Coastal Defence Battery on Mumbles Hill


 The Coastal Guns of Mumbles Headland


by John Powell and Kate Elliott Jones

Their task was to defend against seaborne attacks and to engage and destroy enemy vessels on the Bristol Channel

The geography of Mumbles Hill and its two islands proved an ideal location for siting defences for the town of Swansea five miles away. During the Second World War the Mumbles headland once more confirmed its natural strategic position when, as part of a nationwide system of coastal defences it was fortified with two batteries to protect the ports of Swansea, Briton Ferry and Port Talbot. The 299th Coastal Defence Battery was on Mumbles Hill, the lighthouse island and at the coastguard station on Tutt Head.
 Their primary task was to engage and destroy enemy vessels on the Bristol Channel and Swansea Bay. The guns were supported by searchlights situated in emplacements on Lighthouse Island & Tutt Head, which when required, were able to illuminate the sea at night. 
Defence against attack from the air, was the task of 623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery which was situated at the Thistleboon end of Mumbles Hill. 


Today Mumbles Hill is a Local Nature Reserve and a largely-deserted peaceful haven, overgrown in places, but beautiful nonetheless. This section of the reserve in the photo overlooks Tutt Head and the present Coastguard Station, which closed in the spring of 2015. The old Coastguard station on the same site played an important part in our story.
We shall explore the wartime gun positions, which had wonderful views over the Bristol Channel, as well as having a glimpse into the life and times of those who served there and on the Lighthouse Island.


A link to a Swansea Ramblers walk on Mumbles Hill Nature Reserve, which includes many excellent photos and maps, is below in 'Acknowledgments'..

The port of Swansea served the heavy industrial area of South Wales and was the nearest of the large Bristol Channel docks to the Atlantic. Because of its importance Swansea had been included in the pre-war list of ports where fixed defences would be essential in the event of war, although there were none in place when war did break out. By the summer of 1940 the need for defence against both sea and air attacks had become critical. 

The defeat and occupation of France in June put Swansea in easy reach from air bases in Normandy and Brittany and there was also a very real fear of a German invasion during that summer or autumn. We now know that, around this time, high altitude reconnaissance photographs were taken by the Luftwaffe of Swansea and its surrounding area.


Mumbles Headland Gun-sites and Port War Signal Station

 THE DEFENCES AND THE DEFENDERS  


During the second world war the fixed artillery defence of the port of Swansea was the 299th Coastal Battery of two six-inch guns installed at the eastern end of Mumbles Hill (Battery A) and two 4.7-inch guns on Mumbles lighthouse island (Battery B). The island and the coastguard station on Tutt Head on the opposite side of Bracelet Bay from the lighthouse also had a pair of searchlights each. The battery was in place by November 1940.

Some seven hundred personnel were eventually assigned to make the two batteries operational. These included members of the Royal Artillery, Home Guard, the Women's Royal Naval Service, known to us as the WRENS, as well as several specialist support units. In addition, women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) served in the 623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery which was situated at the Thistleboon end of Mumbles Hill.

          In June 1940 Newton air raid warden Laurie Latchford (photo right) noted in his diary: ‘Two six-inch guns carried on special railway trucks have appeared, and were run to their unloading point at Mumbles Fort, but had to be taken away until special tackle arrived.’ Special equipment did arrive and during that hot summer the two breech-loading, ex-naval guns were mounted in their separate concrete emplacements on steel pedestals on Mumbles Hill above Bracelet Bay and the entrance to Swansea Bay. Installed by August 1940.


Battery ‘A’ on Mumbles Hill and Battery ‘B’ on the lighthouse island were both controlled from the headquarters on Mumbles Hill by twenty five officers and men of 599th Regiment. Battery 'A' had one hundred and nine soldiers from the Royal Artillery, assisted by forty-nine Home Guard men from ‘C’ Company, 12th Glamorgan (Swansea) Battalion (Mumbles Detachment), some of whom had operated similar weapons twenty years before.

262 Maintanance Battery, Royal Artillery, Mumbles Battery road sign


From 1940s Swansea Bay Museum collection 

 FIRING AND CONTROLLING THE 6 INCH GUNS

The 6 inch ex-naval gun had been designed in The guns’ primary task was to engage and destroy enemy vessels; their secondary role was to support the examination battery on the lighthouse island. The guns were capable of firing eight 100-pound shells a minute up to a distance of 12 miles (19 km). But 6 miles (9.6 km) was considered to be the limit of their effective range. Firing further than this distance would have been at the discretion of the Battery Commander. They protected the sea from Swansea Docks to Bracelet Bay and the Bristol Channel, a vital shipping route. Contemporary records reveal that a target for one of the guns was near Swansea Guildhall along with a warning that the second gun could not fire at this target without damaging the first gun.



Eight gunners were needed to fire each six-inch gun and

usually two to supply ammunition for sustained firing. Peter

Smith of the Home Guard was

trained to fire the six-inch guns and he described how the gun team worked. He was an auto set layer (traversed sideways); another man was a rocking bar layer (for elevation, up and down); two loaded the gun with shells and cordite; and another was on the breech inserting the cartridge to fire the gun. One man was a setter for the range and another was on the telephone, taking orders from the battery observational post. The range and bearing of the targets was determined by the depression range finder in the  battery observation post and this was aided by a spotter’s post nearby. Post-war investigations of the disused observation post revealed a panorama of the whole bay painted on the wall and, nearby, two machine-gun pillboxes.


          Adjacent to each of the guns was an underground ammunition store and repair workshop. Protected by a thick concrete roof were stores of shells (explosive and shrapnel), cordite charges (in silk bags) and cartridges (for firing). An engine house generator provided power for lighting, radios and other equipment. Somerset House (now Mumbles Hill House) on Mumbles Hill was requisitioned by the army as the officers’ mess. ‘War accommodation’ consisting of barracks, kitchen and washhouse was provided on both gun sites for those on duty. Off-duty men from the lighthouse island returned to Nissen huts at Bracelet Bay (where the car park is now) and on Mumbles Hill (now Thistleboon Drive). At both of these sites there was separate
accommodation for women serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (W.R.N.S) and the Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S). 


Defence sites shown on a Google map, 2016

The new Information Boards are on the site of  Coastal Gun Battery (A)

Defence Sites shown on an Aerial Photo, 7 July 1946


This loads on a new page and may take longer 
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The above photo includes:-
299th Coastal Defence Battery 'A',  
Lighthouse Island, 299th Battery 'B',
Tutt Head, Coastguard Station (from 1942 to 45, Port War Signal Station)
Coastal Gun Searchlight Posts [seaward facing] 
 and War Accommodation Sites 

LOCAL DEFENCES AND HOME GUARD WEAPONS
To protect against any invading enemy force the 299th Battery was defended by a double line of barbed-wire with trenches and pillboxes to provide cover for a platoon of thirty Home Guard troops armed with Lee Enfield rifles, grenades, Sten guns and mortars.

A Vickers machine gun defended the track up to the battery and the open ground around (near the present-day coastguard aerial). To protect against attack from the west there was a minefield and a 75 mm mobile field gun capable of firing fifteen aimed shells per minute. These mutually supporting defences ensured that in the event of any attack several gun positions could cover all the land between the sea and the top of Mumbles Hill. In addition, decoy ‘guns’ were added to the defences. Local residents remember seeing on the cliffs west of Limeslade Bay two dummy guns made from telegraph poles painted to look like big guns when viewed from a distance. 


  MUMBLES LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND   

Mumbles Hill ends in two islands separated by narrow sounds from the mainland. On the outer island (Mumbles Head) at the entrance to Swansea Bay are the Mumbles lighthouse built in 1793 and a fort erected in 1860 to protect against any French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1939 a narrow concrete causeway, exposed at low tide, was constructed across the inner and outer sounds to connect the mainland to the lighthouse island so that soldiers of the Royal Artillery could man an examination battery of two Quick Firing 4.7-inch guns. In addition, there was a 75 mm field gun for landward defence, plus several mortars and a Vickers machine guns.


The causeway was exposed at low tide


The causeway to Mumbles Lighthouse Island was built in 1940 so as to enable supplies to be taken to the Lighthouse Island and was blown up in the 1970s, due to its effect on the tides in Swansea Bay. Today some remnants can still be located, at each end of the causeway as well as alongside the Middle Island. The island was very crowded with buildings and the local Territorial Army demolished most of the buildings on the lighthouse Island in 1964 & 5.



All vessels entering Swansea Bay had to stop and state their purpose before being allowed to proceed. Any unauthorised entry to the bay would result in the guns (which had a range of five miles) being given permission to fire a sand filled practice shell across the vessel’s bows. Bill Morris, a gunner in the Royal Artillery serving on the island, commented that ‘this usually had the desired effect and they very soon stopped for checking!’
He also recalled that the concrete causeway could be very slippery and two soldiers had drowned when crossing it during a rising tide.
Gunners from the Royal Artillery (in two shifts each of fifteen men) manned the 4.7-inch guns, along with twenty-eight men from the Home Guard. Additional specialists manned the two searchlights which were mounted in emplacements on either side of the island, although there is a record that this task was also undertaken by the Home Guard.

Photo collage includes: A searchlight emplacement, before Mumbles Lighthouse and Fort, the engine house and the second searchlight post.


 The two searchlight emplacements on Mumbles Lighthouse Island were positioned in front and lower down of the quick firing guns, so that they could sweep the surface of the water. The searchlight mechanism and lens were set within the building, behind a metal shield made up of a number of sliding steel shutters, and were powered by electricity generated in the engine room. There were also two searchlight emplacements on Tutt, but these have been demolished and only the bases remain. 

The base of one of the two demolished searchlight emplacements at The Tutt


The engine house at the Tutt is now owned by Castellamare Restaurant and has been updated, but the outside still has some original features. 


 By the spring of 1943 the likelihood of an enemy invasion of Britain had diminished. A corresponding increase in the need for men and weapons for the Middle East and for the forthcoming invasion of French North Africa meant there could be a gradual reduction in coastal defences. ‘Seventy-one batteries out of the two hundred and sixty existing in the autumn of 1943 could be sacrificed.’ In many batteries Home Guard members had already replaced all but a few serving soldiers and this was the case in Mumbles where, by November 1943, men of the Mumbles Home Guard detachment (under the control of two Royal Artillery non-commissioned officers) took over the manning and upkeep of one of the two six-inch guns on Mumbles Hill. The other six-inch gun was maintained but not crewed, and the men were not continually 'closed-up' on the gun for the duration of their shift, but were on stand-by in 'war accommodation' close by. Only seven men would be needed on each shift, as it was not expected to have to fire continuously. As part of the coastal defences reorganisation (Flood Tide) carried out in 1943-4 the Mumbles Lighthouse Island examination battery was also reduced.    

 

The Coastguard Station on Tutt Head

On the west side of Bracelet Bay is Tutt Head coastguard station where, during the war, there were two searchlights operated by specialists and other local defences manned by forty men of the Home Guard. Between 1942 and 1945 the coastguard station was taken over by the Royal Navy and became a signal station controlling all shipping in that part of the Bristol Channel. W.R.N.S stationed here were responsible for signalling to ships and convoys in the channel and every night, at midnight, they had to burn the secret codes from that day, before using the new code which was stored in a safe. Former Wren, Joan Jones, recalled how spooky it was to go on watch at 4 a.m., walking from her accommodation (where Castellamare restaurant is now) up steps in the dark to work at the signal station in the old coastguard hut (the Maritime and Rescue Co-ordination Centre is now on this site). She also remembered evenings when HMS Erebus entered Swansea Bay to be used as a target towing ship and the six-inch guns on Mumbles Head would be used for practice firing between the two towed targets. On one occasion one of the targets was accidentally hit!


Decommissioning

After the end of the war, guns and other equipment were removed from both batteries. (The examination battery on the lighthouse island had already been disbanded.) Mumbles Head was finally decommissioned in 1957 and the six-inch gun battery bunkers and gun emplacements were either removed or covered over. Today, only markers and information boards indicate what was once there. The searchlight emplacements and the engine house on the lighthouse island still exist and remains of the concrete causeway going out to the island can be seen at low tide. Nissen huts at both Bracelet Bay and Mumbles Hill were used for a while as temporary accommodation for homeless families.


A 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft gun, similar to the earlier guns on Mumbles Hill, is now sited adjacent to one of the bridges over the river Tawe in Swansea. This monument, erected in 1995 by the Swansea branch of the Royal Artillery Association, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and honours the men and women who defended the town.

 


Today, Mumbles Hill is a Local Nature Reserve where Signposts and Interpretation boards have been installed on the site of one of the 6 inch coastal defence gun emplacements and magazines. 

Mumbles Hill Battery was decommissioned in 1957 and the bunkers and gun emplacements were either removed or covered over.
There is now very little visual evidence of the Battery - all that remains is that which is left underground.

 






Swansea Ramblers - Self Guided Walk



The Swansea Ramblers excellent website includes many photos and maps of this, as well as other walks in the area.



Google satellite map of Mumbles Hill Local Nature Reserve. (This will take you away from this site).
This Google map shows the gun emplacements, control bunker, footpaths, viewpoint, access points and car park, including disabled, which can be found on Thistleboon Drive, Mumbles and Bracelet Bay today.
Toilet facilities may be found at Bracelet Bay, adjacent to Castellamare Cafe & Restaurant.

Publications Many leaflets including:- Mumbles at War, 623 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and Mumbles at War, Coastal Defences 299th Battery, are available to order at Oystermouth Historical Association meetings.

 Acknowledgements :

 City and County of Swansea; The National Archives; West Glamorgan Archives; Guns Across the Severn, R.C.A.H.M.W. 2001; Mumbles Development Trust; Oystermouth Historical Association; Bill Morris; John & Carol Powell; Gareth Ellis; Kate Elliott.

Photo-Sentries on duty at Coastal Defence 6 inch gun at Horsesands Sea Fort, in the eastern Solent - War Office official photographer : Malindine E G (Lt) - This is photograph H 4618 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

An edited version of this article was previously published in The Swansea History Journal 2012-13.


Photo- At Lighthouse Island -WW2X-Gun - 4_7_inch_gun_crew_SS_Duntroon_1942_AWM_025314 wikapedia commons


The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century defences on Mumbles Head

(The Swansea History Journal, 2011-12)
now on A History of Mumbles