Our community blogs
A recent request for research into defence of the River Tyne highlighted how important it was to maintain a creditable deterrent for home defence. The Tyne gained prominence as the industrial revolution developed. The river shipped coal from the Northumberland and Durham coalfields. Shipbuilding and heavy industry grew up along the banks of the Tyne, notably Armstrong’s Ordnance works in Elswick.
Lord Morley's report on the defence of the United Kingdom published in 1883 said of the Tyne;
“commercially of the highest importance… the principle in the north of iron and coal trade, manufactories and shipbuilding yards line its banks, higher up the river beyond the bridge is a private arsenal of the first order in order in which guns and materials of the heaviest and most approved pattern are manufactured.”
During Word War 78,000 people worked in the Elswick Works at it's height, 21,000 of whom were women. They produced 13,000 guns, 12,000 gun carriages, 18 million ammo rounds, 47 warships, 62 armed warships 230 armed merchant ships, two train ferries, a floating crane, and 102 tanks.
Along the Tyne were the major shipbuilding towns of Gateshead, Walker, Wallsend, Jarrow and Hebburn. On the outbreak of war in 1914, the Tyne had 19 shipyards. Heavy engineering and other industries were situated along the banks of the Tyne, as well as a number of collieries. Major docks at North Shields (Northumberland Dock) and South Shields (Tyne Dock) handled the coal from the Northumberland and Durham coalfields.
Hayhole Lead Works and Coal Staithes Northumberland Dock
There had been defences on the Tyne at Tynemouth, on the northside of the river, since the time of Henry VIII, and forts on either side during the English Civil War. In 1672 Clifford’s Fort in North Shields was built and would be the mainstay of defence of the Tyne for the next 200 years. In 1845, the construction of piers at the entrance to the Tyne commenced. This was to have consequences, for as the piers began to extend beyond the natural mouth of the Tyne, the defences at Cliffords Fort were being made untenable.
As the 19th century approached it’s last decade the smooth bore and rifled muzzle loading guns in the Tyne batteries were becoming obsolete, in part due to the development of breach loading guns by William Armstrong at the Elswick Works. The Tyne Piers were completed in 1895, 50 years after the first stone was laid, finally rendering the guns of Cliffords Fort obsolete. This resulted in the building of more modern batteries on the Tyne, commencing in1899.
Two batteries for 2 x 6inch and 1 x 9.2 inch naval guns were completed in 1903, Tynemouth Castle Battery on the north side, and Frenchman’s Point on the southside on the coast at South Shields. The Spanish Battery augmented the defences with 2 x 6 inch and 2 x 12 pounder quick firing naval guns. Cliffords Fort became a Submarine Mine Depot, and the Tyne Electrical Engineers manned a coastal searchlight.
9.2 inch Gun Frenchmans Point South Shields
In addition to the coastal artillery and submarine mines, the Royal Navy dedicated a scout cruiser and 14 destroyers of the 9th Destroyer Flotilla to defending the Tyne  .
HMS Patrol - 9th Destroyer Flotilla
When the First World War started, the German Navy had the capability to bombard key targets along the Tyne, including the Elswick Works. The 21cm/45 SK L/45 could deliver a 100 kg shell at a range of 19,100 metres  and the 28 cm/50 (11") SK L/50 a 300kg shell at a range of 18,100 metres . The range form the mouth of the Tyne to Elswick is 15,000 metres.
The 1914 Station of Units shows the defences manned by 12 and 47 Companies of the Royal Garrison Artillery, augmented by the Tynemouth RGA (TF). On mobilisation, Territorial Force units of the Northumbrian Division deployed to war stations including bridges and key installations along the Tyne, as well as to the coastline. The coastal gunners scanned the horizon looking for the German Navy.
Watching the Tyne 1914 
An account of the operation of the batteries was recorded by 2nd Lieut. Leslie Tilley  who was posted to the Tynemouth RGA in December 1914.
“I was posted to the Frenchman’s Point Battery, at Trow Point in South Shields. This had two six-inch guns covering Tynemouth and a 9.2-inch gun at the southern end of the position.
“We also knew the plan for a navigational ‘box’, set up a mile and a half offshore. This had been worked out before the war. All vessels wishing to enter the Tyne were to anchor there to be boarded by the crew of an examination steamer. All this took place under the gaze of the 6 inch guns at Spaniard’s Point under Tynemouth Castle. In the event of a ship behaving
suspiciously, a single warning shot was allowed. If this was ignored, all guns in range would let fly".
"In those early days we were subjected to almost daily battery drills, including the use of searchlights and floodlights, test firings and security exercises, until we could have carried them out as we slept."
The naval threat to the British coastline from the Germany materialised in December 1914, though not on the Tyne. Four battle cruisers and two flotillas of destroyers bombarded the coastal towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool. The threat when it materialised came from the air, from a Zeppelin. The the first bombs fell on Tyneside on 14th April 1915 when Zeppelin L9 attacked, however the air raid caused little damage. A raid by Zeppelin L10 on 15th June 1915 targeted the ship building towns of Wallsend, Hebburn and Jarrow killing 18, injuring 73, and causing damage to the industrial areas.
Whilst the guns at Tynemouth would not see active service, personnel formed siege batteries for deployment overseas. The Royal Naval dominance of the North Sea reduced the German threat on the coast and the requirement for coastal artillery. This coincided with increased demand for heavy artillery for the Western Front, and skilled RGA gunners to man those guns. Twenty one siege batteries are identified as being raised at Tynemouth. 
Home Fleets were distributed in accordance with Admiralty Fleet Order dated 8th August 1914
Patrol Flotillas - 9th Destroyer Flotilla, Tyne
 Rickard, J (23 June 2014), Watching the mouth of the Tyne, 1914 , http://www.historyofwar.org/Pictures/pictures_watching_tyne_1914.html
 1914 "Defending the Tyne" https://englandsnortheast.co.uk/defending-the-tyne/
 JMB Frederick Lineage Book of British Land Forces 1606 - 1978 pages 702 - 705
- Read more...
- 0 comments