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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Dover Castle - The Secret Wartime Tunnels

The first tunnels under Dover Castle were constructed in the Middle  Ages to provide a protected line of communication for the soldiers  manning the northern outworks and to allow the garrison to gather  unseen before launching a surprise attack. During the Napoleonic  Wars, this system of tunnels was greatly expanded to fortify the  Castle in readiness for a French invasion. Seven tunnels (running  with damp and prone to collapse) were dug as barracks for the  soldiers and officers who were filling both castle and town to  overflowing. These were capable of accommodating up to 2,000  troops. They are the only underground barracks ever built in  Britain.   In May 1940, as France fell before the German advance, the tunnels became the nerve centre for 'Operation Dynamo' - the evacuation  of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French troops from  Dunkirk's beaches. Admiral Ramsay and his staff worked round the  clock for nine days. On 26 May some 400,000 troops were awaiting  rescue on the beaches of Dunkirk. The best estimate was that only  45,000 could be brought back. Yet, by 4 June, nearly all were  evacuated. In total, 338,000 men came back: the BEF and 139,000  French soldiers. In the Second World War there was also a hospital in the tunnels  complete with operating theatre.  Fortunately casualties were lower  than expected and later in the war some of the ward tunnels were  given over to dormitories and mess accommodation for military  personnel based at the castle. The main military telephone exchange was installed in the tunnels  in 1941. Manually operated, it linked Dover to the Admiralty, the  War Office and the Air ministry, to the fighter airfields, anti-aircraft  batteries, naval bases, coastal artillery and radar sites. In the Cold War the tunnels were further expanded to form a  Regional Centre of Government in the event of nuclear war. With  the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the need for this facility decreased and in the early 1990s it was decommissioned and areas of the  tunnels opened to the public.
Coastal artillery plotting room. This room controlled gun batteries from Hastings to the North Forland. The underground hospital, 1944. Back to Castle Index