft by physically throwing a drive belt onto the moving shaft

The replacement motor Radio Essex an effective crane hoist for taking on supplies

See Sealand : Fort Fax for more detail

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Naval Contril Deck U3 HMS Tongue Fort Bridge Deck Interior

Tongue Fort Looking South from Control Deck (1969)
Tongue Fort Deck Bridge 'Row' looking South (1969)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Interior

Mike Bass, Roger & Terry Vacani below (1969)

Thanet Gazete 1st May 1970 a Thanet Gazete 1st May 1970 b Thanet Gazete 1st May 1970 c

Thanet Gazette (1st May 1970)

The National Institute of Oceanography Tongue Wave Survey from the Tongue Light Vessel by August 1971

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Concrete Testing

Laboratory samples taken from a report on Tongue Fort (1977)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort From Air

Tongue Fort from the air (1980)

The easiest way to distinguish Tongue from Knock John is that Knock John's Northern 3.7" Gun pointed skywards, also note remnants top of the Control Deck which had been cut away at Knock John but remnants remain on Tongue

More photographs from Ted Ingham, these taken from a Wessex Air Sea Rescue helicopter from 22 Squadron RAF Manston in 1981

Tongue Fort from air 1981

Tongue Fort from the air (1981)

Tongue Fort deck-bridge from air 1981

Close up deck-bridge view (1981)

Tongue Light Vessel LV13 1984

Tongue Light Vessel (LV13) (1984)

The last manned Tongue lightship LV13 was built by Philip & Son Limited Dartmouth Yard in 1952, decommissioned in 1991 & towed to Hamburg where she was converted into a Bar Restaurant with accommodation

LV 1 Tongue Light Vessel in 1985

Last of the Tongue Light Vessels the modified Automatic LV1 pictured (1985)

More pictures of the LV1 - Mary Mouse 2 in Eurosiege

Information on Trinity House Light Vessels

Tongue Tower 1991

Tongue Tower (1991)

Tongue Tower 1991

Tongue Tower (1991)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort May 1992

Tongue Tower (May 1992)

Tongue Fort June 1992 a

Tongue Fort (a) (June 1992)

Following Photographs of Tongue Fort (a)-(i) shortly before the 3.7" guns were removed in June 1992

Tongue Fort June 1992 b

Tongue Fort (b) (June 1992)

Tongue Fort June 1992 c

Tongue Fort (c) (June 1992)

Tongue Fort June 1992 d

Tongue Fort (d) (June 1992)

Tongue Fort June 1992 e

Tongue Fort (e) (June 1992)

Tongue Fort June 1992 f Tongue Fort June 1992 g

Tongue Fort (f) (June 1992)
Tongue Fort (g) (June 1992)

Tongue Fort June 1992 h

Tongue Fort (h) (June 1992)

)Tongue Fort June 1992 i

Tongue Fort (i) (June 1992)

In the early 1990's Orkney resident Ray Hughes originally from Kent made inquiries about having the 3.7" Guns removed from Knock John & Tongue Forts

The British Grand Fleet were based in Scapa Flow in WWI & II the scene of the tragic losses in both conflicts, despite fierce Naval battles none of the armaments survived

Involved with the Lyness Museum Ray's undertaking was to have the Big Guns exhibited in the Orkney Islands

Through protracted negotiation Ray persuaded the Admiral of the Fleet to take off the Guns as a special exercise

Not undertaken lightly the estimated hourly cost of a Chinook at the time being around £20k

Pictures below by RAF Manston from June 1992

U3 HMS Tongue Fort from air in colour 1992

Tongue about to have it's 'teeth' pulled (June 1992)

The Royal Engineers landed a team from a Sea-King Helicopter to burn away the multitude of securing bolts and fitted

strops for lifting the heavy guns

Royal Engineers airlifted onto Tongue Tower

Royal Engineers airlifted onto Tongue Tower (June 1992)

Royal Engineers on Tongue ready for lift

Royal Engineers set about preparing for the lift (June 1992)

Royal Engineer cutting 3.7" Gun bolts

Royal Engineer acetylene cutting the 3.7" Gun fixing bolts (June 1992)

Royal Engineer acetylene cutting the 3.7" Gun fixing bolts

Royal Engineer acetylene cutting the 3.7" Gun fixing bolts (June 1992)

U3 HMS Tongue FortFrom Air 1992 Up up and away 3.7" gun lifted from fort

Chinook Crew observing (June 1992)
The last 3.7" Gun leaves Tongue Fort (June 1992)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort from air less guns 1992 U3 HMS Tongue Fort from air less guns 1992 Colour

Hovering over Tongue (June 1992)
Tongue now depleted of armaments(June 1992)

An RAF Chinook using Manston as operational HQ pulled the guns taking them back to Manston on the proviso they were removed within 48 hours

Ex-Merchant Naval Officer, Master Mariner, local historian John Guy intervened making a case to keep one 3.7" gun in Kent

This was accomplished with a home being found for a Tongue Gun at Fort Gardens in Gravesend, Kent close to where the Forts had been built, fitted and armed

The other three guns we're transported to the Orkney Islands

Tongue Fort July 1992 a

Tongue (j) (July 1992)

Photographs (j) - (t) of Tongue Fort soon after loosing her 3.7" guns (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 b

Tongue Fort (k) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 c

Tongue Fort (l) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 d Tongue Fort July 1992 e

Tongue Fort (m) (July 1992)
Tongue Fort (n) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 f Tongue Fort July 1992 g

Barry & Clive Tongue Fort (o) (July 1992)
Tongue Fort (p) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 h

Tongue Fort (q) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 i

Tongue Fort (r) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 j

Tongue Fort (s) (July 1992)

Tongue Fort July 1992 k

Tongue Fort (t) (July 1992)

Sailing close to the Fort throughout the mid 1990's it was apparent that the leg distortion was becoming very much more pronounced

U3 HMS Tongue Fort 3.7" gun Ex-Thames Naval Fort 3.7" gun in Orkney

The only remaining Sea Fort 3.7" Gun in Fort Gardens, Gravesend, Kent
Ex-Thames Naval Fort 3.7" Gun at Lyness Museum, Orkney

3.7" gun in Orkney

Refurbished 3.7" Ex-Naval Fort Gun in Orkney

Thames Naval Fort 3.7 HAA Gun

Thames Naval Fort 3.7 Heavy-Anti-Aircraft Gun at the Scapa Flow Museum & Visitor Centre at Lyness Naval Base

Map of Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum

Map showing the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre Centre & Museum

A few minutes walk from the Lyness Ferry Terminal the museum is at the old Naval Lyness Fuel Pumping Station (HMS Proserpine) illustrates the importance of Scapa Flow in WWI & II Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum, Lyness, Hoy, Orkney, KW16 3NU (01856 791300)

N.B The Guns have been moved see Medway Thames Defences

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Leg Stump 1996

Tongue Tower North Leg Stump (March 1996)

Finally, during a violent storm overnight on 21st & 22nd February 1996, the whole Fort structure toppled disappearing into a huge hole, all that remains is a single 18 foot stump of the Southern Leg

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Leg Stump from air 1996

The Southern Leg Stump of Tongue Tower from the air (1996)

U3 HMS Tongue Fort Leg Stump 1996

Tongue Towers Leg Stump (1906)

Fishing off Tongue Fort Leg Stump 2021

Phil Fishing off Tongue Tower Leg Stump (July 2021)

01/03/11 - The Tongue Sands photos are awesome! Chris C&E Computer Services

With grateful thanks to Ted Ingham, John Guy, Ray Hughes, Terry Vacani Binocular & Cine Collectors and Captain Graham for their help in producing this feature

Includes original cuttings from the late Maurice Gething archive (Director Radio 390)

More information on the Coastal Defense of Kent can be found at the Kent History ForumFor a comprehensive guide to all the Sea Forts go to Fort Fax

For all our Offshore Radio and Fort Features navigate from the ScrapBook Index

[HOME] (c)Bob Le-Roi 2011