Page 12 - Spitbank and the Spithead Forts
P. 12

Spit Bank and the Spithead Forts                                                                Solent Papers No.1

         Complement                                            A barrack block was built in the courtyard in 1941,
         The peacetime complement allocated in the 1891 RE     slightly improving living conditions for the eighty or so
         records is one officer and twenty six other ranks     men then stationed on the fort. It was difficult to relieve
         consisting of two staff sergeants, and twenty-four    the forts in really bad weather and leave could be
         gunners. Hammock hooks to accommodate 131 men in      delayed. The old Gosport-Portsmouth ferries, small
         addition were fixed in the gallery and barrack rooms. In  exposed boats, were used. In summer, swimming was
         1931, 154 Battery (Territorial Army) was allocated to  allowed round the fort, with a whaler or cutter alongside
         were not hit. One danger was falling shrapnel from Preview
         the fort - three officers and thirty two other ranks. There  for safety - the currents can easily sweep a man out to
         was one Battery Commander, one relief Battery         sea. Otherwise exercise was limited to running round the
         Commander and one Section Commander, five             top of the fort and occasional cross-country runs on the
         range-finding and instrument specialists, two         Isle of Wight. An understanding N.C.O. might permit
         telephonists, one Battery Commander’s assistant,      special exercises in a pub in Ryde!
         nineteen detachments for the guns, one gun storeman
         and four detachments for anti-aircraft light machine  Spit Bank Fort Armament Record
         guns.                                                 The armament return for 1886 shows that fort was
                                                               equipped with nine 10-inch eighteen ton R.M.L. guns on
         Life on Spit Bank Fort during the Second World        the seaward side, with six 7-inch seven-ton R.M.L. guns
         War                                                   facing the land. Two turrets would be fitted to the roof
         When war broke out, the fort was manned by 154        equipped with two 12-inch thirty-five ton guns each. In
         Battery, Royal Artillery, a Territorial Army unit made  1891 the fort is shown as armed with nine 12.5-inch
         up of local men. Conditions during the first year were  thirty-eight ton guns in place of the 10-inch guns in the
         rough. The winter of 1939-40 was unusually cold. The  armoured portion with four 7-inch guns in the masonry
         fort gradually filled up with conscripts, adding to the  portion. A committee under a Col.Montgomery
         discomfort. Coal was brought on barges and had to be  recommended that the old R.M.L. armament be declared
         hauled on to the fort. All non-essential men were     obsolete as they had a slow rate of fire and were
         employed in this unpopular task. In October 1940, 154  expensive to man. Consequently, all the 7-inch and all
         Battery became 123 Battery, 529 Coast Artillery       but two of the 12.5-inch guns were removed in 1898,
         Regiment. The fort’s role was to command the area     leaving two as ‘Running Past’ guns, which meant that
         behind Horse Sand and No Man’s Land and to monitor    they would only be fired as a vessel passed the fort. At
         shipping movements. All vessels had to display the    the same time, two 4.7-inch quick-firing guns MkVI on
         “Lights of the Day” and at night searchlights were    Q.F.III mountings were fitted to the top of the fort and
         trained on any ship not carrying this signal. The watch  searchlights mounted to engage light torpedo boats
         was stationed in the Battery Observation Post where   attempting to enter Portsmouth harbour. The role of the
         there was a small switchboard and telephone links to  fort now being to counter light craft rather than heavy
         Fire Control Headquarters and the other forts, as well as  warships.
         alarm bells to summon gun crews if need be. The
         searchlight control switches were also here.          A further committee the ‘Owen Committee’- made
                                                               further alterations to the armament and two 6-inch
         Watch was kept for enemy aircraft, which might        MkVII breech-loading guns were mounted in 1905.
         parachute magnetic or acoustic mines into the sea.    These remained until 1916, when they were removed
         Minesweepers were constantly patrolling the Solent but  and sent to Scotland. The 4.7-inch guns were removed in
         a number of ships were lost - including some          1921 but were refitted for station practice in 1926. A
         minesweepers. The Portsdown, a Southern Railway       6-inch B.L. gun was again fitted in 1931 and the
         steamer, was mined a few hundred yards from Spit Bank  4.7-inch guns removed for the last time in 1938. During
         Fort.  During the blitz, the batteries near the Square  the Second World War, twin Lewis guns were. fitted for
         Tower and Southsea Castle were damaged, putting the   Anti-aircraft use and a 40mm Bofors Light AA gun was
         guns out of action and killing some men. The sea forts  mounted in 1943 but removed in 1945. The 6-inch gun
                                                               was taken off the fort in 1948. Coast artillery was
         nearby anti-aircraft guns, particularly those on Gilkicker  disbanded in 1956 and the searchlights and generators
         Point.                                                removed and sold the following year.

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