Brownstone Battery is one of the few surviving Second World War coastal defence positions. Hidden amongst the trees you'll come across a collection of fascinating buildings, including the gun and searchlight positions.
Defending the coastline
With the threat of a German land invasion, gun batteries were placed strategically along the south coast. Brownstone Battery was built in 1940 to protect the Dart Estuary and nearby beaches Slapton and Blackpool Sands. The Battery was manned by up to 300 soldiers. Their time was spent training and waiting for an invasion that never happened.
The Battery has two gun positions. Each housed a six-inch gun, taken from a First World War battleship. The guns had a range of over 14 miles, and 13 men were needed to operate each gun. The men worked on a shift system.
The shells containing high explosives were propelled from the guns by 'charges.' These were either cordite, a silk bag filled with smaller bags of explosive, or a cartridge, a brass cylinder filled with explosive.
There are two searchlight positions at the battery. The reinforced concrete buildings housed powerful searchlights which scanned the sea for enemy ships. Five men operated each searchlight, working on shifts. Below the searchlights, the whole cliff area was covered in barbed wire.
After the war
The Battery was decommissioned in the late 1950s, and came to the National Trust in 1981. By this time many of the original buildings had been removed or damaged. Over the years, scrub spread over the site. The team of rangers work to keep the scrub at bay and create a good habitat for wildflowers, butterflies and rare birds such as cirl buntings. Sheep and pony grazing help with this. The large generator store has been colonised by lesser horseshoe bats.
Tour of the Battery
- Generator stores: these four buildings housed the diesel generators which supplied power for the accommodation blocks, observation post and two searchlights.
- Officers' Mess: the officers used the mess for administration and dining. Within it was a cookhouse.
- Stores: it is thought that these buildings were used as general stores and workshops.
- Observation post: this was the main communication centre for the site, sending and receiving radio messages. Range-finders could calculate the bearings of enemy ships from here, then relay information to the gunners via a tannoy system.
- Ammunition stores: the shells, cartridges and cordite for the guns were stored here.
- Workshop: the maintenance and repair of guns and other equipment took place in the workshop.
- Gun batteries: the two batteries each housed a six-inch ex-naval gun.
- Searchlight positions: the searchlights illuminated the sea for enemy ships.
- Miniature railway: a track runs from an ammunition store to the lower gun position. This enabled shells to be transported down the steep slope.
- Soldiers' Mess: this is where the relief gun crew stayed while waiting to go on duty.
- Nissen hut sites: the Nissen huts were removed after the war. The canteen, cookhouse and dining area were located here.
- Nissen hut sites: more Nissen huts were located here, used as the accommodation for sergeants and regulars.