The Coastal Defence Guns of Mumbles Head, Swansea Bay

The Coastal Defence Guns of Mumbles Head

Typical Coastal Defence 6 inch gun at Horsesands Sea Fort, Solent © IWM (H 4618)

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.

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.

A great place for a Picnic

Swansea Ramblers - Self Guided Walk

Swansea Ramblers Walk - Mumbles Hill Nature Reserve - Walk Description

This trail includes many photos and maps of this, as well as other walks in the area.

The Defence sites shown on a Google map, 2016

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

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 Head 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.

The two 6 inch guns were transported to Mumbles Railway, Pier Station

The Guns of Mumbles Head

In June 1940 Newton air raid warden Laurie Latchford (photo above 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.’

The railway trucks shown in the collage above, owned by the War Department, would have been used to carry the dismantled guns and drawn by a steam locomotive, to the Pier Station on Mumbles Railway, which was connected to Swansea Docks and the National Railway system.

Special equipment did arrive and getting the guns up the hill to the Fort, from the station at the pier cannot have been easy.

Moving the very heavy pedestal into position.

The Guns of Mumbles Head

During that hot summer the two breech-loading, ex-naval guns were installed by August 1940 and mounted in their separate concrete emplacements on steel pedestals on Mumbles Hill above Bracelet Bay overlooking the entrance to Swansea Bay.

The 'pedestal' of an assembled 6 inch Gun

When the pedestal is lowered to the floor and bolted into place, the breech assembly, gun shield and barrel can then be fitted.

The team during installation of the barrel

The Guns of Mumbles Head

Battery construction projects were often undertaken by a group considting of a gun-mounting party, experts (wearing boiler suits, on the right) and Royal Artillery gunners (on the left) who would man the guns.

On a closer examination of the working party on gun number Two, the original photo reveals that the (expert) Sergeant in a cap, is wearing a jacket and his First World War Medal ribbons.

Sappers from The Royal Engineers led in the construction of the bunkers, underground magazines for the shells and other battery installations, assisted by blasting experts from Norton Quarry who aided with the excavations and other Contract Labour.

They do seem pleased to have installed gun number 2

The Guns of Mumbles Head

Pictured in the background overlooking the Bristol Channel are Limeslade Bay, along with Somerset House (now Mumbles Hill House and on private land) is on the right of the panorama, It was reported by local residents that Two Decoy ‘guns’ made from telegraph poles, painted to look like big guns were in position on the headland in the centre of the photo.

An overall view of the gunsite now

The Guns of Mumbles Head

At the end of the war, everything from the Coastal Battery was either demolished or covered over. This wider view overlooks Limeslade and the red spot shows the top of the magazine, marked number 5 on the plan below. On the right are the triple information boards at gun number two (the previous photo showed the gun being installed).

Coastal Defence Battery, Mumbles Hill, plan

The Key to the above plan

It is evident that there are several differences between the 'official' plans (above) and the wartime 'sketch' plan below, drawn after the battery was completed, one being the design of the surrounding fence. The cost of the installation was recorded as £42,879 plus works costing £19,307.

Coastal Gun Battery 'A', Mumbles Hill, from wartime 'sketch' plan

Editors notes are marked in red. - The Guns of Mumbles Head

The detail concerning the surrounding defensive fence is confirmed on the postwar aerial photo below.

Defence Sites shown on an Aerial Photo, 7 July 1946

The Guns of Mumbles Head

More: THE ABOVE PHOTO IN A LARGER SIZE

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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], War Accommodation Sites and 623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery

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 guns’ primary task was to engage and destroy enemy vessels; their secondary role was to support the examination battery on the lighthouse island. The ex naval 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.

Overlooking Swansea Bay today and a typical 6 inch Gun, 1940

The typical 6 inch gun was sited at Berthlwydd near Penclawdd

Each watch contained enough officers and men to fire both guns for two minutes. The duty gun crew were to be at readiness, fully equipped and at their respective posts within moments of an alarm. One guard was stationed by the guns during the day, with two at night. The off duty crew, or Reserve Watch, would be kept at a state of readiness at the War Accommodation. When the alarm was sounded, they would man the magazine and keep the gun crew supplied with ammunition. The third crew could be off duty

Royal Artillery gunners manning a 6 inch gun, 1939

A typical coastal Defence gun at Sheerness, November 1939. © IWM (H 121)

The photo above shows two gunners on the lower left, who are ready to pass cordite cartridges [in flash-proof leather carry cases] up to the gun crew as required. Eight gunners were needed to fire each six-inch gun and usually two (mentioned) to supply ammunition for sustained firing.

PeterSmith 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.

Loading the shell into a 6 inch gun

Typical Coastal Defence Battery at Felixstowe © IWM (H 3293)

BATTERY OBSERVATION POST

The battery observation post (B.O.P.) was in an elevated position behind the guns and housed the depression rangefinder, used to calculate the range and bearing of a target. The information was then passed on to the gun emplacements. From the Post, Alarm gongs could be sounded at the war accommodation, the searchlights, and the engine room. The battery observation post was aided by a spotter’s post nearby. The Battery Commander had a private direct-line line telephone link to headquarters and with all parts his command, with Battery (B) on Mumbles Island and with the Navy at the Port War Signal Station, who would identify all vessels steaming into Swansea Bay and signal to them with any orders.

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.

A coastal battery in action:

Typical B.O.P. at the Needles on the Isle of Wight. © IWM (H 12517)

The B.O.P.: The rangefinder and chartman at their post

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).

MILITARY TRAINING FILMS on You Tube

This film illustrates the 'Loading and Laying the naval six inch gun'

Any problems, then Copy the link below into your browser

https://youtu.be/fqVQiwOWQRY

From the Autralian War Memorial F05260 online archive -

Military training film produced for the Directorate of Army Kinematography by Publicity Films Ltd.

This film illustrates the duties of each crew-member of the Coastal Naval Gun in its preparation for action. (Unit Royal Artillery, Coastal Battery.) 'Preparation for action (6" naval gun)'

Any problems, then Copy the link below into your browser

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm6YjfJERoQ

From the Autralian War Memorial F05259 online archive -

Military training film produced for the Directorate of Army Kinematography by Publicity Films Ltd.

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.

Rev. Wilkinson, Vicar of All Saints Church,

CHURCH PARADE

Between church services, the vicar of All Saints Church, Rev. Wilkinson, visited the camp every Sunday morning to lead a service. Afterwards, he would enjoy a breakfast of bacon and eggs at the Officers’ Mess. His daughter told us that, if she was allowed, she would join him, as bacon & eggs were heavily rationed at home. Although it was commented on by one of the other ranks that, ‘THEY only ever had bread and jam for breakfast’.

N.A.A.F.I.

OFF DUTY AND N.A.A.F.I.

The men were able to spend some of their off duty time and buy essential items at the NAAFI, and maybe watch film shows and other entertainment there. The village, with two cinemas, numerous pubs and several dance halls was nearby, for those with permission to be off camp.

Kay Sandalls remembered that her mother Gwyneth Jepson, from Cleveland Avenue, Limeslade, ran the NAAFI on the hill and remembered that ‘she used to bake things at home for the men, because the food was not very good’. One day, she had to sack the cook for not wearing any knickers!’ How this was discovered we shall never know.

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 1940 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 gun.

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 structures on the lighthouse Island in 1964 & 5. The ruined Keepers Cottage is one of the few structures to survive clearence.

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.

Mumbles Lighthouse Island

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.

New Information Boards on the site of the Gun Battery

More- The GUNS OF MUMBLES HEAD

Collection of articles

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.

A great place for a Picnic

Swansea Ramblers - Self Guided Walk

Swansea Ramblers Walk - Mumbles Hill Nature Reserve - Walk Description

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

Map of Mumbles Hill

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.

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

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 near one of the guns on Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel. War Office official photographer : Malindine E G (Lt) - This is photograph © IWM (H 4618) from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Photo-Royal Artillery gunners manning a 6-inch coastal defence gun at Sheerness, November 1939. This is photograph © IWM (H 121) from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Photo-Loading the shell into a 6 inch gun at a Coastal Defence Battery at Felixstowe. This is photograph © IWM (H 3293) from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Photo- A coastal battery in action: The Rangefinder and Chartman at their post in the Command Post at a 9.2-inch coastal defence gun battery at the Needles on the Isle of Wight..This is photograph © IWM (H 12517) from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205218599

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

In the Defence of Mumbles and Swansea before 1918 by Carol Powell

(The Swansea History Journal, 2011-12)

now on A History of Mumbles