Page 4 - Bristol Defences
P. 4

Victorian Forts                                             Portsmouth                       30

                                        Old Needles Battery

          Commenced            September 1861                       Armament
          Completed            June 1863
          Cost                  £ 7,656                             1869  6 x 7-inch R.B.L.
                                                                    1872 Authorised 2 x 9-inch 4 x 7-inch R.M.L.
          Map Reference        SZ 296848                            1873 Revised 6 x 9-inch R.M.L.
          Position             Isle of Wight / West / Needles       1886 Proposed 3 x 10-inch R.M.L.
                               Passage                              1892 2 x 6pr Q.F. tested
          Type                 Coast battery                        1893  Mounted 6 x 9-inch R.M.L.
          Ditch                Dry -  land side only                          Proposed  3 x 10-inch R.M.L.
                                                                    1895-1899  6 x 9-inch R.M.L.
          Guns                 6                                                       (to remain for practice)
          Barrack Accom. 1 officer  2 NCOs  21 men                  Mounted 1901 Nil
          Present use          National Trust managed property.     1939-41 3-inch AA
                                                                    1944 40mm Bofors
          History              First AA gun tested 1913

          Disposal             Moth-balled 1945. N. T. 1975
          Condition            Good. Under restoration
          Access               Open to the public - Summer
          Sources              Solent Papers No.2,
                               Precis of correspondence prior to 1898

          History and Description

           A  battery was proposed for this site in 1855, to mount six 68prs to cover Alum Bay to the north.  The Needles battery,
           later referred to as Old Needles Battery to distinguish it from the new battery built nearby, was constructed as part of the
           Royal Commission defences of the Needles Passage. It is a barbette battery built on the projecting point of the chalk ridge
           above the Needles Rocks, at an elevation of 254 feet above sea level. It commanded the narrow channel between the
           Needles Rocks and the Shingles, the edge of that shoal being a little more than 2,000 yards distant so that passing ships
           would be subjected to plunging fire upon their decks. The height of the battery protected it from potential counter-fire. It
           was designed for six guns, first being armed with 7-inch R.B.L. guns which were replaced with 9-inch R.M.L. guns,
           surplus from Hurst Castle, by 1898. The gorge of the fort is closed with a ditch cut through the chalk of the narrow ridge
           on which it stands. Access to the fort was over a rolling bridge.The other sides are protected by the precipitous chalk cliffs
           which surround it. It had accommodation for 1 officer, 2 NCOs and 21 men as well as the usual magazines, laboratory and
           stores. Water was supplied from rain-water tanks.  The battery was only to be garrisoned in time of need, the men living
           in a barrack on the parade, now demolished. In peacetime a Master Gunner lived there to maintain it, whilst the garrison
           gunners lived in Golden Hill Fort.
           In 1869-73 the gun emplacements were remodelled for two 9-inch and four 7-inch RMLs but in 1893 six 9-inch RMLs
           were installed. These were in place until 1903 when they were removed by throwing them over the cliff. All have now
           been recovered, two still in the fort on replica carriages. The other are scattered on the mainland. The battery was
           considered obsolete and a new one was built 1893-95 on the crest of the headland to replace it with three modern BL
           guns. In 1885 a tunnel was dug from the parade towards the Needles and a Submarine Mining Cell added. By 1887 a lift
           shaft was dug from the ditch to sea level and five emplacements built into the north cliff face for QF guns to counter
           torpedo boats. Experiments were carried out with searchlights 1890-92.  In 1908 a Fire Command Post for all of the
           Needles defences was added. In 1913 Britain’s first AA gun, a 1pr. Pom Pom, was tested on the parade. The battery was
           reactivated in WWII with a sentry beam fitted into the cliff emplacement and a Radar  installed in 1944. Armament then
           consisted of a 3-inch AA and a 40mm Bofors. The battery was moth-balled in 1945 and was bought by the National Trust
           in 1975 who  opened it to the public in 1982.

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