World War II Heavy Anti-aircraft gunsite, 100m west of Princes Cottages
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- South Hams (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SX 50782 49117
Reasons for Designation
Although of comparatively recent date, 20th century military sites are
increasingly seen as historic survivals representing a defining episode in the
history of warfare and of the century in general; as such they merit careful
record and, in some cases, preservation. One of the more significant
developments in the evolution of warfare during this period was the emergence
of strategic bombing in World War II, and this significance was reflected by
the resources invested in defence, both in terms of personnel and the sites on
which they served. During the war, the number of people in Anti-aircraft
Command reached a peak of 274,900 men, additional to the women soldiers of the
ATS who served on gunsites from summer 1941, and the Home Guard who manned
many sites later in the war. A national survey of England's Anti-aircraft
provision, based on archive sources, has produced a detailed record of how
many sites there were, where they were and what they looked like. It is also
now known from a survey of aerial photographs how many of these survive.
Anti-aircraft gunsites divide into three main types: those for heavy guns
(HAA), light guns (LAA) and batteries for firing primitive unguided rockets
(so called ZAA sites). In addition to gunsites, decoy targets were employed to
deceive enemy bombers, while fighter command played a complementary and
significant role. Following the end of World War II, 192 HAA sites were
selected for post-war use as the Nucleus Force, which was finally closed in
The HAA sites contained big guns with the function of engaging high flying
strategic bombers, hence their location around the south and east coasts, and
close to large cities and industrial and military targets. Of all the
gunsites, these were the most substantially built. There were three main
types: those for static guns (mostly 4.5 and 3.7 inch); those for 3.7 inch
mobile guns; and sites accommodating 5.25 inch weapons. These were all
distinct in fabric, though they could all occupy the same position at
different dates, or simultaneously by accretion. As well as the four or eight
gun emplacements, with their holdfast mountings for the guns, components will
generally include operational buildings such as a command post, radar
structures including the radar platform, on-site magazines for storing reserve
ammunition, gun stores and generating huts, usually one of the standard Nissen
hut designs. Domestic sites were also a feature of HAA gunsites, with huts,
ablutions blocks, offices, stores and amenities drawn from a common pool of
approved structures. Sites were often also provided with structures for their
close defence; pillboxes are the most common survivals, though earthwork
emplacements were also present. The layout of HAA gunsites was distinctive,
but changed over time, for example to accommodate the introduction of radar
from December 1940, women soldiers from summer 1941, and eight gun layouts
from late 1942.
Nearly 1,000 gunsites were built during World War II, and less than 200 of
these have some remains surviving. However, at only around 60 sites are these
remains thought sufficient to provide an understanding of their original form
and function. This includes 30 of the 192 examples which continued in use
until 1955. Surviving examples are therefore sufficiently rare to suggest that
all 60 well preserved examples are of national importance.
The Heavy Anti-aircraft site at Down Thomas, 100m west of Princes Cottages, is considered to be one of the best preserved examples of those HAA sites which protected Plymouth during World War II. It is one of only three such sites to survive in the Plymouth area and it provides a significant and visible reminder of the nature of home defence during World War II; its function being to combat German bombers heading towards the city and naval dockyards of Plymouth.
The importance of the site lies in the survival of all of its gun emplacements and its well-preserved command post and magazine, all linked by a contemporary trackway. As such it provides an exceptional insight into anti-aircraft measures in the region.
The monument includes a World War II Heavy Anti-aircraft (HAA) gunsite
located some 650m inland from the coast on the western side of Wembury.
The battery was known as Down Thomas and this name persists into the early
years of the 21st century. It was built in 1940, as part of the defences
for the city of Plymouth, with four 3.7 inch gun emplacements and was
manned by 210 HAA Battery in August 1941. Subsequently, two other
emplacements were added for 3.7 inch and/or 4.5 inch guns.
During the period of use the battery was divided into two parts. The
living area to the east (alongside Spring Road) contained the
accommodation and general administration buildings. This area is not
included in the scheduling. The operational area, the subject of the
scheduling, lies to the west. This formed the combat element of the site
and included the gun emplacements, a command post and a magazine.
The gun emplacements are approached by a concrete access road leading from
the accommodation site. The final 15m length of this road is included in
the scheduling. The gunsite comprises an array of six gun emplacements
arranged around a loop at the end of the access track. The gun
emplacements are of two different types: four are octagonal and are of a
standard type for 3.7 inch guns. These are believed to have been
constructed as part of the original battery of 1940, whilst two are
rectangular and are believed to been constructed a little later, possibly
for 4.5 inch guns. The four octagonal emplacements form an arc to the
south of the command post whilst the two rectangular additions sit at the
northwestern end of the array. The octagonal emplacements each have six
brick-built, internally rendered, ammunition lockers (some retaining
wooden fixtures and fittings) built against the 1.5m high concrete block
walls which are embanked with earth for extra protection and which
surrounded the guns. Concrete `holdfasts', some of which retain metal
fixtures, mark the positions of the guns, which were manoeuvred into place
via a single access gateway in each emplacement. The rectangular
emplacements are similarly enclosed by concrete block walls embanked with
earth and with a single entrance. They are however provided with only two
ammunition lockers, one at either end against the shorter walls.
The semi-sunken command post is situated within the access loop towards
its southern end. The building is protected by earth banks and has a
standard suite of rooms including a plotting room, telephonists' quarters,
and offices. Built into the top of the building are protected positions
for spotting equipment, observation platforms, and a pillar for a range
finder. Also within the access loop is a 5-bay magazine protected by blast
walls; each bay (known as a recess) retains its stencilling for detailing
numbers and types of shells stored. The magazine is accessed by its own
concrete track which has embedded rails to facilitate the movement of
shells to the access road. A semi-sunken building to the south of the
magazine, but still inside the access loop, may be a shelter.
To the exterior of the access loop and just north of the easternmost gun
emplacement is a concrete block building which may represent a shelter. On
the northern side of the loop is a further concrete block building which,
although it has been altered and its entrance widened in the post-war
period, is believed to be the remains of a contemporary World War II
All modern fencing and fenceposts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Pye, A, Woodward, F, The Historic Defences of Plymouth, (1996), 232-33
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing