A brief history of the Royal Engineers at Gosport
The Early Years of the R.E.
The orgins of the Royal Engineers goes back to the sixteenth century when the Ordnance Office (later the Board of Ordnance) forcilby conscripted engineers to assist with campaigns, undertaking the building and maintenance of fortifications, arsenals and supply depots.
From the 1700s the principal engineer of the British army was the Chief Engineer. In 1716 the Board od Ordnance raised a dedicated Corps of Engineers. This became the Corps of Royal Military Artificers in 1787, located in the principal Dockyards and under the local Commanding Royal Engineer. Under a Royal Warrant of 10 October 1787 the Corps of Military Artificers was created for the home establishment. This was a body of non-commissioned men with officers from the Corps of Royal Engineers. This force of six companies of 100 men each (total 600) had stations in Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth, Gosport, Plymouth, and the Channel Islands. In 1789 a Colonel-Commandant and Quartermaster were appointed. A Royal Warrant of 11 September 1793 created four companies for service abroad. In June 1797 the Gibraltar companies were added. From 1785 to 1787 the Company of Sappers and miners at Gosport was under the commmand of James Moncrief C.R.E. Portsmouth. He was called upon by the Duke of Richmond to establish a barracks for them at Gosport. to accommodate 100 men, comprising of 1 sergeant major, 3 sergeants, 4 corporals, 12 carpenters, 10 masons, 10 bricklayers, 5 smiths, 5 wheelers, 4 sawywers, 8 miners, 2 painters, 2 coopers, 2 collarmakers, 30 labourers and 2 drivers.
In 1795 Liet. Col. Twiss's company of RMA were stationed at Fort Monckton. In 1798 the ground for a barrack at Weevil Lane was indicated to the Board of Ordnance.
In 1797 the Corps of Engineers first became the Royal Engineers. From 1802 the position of Chief Engineer became Inspector General of Fortifications. He was selected by the Master General. Ordnance yards such as that at Priddy’s Hard were under the custodian-ship of the Ordnance Board of which the Inspector General of Fortifications was a member. In 1801 the Royal Military Artificers, now Royal Engineers, were still quartered in Fort Monckton and the neaby camp that later became Haslar Barracks. In 1803 a letter confirmed that the new barracks was not yet complete.
The Sappers and Miners Barracks at Weevil Lane
The barracks were started in 1802.
In 1807 a return of Board of Ordnance Lands indicates that the barracks for the sappers and miners and associated workshops for the Royal Engineers, situated close to Forton Creek, south of Clarence Battery, at the north end of the current Clarence Yard site in Weevil Lane Gosport, consisted of accommodation for a guardhouse, clerk of stores, 2 carpenters shops, smithy, two general stores, bricklayers, intrenching tool store, coopers shop, collarmakers, wheelers, two sawpits, wheelers stores, a stable for 25 horses and forge store, a barrack for 12 drivers. The barrack itself held 1 subaltern and 100 other ranks.
In 1811 the establishment was slightly enlarged for an additional gun carriage shed, gunners' store house, and additional engine house and accommodation for 24 drivers and 160 other ranks.
In 1823 2 conductors and 20 drivers were based at Weevil with and stabling for 60 horses.
In 1828 the Board of Ordnance informed the Inspector General Fortifications that the barracks at Weevil were to be handed to the Victualling Board for stores. The Board of Ordnance retained the stable block and established a new yard to the north which remained until 1885.
||The Sappers and Miners Barracks and Royal Engineers workshops at Weevil Lane on a plan dated 1828.
The Royal Engineers Yard at Weevil Lane on a plan dated 1892. The former Sappers and Miners Barracks and R.E. workshops handed over to the Victualling Board in 1828 are to the south of the R.E. yard.
Nothing remains of the R.E. yard but the buildings of the Sapper's and Miner's complex have been converted to modern use.
|Sappers and miners 1787
||Sappers and miners 1787
||Sappers and miners 1792
||Sappers and miners 1794
|Sappers and miners 1797
||Sappers and miners 1797
In 1806 Royal Warrant established 12 companies of 126 all ranks for a total of 1,514 including staff. 4th Company was at Portsmouth whilst 5th Company was at Gosport. In 1807 the offices of Adjutant and Quartermaster were combined and the headquarters of the corps was established at Woolwich. In 1811 the Corps of Military Artificers consisted of 32 companies of 89 all ranks for a total of 2,861 all ranks. The companies were grouped into 4 battalions each of 8 companies. The companies were no longer localised but moved from station to station as required. Three were stationed at Portsmouth and Gosport at any one time. In 1812 a school was set up in Chatham for military fieldwork. In August 1816 the 32 companies were reduced by 25 men.
In 1813 the Corps of Military Artificers became the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners.
In 1817 one of the 4 battalions was disbanded and the 24 remaining companies reduced by 25 men. In 1819 the establishment was 12 companies of 62 men each. Portsmouth retained one of the stations. In 1827 the corps was increased to 19 companies with 1262 of all ranks. It was again reduced that year to 17 companies and in 1933 it was reduced to 12 companies. In 1846 there began a gradual expansion of the Corps to 22 companies.
The Ordnance Board and the position of Master General were abolished in 1855 and the two engineer corps came under the War Office. The Inspector General of Fortifications came under the same command as the rest of the Army. In 1856 the Corps of Royal Engineer Officers was amalgamated with the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners. The depot was moved from Woolwich to Chatham. The Deputy Adjutant General Royal Engineers was responsible for all military questions affecting the Corps including records of service of officers and rosters of foreign service.
The Corps of Royal Engineers is best remembered for its work in mapping the United Kingdom which resulted in the magnificent Ordnance Survey maps of today. But from the earliest times the Engineers were renowned for their duties in connection with military operations and post Peninsular War for their scientific work which was often of a civil nature. Members of the Corps held high office in many Government departments its motto ‘’Ubique’ being true for its civil role as for its military one.
The design of our arsenals, dockyards and other strategic complexes came under the jurisdiction of the Royal Engineers. During the Victorian period Royal Engineers were experts in adapting electricity, photography and telegraphy to military purposes. They experimented in aeronautics and with steam traction engines. They developed the use of signalling with flags, semaphore and signalling lamps. They built bridges and pontoons to allow the ready movement of troops. They operated the first torpedo defences and developed the use of the world’s first practicable guided torpedo, The Brennan Torpedo, to defend our strategic ports and harbours, one establishment sited at Cliff End on the Isle of Wight to defend the Needles Passage. Wherever our army went the Royal Engineers went, constructing fortifications and enabling methods of communication and supply. The Royal Engineers would reconnoitre, blow up bridges and demolish roads, slow an enemy’s advance or pursuit and support the army with forward movement.
In the early years Royal Engineer sappers built fortifications including the two earthen redoubts of 1852 at Browndown and the first earthen battery at Gilkicker Point that became an auxiliary battery to Fort Monckton.
It was under the Royal Engineer Officer Commanding John Fox Burgoyne (appointed Inspector General of Fortifications in 1845) that the first defences of the Isle of Wight were constructed, Forts Victoria and Albert in 1854, followed by the first of the Polygonal fortifications at Gosport, forts Gomer and Elson from 1853 to 1858. Burgoyne had put a report before Parliament in 1846 in Palmerston’s name in which he drew attention to the dangers of the poor defences of the United Kingdom and the inability of the Navy to protect it from a possible invasion. The result was the Royal Commission that was set by Lord Palmerston to investigate the Defences of the United Kingdom.
The Royal Commission of 1859
By the time of the 1859 ‘Royal Commission Appointed to consider the Defences of the United Kingdom’, which reported to Parliament in 1860, the construction of forts was put out to contract but the Royal Engineers were responsible for surveying the sites, laying down the trace of the fort prior to construction and overseeing the construction. The forts of the Gosport Advanced Line, Forts Grange, Rowner and Brockhurst, were all built by a private contractor but would have had a Royal Engineer officer to oversee the work, signing off each portion as it was completed so that the contractor received payment. At Fort Rowner the contractor failed and as faults were found in the construction of the keep and the ramparts the Royal Engineers completed the work.
The letter books of the Royal Engineers at Chatham record on Dec 21st 1861: A memo from Major Galloway R.E. to Colonel Durnford R.E. was forwarded to the Secretary of State for War. Ref: Working pay of Military Foreman of Works. NCOs and Engineers in the Gosport Advanced defences wotk 10 hours a day with ½ hour for dinner, therefore entitled to pay for working beyond establishment hours. It is suggested that it would be simpler to pay them their 1s 6d to 2s 6d for seven days a week than keep account of their extra hours and then there is no danger of them working a shorter time! Colonel Durnford is requesting instructions.
The forts were designed by the department of the Inspector General of Fortifications and Director of Works. Under him individual officers were given responsibility for the design of forts in specific areas. Those the Gosport Advanced Line forts were designed by Captain William Crossman (later Sir William Crossman M.P. for Portsmouth) and Fort Gilkicker was designed by Lieutenant Colonel Fisher. The officer superintending the Royal Commission works was Lieutenant Colonel William Jervois R.E. appointed Deputy Director of Works for Fortifications in 1856 after whom the road to Fort Gilkicker was named in 2011. Jevois was secretary to the 1859 Royal Commission and upon the retirement of Burgoyne in 1868 Jervois became Inspector General of Fortifications.
The Royal Engineer officers were trained at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. Their course at the School included training in the use of gunpowder and artillery, geometrical drawing, field fortifications including forming obstacles and bridge-heads, construction of bridges, siege works and siege trenches.
||Sir William Drummond Jervois I.G.F. was responsible for the fortification of the Channel Islands and from there he transferred to the War Office. From 1857 to 1875 he was the secretary on the committee on the defence of the Empire. He carried out the fortifications of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Portland, the Thames, Medway and Cork. He was later sent to Canada and under his direction Bermuda and Halifax were fortified. Next he visted, reported on and drew up plans for the defence of Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, Perim, Bombay, Rangoon and Moulmein. For two years he was the Governor of Straits Settlements and he then proceeded to Australia to advise the various colonial Governments on their defences. From 1882 to 1889 he was Governor of New Zealand.
The R.E. and Fortification construction
The Royal Engineers were responsible for the design and designation of all permanent defences employed in the U.K. They were responsible for the minute details needed in the efficient manning and use of a fort including fittings and fixtures and such things as the lettering of gun emplacements, magazines and stores as laid down in Nomenclature of Artillery magazines and Stores. All buildings, rooms and stores within a fort were labelled with the regulation pattern of lettering. Although the heavy construction work involved in updating the armament of the forts after the Imperial Defence Loan of 1888 was put out to civilian contractors such as Woodman Hill of Gosport, Royal Engineers were responsible for the correct laying out of the fittings within a gun emplacement such as the gun racers, ring bolts, brackets for fighting lamps. All required specialist knowledge and expertise if the emplacement was to function correctly, particularly the laying and levelling of gun racers. R.E. Officers Captain Inglis and his assistant Lieutenant English were responsible for the development of ironwork as a defensive material which resulted in the innovative use of iron shields in casemated batteries such that at Gilkicker and the great iron and granite forts out in the waters of the Solent at Spithead.
The great forts of Spithead were laid out in the construction yard of Mr. W. Hill and John Towlerton Leather at Stokes Bay. Here concrete blocks were cast in wooden boxes and stones cut to shape before dry fitting them in place in a huge ring. They were numbered and prepared for transporting to the construction site out a sea. In 1864 the Stokes Bay site had, waiting on site, 15,000 tons of concrete blocks and 7,000 tons of prepared stone. This work was overseen by the Royal Engineer Officers at each phase of the construction. Once the masonry portion of the fort was complete the iron work was fitted, again superintended by Captain Inglis and his assistant Lieutenant English and officers of the Royal Engineers. The nearby fort at Gilkicker was constructed between 1863 and 1869 by J.T. Leather and the 22 great iron shields were developed and designed by English. At Gilkicker many innovative ideas in the construction, armament and manning of guns were investigated with both Royal Artillery and Royal Engineer expertise including the safe methods of lighting magazines and the safe and sufficient supply of ammunition from magazines to gun emplacements. Inglis became Inspector of Iron Fortifications in the War Office and designed all shields and iron work for forts at home or foreign stations. He superintended their construction and despatched them to their destination. He then became Superintendent of the Royal Carriage Department at Woolwich which produced all military gun mountings.
It was a problem for the Engineers that the site of a coast defence fort or battery was not determined by them but by the Royal Navy. The choice of harbour in which the Naval ships could coal and refit was usually made a long time before the question of defending it was considered. Consequently the engineers were often called upon to design works to protect a place which had been chosen entirely without referencet to its capabilities for defence. This resulted in the likely impossibility of protecting the buildings and infrastructure of a dockyard from long range bombardment. The priority of the engineers was to deny the harbour to an enemy and where possible secure it from bombardment at short ranges. The rest was up to the Navy. Protection from land based attack was sometimes easier if the terrain was favourable.
Each fortress required a contingent of R.E. Sappers who would be responsible in time of need for the construction of field works and counter batteries to take the movable armament of the fortress. The movable armament for the Gosport Advanced Lines was stored in Fort Rowner in the Siege Train Shed on the parade of the fort. The site of these field works would be determined by the Royal Artillery Officer in charge of the defence of a work and could be within a fort or outside it. Temporary works of defence that stretched beyond the existing lines marked out by the forts might also be constructed under the direction of the Royal Engineers during the defence of a fortress. Probable sites were often determined when the forts were under construction because of a known weakness in the defence lines. Costs might not allow for a particular weak point to be defended by a permanent work. One such work was the intention to throw up a ditch with rampart to connect the forts of the Gosport Advanced Lines during the initial defence of the line when an attack was deemed imminent. Civilian labour would be employed where possible under the direction of the Royal Engineers.
In many cases the armament of the forts was not completed as the nature of the guns to be supplied had not been determined and the costs for supplying them had not been met by the annual estimates of the Department of the Directory of Artillery. The cutting of gun embrasures through earth ramparts was in many cases not done as it was decided that this work would be undertaken under Royal Engineer supervision only when an attack was anticipated. Engineer work in preparing a fortress against attack included the building of bomproofs to shelter the garrison, mounting additional guns where they were not aready permanently mounted and arranging for the accommodation and supply of the war time garrison. Camping grounds would be prepared for the war time garrison after mobilisation, ground in front of the defences would be cleared of obstructions to give free range for the guns of the fortress, hospital buildings and storehouses would be constructed. The Engineers would prepare lists of materials that were available locally and determine the numbers of men required for the various work parties after consultation with local employers of labour.
The Armament of the forts and the construction of emplacements to take them was constantly reviewed by a joint R.E. and R.A. Works Committee which reported their recommendations to the Department of the Director of Artillery.
During peace time the forts were used extensively as barracks with regiments constantly moving in and out of them as they were posted to and from parts of the empire. At all times a district establishment remained within the forts to maintain them. The Royal Engineers provided services as part of this establishment to oversee repairs and maintenance of barracks rooms, ancillary buildings and their fittings. Drawbridges and rolling bridges required maintenance as did ammunition lifts and davits. In the Coast Defence Batteries such as Gilkicker and Browndown the laying out and construction of position finder systems was the responsibility of the Royal Engineers. The Position Finding instruments and Depression Range Finding instruments and the cables connecting them to the dials at the gun emplacement needed constant maintenance.
If a fort was attacked the Royal Engineers would be needed to undertake repair work as damage occurred and for the strengthening works within the fort such as providing overhead cover for defenders and protecting ammunition supply. Damaged guns would need to be repaired or dismounted guns would need to be remounted, emplacements repaired, embrasures reformed and parapets strengthened. All the work of the Royal Engineers. If a work had counter-mines then the digging of tunnels and listening posts would have been undertaken by the Royal Engineers.
In 1885 Coast Battalions were formed to man the coast defences. The Commissions in this newly formed brigade came from the warrant and non-commissioned ranks of the Royal engineers and the body of the men and N.C.O.s came form the Royal Engineers who retained their regimental position and seniority. they were interchangeable with the rest fo the Royal Engineer Submarine miners. A Coast Corps to the Royal Engineers was formed as the Coast Brigade to the Royal Artillery and was employed in the training and superintending the Volunteer Submarine Mining Companies. An establishment of fourteen officers, twenty two sergeants and 104 men was established with officers taken from the non commissioned ranks of the Royal Engineers.
Royal Engineer Wagons and Carts
Wagon Air Line Mark II
Constructed to carry a proportion of 13ft telegraph poles 8ft crossing poles and a barrow drum.
Wagon Cable and Telegraph
Mark II to carry six cable drums
Wagon Cable and Telegraph
Wagon Pontoon Mark III
To transport one pontoon boat.
Cart, Tool, Double, Royal Engineer. Consists of two single carts placed together.
To convey four chest of tools in the top which can be reomoved in order for the cart to convey tents, forage etc.
Wagon Office Mark II
The interior is set up as a printing office, or for photographic or lithographic purposes
Wagon, Boat, Mark I
for carrying a collapsible boat and boat equipment stores.
|Wagon, Light Spring, Royal Engineers.
Wagon, Reservoirs, Gas
to carry six gas reservoirs lengthways
|Wagon General Service R.E. Mark I and II fitted with three chests
The provision of submarine mining apparatus for the defence of a fortress and the siting and manning of electric lights for the defence of a fortress was the responsibility of the Royal Engineers. In all about one quarter of the Corps was employed in this branch of the service. Submarine mining first began under the Royal Engineers in 1863. 4th Company was formed in April 1871, 23rd Company in April 1873, 28th Company in September 1874 and 27th Company in April 1882. 23rd Company was formed in April 1877 as a depot company.
Fort Gilkicker was used for submarine mining from 1873 when a test room was built at the fort, but Fort Blockhouse became the main Royal Engineers Submarine Mining Establishment for Portsmouth in 1873. In Fort Blockhouse a complex of buildings was added including a fitters’ shop, machine shop, painters’ and carpenters’ shops, a connecting up shed and a test room. In 1880 The Times reported that the 4th Company of Royal Engineers Submarine Miners, were quartered in Fort Blockhouse. This same year it was decided to improve the accommodation in Fort Blockhouse and Fort Monckton in order to hand them over to the Royal Engineers to form a school of submarine mining. The Portsmouth Division Submarine Miners (Militia) Royal Engineers were trained at Monckton for two months each year in May and June.
In 1884 the four companies were split into into six (4th, 22nd, 23rd, 27th, 28th and 34th).
Officers of the Submarine Mining Enginners were required to complete a course on Submarine Mining either at Chatham or at Portsmouth (Stokes Bay). The school of submarine miners moved out of Fort Monckton and was wholly based in Fort Blockhouse. In 1882 the 8th Company became a Railway company followed by the 10th Company in 1885.
In July 1887 4th Company was at Gosport. It became Central company for the Submarine Mining School at Stokes Bay in May 1892 and was converted to a fortress company 1st July 1905 remaining at Gosport as the company for the Electric Llight School.
Also in 1884 it was proposed to build a pier at Stokes Bay for the School of Submarine Mining. By 1892 a Submarine Mining Establishment had been constructed at Stokes Bay. From 1892 to 1907 the Portsmouth Militia (Submarine Miners) was based in Blockhouse.
The facility at Blockhouse became superfluous when the Navy took on responsibility for Submarine Mining in 1905. The R.E. continued at Fort Monckton and the Submarine Mining Establishment at Stokes Bay became the School of Electric Lighting (Searchlights).
School of Electric Lighting
As well as the Submarine Mining companies four Field Companies were also formed in 1877 to provide the army with engineers in the field. In 1885 the Field Companies were increased to 6.
Submarine Miners 1897
Sergeant Major & Corporal
Submarine Miners 1897
Organisation of the R.E.
In 1888 the Inspector General of Fortifications was responsible for two major branches of the Royal Engineers, Fortifications and Barracks. There was also a smaller technical branch under the chief surveyor. One Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications Royal Engineers was responsible for fortifications, ordnance store buildings, the Army clothing factory, Brennan torpedo factory, submarine mining, military railways, military telegraphs and permanent signal stations, survey of defensive positions, ballooning. He later had the following added, Artillery ranges, Water supplies in fortresses, engineer experiments, military roads and bridges, permanent telephones, special R.E. Stores. He sat on the R.E. Committee and the R.A. and R.E. Works Committee. The second Deputy was responsible for all barracks and hospitals and the examination of contractors’ claims, for the military and civil staff of the R.E. department, the financial contract schedules and the purchase and shipment of building materials and store for foreign stations, photographic and miscellaneous stores. From 1888 he was also responsible for barrack design. The Surveyor branch was responsible for professional surveying duties, framing estimates, specification for building works, preparing bills of quantities, measurement of works and buildings and the War Department pattern book (which listed every individual item that could be fitted into a military building).
Two more smaller branches under R.E. Officers were the Inspector of Submarine Defences and the Inspector of Iron Structures. The former department was formed in 1870 to control the purchase of submarine mining stores but gradually took control of all correspondence connected with mine defence. As the use of electricity grew all matters concerning the use of electricity were dealt with by this branch, including the School of Electric Lighting at Stokes Bay. It included the use of defence electric lights, telegraphs, both field and permanent and lightning conductors. As the use of electric lighting in barracks became more general special power stations were constructed at principal military stations and the Submarine Defences branch became an independent branch advising both the fortification and the barracks sides of the R.E. Office. This branch remained responsible for all engines and machinery used in connection with defence electric lights or submarine mining vessels.
When the use of iron in fortification was dropped in 1886 the Inspector of Iron Structures took on the care off all steam and hydraulic machinery, inspecting boilers and machinery. When steam road transport was introduced it also came under this branch and when the R.E. Railways Companies were formed this railway work was added. The forts of the Gosport Advanced lines were fitted with garages on their parades for motor transport and servicing workshops and garages appeared next to the field train sheds outside Fort Brockhurst, staffed by the Royal Engineers (the site now occupied by The Range store). This branch took on responsibility for the work later included in the description of Mechanical Engineers.
The work of the R.E. was linked with that of the rest of the Army by a series of Committees on which the R.E. were represented. This included the Army Board, set up in 1899, the Defence Naval and Military Committee and the Colonial Defence Committee, the Ordnance Committee, the Army Sanitary Committee formed in 1890, the Army Hospitals Committee the R.E. and R.A. Works Committee formed in 1885, the R.E. Committee reconstituted in 1869.
The 1888 Imperial Defence Act
In 1888 the passing of the ‘Imperial defence Act’ resulted in the upgrading and in some cases the rebuilding of the defences of the united kingdom. £2,600,000 was allotted to the improvement of the defences of British military ports and coaling stations abroad. The Forts of the Gosport Advanced Lines were completed by adding concrete emplacements on the ramparts with associated expense magazines which were modified to comply with the latest regulations. The ammunition supply was finalised and new guns were fitted. The work was done by local contractor Woodman Hill under local Royal Engineer supervision.
The Barracks Act of 1890
In 1890 the passing of the ‘Barracks Act’ resulted in more work for the Royal Engineers. A sum of £4,100,000 (known as the Barrack Loan) was provided by Parliament for the erection and improvement of barracks and for replacing wooden hutments at large camps by building with permanent materials. All this work was overseen by the Royal Engineers under Major Watson, in the newly appointed position of Inspector General of Fortifications for the Barrack Loan Division. At Portsmouth (and Gosport) the work was carried out under the superintendence of Major C. Wilkinson. The total accommodation provided under the loan was as follows: Quarters for 867 officers, 268 warrant officers, 2,525 married non-commissioned officers and men, 27,403 single non-commissioned officers and men, and 33 nursing sisters; hospital beds for 1,138 patients ; stabling for 3,843 horses ; and in addition a large number of accessory buildings.
At this time the ‘Gosport Barracks’ for infantry (which was built within the ramparts of the old De Gomme defences between 1856 and 1859) known as the ‘New Barracks Gosport’ no doubt was upgraded under the Barracks Act.
A further sum of money was still required to complete the upgrading of existing and building of new barracks and in 1897 the ‘Act to provide for Defraying the Expenses of Certain Military Works and Other Military Services’ allotted another £5,458,000 to complete defence works, barracks, artillery and rifle ranges and manoeuvring grounds with contingencies and staff.
||Royal Engineers 1880
||Royal Engineer Signals 1912
The Hampshire Volunteer Engineers
The 1st Hants Engineer Volunteers were formed at Portsmouth in April 1891 with 481 men volunteering for service, however the War Office had only authorised the formation of two companies totalling 100 men. The majority of the rank and file were workers from the Portsmouth dockyard. (more details here)
The chief purpose of the Volunteer Engineers was to assist the Royal Engineers in carrying out the many duties that this branch of the service would be called upon to perform in the event of all the auxiliary forces having to mobilise. The duties included field fortifications, bridging, road making, railway work, camping appliances and demolitions. Summer training camps were usually held in August of each year. In 1898 the Portsmouth Engineer Volunteers trained at Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight, building cask rafts.
The 1904 -1913 reorganisation
In 1904 on the recommendations of the Esher Committee great alterations were made to the structure of the Royal Engineers. The appointment of the Inspector General of Fortifications was abolished and the work was done by the several branches of the War Office. The work concerning fortification and preparation of schemes of defence passed to the General Staff under two parts, Defence of Home Stations and Director of Military Operations and Training. The barrack loans were closed and the work taken on by the civilian Director of Barrack Construction. Submarine Mining defences were abolished and the department became the office of the Inspector of Electric Lights. The work connected with railway traffic was transferred to a new Directorate of Movements and Quartering under the Quarter Master General. The work involving construction and maintenance of fortifications and barracks was placed under a Director of Fortifications and Works who was under a member of the Army Council called the Master-General of the Ordnance. Under the Director of Fortifications and Works six deputies ran all the remaining responsibilities of the Royal Engineers. In 1908 the duties were redistributed again. In 1909 the responsibility for the control of military lands at home was transferred to a Civilian Lands branch working under the Under-Secretary of State. In 1913 a change was made in the organization in order to form a new branch to deal with the provision of rifle ranges for the Territorials.
The reorganisation of the War Office in 1905 was accompanied by changes in the Committees as detailed above. The Army Board was abolished and from this date the Royal Engineers ceased to be directly represented on any of the senior Committees in the War Office, except on the Barrack Policy Committee. The Naval and Military Committee of Defence was enlarged but the R.E. were no longer directly represented on this Committee. The Colonial Defence Committee was retained, with an R.E. officer as Secretary, but the latter left the War Office and no longer worked under the head of the Engineer branch. The Army Sanitary Committee and the Army Hospitals Committee were combined to form the Army Medical Advisory Board, under the D.G. Army Medical Service. The A.D.F.W. (Barracks) remained an ex-oficio member of this Committee. The R.A. and R.E. Works Committee was abolished. The R.E. Committee was retained. The R.E. were represented on the Ordnance Council and the Technical Education Committee by the Director of Fortifications and Works, on the Mechanical Transport Committee by the I.I.S., and on the War Establishment Committee by the I.E.L.
The Tyne Electrical Engineers
The Tyne Electrical Engineers were originally Submarine Miners but after the Navy took over this responsibility in 1905 they became responsible for Coast Defence Lights. In 1903 they camped at Stokes Bay carrying out mining work at Spithead. They returned again in 1905 and 1906 using Fort Monckton. By this time they were operating a mobile 90cm. Coast Defence searchlight. They assumed the position of Second Senior Volunteer Electrical Engineer Unit and again held their camp at Stokes Bay in 1907.
The Tyne Royal Engineers at Haslar in 1916
Royal Engineer Commands
In 1885 the control of the Engineer work outside the War Office was organized in Districts, each District being in charge of a “Commanding Royal Engineer ” of the rank of Colonel or Lieut.-Colonel. Up to 1888 each District Commanding Royal Engineer was responsible for ‘Works’ direct to the Inspector-General of Fortifications, in the latter’s capacity as Director of Works, and the names of all Commanding Royal Engineers were shown in the War Office lists as officials of the Director of Works. The total number of Districts in 1885 was thirty-four, of which: 16 were in England and Wales, 1 was in Scotland, 5 were in Ireland and 12 were abroad.
In the larger Districts controlled by Colonels an officer of Major’s rank was appointed, with the title of Executive Officer. This officer commanded the R.E. companies in the District and acted as Staff Officer to the Commanding Royal Engineer. Under the Commanding Royal Engineer each District was divided into Engineer Divisions, under a R.E. Officer of the rank of Major or Captain. In 1888, consequent on the Inspector General of Fortifications being put at the head of a branch of the War Office under the Commander-in-Chief, the title of Director of Works was dropped and the Commanding Royal Engineers of Districts were made responsible to the local General Officers Commanding, and acted as Staff Officers to the General Officer Commanding and corresponded in his name with the War Office. At the same time the appointment of Executive Officers was dropped at home stations and the number of Districts was reduced to thirteen at home and twelve abroad, corresponding to the distribution of Military Commands.
The officers of the R.E. units were employed primarily in the command and training of their men, but when not training, officers and men were employed on works, either directly under Division Officers or in the R.E. workshops which were provided at each station. One of the officers was usually detailed for charge of all R.E. machinery at a station and another for the charge of military telegraphs.
At Stokes Bay the R.E. built a narrow gauge railway to connect the hutments at Gilkicker with the School of Electric Lighting. This remained until WWII.
World War One
The pre war Fortress companies were arranged as follows:
H.Q. with Nos 1 and 2 Works Company at Portsmouth,
No 3 Works Company at Eastleigh
No 4 Electric Light Company at Portsmouth
No 5 Electric Light Company at Freshwater
No 6 Electric Light Company at Gosport, part of Southern Coastal Defences.
In 1914 there were 11 fortress companies at home and 15 overseas all on Coast Defence Dutes. The 4th company was based at Gosport. On mobilisation the Territorials took over the home stations allowing the regular units to move overseas. The 4th Company from Gosport became 4th Advanced Park Company and moved to Salonika.
Fortress Companies R.E.
R.E. from 1914 to 1918
During World War One the development of Anti-Aircraft defence led to the fitting of a 3-inch Q.F. gun at Fort Gilkicker another at Fort Elson with third on a mobile unit (a lorry) at Fort Brockhurst. The use of Anti-Aircraft guns led to the need for anti-aircraft searchlights which were all operated by the Anti Aircraft Searchlight Companies Royal Engineers Territorial Force. The School of Electric Lighting (Searchlights) at Stokes Bay trained the men of all the searchlight units. In 1912 Gosport was the War Station for two of the companies of the Tyne Electrical Engineers. In 1915 the Tyne Electrical Engineers took over the Searchlight School at Stokes Bay and operated it until the end of the War. The first Territorial Force mobile anti-aircraft brigade, Gosport No.9 (Tyne) Mobile Searchlight Company, was formed at Haslar in March 1916 with three sections of four lights each. Among the earliest extemporised anti aircraft lights manned by the Tyne Electrical Engineers were ones at Forts Monckton, Gilkicker, Elson, Brockhurst, Grange, Lumps and Horse Sand.
By April, 1917, the Tyne Electrical Engineers had increased to 15 anti aircraft searchlight companies all with an expanded establishment. In all there was then a total of forty-two A.A. companies, R.E. scattered about the country. To cope with this great expansion the School of Electric Lighting at Stokes Bay, Gosport, had to maintain a steady flow of trained officers and men to draft to units. At the peak, instruction was given at the school during twenty-two hours of each day, including Sundays. In October 1916, the school came under Commander-in-Chief Home Forces and was re-christened the ‘A.A. Searchlight and Sound Location School’. It later moved to Ryde on the Isle of Wight leaving the School at Stokes Bay to train electrical engineers of the R.E. Dropping the term ‘Searchlights’ it became the School of Electric Lighting.
The beginnings of the use of aircraft in warfare led to the formation of an air corps at Fort Grange. In 1911 an air battalion of the R.E. was formed. Initially it was formed with 14 officers and 150 other ranks. Officers could be selected from any branch of the service whereas other ranks were selected from the Corps of Royal Engineers. This became the Royal Flying Corps in 1912. One example of a Royal Engineer transferring to this new branch was Sergeant William Law Rennie who transferred from the R.E.s in India as a Sergeant Major in the Royal Flying Corps at Fort Grange in 1916, eventually becoming a Second Lieutenant in the newly formed R.A.F at Fort Grange in 1918. His papers showed him as 2nd Lieutenant W.L. Rennie, R.A.F ( R.E. Indian Army - extra regimentally employed).
Prior to the outbreak of the War the R.E. was organised into the five sections of Rifle Ranges, Barracks and Hospitals, Fortifications and Buildings, Personnel for R.E. Services including electrical mechanical and technical, Surveyors for building contracts. The War initiated new departments including one for Trench Warfare, another to deal with Army Ordnance Corps buildings and another for all works required for the new Royal Flying Corps. The R.E. were given the task of providing three hangars for each R.F.C. squadron. When the Royal Air Force was formed in April 1918 this branch moved to the newly formed Air Ministry becoming the Works directorate for the R.A.F.
During the War special companies of the Royal Engineers were formed including such ones as Artisan Works companies, Land Drainage Companies, Meteorological Sections, Special Works Park (Camouflage), Special companies (Gas), Water Boring Sections, Tunnelling Companies, Survey Companies, Printing Companies, Postal Services, Railway Operating Divisions, Wagon Erecting companies, carrier Pigeon Companies.
The War necessitated the use of fighting lights to illuminate targets at night for the coast artillery defences such at the 6-inch and 9.2 inch B.L. guns at Stokes Bay. These Defence Electric Lights were still under the charge of the Royal Engineers. Territorial Force units of the R.E. were formed in all ports to work the electric lights and telephone services. The actual defence works, including guns and lights, were enclosed in self contained batteries each with a local defence sufficient to repel any landing attack. The intervals between batteries were to be defended by the preparation of detailed plans and the storage of barbed wire and other material so that the work of constructing these defences could be carried out. All this was under the local R.E. each command was responsible for the safety of its coastline and controlled the Territorial divisions in its area. The R.E. units were engaged in the construction of coastal batteries camps and hutments and in the erection of many technical works such as warning systems, electrified prisoner-of-war cages, aerodrome landing lights and other specialised items.
In 1915 it was decided to reform the regular 50th Field Searchlight Company R.E. with personnel partly from the School of Electric Lighting at Stokes Bay. Its function was to reinforce the the Anti-Aircraft defences following experiments with picking up and keeping illuminating airships at 9,000ft. It was proposed to dispatch it to France. The Officer Commanding was Captain W. C. H. Prichard, R.E. an instructor at the School of Electric Lighting. While forming the unit Prichard reasoned that that it was more likely that he would be asked to light up attacking aeroplanes. At his Stokes Bay workshop he developed a ‘U’ shaped cradle to hold his lights so that they could be employed at an elevation necessary for anti aircraft defence. The unit’s equipment, lights and generators were completely mobile, being carried in lorries with a car for the Officer Commanding, the most mobile modern field unit of that time. It proceeded to London where it was in action defending the city until 1916 when it was transferred to France.
The most urgent work of the Royal Engineers during the War was that of constructing the defences against invasion but of almost equal urgency was the provision of accommodation for all the troops. At the outbreak of the war the accommodation available was for 174,800 NCOs and men. Accommodation was expanded to 262,000 men by decreasing the air-space per man allowed from 600 to 400 cubic feet. As new recruits needed to be accommodated 8000,000 were quartered under canvas, in hirings and in billets. The R.E need to provided additional cooking, water and sanitary facilities as well as other semi-permanent accessories in camps. In 1914 orders were given for the provision of hutting. Plans for the design of hutting for one battalion were approved. This was followed by designs for artillery, engineer and Army Service Corps Units as well as for hospitals and remount depots for 1,000 horses near to ports of embarkation. It was probably during that period that the large hutted camp to the east of Fort Gomer was constructed.
Colonel Cowan of the Director of Fortifications and Works office was given the task of providing army camps with rifle ranges. Miniature ranges were constructed at all camps. A standard miniature range and a 30yard rifle range were constructed on the parade inside Fort Gomer.
In August 1918 The R.E. was reorganed into Fortress Companies and Fortress Works Companies. The Tyne and London Electrical Engineers Companies became the parent units for all coast defence and anti-aircraft Electric Light units and the depots that trained men for them.
In 1920 the duties of signalling was transferred from the Royal Engineers to the Royal Corps of Signals. In 1924 the Royal Engineer occupying unit at Fort Monckton was the 22nd Fortress Company whilst the 4th Fortress Company Royal Engineers occupied Haslar Barracks. Men were often recruited directly after leaving school at the age of 14. They were taught a trade such as electrician, engine and bench fitting, carpentry, bricklaying, overhead line construction, pole erecting and cable jointing. Engine rooms for training purposes with Hornsby-Ackroyd and Tangye engines for supplying electricity to searchlights were sited on the ground floor of the main barrack block. Most of the training on searchlights took place at the nearby School of Electric Lighting at Stokes Bay. One such light was situated at Fort Blockhouse with others close to Fort Gilkicker. Post 1910 the barracks at Fort Gilkicker were converted to married quarters for Royal Engineers serving at nearby Fort Monckton. These were in use to the mid 1950s.
The Royal Engineers at Fort Monckton
In 1932 the decision was made to transfer the responsibility for manning the whole of the Coast Defences of the UK to the Territorial Army. R.E. parties remained at Gosport for maintenance services and a new Regular Fortress Company was formed This was used to operate part of the Portsmouth searchlights and to keep abreast of technical developments in lights for the benefit of the whole coastal service. The School of Electric Lighting at Stokes Bay was reduced to purely defence work in conjunction with the new Fortress Company, and all other engineer training was transferred to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham.
World War Two
In the eighteen months prior to the Second World War the Royal Engineers were coping with a programme of development of the defences, improving barracks and providing more extensive administrative depots. The principal work of defence involved the expansion of anti aircraft defence. This included two large sites at Gosport, Gilkicker and Holbrook both with a hutted camp adjacent to the guns with amenity buildings, cookhouses, dining rooms and accommodation huts. A third smaller site was constructed on Browndown.
Gilkicker AA site
Two main tasks for the R.E. were anti-invasion defences and increased accommodation for troops and service establishments. Although much of the actual construction work was given to civilian contractors the R.E. had supervise construction and to determine suitable sites and prepare plans for such items and anti-tank obstructions and pillboxes, of which Gosport had its share to protect the railway line and the airfield at Grange. In all on the Gosport peninsula were two airfields, the beginnings of an aircraft repair yard at Fleetlands, three army camps, four barracks, Haslar Naval Hospital, Haslar Gun Boat Yard, three Naval Armament Depots, and oil fuel depot, H.M.S. Dolphin submarine base, Clarence Yard Victualing Establishment, various factories given over to war work and the existing forts, coast defences, four static light and two heavy anti-aircraft batteries, all of which needed defending. Although the Director of Fortifications and Works department of the R.E. laid down guidelines for the construction of pillboxes an investigation of those built to defend the airfield at R.A.F. Gosport show that each was individually constructed to suit its position necessitating separate plans for each one. The provision of bomb-proof accommodation for command posts and other vital military centres, whether constructed in concrete or tunnelled underground, was largely carried out by the engineers.
In 1940 29th Hants Corps Engineer companies were ordered to construct defence works at Portsmouth and Gosport. 576 company of 30th corps was ordered to Fort Monckton, with Commanding Royal Engineer Lt. Colonel R.H. Emmet and H.Q. being based there. In June 1940 576 and 579 companies were in Fort Monckton with Monckton Hutments used as reserve accommodation. On 12th June 1940 576 and 579 companies began building defence lines at Gosport. On 14th June the H.Q. moved to Wimbourne.
From 1939 the R.E. formed its own Bomb Disposal parties of a junior N.C.O. with two sappers. These were soon dropped when a specialist Bomb Disposal Section was created.
Preparations for D-Day required an immense amount of planning and a huge task was undertaken at Stokes Bay Gosport where 14 Phoenix units and some bridge units were constructed along the bay involving massive amounts of concrete and the co-ordination of a large workforce. It is not know how much of this work involved the R.E. at Gosport.
D-Day itself require the accommodation of over 3 million men prior to the embarkation. Four embarkation hards were active at Stokes Bay with others at Hardway and Gosport Hard to which troops and troop carriers, tanks and other vehicles needed easy access. A wide road, Jellicoe Avenue, was constructed to connected with the Hards at Stokes Bay. Although the hards came under the Admiralty and the roads came under the Ministry of War Transport, the R.E. gave assistance especially in the construction or strengthening of bridges. The control of the movement of troops and stores to their points of embarkation and their loading for transport across the Channel was the largest combined operation the Movement Control Section of the Corps had to tackle in the course of the war.
D-Day at Stokes Bay
Post war from 1946 to 1951 the R.E. was re-organized into regiments which consisted of a number of squadrons. Regiments were grouped into ‘Groups’ under the command of a Colonel. Divisional R.E. became Field Regiments with numbers in the twenties.
R.E. Residence at Alvercliffe Gosport
From the 1880s up to its demolition in 1971 the Residence of the Officer Commanding Royal Engineers at Gosport was Alvercliffe House at the junction of Ashburton Road and Village Road (later Jellicoe Avenue). At one time it was occupied by Henry Schaw (Maj. General R.E. 1829-1902) Inspector General of Fortifications and Secretary of the Royal Defence Committee and his wife Louisa Mary. Later occupants were Lieut. Col. Broke in 1911 and Major Eric Chippindall in 1932.
Royal Engineer Mews: Gosport
In 2012 the Gosport Society awarded a Green Plaque to the development of the Royal Engineers' Mews at Gosport. This former complex of workshops in Weevil Lane has been converted to modern housing.
|Royal Engineers' Mews
||Weevil Lane Gosport
Royal Engineers in Gosport and the Gosport Forts
1883 28th Company Gosport Submarine Miners (became Malta S.M.)
1890 4th Company Gosport Submarine Miners and 22nd Company Gosport Submarine Miners (became Isle of Wight S.M.)
1898 4th Company Gosport Submarine Miners
1910 No.4 Company Gosport (Fortress) Engineers R.E.
1934 Dorset Fortress Company T.A. Annual training
1939 105th Field Park Company
1888 Southern Submarine Mining Militia; The Hampshire 1 & 2 Company.
1896 Militia Engineers: Submarine Miners Royal Engineers: The Portsmouth Division (Portsmouth and Spithead) - Gosport
1900 Royal Engineers (Militia) The Portsmouth Division (1) (Portsmouth and Spithead) - Gosport : Disbanded 1st April 1907
Fort Monckton and Haslar Barracks (Monckton Hutments)
1887-1905 4th Company Royal Engineers : Submarine Mining
1905 4th Company became a Fortress Company
1911 No.42 Company Royal Engineers
1924 22nd Fortress Company
1911 No.42 Company Royal Engineers
1863 Detachment 3rd Company Royal Engineers
The Royal Engineer Yacht Club was formed in 1846 and had sailing facilities at Gosport.
The R.E. of 1914 1918
British Army Website
History of the Corps of Engineers Volume 2
History of Submarine Mining in the British Army - William Baker Brown
Permanent Fortification for English Engineers - Lewis 1890
The History of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners, Volume 1 & 2 By Thomas William John Connolly
The Royal Clarence Yard, some buildings reconsidered by David Evans.
Great War Forum
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