The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton
The Plotting Rooms. Before & After 2000.
These pictures show the D-Day Plot room in 6 June 1944, and as it existed in 15 June 1994.
The priceless photograph on the left, taken with Lieut. Robin Bruce Lockhart’s camera, records for posterity the scene in the HMS FORWARD Plotting room at 0730hrs British Double Summer Time on D-Day 6 June, 1944, where sixteen personnel of different rank, gender and military persuasion (RN, WRNS, RNVR, RCNVR, RAF, & WAAF) had spent the entire night watch. Fourteen of the sixteen people in the photograph endorsed this print. Exceptionally this plot is horizontal; the Senior Service had a penchant for vertical plotting but the circumstances of this unique occasion with so many vessels involved demanded this unusual approach. Commander JS Dalison RN (turning to camera) clearly approved the picture because he signed it. Lieut. Robin Bruce Lockhart, standing, holding a telephone in the centre of the photograph, kindly agreed to transfer all reproduction rights of the picture to me on learning of my research into HMS Forward.
Fifty years on, the location is recognisable only by the round air trunking and the doorway (right). The breeze block partition was partly demolished by looters liberating the wood battening that supported the plywood lining that lays decomposing on the floor.
The side-by-side pre-D-Day vertical plot locations for the Wrens (Navy) and the ATS (Army)
The Royal Navy and the Army shared the incoming intelligence derived by the coastal radar stations, filtered it, separated friend from foe (or 'recognised' from 'unrecognised' radar images). Information regarding suspect or hostile craft was then dealt with according to the circumstances. The Navy could call upon its own resources and/or the Royal Air Force to investigate or engage as required, whilst the Army Plot was in contact with cliff-top observation posts and guns along the Sussex shoreline who would deal with any threat within eleven miles of the shore. IWM picture H14502, taken by Lt. Tanner on 2nd. October 1941, illustrates "The finished 'Ops' room with WRNS at work on the telephones (Both Army and Navy will use the Control when completed)"; close observation of the picture discloses that its claims were somewhat premature! It corresponds with the left hand picture viewpoint. The picture cannot be shown here for copyright reasons but may be viewed at Newhaven Local & Maritime Museum.
The discovered map fragments and the part they played on the HMS FORWARD Plots.
Some coloured hardboard fragments were discovered whilst clearing detritus from the WRNS Mess floor. They were distorted, stained and damp but might hold a wealth of information. By sheer good fortune, when pieced together they formed the bottom left hand corner of a map, thus revealing its extreme southern and western limits. When it was found to relate to the French Cotentin Peninsular, it became evident that it might be one of the plot maps. The white numbered grid reference squares were significant, and the transverse red lines even more so. These corresponded to 10Km & 100Km squares on the pre-1945 Cassini OS maps that were specific to the British Isles, but had been 'extended' to cover the French and Belgian coasts. Each white 10Km square was drawn as a 2-ins square on the map; since hardboard is made in 4 ft x 8 ft sheets, it was only a matter of simple arithmetic to discover the potential area that was possible at this scale. The answer is illustrated in the right hand drawing - North to South, 150 miles or 240 Km; West to East, >187 miles or >300Km with only 5 ft width would reach from Cherbourg to Ostende.
Major Tom K Hitchins TD RA (Retd) recalled "I was posted to HMS FORWARD in 1942 to set up a combined Army/Naval plotting room beneath Naval HQ. I drew the wall charts on which we plotted the movements of shipping moving east and west - our own Navy, and hostile shipping off the French coast. (Some years later when Tom Hitchins was promoted to Major, he returned to Newhaven and assumed command of Newhaven Fort. He was the last CO of the Fort and closed it down).
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All illustrations and text on this site are © 1941-2019 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.