Mittwoch, 21. Dezember 2022

Ru Con Battery

Looking for information about the battery on the Rubh-a-Choin peninsula, about 2 miles north west of Aultbea, the first source I discovered was the book “Britain’s Sea Soldiers” by General Sir H.E. Blumberg, dealing with the Royal Marines in the Great War.

Blumberg mentions the battery in a small chapter:

This chapter raised more questions than it answered and became the starting point for my research, which has now lasted half a year and is far from being over.

Here is what I found out so far.

Timeline of the Construction Work

The history of the battery started on August 21st, 1914, when a certain Captain Cyrus Hunter Regnart, RMLI, boarded HMS Illustrious, the ship that would later serve as guard ship in Loch Ewe.

Excursus 1: Cyrus Hunter Regnart

Regnart had joined the Royal Marines in 1897 and was promoted Captain of the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) in 1904. Soon after his promotion he went to the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) where he served as Assistant to the Director. After the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, later known as MI6 / Military Intelligence, Section 6) had been established, he worked for the SIS chief. Before he ran the SIS overseas station in Brussels, he had to retire formally from RMLI in 1913. When war broke out, he rejoined the Marines.

Captain Regnart was a very interesting character. For those who would like to learn more about him, I can recommend the following book and two excellent websites:

HMS Illustrious arrived in Loch Ewe on August 30th, 1914, in order to serve as a guard ship. In addition to Captain Regnart, there was a group of Royal marines on board.

For September 5th, 1914, the following entry can be found in the log book of HMS Illustrious:

“10. Landed Marine working Party”

This can be considered the starting point for constructing Ru Con Battery.
The works continued over the next few days, and when the Illustrious left Loch Ewe on September 17th, 1914, Regnart and his Royal Marines remained on Rubh-a-Choin, continuing the construction works. The battery was fully operational on October 6th, 1915, but was further expanded afterwards, just as mentioned by Blumberg.

Captain Regnart served as commanding officer of the battery until the end of the war. There is discussion and speculation on the internet as to why a highly qualified intelligence officer like Cyrus Hunter Regnart, who spoke several foreign languages, had to spend the war commanding a small battery in the Scottish remoteness. Such speculation is pointless - unless documented evidence emerges, we will never know.

Excursus 2: Naming of the Battery

There are different names for the battery in the different sources:

    • In the “Report of Admiralty Committee about 1st September, 1914” that I had mentioned in my last post, it is called “Ru Con Battery”. You can find the same name in a letter from the SNO Aultbea to the C-in-C Grand Fleet, dated February 13th, 1915.
    • In most of the other documents issued by the SNO Aultbea, among them the regulations for passing the boom net gate, it is simply called “The Battery”.
    • In the service records of Captain Regnart, it is called “Shore Battery, Loch Ewe (Aultbea)” and “Fort, Loch Ewe”
    • In his book “Loch Ewe During World War II”, Steve Chadwick calls it “Fort Ru Con or Fort Rubh’ a’ Choin”.

As we shall see, it was definitely not a fort but just a battery; I will therefore stick to the name “Ru Con Battery” in the following.

Original Planning

As I had mentioned in my last post, an Admiralty Committee, a group of representatives of the Director of Naval Ordnance, visited Loch Ewe in August 1914 to draw up a scheme of fixed defences. Amongst others, they proposed the following armament:

  • 8 guns with 150 rounds each (4.7-inch if possible, otherwise 4-inch)
  • 9 Searchlights (24-inch electric, four of them being fitted with 15° divergent lenses, power being provided by petrol driven dynamos)

This armament should have been divided among four batteries, each consisting of two guns:

  • Outer defence line: Gusan Point (western shore ) and Leacan Donna (eastern shore )
  • Inner defence line: Ghambua Point (western shore ) and Ru Con (Rubh a Choin, eastern shore )

(© Open Street Maps Mitwirkende)

Each battery should have been equipped with two searchlights (a searching beam on the seaward flank and a fixed 15° divergent beam on the landward flank of the guns).

The garrison for each battery was proposed to have hut accomodation erected in close proximity to the gun positions with ammunition stores, store rooms etc , so that each unit of the defence may be self-contained.

The garrison for Ru Con battery should have consisted of:

Barracks for
  2 Officers
  1 Quartermaster Sergeant
14 Men Guns Crews (including 2 NCO's)
  9 Men Ammunition Supply (including 1 NCO)
12 Men Searchlights (including 2 NCO's)
  2 Stokers + 1 Electrician Power for Searchlights
  2 Men Orderly
  3 Men Telephones
  1 Cook
  1 Bugler
  1 Armourer
  1 Man Sick Berth
  9 Guards
(summing up to a crew of 59 men including Officers and NCO’s)
1 Cook House
1 Baggage Store
1 Victualling Store
1 Telephone Hut
1 Ammunition Shed
2 Petrol Engine Sheds
2 Huts at Searchlights
1 Ammunition Room
1 Armourer's Shop & Store
4 Earth closets

Roads, fencing and water supply as well as some preparation of ground for gun foundations were considered necessary.

Telephone communications should have been established between the PWSS and each battery, between the Commanding Officer of each battery and the searchlights and between the Commanding Officer and the Group Commander.

Transporting guns and other heavy weights to the site of Ru Con Battery was regarded difficult. The following possible landing places and transport routes were proposed:

  • Road from the pier at Aultbea, at that time in a poor condition and ending about half a mile ahead of the battery site
  • One or two little bays close to the gun site which might possibly be used in calm weather.

However, these proposals were never implemented.

About two weeks after the report was issued, on September 15th, 1914, Admiral Jellicoe informed the Admiralty that, with the presence of HMS Illustrious as a guard ship, he considered the inner line of defences proposed by Admiralty Committee dispensable.

In the famous conference held on board the Iron Duke at Loch Ewe on September 17th it was decided not to mount guns as proposed by the Admiralty Committee, but to station 6 destroyers in Loch Ewe and to leave the Illustrious in the entrance as a gun and searchlight defence.

One month later, on October 17th, 1914, the Illustrious left Loch Ewe to serve as guard ship in Loch Na-Keal, but this didn't lead to a different assessment.

On March 18th, 1915, the construction of the batteries proposed by the Admiralty Committee was definitely postponed as the estimated expenditure of BP 10.800 could not be justified. The Admiralty informed the C-in-C Home Fleet “that further consideration of the proposals to provide fixed defences for the antisubmarine boom at Loch Ewe is postponed, and it is not proposed to proceed with the proposals at present.”

By the end of the war, the proposals had not been resumed again.

Ru Con Battery – A Mystery?

Now that you have read that the proposals of the Admiralty Committee to establish batteries for protection of Loch Ewe were never implemented, you will be surprised that there was a battery on Rubh a Choin anyway.

This is truly a mystery as I couldn’t find any written order to establish it, nor could I find any plans or something like a war diary of the commanding officer. However, both the construction of the battery and some details of its operation are mentioned in various documents.

Let's start in chronological order.

The log book of HMS Illustrious is a very important source in this context. In the beginning of this post I had mentioned that there is an entry for September 5th, 1914, 10:00 am, saying “Landed Marine working Party”. 

That this was the beginning of the construction work is revealed from the entries of the next few days:

  • September 7th, 9:00 am: “Landed one Sergt & 8 marines, Capt marines in charge”
  • September 8th, 9:00 am: “Party landing 2 12Pdr Field Guns & Carriage, Landed one Sergt, 12 Marines, Capt Marines in Charge”
  • September 8th, 2:00 pm: “Landed working party 31 hands & one 12 pounder gun & mounting”
  • September 9th, 9:25 am: “Landed Working Party 31 Hands”

This means that the Royal Marines on board together with a part of the ship’s crew built a battery with 3 guns, two of them 12-pdr field guns on carriage and one a 12-pdr gun on a mounting, most probably one of the ship’s own QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval guns (in 1915, the Illustrious was completely disarmed).

The next important source is a letter from Rear Admiral Purefoy, SNO Aultbea, to the C-in-C Grand Fleet, dated February 13th, 1915, stating “Two 24'' Searchlights are now in working order at RU CON Battery, Loch Ewe.” The two 24-inch electric searchlights, that had been proposed by the Admiralty Committee per battery, were obviously installed (one on the seaward flank of the battery with a searching beam and one fixed on the landward flank with a 15° divergent lense, power for both being provided by petrol driven dynamos.)

When the boom net was officially put into operation on October 6th, 1915, Ru Con battery was also fully operational. Its role was described. The SNO Aultbea informed the Admiralty on that day about the regulations for passing the boom net gate that had to be incorporated in O.D. 21 “Instructions for the entry of H.M. Ships into Defended Ports”. These regulations are very interesting to read as they contain several aspects of the involvement of the battery, for example the following passage:

“Should a ship fail to make her pendants to the Port War Signal Station the following instructions have been issued to the Officer Commanding the Battery:
If a single ship or leading ship of a squadron, when she arrives at 3000 yards range, has failed to comply with the order to show navigation lights and to make her pendants, the Battery is to switch on searchlights and one shotted round is to be fired across her bow; if the order has not been complied with when she arrives at 2000 yards range, fire is to be opened on her by the Battery.”

There is also a warning that at night “the defence searchlights are on no account to illuminate the ship as they pass", most probably to not making them a better target for enemy attacks.

How to imagine Ru Con Battery

There is no source about how battery and garrison may have looked like, neither plans nor photos nor descriptions.

The following are my personal conclusions, based on the sources I described above.

Ru Con Battery was surely not a fortified battery with a lot of concrete elements. I suppose that it was the original intention of the Admiralty Committee to establish such fortified batteries. The result may probably have resembled other British harbor batteries like for example South Sutor Battery, protecting Cromarty Firth.

I rather assume that Ru Con Battery was kind of improvisational. If you look at Corran Point Battery / Loch Linnhe, you get a good idea on what I’m thinking of. The guns are set up in open emplacements with only enough concrete to fix the mountings, the buildings are not more than wooden huts. The following photos are in the collections of the Imperial War Museums:

The red arrow on the last photo (a close-up of the total view) marks the ammunition storage house behind protecting earth walls.

Assuming that Ru Con Battery looked similar, you would expect the QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval gun to be mounted with 18 bolts on a concrete slab, the pedestal mounting having a diameter of about 31.5’’ (Source of the following pictures: Wikipedia):

The two 12-pdr field guns on carriage – more precisely QF 12-pounder 8 cwt guns – served originally as landing guns for Navy use ashore. They could be positioned on plain ground without any fixation; the recoil was reduced by metal drag shoes that were placed under the 42’’ wheels.

The two 24’’ searchlights were probably mounted each one in a different way: The searchlight on the seaward flank of the battery had a searching beam; this required a rotating and probably also a pivoting mounting. The second searchlight on the landward flank had a 15° divergent lense which should illuminate the inlet of the loch; this allowed a fixed mounting.

The searchlights of Corran Point Battery give a good impression of how a rotating and pivoting mounting looked like; so does the following photo of the Chanonry Point (Inverness Naval Base) searchlights (source: IWM):

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a photo of a fixed searchlight mounting yet.

All buildings of the battery were most probably made of wood, maybe covered with corrugated iron sheets. I even assume that in the beginning the battery crew lived in tents. At that time there were standardized military huts, the so called Armstrong Huts, in use (you wouldn’t expect Nissen Huts before August 1916), but the improvisational character of the project makes it very unlikely that such standardized military huts were used for Ru Con Battery. It seems that Regnart and his 32-headed crew of Marines rather took advantage of everything they could get a hold of: In a letter from the Admiral Commanding Coast Guard & Reserves, dated October 20th, 1915, I found a remark that “the hut at the old signal station at Aultbea, which was vacated on the establishment of Ru Con PWSS, being transferred to Aultbea for use by Marine Detachment.”

Field Survey of June 9th, 2022

When I came to Loch Ewe in May / June 2022, I hardly had any of the information above. I knew the mentioning of “Fort Ru Con” in Steve Chadwick’s book and I knew the chapter of Blumberg’s Sea Soldiers. Being a member of the Great War Forum, I asked for further information there and learned that a WW1 gun emplacement comprising a small holdfast with a bank running around is still visible but affected by the WW2 gun emplacement; I even got the coordinates.

On June 9th, I explored the Rubh a Choin peninsula for WW1 relics. I found the gun emplacement immediately as the bank around it is still visible:

On the right hand of the photo you see the WW2 gun emplacement with which a part of the WW1 emplacement was overbuilt. Unfortunately, everything was overgrown by thick vegetation, so I couldn’t verify any holdfast. I’m rather assuming that this is an emplacement for one of the QF 12-pounder 8 cwt field guns, but this will have to be verified in my next field survey.

This photo shows the view from the gun emplacement to the loch:

Examining the area south of the gun emplacement, I made an exciting discovery: Roughly about 10 meters south of the gun emplacement I found some rusted metal bolts protruding from the ground. First I could spot only 4 of them; by means of my pocket knife (I had no better tool with me) I could finally uncover 6 bolts, belonging to a circle of 10 bolts with a diameter of about 48 cm.

Before cleaning the area …

… and after:

This photo shows the view from the holdfast to the loch:

This holdfast is much too small for the pedestal mounting of a QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval gun, but it could belong to the searchlight on the seaward flank of the battery. On my next field survey I will take better tools with me and hopefully be able to fully clear the holdfast.

This map shows the positions of both the gun emplacement (red arrow) and the searchlight emplacement (yellow arrow):

The rest of my visit was rather frustrating. I couldn't find any other remains of the WW1 battery, neither hut foundations (it can be assumed that they were rather made of wood than of concrete) nor gun emplacements. T
he whole area of the WW1 battery, if not overbuilt with WW2 installations, is overgrown with a thick and persistent carpet of plants which makes it impossible to spot something, not to mention the uneven terrain that makes it difficult to advance when you are physically handicapped.

Of course I will return to Rubh a Choin (in fact, my travel is already booked), and of course, I will return with a better equipment, among others a light metal detector that should help me  finding metal bolts ... I will keep you posted!

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