Emergency Coastal Defence Battery

Back Freiston Shore, Lincolnshire

Once of the first responses by the British High Command to the invasion crisis of 1940 was what became known as the Emergency Coastal Battery Defence Programme. This initiative saw ex-Royal Naval guns that had been taken from ships scrapped after the First World War and put into storage, hastily brought back into service and placed in pairs as vulnerable points along the coast. These emergency batteries tended to conform to a similar layout and while they were often rudimentary at first, over time they developed into substantial sites.

A typical battery site comprised the following:

  • Two concrete gunhouses to house the guns. This is where the guns were placed and used in action.
  • A battery observation post where spotters identified targets and relayed information to the gunners in the gunhouses.
  • Searchlights, usually in pairs and situated on either side of the gunhouses which were used to illuminate targets at night.
  • A generator building to supply power to the battery.
  • A magazine and crew shelters for the immediate protection of the gunners.
  • Ancillary structures, such as huts where the men were accommodated.
  • Battery defences. These were additional defences designed to aid the defence of the battery if it were attacked. In many cases these were part of the general anti-invasion defences that formed part of Britain’s ‘coastal crust’.

One of the best surviving Emergency Coastal Defence Batteries in England is at Freiston Shore in Lincolnshire, which was intended to defend the Wash from German incursion. Here, the remains of the battery position, along with infantry pillboxes are all accessible by public footpath.

The bulk of the concrete remains lie on an earthwork bank that was built centuries ago as a sea defence. Originally this bank marked the coastline but successive attempts at drainage have seen the land in front reclaimed from the sea. In recent years, however, periodic inundations have been permitted as part of the area’s biodiversity and habitat management.

The battery itself comprised two 6-inch Naval guns, with the battery declared operational by the middle of June 1940. The two concrete gunhouses survive intact and retain the holdfasts for the guns themselves. Originally, the gunhouses were camouflaged as bungalows, with pitch roofs and chimneys. The two emplacements for searchlights flank the gunhouses, with one now re-furbished and used as an artist’s studio, while the other is open and gives a very good idea of the original form.

The magazine, generator room and crew shelters lie behind the gunhouses and again are well preserved. In what is probably one of the crew shelters some wartime wall art remains, which although faded seems to show some female figures, but also the outline of a German fighter.

What gives the site an added dimension are the infantry pillboxes that lie in close proximity to the battery position. Between the right hand gunhouse and searchlight position is a regional design of pillbox known as the ‘Lincolnshire Three-Bay Pillbox’, so called because of its three bays, the central bay housing the mounting for light anti-aircraft gun. Further south are more conventional Type 22 pillboxes, in this case with additional concrete buttresses beneath the embrasures and the broken pieces of metal pipe on the roofs also evidence for the mounting of anti-aircraft machine guns. These pillboxes were camouflaged by mud and were covered with embanked grassy banks in order to break up their silhouettes and the pebbledash rendering that can be clearly seen today is also an attempt to hide their true purpose.

A more unusual pillbox is to be seen at the entrance to the RSPB car park on the site. This is also a Type 22 but it is nearly double the standard height due to a solid upper section. This again was for the mounting of an anti-aircraft gun. The provision for anti-aircraft fire from the pillboxes clearly indicates the perceived threat from the Luftwaffe during 1940-41. This may also be due to the fact that the Wash was used by German pilots as a navigational aid for inland bombing; one of the preferred routes into Midland England was via the Wash and then using the rivers to navigate inland.

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