Brownstone Battery Observation Post (BOP)

Platform for No.2 Gun

Ammunition track to No.2 Gun

No.1 Searchlight housing

View from No.1 Searchlight housing

No.2 Searchlight housing


NCI Froward Point – Site History

We are indebted to Mike Ingram, National Trust Area Warden, for most of the information given here. He provided a copy of the National Trust Map of Brownstone Battery, used with permission (see below) and has also provided a copy of his booklet The History of Brownstone Battery and Coleton Camp Radar Station. Edited extracts from this comprise the Brownstone Battery History section below. We acknowledge all the relevant copyrights in the map and the quoted text.

During 1940 the land at Froward Point was requisitioned from Brownstone Farm, and a coastal defence battery built. There were two ex naval 6 inch guns on pedestal mounts, and two searchlights. Control was provided from the Battery Observation Post (BOP).

The topography of the site means that the layout is unusual. The land slopes very steeply from the level of the BOP, 209 feet above sea level, down to the shore line. So No.2 gun was some distance below the corresponding ammunition store, and linked by an inclined plane, with railtrack and small wagon. The two searchlights were mounted near the shoreline, and their housings have survived, as have the concrete bases for the gun mountings. There is some uncertainty about the fate of the guns after the end of the Second World War. They remained in place until 1951, and were then either taken to Plymouth to be sold for scrap or simply dumped in the sea! Mike would be very interested to hear from any divers who might like to mount an expedition to investigate!

Among the buildings which still stand are the BOP and a store. The former is now the NCI Watch Station, and the latter houses the Visitor Centre and generator room. The BOP retains many original features, including the steel shutters which can be seen in the top photograph, taken before Coastwatch refurbished it! The site is now owned by the National Trust.

Brownstone Battery History

Brownstone Battery is a World War II coastal defence position, situated on the eastern side of the mouth of the river Dart estuary at Froward Point (Grid Ref: 902946). This area has commanding views across Start Bay, which helped in its defence role. The site consists of two gun positions, two searchlight positions and a variety of other buildings, including an observation post, generator room, ammunition store, general store and mess rooms, which can still be seen.

There were also several buildings to the east of this main group which have since been destroyed, included in this was the accommodation block and latrines.

The area is now owned and managed by The National Trust and is sited within the Froward Point Site of Special Scientific Interest and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The South West Coast Path runs through the middle of the complex and it is accessible from Brownstone car park via a military road, which was built to serve the battery. It is not only important historically but it is one of the few coastal batteries which remains largely intact in this country.

Brixham Battery just a few miles north of Brownstone was built for a similar purpose and provided protection for the Torbay area with slightly smaller 4.7inch guns. This site on the outskirts of Brixham is owned by the local authority and maintained by local enthusiasts.

Dartmouth Castle on the west side of the river had a battery of 4.7inch guns and there was an anti-aircraft gun site on Jawbones Hill behind the town. In addition on the Kingswear side there was a machine gun post at Kingswear Castle and a land based torpedo launching site below Kingswear Court.

Dartmouth was bombed on more than one occasion and both the town and Phillips Shipyard suffered considerable damage with loss of life.

Brownstone Battery was manned by approximately 230 soldiers of the 52nd Bedfordshire Yeomanry Regiment between 1940 and 1942, when they were moved to Fleetwood in Lancashire to form a field battery unit. This was due to the arrival of American forces who took over large parts of the Dart and Start Bay area. From 1942 until the end of the war, the Home Guard operated the site under the auspices of the Royal Artillery, but there is little information available for this period.

The Battery was finally decommissioned in 1956. The guns were still in place in 1951, as noted from aerial photographs. A caretaker lived on and looked after the site from the end of the war until the area was returned to the estate of Higher Brownstone in 1956 from whom it had been requisitioned. The caretaker and his family lived in one of the Nissan Huts and he later became a farm worker at Brownstone.

The National Trust has owned the site since 1982 when it was bought as part of the Enterprise Neptune Campaign to protect unspoilt coastline. At the time of its construction, there was more tree cover with a large part of the area dominated by Monterey and Corsican pines planted in 1904. This no doubt aided concealment of the battery from enemy aircraft and from RAF aerial photographs taken in 1942 it is difficult to pick out the buildings. The severe storm of January 1990 blew down a large number of mature trees and therefore exposed the site.

The Guns
The two guns were 6” ex-naval, thought to have originated from a First World War battleship used in the battle of Jutland in 1916, and had a range of 25,000 yards (14 Miles). However, evidence suggests that these were replaced at a later date during the war with 6” land based guns. Each gun was situated on a pedestal mount secured by steel studding, the remains of which are on the bottom of each emplacement. A concrete curtain was built in front of each gun of which only the foundations can now be seen. The guns could be swung 45° in either direction. Each gun was operated by two teams of thirteen men, i.e. there would be two shifts working and for each team there was one senior NCO and two gun layers who were responsible for the maintenance of the guns.

The range and bearing of a target was determined in the Battery Observation Post(BOP) using a Depression Range Finder (DRF). Corrections necessary for moving targets were determined using mechanical calculating devices, and the relevant information relayed to the gunners via a tannoy system. On the order to load, the two gun loaders would load the shell and then the charge. Two more men would set the fuse and when fully loaded the breech would be closed and a firing cartridge inserted (this resembled a .303 rifle blank cartridge). On the order to fire, a lanyard would be pulled, firing the cartridge which would in turn ignite the charge and thus propel the shell to the designated target. After each firing, the breach would be opened and the loaders would wash out the gun barrel and the mushroom head of the breach before reloading. Approximately four shells could be fired per minute. The propellant charge for these guns was an explosive called Cordite. The Cordite was contained in a silk bag. Silk was used for the bags so that when the gun was fired, the heat would destroy the bag completely, leaving no residue in the breech.

The lower of the two guns (No.2 gun) has a miniature railway running down to it from an ammunition store higher up the slope. At the top of the slope, in front of the store, there are cast iron remains of the mountings on which a 1 1/2-hp Lister engine stood, powering a winch. The shells, usually 4 to 6, and weighing around 90lbs each, were loaded by hand onto a small truck or 'bogey' connected to the winch with steel cable. The loaded truck freewheeled down to the gun controlled by a brake on the winch. The engine was used only for bringing the truck back up to the ammunition store. All shells for the No.1 gun were transported manually from the store. The recesses around each gun site were used for storing ammunition and originally had steel shutters over them. There is also an access tunnel to the gun mountings for maintenance purposes.

It is thought that the guns were dismantled and taken to Coypool at Plymouth to be sold for scrap, but unsubstantiated local reports suggest that they were thrown into the sea nearby. It is hoped a future diving expedition will confirm this.

A large gorse fire in December 2001 below the gun sites revealed several artefacts from the period the Battery was occupied. Most interesting was the remains of the gun mounting from number two gun which can be seen below the emplacement. It appears that there was an attempt to roll the mounting down the cliffs and into the sea. When it failed to go the full distance, efforts were apparently made to break it up, probably using explosives as only half this cast iron mounting remains and there are several large pieces of it scattered around the site. It is likely that the mounting for number two gun was rolled off its emplacement and may well be in the sea, as no remains were found below its position. Also found were a set of wheels from the “bogey” or truck which took the shells down the miniature railway from the ammunition store to number two gun.

The Searchlights
There were two searchlights close to the high water mark on the cliffs. Each of these had a 26 inch (66cm) carbon arc projector and was manned by two teams of five who were in shifts, as with the gun positions.

A flight of steps with iron railings leads down to the searchlights and this had to be maintained to prevent vegetation encroachment, so quick and easy access to the searchlights could be had particularly at night. Below the searchlight housings the whole cliff area was covered in barbed wire which was laid by the soldiers. Local rumour has suggested that the searchlights were thrown into the sea after the war and, as with the guns, a future diving expedition might confirm this.

The crew for the searchlights used building No.7 as a stand down hut. This building was only discovered during the RCHM survey in 1994, as it was largely covered in undergrowth. There was an intact stove inside but unfortunately this has since been vandalised.

The Generator Sheds (Buildings No.4 and No.9)
Only generator shed No.9 can be viewed inside, through the iron grills, and this served No.1 searchlight. The generator in building No.4 served No.2 searchlight and the needs of the rest of the battery. Nothing is known of the generator types or specifications.

The Battery Observation Post (Building No.8)
This was manned by Signallers, Telephonists, Gun Control Officers and Clerks. Their roll was to identify targets, measure bearing and range, calculate corrections to allow for the change in position of the target during the time of flight of the shell, and transmit the required settings to the gun crews. A concrete pillar inside originally held the Depression Range Finder (DRF) used to determine the bearing and range of targets. There is also a chart table inside which folded down from the wall. The steel shutters fold down, with glass windows behind, which could be opened. Vandalism over the years unfortunately destroyed much of what was left in this building – now totally refurbished as a Watch Station for The National Coastwatch Institution

The grass area behind the observation building was used for drill and was kept mown and the three concrete blocks to the left of the observation building were thought to have supported an aerial mast.

Ammunition Stores (Buildings Nos. 1,5 & 6)
The shells and cordite were kept separately and the storage racks can be seen in the buildings.

Other Buildings
The remainder of the buildings are shown on the map although there were a number of mostly corrugated Nissan Huts to the east of the main group, housing regular soldiers. It also had the latrines and washrooms, evidence of which, such as clay pipes and drains, can be found in places. This area is now largely covered in scrub. Water for the site was piped down from a 10,000-gallon header tank near what is now Brownstone car park. This fed into a smaller tank, the supports of which can be seen just inside the gateway on the left, as you enter the Battery from the military road, which was constructed to provide access.

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