Coast Artillery - Suffolk

GHQ had started to consider increasing Fixed Defences for Ports as early as March 1940 with decisions to install two 6” 15˚ guns at Dundee, Aberdeen and Lowestoft. By May 1940, the Admiralty had made available a considerable number of 6” guns and ammunition, with the suggestion they should be used to deal with transports carrying an invading force. It was suggested that they be employed to thicken up the defences of Defended Ports and also to extend the flanks to cover possible landing beaches and assist in the landward defence against troops which may have affected a landing. On 20th May 1940, the Commands were instructed to submit to GHQ Home Forces the number of guns they considered adequate for this purpose.

By May 22nd, a list of sites for additional Forts (or Emergency Coastal Batteries as they were often referred to) had been drawn up with 45 sites requiring two 6” equipments and one site, Folkestone, that would require four 6” equipments. The guns were held at Woolwich, Coventry, Parkhead and other depots and were ready for distribution. Home Forces was to arrange for the digging of pits for concreting in the holdfasts.

The sites identified in Suffolk, all priority “A” (sites ranked between “A” and “F”), were:

  • Felixstowe
  • Aldeburgh
  • Southwold
  • Lowestoft
    • In addition some basic instructions were issued in relation to these additional Forts. It was assumed that the Germans would be aware of existing Fixed Defences and would make every attempt to destroy them by air or Naval bombardment or both before transports approached.

      It was therefore emphasized that the new Forts presence should not be disclosed during the preliminary action and that fire should be reserved until transports approached the decisive range.

      In siting the new Forts, the following considerations were noted to be of great importance:

      • The guns should be sited in inconspicuous positions
      • When completed, the guns, Observation Posts, accommodation etc should be camouflaged especially from the air
      • Every effort should be made to camouflage the works while the Fort was under construction, especially from aerial reconnaissance.
        • Accommodation was to be provided (billets, tents etc) with a view that the guns would be fully manned for action at five minutes notice. Ammunition was to be provided at approximately 100 rounds per gun in the ratio of 75% H.E and 25% C.P.C. Magazines were to be constructed and ready to receive the ammunition 48 hours after the delivery of the guns. One mobile searchlight was to be provided initially for each Fort.

          Trained Coast artillery personnel were in great shortage so to increase the number of trained 6” and 12 pdr personnel it was decided to create two Coast Defence Training Batteries at Cliff End, Isle of Wight and East Blockhouse, Milford Haven. Other stop-gap measures were also put in place to try and fill the shortage in trained personnel.

          Consideration had also to be given, once the new batteries were ready for action, to prevent them from opening fire on British Naval or Merchant ships, and on the other hand, to prevent enemy craft from approaching unmolested. For new batteries at existing Ports, normal Traffic Regulations would be in place. For other batteries, battery commanders were instructed to get in touch with the local Naval Officer to formulate the necessary Traffic Regulations.

          For the new Suffolk batteries the relevant authorities were:

          • Lowestoft – Normal Traffic Regulations for Yarmouth
          • Southwold – Naval Officer in charge of Yarmouth
          • Aldeburgh – Naval officer in charge of Harwich
          • Felixstowe – Normal Traffic Regulations for Harwich
            • On June 1st GHQ Home Forces decided to provide 12 pdrs for Lowestoft (as well as Yarmouth, Newhaven and Ramsgate) to counter the threat of attack by “E” Boats.

              On June 8th, GHQ Home Forces ordered the formation of an additional eight 6” batteries, of which two were in Suffolk – Covehithe and Thorpeness (also known as Sizewell). The guns for Thorpeness were to arrive by rail at Leiston L.N.E.R Station while those for Covehithe were to arrive at Lowestoft Central L.N.E.R. Both sets of guns were to be mounted by H.M. Gunnery School, Chatham.

              Reconnaissance in Suffolk was also under way for another two batteries by August 1940 – Dunwich and Bawdsey. At first concern was raised with both sites. At Dunwich, as a static 4” gun was already situated there, it was felt additional guns should go to Hartlepool as priority. With Bawdsey, it was felt there was no suitable site to establish a battery anywhere between Felixstowe Ferry and Orfordness due to the likelihood of flooding. Any areas of high ground which may escape flooding were considered already to be too fully occupied by concrete works of the local defence system. In the end both were constructed, Dunwich in 1941 and Bawdsey sometime after the end of 1941.

              The location of two of Suffolk’s batteries were changed during the course of the War – Southwold which was moved from the head of the beach to a site on Gun Hill on the southern edge of the town, and Covehithe, which was moved south to Easton Wood. Both moves were ordered for September 1941.

              During July 1941, GHQ Home Forces issued Coast Artillery Operation order No. 2 which confirmed the classification and roles of Ports and Coast Artillery. Ports were classified as major or minor defended ports. In Suffolk, Lowestoft and Harwich were both classified as major ports.

              Coast Artillery under GHQ was of four categories:

              • Coast artillery in major ports (further divided into (i) Permanent and War batteries equipped with land service guns and (ii) naval equipments to increase or extend the defences).
              • Naval equipments installed to defend minor ports
              • Naval equipments installed for the defence of landing beaches
              • Equipments installed at C.D. / C.H.L stations.
                • The tasks of the artillery were as follows:

                  Defence of major ports

                  • Engagement of hostile bombarding warships
                  • Destruction of light naval forces, including submarines, motor torpedo boats, blockships and boom smashers attacking the port and engaging enemy transports and landing craft attempting an invasion.
                  • Support of the Examination Service.
                  • Engagement of targets on landing beaches in the vicinity of the port
                  • Landward firing
                    • Defence of minor ports

                      • Bombardment of enemy transports and landing craft
                      • Engagement of light naval forces attacking the port
                      • Support of the Examination Service where in force.
                      • Engagement of targets on landing beaches in the vicinity of the port
                        • Naval guns covering landing beaches

                          • Bombardment of enemy transports and landing craft
                          • Engagement of light enemy attempting to silence the shore defences.
                          • Engagements of targets on landing beaches.
                            • Coast artillery was classified according to its role:

                              Right: Ports, Coast Artillery and role in Suffolk as stated in GHQ
                              Coast Artillery Operating Instruction No. 2, July 1941

                              Operational control of Coast artillery was vested in corps with a few exceptions (e.g. Thames and Medway defences were directly under South Eastern Command). Instructions for opening fire were reaffirmed; in particular naval equipments should rarely open fire at ranges greater than 6,000 yards. Unobserved seaward firing was allowed was allowed by land service equipments providing a scheme was in place to ensure that ammunition was not dangerously depleted. Naval equipments were not to take part in unobserved fire. Batteries should make arrangements to record land and beach targets and make arrangements for observation of fire although it was noted there would be a limitation in the supply of suitable shells for landward firing. The Order stated it was the duty of all coast batteries to engage beach targets in battle (although anti-shipping was always to be the primary role).

                              Reference:
                              GHQ Coast Artillery papers, TNA

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