Working on the principle that there are no secrets in the MOD, I decide to take a brief look at the Secret Port of Richborough, Britain’s Top Secret WW1 port in Kent. I knew where there is more information, this is just a wee taster.
Set up as a barge depot on the banks of the Sour in Pegwell Bay in May 1916. Before long the depot developed into a stores depot and transportation terminal. 17 store buildings each of 25,000 sq ft were built as well as six stockyards. Stores were used in all theatres of operations including the UK. Hawkage Airbase was constructed using stores from Richborough.
With the increase in German U-Boat activity it was decided to send stores and munitions to France by barge. Barges had less draft than ships so were relatively immune to torpedoes. They also had to be capable of both cross channel crossing and of use on french inland waterways. The first barges were only assembled at the new Port of Richborough using plates milled elsewhere. The first barge crossed the channel on 1 December 1916. Shortly after a new Wharf and barge building yard along with a Rolling Mill was completed and the first Richborough Barge was launched in January 1917.
During 1917 the port was considerably enlarged, 97 barges were laid down of which 92 were completed by the end of the year. 1,35 tons of supplies and munitions were sent by barge from Richborough to france in January 1917, September 1917 total was 14,640 tons. A peak was reached on the 1st October 1918 was 6,822 tons carried by barge on just that one day. In total barges carried 1,282,656 tons of supplies and munitions, over 1,000,000 tons were carried directly onto the French Inland Waterway system. ten of the barges built at and used from Richborough were 1,000 ton barges.
During December 1916 it was proposed to develop a new type of ferry service from Richborough, a roll on Roll off ferry. the idea was goods. supplies, and munitions could be taken straight on board by train and on arrival the train could be driven directly onto the French rail network. Three ferries were trialed two at Richborough, and one at Southampton, the French ports were Calais and Dunkirk. each ferry had four parallel tracks the equivalent of 1080ft of Railway Line. The ferries could carry 54 ordinary railway wagons or between 50-60 vehicles.
These ferries had a speed of 12 knots and were capable of crossing the channel in any weather condition any other cross channel ship could. The Roll on Roll off ferries were armed with four 12 ponder guns, each had a crew of 65. because of an adjustable bridge system at each port the Roll on Roll off ferries were not restricted to the times of tides. One thing I found remarkable was each ferry could be loaded or unloaded in less than thirty minutes.
between the 10th May 1918 and 1st January 1919 260,928 tons were carried on these ferries between Richborough and Calais. Including 3 Armoured Cars
7,142 Railway Wagons
and 734 Tanks
Richborough at its close extended to 2,200 acres of mainly wharves, workshop,s foundries, power stations, as well as storage buildings. 420 officers, and 19,500 men were based there, and. 700 women workers arrived each day by train to work along side those officers and men.