Heavy Artillery

A mixture of Heavy Artillery consisting of largely old equipments, for example 9.2” howitzers, ex naval 6” and 12” guns, was pressed into service to defend the beaches. Their primary role was anti-shipping or engaging landing craft approaching the beaches.

9.2 Howitzers

Concealment was of great importance – it was expected that in the event of invasion the Germans would attempt to neutralize artillery with dive bombers. Every effort was to be made to conceal the battery positions until the moment they opened fire. These considerations sometimes lead to sites for guns being selected that were difficult to occupy. The guns were dug into pits with overhead cover provided and sandbagged walls almost up to the level of the roof.

Left: 9.2" Howitzer
Right: Closing the breech
of a 9.2" Howitzer.

Instructions were issued to adopt the siege role of 9.2” howitzers to beach defence. The principal objective was to minimize the time it took to bring a round into the water. All personnel at Observation Posts were expected to memorize the zone of observation and switches to known points. Fire was to be reserved for area targets, i.e. a collection of small craft approaching the shore.

For the heavy artillery, obtaining observation over the whole arc of fire was problematic. To obtain the maximum arc along the coast, the 9.2” howitzers had to be sited at 10,500 yards from the shore, to give an arc of fire of about the same distance.

Telephone lines from Observation Posts and lateral lines had to be laid – shallow trenches to take the lines were dug by Civilian Labour gangs organized by Royal Engineer’s. It was also considered important to have visual communication between Observation Posts and battery positions. As a result Visual Signal stations were established, all sited in Church towers. A lane had to be cut through a wood near Thorpeness to allow Visual Signals between one Observation Post and Leiston Church.

Work began in August to replace the temporary Observation Posts with concrete Observation Posts. Some Posts utilized the standard Royal Engineer pillbox, but had to have the apertures widened as the standard design did not allow a full field of view over the whole front. The rear aperture was carefully placed for Visual Signaling to the rear. Every effort was made to break up the outline of the pillbox. Others were specific designs to meet local conditions. For example one at Southwold and one at Benacre Ness were concrete pillboxes with one long aperture. The Southwold one was built on to a villa, underneath a wooden veranda and was carefully camouflaged as part of the villa. The one at Benacre was camouflaged to resemble a black hen house. One at Easton Wood consisted of a vertical steel tube placed about four foot from the cliff edge connected by a short tunnel to an underground concrete room. Steel girders fixed to the roof of the room formed a cantilever for the support of the tube. The object of this design was to avoid putting weight onto the front edge of a loose sandy cliff which was liable to crumble.

Above: Observation Post and plan, 53rd Heavy Regt, Benacre. This was camouflaged as a black hen house.

6” Guns

During 1941, two 6” Naval guns were emplaced at Hollesley on static mounts. A further four mobile 6” guns were deployed at Easton Woods . The role of guns was to engage enemy shipping at sea and landing parties on the outer beaches. The Easton Wood guns were to enfilade the coast line south to Orfordness. The Hollesley guns were to bring defensive fire on the mouth of the River Deben and enfilade of the beaches. Further two-gun batteries of 6” Mk XIX guns were sited at Cliff House, Dunwich (task to bring enfilade indirect fire on the beaches to the north) and Upper Abbey Farm (task to bring enfilade indirect fire on the beaches to the north).

Above: Left - 6" Mk XIX gun. Middle and right a sunken concrete post which is
possibly a Command Post for a battery of two 6" Mk XIX guns at Cliff House.
Bottom Right: Holdfast and Command Post of a static 6" gun, Hollesley

12” Railway Guns

Towards the end of 1940, a 12” Howitzer on a railway mounting arrived in Suffolk. At first it was manned by a detachment f the 27th Field Regt who had lost their guns at Dunkirk. The fact that a Field Regt. was acting as super-heavy gunners, coupled with distrust in the gun itself gave grave concern to the local Infantry Brigadier in whose sub-sector it was situated in. The Infantry Brigadier did not share the confidence of the gunners that their 750 lb projectile would go the correct distance and in the correct direction – and it should be mentioned that the Artillery Group Commander also did not share the gunners confidence!! Shortly before 55th Division left Suffolk a second gun arrived. The primary task of these guns was an anti-ship role by observed fire with a secondary task of counter-bombardment of Harwich and Lowestoft areas. The guns were stabled in the Trimley-Levington area, one in a shed at Walk Farm and the other in woods near Leveington Bridge and manned by 9 Super Heavy Battery who replaced 27th Field Regt.

Right: 12" Howitzer on a railway mounting

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Command bunker, Dunwich
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