06 February 2016

Hove Guns

Judy Middleton 2016

The seven-ton gun from SMS Keonigsberg arrived at Hove on 19 April 1928. (Sussex Daily News 20 April 1928)

The Koenisgsberg Gun

There used to be two interesting German relics of the Great War on display at the Coastguard / RNVR depot at Hove and they continue to spark interest to this day.

One gun was part of a complement of ten aboard SMS Koenigsberg, a modern German light cruiser. The famous firm of Krupp manufactured the gun at Essen and it was a Naval 10.5 cm. quick loading cannon.

During the Great War the Koenigsberg operated as a lone wolf in the Indian Ocean, attacking allied shipping. For example, HMS Pegasus was one British vessel sunk by the Köenigsberg’s guns at Zanzibar. The British authorities were concerned enough to send Royal Navy vessels to try and track her down. The Koenigsberg was able to take refuge from the hunters in the Rufiji delta in German East Africa, now Tanzania, because the Germans had charted the delta; the British vessels, without this knowledge, were unable to follow. Neither could they gauge the exact spot she was lurking in and this was where a very modern approach was adopted – the use of spotter planes.  

The planes used in this delicate task were Curtiss flying boats. By coincidence, there is a connection with Hove here. The link is Gerard Hudson (1874-1948) whose family home was at 9 The Drive, Hove. Hudson grew up to develop a passionate interest in aviation. He emigrated to South Africa but in 1913 he travelled back to England in order to purchase two Curtiss flying boats. Unhappily for him he did not retain ownership for long because the Royal Navy requisitioned them for the war effort.

 Photograph courtesy of the National Library of Australia  (see citation below in 'sources')
SMS Koenigsberg

The Curtiss flying boats duly spotted the German vessel. The British then despatched HMS Mersey and HMS Severn to attack the Koenigsberg. They were able to enter the Rufiji delta because they were both shallow-draught monitor vessels and they were also equipped with 6-inch guns. These guns were first used against the German ship on 6 July 1914 but not very effectively as it happened. The second attempt was made on 11 July 1914 and this time the British guns found their target more accurately, hitting the Koenigsberg several times. The bridge was shattered, there was a fire in the magazine and Captain Loeff was injured. The order was given to scuttle the ship.

It was German officer Korvetten-Kapitan Wener Schönfeld who oversaw the salvage of the guns, including the one that later came to Hove.

The Hove gun was moved to Dar Es Salaam to provide protection for the port. The gun’s manoeuvrability was vastly improved when in 1916 it was mounted on a special Krupp gun-carriage. This item of equipment was somehow smuggled in aboard the SS Marie although German East Africa was supposed to be under blockade.

To counter an expected British attack, the gun was moved up the coast to Bagamoyo. On 16 August 1916 the Royal Navy attacked and a landing party equipped with machine guns soon had the German gun crew in their sights. The Germans beat a hasty retreat and they were in such a hurry that they did not follow the standard procedure of dynamiting the gun although they did remove the breech block.

The ‘Hove’ gun was photographed in August 1916 at Bagamoyo, East Africa. The men are, from left to right, 
Sir Horace Byatt, Commander R.J.N. Watson (leader of the landing party) and Admiral Sir Edward Charlton.

The gun then became a war trophy in very good condition and in 1918 it was shipped to London. It was put on display to curious Londoners at Admiralty Arch and then at the Imperial War Museum, which in those days was located at the Crystal Palace. The Imperial War Museum moved to South Kensington in 1924 and the German gun became surplus to requirements.

The gun arrived at Hove on 19 April 1928 and as can be imagined aroused considerable attention as it was trundled down to the RNVR depot at Hove Coastguard Station and placed on the north side of the parade ground. It was claimed the gun weighed seven tons. It is interesting to read the following contemporary account.

Sussex Daily News 21 April 1928

Brighton Graphic Newspaper
Viscount Curzon
‘The RNVR Battery at Hove, already proud of its war relics, has been still further enriched by the addition of a gun, which played an important part in East Africa during the Great War. Through the instrumentality of Captain Viscount Curzon, the Battery has secured from the War Museums Committee possession of a 4.2 gun, which is believed to have wrought considerable havoc in the course of the destruction of the German cruiser Koenigsberg in German East Africa. The ship like the notorious Emden found some strange hiding-places. She cruised around the Pacific, traversed the rivers, and hid behind the towering palms with which the waters in this part of the world abound, and from these secluded spots she sent raiding parties into the most unexpected quarters.

It was while in one of these obscure spots that the Koenigsberg was discovered, and her commander immediately decided upon an action, which must be commended for its cleverness. He had the gun – now in the safe keeping of the RNVR Battery at Hove – dismounted from the ship, placed on a gun carriage made from parts of the vessel, the wheels being portions of the engine, and transferred it to the shore for defensive purposes. One remarkable feature of the gun is it has an axle about nine inches square, encased with steel strips to ensure greater strength – a feat of engineering under difficulties very credible to the ship’s crew. It is a matter of history that the Koenigsberg was eventually destroyed, and members of the Hove RNVR are naturally proud of this relic from a notable naval incident of the war.’

(It should be noted that the mention of the Pacific Ocean is an error and the actual sequence of events after the Koenigsberg was hit is different because the guns were not salvaged until after the vessel was scuttled).

Unfortunately, the subsequent history of this historic gun has yet to come to light. It may have been removed when the RNVR / Coastguard Station became part of HMS King Alfred at the outbreak of the Second World War. But it instructive to note that the British tank called Hova, which was put on display in Hove Park in 1919 lasted until around 1937 when it was disposed off for scrap metal.

The Mörser Gun

 copyright © J.Middleton 
The Mörser gun can be seen to the right of the guns belonging to Hove Battery. This view was posted on 
23 September 1927. 
As can be seen from the photograph, this German gun stood on the south side overlooking the promenade. It has been identified as a 21cm Mörser 16 type and it was in use as a heavy howitzer gun. The design was based on the earlier model 21cm Mörser 10 and had a larger barrel besides other improvements and modifications. It must have proved a reliable weapon because surprisingly enough this design remained in use until 1940.

This gun was already in place at Hove by 1927 before the Koenigsberg gun arrived. The date of its arrival at Hove has not so far been identified. To find out the date would no doubt require a careful trawl of local newspapers from around 1920 to 1927, quite a task.

Its later history is also unknown.

In anybody has further information about these German guns, please get in contact.

Hove Battery

 copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard shows a part of Hove that has vanished. On the right are the roofs of the Coastguard Station / RNVR Depot; to the north stand the Coastguard Cottages; and the building fronting Kingsway on the west side of Hove Street is Hove College.

On 26 April 1904 the Brighton & Hove Company of the Royal Naval Reserve was commissioned as a separate Sussex RNVR Division. There were five companies; numbers 1 and 2 (including Hove Battery) were based at Hove, number 3 at Eastbourne, number 4 at Newhaven and number 5 at Hastings.

At Hove basic training took place at Hove Battery and in the basement of a chemist’s shop in Church Road, Hove. The RNVR had additional premises at 5 Victoria Terrace nearby, which had to have an extension built by 1914.

There was also an RNVR Band. In 1906 it was stated the Band had given over 100 performances during the summer on the Western Lawns at Hove, at Portland Road, and at the first Dance of the Season at Hove Town Hall in October. At the latter occasion Bandmaster Potter and Assistant Bandmaster Levy were presented with new batons. These batons were unique because Leading Seaman Woolley made them.

In November 1906 the 6th annual concert and prize distribution of the 2nd (Hove) Battery of the 1st Sussex RGA Volunteers was held at Hove Town Hall. Lieutenant A.G. Hatton presided.

The Annual Report of 1906 stated the strength of the battery was 87 men and there were 30 new recruits; signalling classes would be started. Members attended some 3,605 Drills, which gave a good average of 41.4 % per man.
(1907 Brighton Season Magazine)
 A.B.S. Fraser Mayor of Hove 


In September 1909 the Mayor of Hove, Alderman A.B.S. Fraser, visited the Battery to watch 40 men go through their paces. This included handling 100lb-projectiles and manning the 6-inch guns. The frequent practices stood the men in good stead and when shortly after the Mayor’s visit, Admiral Reynolds made a surprise visit, he was delighted with the men’s efficiency.

Hove Battery consisted of six guns (carronades) and they were fired quite frequently for practice. It did not matter so much in the early days but as the number of houses in the vicinity grew, so too did the complaints about excessive noise; apparently, there were even incidents of damage to neighbouring windows.

It must be admitted that the sight of those long, aggressive black barrels jutting out of the wooden structure did not do much for the ambience of a fashionable seaside town.

In the parade ground beside the number one lifeboat from the Trevessa, and the two gunnery relics, there were also pyramids of round shot arranged at intervals.

The Great War

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
This 1915 photograph from the Brighton Graphic is entitled “The Maintenance Party, Hove Battery R.N.V.R. in War Time” and goes on to name the Battery Staff, "seated left-right:- Lieut Frank Hughes, Staff-Surgeon E. Snell, C.P.O. Woodley, centre:- Paymaster R.S. Broderick and ratings” it is a great shame that the Brighton Graphic deemed it unnecessary to name the five “ratings” who would have no doubt faced action in the Great War.

As early as 2 August 1914 (two days before war was declared) all available signalmen trained at Hove had left to join their respective ships. Within three weeks practically the entire strength of the local Division had been absorbed into the fighting forces. As new recruits arrived, they were given a week’s trial at Hove Battery, and those deemed fit enough were sent on for regular training at Crystal Palace.

Some members of the RNVR took part in the defence of Antwerp, and some went to France with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. Others were present at Gallipoli or Salonica, while some served with the Royal Navy as signalmen artificers. The war casualties numbered 15% of the total strength.

Second World War

In 1921 the Division was reformed with Earl Howe (formerly Viscount Curzon) in command. By the time the Second World War broke out the veteran Earl Howe was still in command and altogether he was associated with the Division for 39 years. 

In 1939 the Reservists were again mobilised and went to serve with the Fleet; 30 of them served aboard HMS Ark Royal as aircraft handlers while others carried out minesweeping duties aboard converted trawlers.

Meanwhile, their old base at Hove became part of HMS King Alfred, the ‘stone frigate’ that trained some 22,500 RNVR officers and thus had an immensely important role in the battle for survival.

Afterwards

In 1946 the Sussex Division was reconstituted under Captain T.D. Manning. In 1949 the Sussex Division acquired a new name and became HMS Sussex, after the county-class cruiser of that name was paid off.

In 1968 the Admiralty sold Hove Battery and the RNVR site to Hove Council.

Sources

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minutes
Information from Chris Dale about the German guns, see his website:- The Guns of the SMS Konigsberg
Middleton. Judy Hove and Portslade in the Great War (2014)
Sussex Daily News 20 April 1928 / 21 April 1928
Thornton, W.M. 75th Anniversary of the RNVR and RNR (1978)
Various local newspapers
SMS Koenigsberg photograph:- ANOTHER GERMAN CRUISER OUT OF ACTION. (1914, November 18). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938), p. 31. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166253503

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
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