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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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