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Author Topic: Lots of questions about manning the forts.  (Read 1708 times)

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Offline cannasue

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Lots of questions about manning the forts.
« on: March 17, 2013, 11:47:40 AM »
Hello,

I have a few questions to ask about the manning of the forts.

i'm writing about the Nothe fort in Weymouth, and I have quite a detailed history of it up until 1874 when the guns have finnaly been installed. Mostly taken from newspaper reports in the local press of the time, and the Nothe fort archives via a smashing chap who's in charge of them.

What I was wondering is that I'm now at the stage where the Royal Artillery have taken over the fort. Apart from any incidents that warranted a few inches in the papers there's very little to go on what was happening.

I understand that at this stage, the forts were virtually deemed worthless (outdated ) but the government obviously came to the decision that now they'd been built that they had to do something with them, apart from using them as accomodation.
Would they have just used the fort as an added  barrack block?

Another odd thing that I noticed while making notes for my research is that the columns of the military postings each week in the national papers listed most the regiments, but the Royal Engineers, and the Royal Artillery were not on those lists. Had I not had reports of their local coming and goings in the papers I would never have known they were in Weymouth. Why were they not included in the military postings list? It also means that I have no real way of finding out which Royal Artillery companies came to Weymouth, and when. Is there any way that I can find this out?

At what stage do they stop manning the forts? I understand that at Weymouth it ends up as a depot for the storage of artillery, but that's nearer the WW1, what happens between 1890's and then?

Thanks,

Sue

Offline David

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Re: Lots of questions about manning the forts.
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2013, 04:34:43 PM »
I hope that you haven't fallen for the propaganda perpetrated by some elements of the press during the Victorian period that the forts were a folly and a waste of money, never being fully armed or fully manned. Only a tiny part of this is correct. The forts were divided into two distinct types, Land Front forts and Coast Defence batteries. The Nothe may be considered primarily as the latter. As such its purpose was to prevent and enemy landing on our coast and to protect an important harbour.
The permanent armament of the forts was to be manned in time of need by regular Garrison Artillery, but as these were limited in number they were to be supplemented by Volunteer Artillery. The full war garrison of a fort was considered to be the number of guns multiplied by 20 and barrack accommodation was to be provided for a half war garrison or in some cases a third war garrison. As the forts were not to be fully manned until the mobilisation period that meant that barrack accommodation could be used for the huge standing army that was constantly moving around the U.K. in and out of the ports and harbours to the far flung corners of the empire.

During peace time the forts had a single battery (or company) of Garrison Artillery to maintain the guns. Apart from the forts that served as depots for the R.G.A. (such as Fort Rowner) the secondary purpose of the forts was as barracks by regiments of infantry. This is why you see items in the press concerning infantry movements to and from the forts. The infantry could be used in time of need to man the covered ways, firing steps and loopholes of the caponiers leaving the garrison artillery to do their job of firing the guns. Infantry regiments constantly moved in and out of the forts but the R.G.A mostly remained static. Although each company moved around, the Garrison Artillery District responsible for a fort tended to remain static. Movement of engineers and artillerymen can be found in the press but not to the same extent at that of the infantry. Also there were less of them.  The district establishment looked after the forts and was comprised of service corps and engineers. A barrack labourer acted as a caretaker in each fort. Many forts also served as training venues for the Volunteers and militia.

You say the forts were 'virtually deemed worthless' but this was in the eyes of the press. They were an essential part of our defences providing in addition much needed barrack accommodation for a vast standing army. Certainly not considered worthless by the R.A. and R.E. committees that maintained them, or the Secretary of State for War who paid for them,  they were fully armed by 1881 when the Imperial Defence Loan supplied much needed upgrades to the armament. The only forts that were not fully armed were a few that were deemed superfluous to the defences because of advances in the art of building artillery with greater range and accuracy, such as Fort Scoveston at Milford Haven. Hogg, in his book 'Coast Defences of England and Wales' has a lot to answer for regarding this matter. He introduced the idea of unarmed forts that were a waste of money. English Heritage by adopting his phrase 'never fully armed' perpetuated the idea in their Pastscape pages until corrected. 'Never fully manned' was partially correct. There never was the intention to man all the guns of every fort even in time of war. What enemy could attack all of the forts at once?

The land front forts became obsolete post 1906 when the method of defending our country had changed, and they were disarmed. Most continued in army control as barracks, depots and training establishments, some transferring to alternative services such as the navy, marines etc. The coast defences continued until 1956 although many had alternative uses and some were put into 'care and maintenance'.

To find out which artillery batteries/companies were in which forts you could look through the 'Army Lists'. 
A quick look shows that Weymouth was mainly under the Southern Division Royal Artillery, its depot based at Fort Rowner Gosport:
1884 Weymouth 1st Battery Northern Division R.G.A.
1884 after mobilisation 7th battery 15th Brigade were to man the fort.
1888 2nd Volunteer (Dorsetshire) Brigade (late 1st Dorsetshire)  Southern Division Royal Artillery
1892 Southern Division R.G.A.
1896 Southern Division R.G.A.
1890 Southern Division R.G.A.
1898 7th Company Southern Division R.G.A.
1902 22nd Company Southern Division R.G.A.
1904 28th Company Southern Division R.G.A.
1906 28th Company Southern Division R.G.A.
1908 28th Company Southern Division R.G.A.
Attached is an example entry for  1898.

A thorough search of the online newspapers may also reveal a lot more. That is how I have compiled the lists for the Portsmouth forts on this website.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2013, 11:16:32 AM by David »
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline cannasue

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Re: Lots of questions about manning the forts.
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2013, 04:38:36 PM »
Hello David,

My apolgies, I have only just seen your very informative reply.

A lot of information there to digest.

Could I just ask, what happened to the Coast Brigade of Artillery that were set up in 1859 , I believe to man the newly constructed forts. The information that i have is that they each had their own district, and were to be used to train the Militia and Volunteer Artillery companies. I haven't seen much mention of them after. Did they morph into something else as time went on?

I know that the Nothe area was used frequently as a base for training, often the men were shipped out to the Breakwater to practice firing.

Sue

Offline David

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Re: Lots of questions about manning the forts.
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2013, 01:56:22 PM »
Hello Sue.
The 1891 reorganisation abolished the Coast Brigade as a seperate entity, its men becoming District Establishments.

 
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)