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History Lighthouses

Nab Tower

REF NR: 570

The Nab Tower's strange story of origin goes back a whole century to World War I, when the admiralty became alarmed by the many losses of allied merchant ships to the German U-boats. Thus in 1916 they evolved a secret plan to erect a set of twelve giant towers. These would be towed into place and eventually form a defensive line across the Straits of Dover (between Dungeness and Cap Gris Nez) as an anti-submarine defence scheme. 


The towers were constructed using reinforced concrete and aimed to house a compliment of 100 men in order to orchestrate the various potential engagements. Between each tower there was going to be a chain-linked boom with anti-submarine net suspended from it. On the top of the towers there were going to be various gun mounts. At the base of each tower and into the surrounding waters, a large map of mines would be laid to protect it from enemy intervention.



Following government approval, work began on the first two towers in June 1918. The project was codenamed M-N and came to life on a very rural beach on the south side of Shoreham Harbour in Sussex. Everyone involved was naturally sworn to secrecy about their activites. Slowly but surely, with the help of a detachment of royal engineers, a set of large buildings started taking form in an area a little east of the lighthouse.




Work was round the clock and carried on throughout the night. You can just make out within the image above, that each tower was mounted on its own individual platform and resembled a wedding cake with their multi-level tiers. With 3,000 civilians and 5,000 army personnel, it was no wonder it was deemed to be a modern day wonder!



As they grew in size, greater speculation was being made among the everyday folk of Littlehampton and Beachy Head. Something this big was very difficult to disguise and so locally they were referred to as "Shoreham's Mystery Towers". It's said however, that during the time they were being built, no one managed to guess their true purpose.


November 1918 saw the first of the towers near completion, when suddenly the need for them became totally redundant as the war had finally come to an end. It was another two years before the true purpose of the towers was revealed to the public. 


The two twin towers then stood for some time with no real purpose and started to become something of an eyesore once the novelty began to fade. Eventually a suggestion was put forward to use one of the towers to replace the old lightship and mark the dangerous spots of the Nab Rock to the south-east of Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. Local Solent seadogs mourned the loss of the lightship, as the way she would lay informed them of the run of the tides.  



So the first tower set off for Portsmouth on 12th September 1920. With all flags flying, it was set for its journey to its final resting place. Many locals waved it off as it slowly went on its way. The newly christened Nab Tower finally arrived and by order of the mayor, the sea cocks opened to allow the main body to gently sink to the bottom. However as it finally came to rest on the sea bottom, a sudden twitch and shudder left the body of the tower with a three degree tilt from the upright leaning to the north-east (as can be clearly seen from the above image). The fate of the second tower was not so dignified and over the next nine months it was broken up and used as building material.


During World War II, the tower was manned with a crew and a Bofors gun - subsequently being credited with several kills. Now fully automated, Nab Tower is still doing a good job of assisting navigation and preventing rock collisions. That is, unless you are the captain of a banana boat - as in November 1999 when the freighter Dole America crashed into the tower and both the tower and freighter were badly damaged. All has since been repaired and both the tower and the freighter are still active today.   


Nab Tower has had a major refit, makeover and reduction in size.