holton heath bofor towers

Holton Heath’s Anti-Aircraft Gun Towers

This week I visited Holton Heath and Sandford to explore the two light anti-aircraft Bofors gun tower sites. I’d been wanting to explore these two pairs of Holton Heath towers for months now, and they were no disappointment.

You can see my adventure in the video below where I visit both sets of Bofors anti-aircraft gun towers. One pair of towers is on the Holton Heath nature reserve, south of the abandoned Royal Navy Cordite Factory. The second pair of towers are located in Sandford to the west of the World War 2 factory.

WW2 towers in Holton Heath: quick history

During the Second World War, Holton Heath in Dorset was home to the Royal Navy Cordite Factory, making gun propellants for the British fleet. As a target for enemy bombers, a plan to protect it was needed.

The British military decided to build two tower locations; one on Holton Heath, and one on a field in Sandford. Each of the World War 2 gunsite locations were comprised of a pair of towers, set against each other. 

One tower in each pair was equipped with a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, while the other adjacent tower would house an observation post.

Gun tower site 1 on Holton Heath

tower in holton heath
In this photo you can see the first pair of towers to the south of the factory site on the Holton Heath nature reserve.

The reason that they built two light anti-aircraft gun (LAA) towers in pairs like this together is due to vibration. The Bofors gun would be on one tower, whilst the tower next to the gun one would be for an observation post.

They are then separated by just a few centimetres… and this was key because by having both teams on separate towers, even if the separation was only centimetres, it meant that the vibration from the Bofors gun tower did not affect the vision of the observer on the secondary tower.

bofors gun towers in holton heath dorset
Each pair of gun towers like this are around 5 metres tall. It would given a fantastic vantage point to aim at any enemy fighters and bombers looking to attack the Royal Navy Cordite Factory on Holton Heath in Dorset.

Gun tower site 2 in Sandford

To the west of the Royal Navy Cordite Factory is the second anti-aircraft gun tower near Holton Heath. As with the other wartime gunsite, this Bofors gun tower is extremely rare, and is protected as a UK national monument.

sanford gun tower
The gun towers on the Sandford farmland have started to separate, with one leaning dangerously.

Not many Bofors gun towers like these were made during the Second World War. It’s believed there are only 10 light anti-aircraft towers (including the, Holton Heath and Sandford sites) like this in the UK still standing.

And this pair on Sandford in Dorset are just about standing. As you can see, one of the towers (the gun tower) has started to separate away from the pair and is now leaning dangerously away from its partner, the observation tower.

leaning gun tower in holton heath sandford
In this photo you can really see how prominent the leading Bofors gun tower is.

They should only really be a few centimetres apart, so you can see how much one of the towers have started to lean. The lean is apparently due to rabbits making burrows under the concrete foundations and buckling the base – you can see that in the photo below.

bofors gun tower
You can see here how the concrete base has buckled. This is due to subsidence caused by rabbits digging.

When you see all the cracks and bends in the tower it makes you wonder how long it will be before complete collapse.

Please note:If you do visit the Sandford site towers from World War 2, please don’t make the mistake I did. The second pair were actually on private land (I didn’t realise at the time) and very dangerous due to the lean.

To conclude; there were 1,250 light anti-aircraft batteries built during WW2, with many different designs. Towers like the ones at Holton Heath and Sandford are the rarest with only being around 80 or believed to have been made between 1939 and 1945.

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