bing-mapping view of a surviving site at Gourock, Scotland

Project Profile

Project Title :

Crummock Court, Howdon

Client :

Miller Construction (UK) Ltd

Type of Work :


Project Gallery 

Composite view of gun holdfast showing radiating arms   Close-up of holdfast showing sockets for locating and holding-down bolts  
Sockets for locating bolt, left, and holding-down bolt   Close-up of holdfast showing sockets for locating and holding-down bolts  
The arms appearing in the trial trench   Bing-mapping view of a surviving site at Gourock, Scotland  


Crummock Court

Investigating a Tyneside Anti-Aircraft Battery

NAA recently undertook trial trenching on the site of a World War II anti-aircraft gun-site at Crummock Court, Howdon, Wallsend. This work was undertaken in advance of the construction of sheltered housing and was commissioned by Miller Construction (UK) Ltd on behalf of North Tyneside Borough Council.

The gun-site had been designated as Howdon Tyne L, one of 29 heavy Anti-aircraft (HAA) batteries constructed across North and South Tyneside. These gun-sites were concentrated around the 'Vulnerable Points' that attracted enemy attack, but were sited away from heavily built-up areas to give a good field of view, and to be clear of urban smog. They operated in close collaboration with the searchlight units, which were spread across the wider countryside. Tyneside was one of several Gun Defended Areas that retained its guns for the duration of the war. A standard war-time HAA battery operated two four-gun sites, each divided into two sections; one of the gun-sites also housed the battery headquarters (BHQ).

The Howdon gun-site consisted of four gun emplacements (gun-pits) set in an arc around a central command post. Each emplacement comprised an octagonal central gun 'holdfast' surrounded by ammunition bunkers, with an attached shelter on one side for gun maintenance, known as the Limber Gunner's Shelter. To the north of the gun emplacements was the gun-laying radar which earlier in the war provided targeting information; later variants guided the guns remotely. There were also reinforced concrete magazines for ammunition, a motor vehicle workshop and garage and a collection of temporary huts and sheds which represented the living accommodation for personnel. Each two-site battery employed up to 275 men (and later, women) around 163 per gun-site, with an additional 50 personnel in the BHQ attachment. The number of personnel might appear to be excessive, but a propaganda booklet published in 1942 called.'Roof over Britain: The Official Story of the Anti Aircraft Defences 1939-1942' describes the typical distribution of manpower for a four-gun site (half-battery):

".ready for action, 44 men for four guns; six to eight working the predictor; three or four for the height finder; fire picquet; decontamination squad; stretcher bearers; medical orderly and guard. Five men on training at divisional and brigade schools; six away guarding a nearby unoccupied gun site; fifteen on leave; six men in hospital and six others sick; fifteen men on seven days' leave and twenty having their weekly day off."

All batteries typically used large-calibre ordnance, suitable for targeting high flying aircraft. The Howdon gun-site was initially armed with four pre-war, ex-navy 4.5-inch guns, which had been replaced by 3.7-inch Mark IIC guns by 1945. These featured automatic loading and fuse setting, and could fire ten rounds per minute to a height of 41,000 feet (7� miles). The site had been manned by 176 Battery of the 63rd Royal Artillery Regiment in 1940, and 540 Battery of the 158th Royal Artillery Regiment in 1945. It was retained as a Nucleus Force Headquarters Battery after the war.

The first of the two trenches exposed the concrete foundation for one of the gun emplacements, comprising an octagonal pad, the gun 'holdfast', some 5m (16') across with eight radiating 'arms', each 0.5m wide and extending for between 2.4m and 3.8m (12'6"). These had been reinforced by steel bars up to 1" thick. Arranged around the centre of the holdfast were a series of bolts for locating and mounting the guns. The radiating arms were a feature not previously recorded on AA gun-sites, and were likely to represent an additional reinforcement added to lessen the risk of subsidence in mining areas.

The second trench revealed the concrete floor of one of the ancillary structures. Although there were contemporary aerial photographs, it is uncertain what purpose this structure served. It appears to have been surrounded by an earth bank and may have housed smaller calibre weapons, such as twin Lewis machine-guns, for close range protection.

A report on the results is currently in preparation, and NAA would be interested in receiving any information that people may be able to provide about the site or its operation. NAA would like to thank Darren Thompson and John Hughes of Miller Construction; Jennifer Morrison, Tyne and Wear Archaeological Officer and Roger Thomas of English Heritage for their assistance in this project.