Today we had a fascinating day visiting the Verne High Angle Gun Battery, located on the Isle of Portland along the South Coast of England.

The Verne High Angle Gun Battery was constructed in the late 1800s as part of Britain’s coastal defense system. The battery was strategically positioned near the Verne Citadel, a fortification built on the Isle of Portland to protect the important naval base of Portland Harbor.

We sent the drone up to see what the battery looked like from the air!

The battery was designed to house and operate large artillery guns, primarily to defend against potential naval threats. Its purpose was to provide coastal defense by engaging enemy ships and effectively protecting the harbor and its surroundings. The Verne High Angle Battery was an integral part of Britain’s defensive network during a time of heightened tensions and potential conflicts.

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Background

The Verne High Angle Gun Battery was originally built as part of the British coastal defense system in response to the perceived threat of enemy naval forces. The primary threat during the time of its construction was the growing naval power of the German Empire.

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was intense naval competition and rivalry between Britain and Germany. The German Navy, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, was expanding its fleet rapidly and challenging British naval supremacy. This naval arms race created concerns for the security and defense of British coastal areas, including the strategic naval base on Portland in Dorset, UK.

Two gun emplacements at the far end of the battery. You can also see the entrance to one of the many tunnels.

The threat of German naval forces was a significant factor in the construction and fortification of coastal batteries like the Verne. These defenses were meant to ensure the security of key coastal areas and maintain control over vital maritime routes. By establishing fortified positions and equipping them with powerful artillery, the British aimed to protect their naval assets and maintain their dominance in the English Channel during a time of heightened tension and potential conflict with Germany.

The Battery

Construction of the battery began in 1892 and was completed in 1896. It was built by a mixture of contractors, British army personnel and a convict labor force.

The battery is sited within a disused quarry which offered a significant advantage by allowing it to maintain a lower profile and evade the detection of enemy ships, all the while enabling it to unleash a devastating blow when needed. To facilitate effective coordination, information regarding enemy positions was sent to the battery through strategically placed spotting cells scattered along the island’s coastline.

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Equipped with a formidable armament of six 9-inch 12-ton rifled muzzle loaded (RML) guns, the battery employed a high-angle firing technique, serving two distinct purposes:

Firstly, owing to its advantageous location in a lower position, the battery exploited the high angle trajectory to maximize its range and reach.

Secondly, this firing strategy aimed to exploit the vulnerability of enemy ships’ weaker decks rather than attempting to penetrate their heavily armored hulls, thereby maximizing the potential impact of each shell.

The site has since fallen into disrepair and become a target for vandals.

The battery was built with two magazines which stored the shells for the guns. There was also a telephone room, a laboratory, a troop shelter complex and two stores buildings. There are no major troop barracks on the site, as the personnel that manned the battery would have been housed in the nearby Verne Citadel.

Most of the buildings were constructed with reinforced roofs which were then covered in earth and grass meaning that most of the site, apart from the gun emplacements, remain well hidden and appear to just be a part of the natural landscape. It is not until you take a closer look, that you realise these rooms can be explored via a network of tunnels.

The magazines were linked to the guns by a system of rails which allowed for the delivery of shells.

A top down view of the Battery.

Fate Of The Battery

The life of the battery was rather short. Rapid evolutions in naval technologies meant that the slow and easy to hit ships that the battery was made to counter, were a thing of the past rather quickly. Naval fleets were being equipped with the smaller and speedier torpedo boats that the artillery simply would simply not have been able to score a hit on.

The battery was decommissioned in 1907 and the guns were removed three years later.

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There are some records that indicate the site saw usage during the First and Second World Wars. Portland remained a strong naval hub throughout these periods and some accounts suggest artillery personnel were trained at the battery and readied for service in the trenches of World War One. In 1918, French field artillery guns were stored at the site, although it is not clear as for how long.

A look inside the tunnels. Image by Ajsmith141 CC BY-SA 3.0

During the Second World War, anti-aircraft positions were installed at the battery in order to help protect Portlands naval assets which frequently came under attack from the Luftwaffe.

In modern times, the Verne High Angle Gun Battery has fallen into disrepair and has become a tourist attraction on the Island of Portland. 

In local legend, the battery is said to be haunted. Some inhabitants of the island claim to have had supernatural experiences in the tunnels and the areas surrounding the site. This had lead to the name of the battery commonly being referenced as ‘The Ghost Tunnels’.