Wednesday 23 January 2013

Defenders of the Skies - Plymouth's WWII Anti-Aircraft Defences

"The sound of the ack-ack boomed around the estuary at the waves of Luftwaffe bombers droning overhead, their payloads smashing down on Plymouth creating great explosions & fire throughout the City. The defenders of the skies were slogging away to try keep the enemy at bay with the Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries at Maker Heights pounding the night sky. What will come of the great City of Plymouth?"

A vivid account from a Plymothian who was only 12 at the time, witnessing the sheer ferocity of German attacks & the barrage of defences that surrounded the City, seemingly having little effect on the bombardment that rained down. Over coming months we will look further into the ways that Plymouth was defended from aerial attack focusing on the HAA Batteries that surrounded Plymouth, barrage balloon sites & light anti-aircraft guns that were sited around the streets, manned by US Troops. We will research deeper into each sites history to build a better account of what happened & who manned these important installations.

Maker Heights Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery as it is today

Rusting mountings for 3.7 inch guns

Many sites have been lost to development since the war, although some will still offer archaeological remains just beneath the surface such as the site on farmland near Penlee Nature Reserve. The concrete trackway still remains but all above ground structures were levelled with the return to farmland. A total of ten Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries were sited around Plymouth, including Maker Heights, Bere Alston, Carkeel, Plympton & Down Thomas. Over 6 years, we have documented each site carefully to record what now remains before any further loss to development that may happen in the future. Now we want to build on those photographs with unit histories, losses & accounts from the crews who manned them. Sites like this need to be remembered if only for the brave souls that manned the guns. We need your help to raise funds for plaques to be sited at each of the ten locations remembering the crews & will be setting up a fundraising effort in due course.

Relic uncovered from demolished Nissen Huts at an AA Battery site

Arc type emplacements now provide a modern use for farmers

Ammunition lockers inside a HAA Battery emplacement

Barrage Balloon sites were in abundance in & around Plymouth, proving a necessity to help prevent low flying bombers, with locations including Mount Wise, Devonport Park & The Blockhouse, Stoke. The best preserved moorings are to be found at Staddon Heights close to the massive firing range wall but just recently, a hugely important find sheds new light & history of another location that is still under investigation by the team. Add to this another contribution from a reader as to another location in Saltash & it makes for some great results over the 6 years we have been documenting.

Barrage Balloons were sited at The Blockhouse in Stoke 

Balloon mooring points - the best preserved lie atop Staddon Heights

Marking a site at Mount Wise

Here are a couple of old photographs of barrage balloons from back in the day - the first thought to be from Plymouth Sound & the other a fine capture of a 1940's dance on The Hoe, both pictures courtesy of Cyberheritage.

Source: Cyberheritage

Source: Cyberheritage

Do you have any family members who were stationed at sites like these? If so we would love to hear from you & with your help build a history of each unit that served. Any photographs from around the time would be fantastic too although cameras were few & far between back then.

Next time on Defenders of the Skies - Maker HAA Battery.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Bill! Each battery will feature in more detail over the coming weeks & months, hope you can stay around for further viewing!

  2. Hi hidden Plymouth:-) I'm a photography degree student who specialises in documentary...... Was wondering about tagging along? Is there somewhere to send you some stuff I've done and my contact details? Kind regards

    1. Hi Joanne. We have some tours of locations throughout the year if that is of any interest to you?

  3. Replies
    1. Apologies Joanne, I forgot to include our contact