Over the weekend, Emma and I went to Whitsand Fort, where there was a heritage weekend run in conjunction with Hidden Heritage. The event wasn’t very big, there were just a few reenactors. There were some Vikings, who looked like they had just got off the set of the Vikings TV series, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that their two-handed sword was anachronistic. The World War Two reenactors were good. I avoided the “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” guy and spoke instead to the British, Russian and US ‘Monuments Men’ reenactors.
I’d come here for a tour of the fort, hosted by the guys at Hidden Heritage. Whitsand Fort was originally known as Whitesands Battery. It served as a costal battery against landings at Whitsand bay, mounting three 12.5 inch RML and two BL 6 inch Mark 4 guns. All were mounted on disappearing gun carriages, which would have made the battery very difficult to spot. Effectively, the guns would ‘pop up’, fire and then disappear from view.
The batteries were built to reinforce the exisiting Palmerston Follies, whose weaponry had been outdated by improvements in gun technology. Reinforcements to the fort system were provided in the form of a new series of gun batteries equipped with the latest military hardware (that is, for 1890). Of course, in turn these weapons would themselves be outdated by the time of the Great War, after which the guns were removed. The site was used for a radar station and antiaircraft battery during World War 2, where its guns fired in anger at enemy aircraft returning from bombing Plymouth. Hidden Heritage hope to restore the battery to its former glory, even at looking at finding a gun for the battery. Finding and moving a 38 ton rifled cannon may prove tricky and very expensive, just a bit. There are guns on Drake’s island but the current owner will certainly not part with them. There are believed to be other examples in Malta.
One thing they have been able to do is restore one of the ammunition hoists, a mechanical winch. The scrap merchant who originally stripped the place thankfully didn’t try too hard after he’d stripped out the first one. The Hidden Heritage guys have managed to restore the hoist to working order. The cartridges for the guns were stored 15 feet underground and hoisted up one at a time. That way, if one did explode the damage would be minimal, not catastrophic.
The shells were stored separately above ground, but as these were armour piercing or shrapnel rounds with a limited amount of explosive, they didn’t need such elaborate safety arrangements. These were stored in a bunker adjacent to the gun and above the powder magazine.
There’s a lot of work to be done. One of the underground stores has yet to be fully excavated. Who knows what else they will find? The cordite charges will have long gone, but there might be the odd artifact (maybe a badge) in the rubble.
I find visits to castles and forts like Whitsand fascianting and inspiring. From a gaming perspective, I could see a fort similar to Whitsand as part of an ‘England Invaded’ scenario, be it against the French, the Germans or the Martians!