This is the home page for a study of the defences built by the British to defend their ports around the World between 1840 and 1914. This is a vast subject and there is no doubt mistakes have been made,  for which I apologise in advance.  Any corrections or suggestion please to john@pinkroutes.com.  This site is the result of many years of exploration and research and is an ongoing process.

The principal emphasis is on the defence of Coaling Stations of the late 19th Century, which were spread across the Oceans to link up all the areas of the world marked in pink on maps as British possessions.  Hence the adoption of Pink Routes for the web site.  These vital sea routes were protected by a formidable navy that by the second half of the 19th Century has become dependent on high quality Welsh coal to keep the boilers functioning effectively.

The maintenance of sea supremacy was the basis of British Imperial Defence policy to prevent any seaborne attacks.  “That the basis of our Empire is sea-power, and that the first essential to Imperial defence is command of the sea, it is happily no longer necessary to demonstrate”. (Lieut-Col. May E.S., 1903, Principles and Problems of Imperial Defence. London Swan Sonenschiein & Co Ltd.)  The role of the Navy was to seek out and engage the ships of the enemy or blockage them in port.  It was noted that this policy “may result in the enemy obtaining temporary command of the sea in those waters which are outside the action of our main fleets.”  With important ports spread throughout the World it was recognised that there was a need for fixed coastal defences at certain ports.  These were identified as:

  • naval bases where the Royal Navy could replenish and repair its’ warships as required.
  • coaling stations where good quality coal could be loaded onto the warships quickly.
  • ports with strategic value and in order tto deny them to the enemy.
  • commercial ports so that trade can continue as best as possible during any conflict.  These commercial ports may have some limited naval ships such as patrol vessels and torpedo boats.

The coastal defences were not intended to be impregnable but sufficient to inflict such damage on any attacker so that when naval re-enforcements did arrive, they would have a significant tactical advantage to prevail.  It was envisaged that any attack could involve one or more battleships or cruisers, motor torpedo boats, landing parties etc.  Of most concern was probably a well-armed capital ship that could stand off and bombard the harbour area, or an attack by a force of motor torpedo boats.  Thus, we see the introduction of counter bombardment batteries, usually 9.2-inch guns, and 12-pdr Q.F. guns to deal with smaller motor torpedo boats. from The Organisation and Fighting of the Fixed Armament of a Coast Fortress or Defended Port. (Provisional) 1911 manual by the General Staff of the War Office (UK TNA 33/513).

Within the UK, the primarily dockyards were at Portsmouth, Woolwich which also became the primary Arsenal, Chatham, Sheerness, Plymouth, Pembroke, Haulbowline , Weymouth and Dover

During this period dockyard and coaling establishments were built in:

Antigua, closed in 1882, Esquimalt & Halifax in Canada, Trincomalee and Colombo in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Hong Kong, Madras and Bombay in India, Jamaica, Malta, Menorca, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa  and Wei Hai Wei in China.

The building of  fortifications at the harbours, both at home and abroad, came about because of evolving strategic military requirements.  However, the key stimulus for building these fortifications came from:

  1. Thee Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom in 1860
  2. Defence of Commercial Ports
  3. Defence of Coaling Stations

The map is best viewed in the Aerial option.  Any comments or corrections to john@pinkroutes.com  please.