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Happy 80th Birthday to our Fortress Home

roughs tower grounding 2

The ‘Roughs Tower’ fortress, which would later become the home the Principality of Sealand, was constructed in 1941, and today marks 80 years since her launch.

Designed by Guy Maunsell and constructed at Red Lion Wharf, Gravesend in the UK, Roughs Tower was the first of four identical anti-aircraft forts built to guard London and the Thames estuary from German bombers during WW2.
Once construction was complete, Roughs Tower, code named U1 (Uncle 1) was towed to her final position on the 11th February 1942. The concrete barge upon which she sat was to be positioned onto the seabed by controlled sinking.  This did not go to plan however. Due to a breakdown in communication in the ranks of the Naval sailors stationed on the barge, the sinking rapidly spiralled out of control. The fortress lurched perilously and all but toppled into the sea, with 200 sailors onboard desperately clinging for their lives. Moments from disaster, the edge of the concrete barge upon which the fort sat, touched the seabed, and the fortress regained stability, much to the relief of the entire Royal Navy! Needless to say that the controlled sinking of the other 3 forts was done so without personnel present on them.

In the early part of her proud 80 year history, Roughs Tower defended the UK against German air raids, engaged and destroyed vessels from the German Navy and survived German mines. On one occasion a mine collided with one of the concrete towers. The sailors on board held their breath as they watched it scrape perilously past the concrete towers, before passing harmlessly into the North Sea.

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The post war years were a much quieter period, during which the military hardware was decommissioned by a small maintenance crew. By the mid 1950’s the Royal Navy abandoned the fortress to nature.
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roughs tower grounding
The mid 60’s would see a renewed interest in Roughs Tower, owing to its unique location in International waters, coupled with the  proliferation of Pirate Radio. ‘Radio Pirates’ from ‘Radio Caroline’ manned the fortress with the intention of converting her into an offshore radio station. It’s at this time that Roughs Tower became of interest to Roy Bates – a competing ‘Radio Pirate’. Roy landed on the fortress with his son, Michael and removed the residents by force on Christmas Eve, 1966. The months that followed would see violent skirmishes with rival Pirate Radio factions, all of which were successfully repelled by the Bates family who had hastily armed themselves with firearms, Molotov cocktails and homemade projectiles.

By September of 1967, Roy Bates and his family had firmly established themselves on Roughs tower. It was at this time that Roy declared independence to the rest of the world, and formed the Principality of Sealand. 

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The years which followed were no less eventful. Sealand would go on to fight off multiple invasion attempts, international court battles and clashes with the Royal Navy. At one point the Bates family briefly lost control of Sealand in an armed coup d’etat. This culminated in a dawn helicopter counter assault, the result of which was a resounding victory for the Bates family and a stark message to any other would-be-invaders.  At the heart of the enduring resistance was a young Prince Michael.  Read the amazing true story of his adventures on Sealand in his autobiography, available here.

Roughs Tower still stands proudly today, 80 years on from her launch as the home of the Principality of Sealand, and enjoys the prospect of a bright future in the hands of the Bates family as they continue to build on her legacy.

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