The Guns of 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.
Mumbles Head Gun-sites and Port War Signal Station
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.
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 clearance.
The Guns on Mumbles Lighthouse Island
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 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!
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 Defence sites shown on a Google map, 2016
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.
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.
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 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.
A coastal battery in action:
The B.O.P.: The rangefinder and chartman at their post
Typical B.O.P. at the Needles on the Isle of Wight. © IWM (H 12517)
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.
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.
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- At Lighthouse Island -WW2X-Gun - 4_7_inch_gun_crew_SS_Duntroon_1942_AWM_025314 wikapedia commons