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The upgrading of the coastal defences continued with the building of the Centre Battery of three gun emplacements to take a 6 inch Breech Loading Gun each alongside the Eastern 12 Pounder Quick Fire Battery again of 3 gun emplacements. These works were completed in 1901 around 3 years after the Western Battery was complete. These may have been part of the original general plan to upgrade our coastal defences although at the time the recently announced Tirpitz Plan to expand the German Navy by its Navy Secretary Alfred von Tirpitz had alerted the UK to a potential new threat. However at this early stage the German plans were exactly that, just plans. It’s debateable how much the Tirpitz Plan pushed the upgrading of the defences as the plan was concerned with the expansion of the German Fleet to contain the Royal Navy. Nevertheless there was a real threat from Torpedo boats in any future war and the upgrade to accommodate the new breech loading guns to meet a different, faster threat was needed.

A German Torpedo Boat which along with fast destroyers were viewed as the threat against UK Naval Ports and required the coastal defences to be upgraded.
A British 6 inch Quick Fire Gun of the type that would be installed in the Centre Battery
a 12 Pounder Quick Fire Gun of the type already deployed on the completed Western Battery and that would be deployed on the Eastern Battery

To facilitate The new Centre Battery and Eastern Battery the existing Upper or Main Battery of 25 ton Guns was mostly demolished. This Battery had five 25 ton Guns and were protected by Earth Bulwarks that also contained the Shell and Cartridge Stores. The old Battery covered from Sutton Harbour through the Breakwater to Mount Edgecombe. The new Batteries would now just cover from the Breakwater so were aligned as slight dog leg rather than arc. This meant one of the Main Battery gun positions would become obsolete and other four would be demolished and built over. Three of the forward Shell and Cartridge Stores would be retained and incorporated into the new Central Battery as store rooms.

A map showing the positions of the three 12 pounder QF guns of the Western QF Battery. The black line beneath where it says Main Battery in the centre of the map indicates the line where the new Centre and Eastern Batteries would be built. It also indicates why the current centre Battery of 12 inch 25 tons and their associated stores would have to be removed for the construction.
This aerial photo courtesy of Steve Johnson clearly shows the three larger gun emplacements of the new Centre Battery and the three smaller gun emplacements of the Eastern Battery at the top of the photo. To orientate you East is to the top of the photo and West to the bottom when referencing the various gun emplacements.
The top of the Island. The mounted Gun in the background is in it’s original position which became obsolete. The remaining four guns would have been in an arc to its right facing towards the breakwater and those positions were removed to make way for the new Batteries. The boarded up doorway is part of the new Centre Battery and was originally part of the old 25 ton gun Main Battery but was built over and incorporated into the new Centre Battery

The old 25 ton Guns themselves were not removed but were buried at the top of the Island. Given the nature of the ground they were probably semi buried then the earth from the old bulwarks was used to cover them over and the whole area levelled. The one gun position that did not interfere with the new build had its protective earth bulwarks removed but the surface rails and granite blocks were left. Military maps indicate the guns were buried just behind the three guns on the ground and before the mounted Gun in the background in the picture above.

At the Centre Battery the Eastern and Centre Gun positions were built over the old Upper Battery whilst the Western Gun Position would require the removal of the QF Magazine serving the Western Battery. A Shelter would be also be built into the Battery.

A Technical Drawing of the new Centre Battery surveyed and produced by the Royal Engineers. The Gun position that currently has the Naval Mast on it is to the right and is the western gun emplacement. The drawing also shows where the old Main Battery (in dotted lines) was built over. The shelter is between the left and centre gun positions.
A second technical drawing this time with the western gun emplacement to the left.

In both the above drawings the Western gun emplacement of the Centre Battery is larger as it needed to incorporate a shelter together with a cartridge and shell store directly below the Gun position. The steps in the picture below lead to the upper level of underground tunnel and forward magazine that had hoists added to supply the centre and eastern gun emplacements at the top of the Island and were built directly over the tunnel. These couldn’t serve the western emplacement as they were too far away hence the need for a separate stores and a shelter.

The western gun emplacement or position with the Naval Mast that iis now on top of it.

The Technical drawings of the Western gun emplacement are below. The QF Magazine that fed the Western Battery built 3 years earlier had to be removed to make way for this gun emplacement. It would occupied the position where the gun emplacement is in the above picture and extended out in front of the steps. The doorway under the emplacement in the picture leads into the shelter part of the structure.

The plan view of the Western Gun Emplacement with the naval mast. Unlike the other two emplacements of the central battery it had it’s own shell and cartridge stores and shelter underneath the emplacement.
The shelter and Cartridge store below the western gun emplacement. The dividing wall shown by the white line was knocked through by the Adventure Centre staff when it was enlarged as a cafe during the 1960’s.
Inside the Shell store beneath the western gun emplacement
The opening for the shell and cartridge lift to the gun emplacement at the back of the building between the shell nad cartridge store.
The Technical Drawings of the Western Gun Emplacement with the Naval Mast

The Eastern and Central emplacements of the Centre Battery made use of the added hoists and used the existing upper magazines as their cartridge and shell stores. A shelter was built between the two and three of the existing stores were also incorporated into the Battery. These were used from left to right in the technical drawing below as a spares store, lamp store and paint store,

The technical drawing of the Eastern and Centre gun emplacements of the Centre Battery
The first (Eastern) gun emplacement of the Centre Battery is immediately on the left and the picture looks down towards the Naval Mast where the Battery ends.
The Centre Battery Shelter at the top of the Island

The Eastern Battery extended beyond the old Upper Battery to cover the Eastern Approach from the Breakwater. It also incorporated a shelter. The shelter was sunken and accessed by a set of vertical iron steps.

The new Eastern Battery technical drawing produced by the Royal Engineers
The Eastern Battery section drawing with the sunken shelter to the right.
Another view of the Eastern Battery, The recesses are ammunition lockers where the shells and cartridges would have been stored separately. They would have been put together just before use. All the new gun positions had at least 4 ammunition lockers per gun.

At the end of the construction some but not all the guns were added. In 1902 it was reported that the Lower Battery which appears to be the Western Battery behind the Barrack Block had its three 12 Pounder QF Guns. The Centre Battery had only two of its three 6 inch BL Guns delivered. There were still nine 9 inch 12 ton guns in the casemates facing South East so the nearest to the breakwater indicating that new Eastern Battery didn’t yet have its guns. Three 12 Pounder QF Guns were also reported in the Casemates facing Mount Batten. We do know that the Iron Blast shields at the end of the Casemates were changed and there are signs in the casemates indicating they did have QF Guns in then although they appear to be designated either 6 or 8 Pounder QF Guns rather than 12 Pounders.

One of the adapted Casemates with a different blast shield for a QF gun. There is a sign above the blast shield that shows it is a QF gun position.

From the 1901 Census the manning remained minimal apart from training and exercises. Only 9 personnel were recorded on the Island, the Commander a Royal Garrison Artillery Corporal (the Artillery didn’t replace the rank of Corporal with Bombardier until 1920), a Bombardier (at this time Bombardier was the equivalent of Lance or Second Corporal rather than full Corporal), four Gunners, and two civilians, one of whom was accompanied by his wife. They would not only have the guns to maintain but there were searchlights on the Island and the Barracks and stores to maintain. The yearly training cycle would be maintained with various Territorial Units deploying for blank and live firing of the guns. At least one of these would culminate in the annual large scale attack on the Plymouth defences over a couple of nights. The Sappers would also deploy to operate the Searchlights.

The next blog will be an update on the children born on the Island. I am currently looking at the life of Gunner Ernest Hunter who was born on the Island in 1886.