The Victorian Muzzle Loading Battery
During the 1850’s a wave of panic hit Britain which culminated when France introduced the world’s first ironclad warship sparking fears of invasion. Hasty preparations were made and many ports were given gun batteries to give shelter to the naval and merchant fleets. Hartlepool got nine guns which were placed at the Heugh, by the Lighthouse and at Fairy Cove. Fairy Cove battery did not last long thanks to being on top of crumbling cliffs but the Heugh and Lighthouse Batteries, shored up by the promenade went on to serve for 96 years and were to hold the only British mainland guns to engage enemy warships during the World Wars.
Work began in 1859 when Heugh Battery was built for four large smooth bore guns while a smaller battery for another pair was built next door by the lighthouse. The 68pr guns which had an effective range out to a mile and a half were first manned by the Militia Artillery and later by a detachment of Volunteers raised in the town. During the 1880’s the guns were upgraded to 64pr rifled guns but these soon became obsolete so in 1892 the Lighthouse was upgraded with a single 6 inch disappearing gun while the Heugh Battery was left empty.
The Breech Loading Battery
Even so disappearing guns soon fell out of favour and in 1900 it was decided to completely rebuild Heugh Battery for two of the latest 6 inch Mk VII guns. The old stone work was almost completely removed and new emplacements, underground magazines and a rangefinder post were built in concrete, most of which can still be seen today. Eventually in 1907 a similar gun was placed in the Lighthouse Battery and in 1908 the old Volunteers and Militia were disbanded and replaced by the Territorials who manned the guns right up to 1956.
The new guns with their complex fire control systems could fire out accurately to over seven and a half miles and although not powerful enough to sink an enemy warship outright they were a formidable deterrent to an enemy who may well be damaged and then have to face a difficult journey home at the mercy of the Royal Navy. In December 1914 the guns were given the chance to prove their mettle when three German Battle cruisers attacked the town.
The First World War and the Bombardment
Unable to face the British fleet in a full scale battle the German navy decided to carry out a raid that would draw a smaller number of British battleships into an ambush in the North Sea and on the morning of 16th December 1914 the towns of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby were shelled. Only Hartlepool was defended, both by the batteries and naval vessels and a full scale engagement developed in which 101 civilians, 9 soldiers, 4 sailors and 9 German seamen were killed and much property damaged.
Both batteries fought back bravely but were hampered by misfiring guns and dud ammunition. Fortunately the Germans were using standard anti-ship ammunition with time delay fuses which bounced off the gun aprons to explode behind the batteries otherwise casualties among the gunners would have been far higher. Lighthouse Battery did particularly well as one shot seems to have temporarily disabled the Blucher almost forcing her to run aground.
For their bravery the Gun Captains at the Heugh were awarded the first ever pair of Military Medals and the Lighthouse Gun Sergeant won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Controversially the commander also won a number of awards but his subordinates who actually fought the action went unrewarded thanks to their German ancestry.
The Second World War
Just before the war one Heugh Battery gun was removed and the Lighthouse gun became part of the Heugh. As in the First World War the Town Moor and nearby housing were taken over to house, feed and train new gunners and new defences which included trenches, pillboxes and an anti-aircraft rocket battery were also erected. In 1942 Heugh Battery got its final upgrade when three Coast Defence / Anti-Aircraft guns were installed, one at Heugh, one at the Lighthouse site and one on the Town Moor. New command, plotting and rangefinder posts gave these 6 inch Mk 24 high angle guns a range of around 14 miles and the use of radar gave even greater accuracy.