The Heugh Battery was originally built in the mid-nineteenth century, one of a cluster of three near the lighthouse on the Headland at Hartlepool. Originally armed with four 68 pounder smoothbore guns, the battery would undergo a number of modifications to update the armaments; firstly to take three 64 pounder muzzle loading guns, the newer design having a rifled (spiralling groove to spin the shell along the inside of the barrel) which were subsequently replaced by breech loading guns in the 1890s.
In 1900 the battery was scaled back to a two-gun emplacement and the original breech loading guns were replaced by two BL 6 inch Mk VII naval guns.
On the 16th December 1914, the Imperial German Navy attacked the eastern coast of northern England. Scarborough and Whitby in North Yorkshire were attacked as well as Hartlepool. The main targets in Hartlepool being the docks and local factories.
A contingent of one hundred and fifty-five men, led by eleven officers of the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery manned the battery. The battery was placed on alert of attack at 4:30am that day.
At 8:10am, the German Naval commanders decided to seize the advantage of the poor visibility and got close into the shore. Whilst aware of large ships in the area, the battery could not readily identify which were friendly vessels and which were the enemy.
The town of Hartlepool took a battering with 1,150 shells fired at the town in a little over forty minutes. The enemy had been so close to the shore that many of their inbound shells did not explode on impact at there was insufficient time for their fuses to take effect. This presented a whole different set of problems after the raid.
Eighty-six civilians were killed and a further four hundred and twenty-four were injured. Seven soldiers died and fourteen of their number were injured. A plaque has been erected commemorating those who died that day, which included the first British Soldier to die on British soil in what became known as World War I.
Heugh Battery Today
The battery today is a museum, run largely by highly knowledgeable volunteers. As a small museum, it is a wonderful place to visit as you can get up close and personal with the equipment in the yard as well as the guns up top. I spent some time high-up in the command post looking out to sea trying to imagine what the officers and men had to deal with defending our coastline.
Down below you can visit the magazine where the ammunition was stored and hoisted up to the men actually manning the guns. Learn about the precautions that had to be taken when handling the explosive ammunition, as well as visit a trench and watch short films about life at the battery before having a cup of tea in the Poppy Cafe.
However, the last word has to be about the staff. Their passion and enthusiasm for the history of the battery really shows. On the way in I asked a question the person on duty in gift area did not now the answer to. Just as I was about to leave, the lady I had spoken to approached me, told me she had looked through some records and gave me the answer I was looking for.
Why not give the museum a visit and see what questions of your own you can come up with?