SMHS Study Day

26 May 2012

Hewn out of the rock on the cliff top at Newhaven, overlooking the harbour and Ouse estuary crouches Newhaven Fort, built in the 1860s - the largest defence work ever constructed in Sussex, an appropriate setting for the second SMHS Study Day.

Study Day

81 military history enthusiasts packed the School Room casemate to hear speakers on the theme ‘Land, Air and Sea' - and were not disappointed.

After a warm welcome and refreshments on arrival our first speaker was Geoff Bridger, published author and military consultant. Geoff's talk entitled The Great War Medley took us through 100 photos from WW1, some poignant, all informative, many amusing, plenty heartbreaking - a rollercoaster ride injected with Geoff's gentle humour and immense knowledge.

Andy Saunders, author and military aviation researcher, (the man who made Tangmere Aviation Museum happen) gave us our second talk One Day in Sussex in the Battle of Britain, focussing on Friday 16th August 1940. Andy conjured up the scenes of horror and devastation on the day he calls ‘Black Friday'. He described the waves of attacks starting around midday over Kent. Coastal radar picked up four large formations of attackers which were met by 3 Squadrons of our own Hurricanes and Spitfires. By 12.30pm a raid over the IOW, Hampshire and West Sussex was underway with the action further East diminishing; Tangmere Airfield was savaged. Andy kindly donated the profits from copies of his books sold on the day to our chosen charity, Help for Heroes. More information on Andy can be found on his website

Ed Tyhurst is clearly a man who is passionate about his work, but then he does work at Newhaven Fort! Ed took us on a tour of the Fort - giving a fascinating insight into its history and firepower. The Fort has been called into service through every conflict during its existence when the threat of invasion has loomed.

After lunch we fastened our seatbelts as Peter Hibbs took us around The Battlefield beneath Your Feet - The Defence of East Sussex 1940 - 42. Pete explained that after the Dunkirk Evacuation in May 1940 the invasion of Britain seemed inevitable. Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces, General Ironside had very limited men and even less equipment, most of which was abandoned in the haste of the aforesaid evacuation. With limited resources Ironside set in place static linear fortifications, ‘Stop Lines' lined with pillboxes and anti-tank traps designed to slow down the Germans until they could be met by Home Troops. Pete enchanted us with Google Earth imagery showing the anti-invasion defences in Sussex along with how the method of defence changed as more men and equipment became available. Plenty of ooohs and ahhs followed as we saw Cripps Corner and Pevensey Castle rise up in their WW2 battledress and tanks crawl across the Downs. Words alone cannot do this presentation justice - so have a look at his website and click on the Cuckmere Haven Model for a taster!

After a break our final speaker, Simon Bellamy brought us The Channel Dash - Tactical Defeat, Strategic Victory! Simon is a Member of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies and as an Officer in the Royal Naval Reserve has served all around the world. Articulate and authoritative, Simon described the audacious German plan to move three immense and heavily armed battleships from Brest in Brittany, through the Channel right under the nose of the Allies! He explained how radar-jamming and the decision to leave the harbour at night, together with communication errors on the part of the Allies gave the Germans a 13 hour head-start. He recounted the brave Swordfish crews who attempted to torpedo the convoy despite the mission being near suicidal, the failure of the guns at South Foreland, the efforts of Bomber/Fighter/Coastal Commands; all of which were ineffective. Simon explained that whilst the Dash was a success in that the ships made it through the channel, none played any further part in the war, and what's more their absence from the Atlantic brought a sigh of relief in reducing the threat to the Atlantic Convoys.

Our day was compared by Robert Peedle MBE TD. Bob can be heard on Sundays between 6.00pm and 7.00pm on Seahaven FM (96.3) with his radio show Forces on Parade. Bob often has guests interested in Military History on his show; you can listen online via:

We are indebted to Bob and our Speakers for the day all of whom gave their talks free of charge in order to maximise the donation we could make to our chosen charity Help for Heroes. SMHS is delighted to announce that as a result of the Study Day we have made a donation of £1000 to the charity - which is a phenomenal sum and the Society would like to thank everyone who attended for their generosity.

All in all, a ‘Grand Day Out!' and a substantial donation to a very worthwhile cause, roll on next year!

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7.30pm for 8.00pm start
Function Room of the
Royal Oak Public House,
Station Street, Lewes,
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