World War Two Meets Science Fiction: Pirate Radio and Micronations

Image by Hywel Williams

Image by Hywel Williams

These bizarre fortified towers look more like a cross between the Imperial Walkers from Star Wars and the Martians from War of the Worlds. In the context of the time they were built – the Second World War – they must have looked impossibly futuristic. Today, their rusting shells seem like an invading hoard of mechanical monsters – the opposite, in fact, of what they actually are.

Image by Hywel Williams

Image by Hywel Williams

History

The sea forts were designed by British civil engineer Guy Maunsell to keep the Germans at bay during World War Two.  Placed in the Thames Estuary and operated by the Royal Navy, the forts served to deter and report incoming air raids using the river as an approach to London, and deter enemy attempts to lay mines in the busy shipping lanes.  All were built in dry dock and equipped with two 3.75-inch guns and two 40 mm Bofors guns before being towed out to their permanent locations.  The forts were finally decommissioned in the late 1950s and reused for other purposes – from the semi-mainstream to the downright bizarre.

Pirate Radio

Image by Gregory Williams

Image by Gregory Williams

During the mid-1960s, some of the empty forts were taken over by pirate radio stations.  Following the launch of Radio Caroline in 1964, Screaming Lord Sutch established Radio Sutch in one of the abandoned towers at Shivering Sands.  Soon after, Sutch sold out to his manager Reginald Calvert who renamed the project Radio City and expanded to several of the adjoining towers.  The beginning of the end came when Calvert was killed in a dispute over the station’s ownership (found to be self-defense rather than murder), which prompted the government to pass legislation in 1967 against pirate radio set-ups.

Principality of Sealand

Image by Hywel Williams

Image by Hywel Williams

It would be a shame for such a bizarre story to go without an even more bizarre twist, and this one is about as bizarre as they come!  One of the towers, the former HM Fort Roughs, is now – according to its ruler, Paddy Roy Bates – an independant sovereign state, or micronation.  Some commentators have, apparently, even gone as far as to classify the former gun emplacement as the world’s smallest nation, although this status is not recognised by any United Nations member state.

Bates took over the fort in 1967 and planned to run a pirate radio station from it, soon after renaming it Sealand.  In 1968, the Royal Navy entered what Bates claimed were Sealand’s territorial waters to service a navigation buoy.  His son, Michael, tried to scare the vessel away by firing warning shots across its bow, and as a result Bates was hauled before the British courts.  Remarkably, the case was dismissed when the court ruled that Sealand was beyond the three mile limit and thus outside British jurisdiction.  Beginning in 1975, Bates introduced a constitution for Sealand, followed by a flag, a national anthem, a currency and passports.

Forcible Takeover

The next bit is worth quoting in full, because it’s literally too good to try and summarise (for those Wikipedia-phobics amongst you, sorry in advance!):

In 1978, while Bates was away, Alexander Achenbach, who describes himself as the Prime Minister of Sealand, and several German and Dutch citizens staged a forcible takeover of Roughs Tower, holding Bates’ son Michael captive, before releasing him several days later in the Netherlands. Bates thereupon enlisted armed assistance and, in a helicopter assault, retook the fort. He then held the invaders captive, claiming them as prisoners of war. Most participants in the invasion were repatriated at the cessation of the “war”, but Achenbach, a German lawyer who held a Sealand passport, was charged with treason against Sealand and was held unless he paid DM 75,000 (more than US$ 35,000). The governments of the Netherlands and Germany petitioned the British government for his release, but the United Kingdom disavowed all responsibility, citing the 1968 court decision. Germany then sent a diplomat from its London embassy to Roughs Tower to negotiate for Achenbach’s release. Roy Bates relented after several weeks of negotiations and subsequently claimed that the diplomat’s visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany. Following his repatriation, Achenbach established a “government in exile” in Germany, in opposition to Roy Bates, assuming the name “Chairman of the Privy Council”. He handed the position to Johannes Seiger in 1989 because of illness. Seiger continues to claim—via his website—that he is Sealand’s legitimate ruling authority.

Personal thoughts: probably the best story I’ve heard all week (to the point that this article should probably be filed under Legend.  I really don’t think there’s anything more to add!

But definitely check out the images and info on iMaker

Also have a look at BLDG Blog for some amazing images of their interiors

 

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