Simons Bay

Posted on September 17, 2020 / 17
Listing Type : Coaling Station
Location : South Africa

A dock at Simon’s Bay was initially developed by the Dutch East India Company, similar to what was done with Cape Town Harbour.  This early harbour was built at a location that is now the South African Naval Museum.  With the arrival of the Royal Navy in 1795 the dockyard continued to expand.  In 1885 control of this original dockyard (West Dockyard) was transferred from the Cape Colony to the British Admiralty.     By the end of the 19th Century, there was insufficient land at this old dockyard, so a new location was developed by the Royal Navy just a kilometre to the east.  Construction began about 1900, roughly the same time as work began on the Gibraltar Dockyard. The new Simon’s Town Naval dockyard (East Dockyard) was completed in 1910 and included a breakwater to protect the harbour area and Selborne Graving Dock.

Prior to 1878 Simon’s Town was poorly defended, with any coastal batteries dating back to the Dutch era.  An 1851 plan shows three batteries protecting Simon’s Bay (TNA 55/3301):

  • North Battery, present location of Lower North Battery
  • Shamberg Battery between North and Cole Point Batteries
  • Cole Point Battery in front of the Simon’s Town Barracks
  • South Battery to the front of the Martello Tower (Blockhouse)

As both a coaling station and Royal Navy Dockyard, Simon’s Town was well defended by 1886 but this only came about after the 1878 report by the Inspector General of Fortifications and recommendations of the Colonial Defence Committee. This report recommended a large number of batteries, only some of which where adopted.  This included:

  1. Casemated Battery with three 10-inch 18 ton RML guns in Casemates at 300 feet on the ridge a mile north of North Battery. A line of three defence post running up the ridge behind this casemated battery. Not built.
  2. New North Battery on the slope above with two 10-inch 18 ton RML guns.  This was adopted, with amendments and Upper North Battery and later Scala Battery.  A defence post on the hill top above this battery.
  3. Red Hill Fort and barracks on the ridge to the west of Simon’s Town.  Not built.
  4. Shamberg and Cole Point Batteries are both shown as Forts, but with no new armament.
  5. South Battery with two 12.5-inch 38 ton RML guns. Adopted plans to become Cemetery Battery and then Queen’s Battery.
  6. Advance Battery with two 12.5-inch 38 ton RML guns.  Built but in roughly the position shown as Noah’s Ark Battery.
  7. Three new batteries in a line stretching South from Apostle Battery.  The armament recommended for these three batteries was two 10-inch guns, two 12.5-inch 38 ton guns and then a single 10-inch gun.

This wish list was modified over the years and by 1882 the suggestion from the Royal Commission was:

  • North Battery, three 10-inch RML with iron shields, and two 64-pdr RML.
  • South Battery (by Martello Tower), two 10-inch RML with iron shields
  • Cemetery Battery with one 9-inch RML and two 7-inch RML in barbette mount
  • Advance Battery (Noah’s Ark Battery) with two 10-inch RML with shields and two 64-pdr RML in barbette mounts

In 1885 the 64-pdr RML guns were replaced by 7-inch RML guns and five 9.2-inch guns were now added to the armaments, one at Noah’s Ark Battery, and two each at Cemetery Battery and Upper North Battery.  The old South Battery to be demolished.  With seven years having passed since the original recommendations of 1878,  it was decided that there was now an urgent need to establish some Emergency Batteries to protect Simon’s Town in the interim. Four 9-inch RML guns were to be mounted, two at Cemetery Battery and two at Lower North Battery.  These two 9-inch guns at Lower North Battery were subsequently moved to Upper North Battery when built.  In 1885 construction of the new batteries commenced, and at this time Simon’s Town had three operational batteries with the following armament:

  • Lower North Battery with two 9-inch RML guns in temporary emplacements and four 7-inch RML guns
  • Cemetery Battery with two 9-inch RML guns and two 64-pdr RML guns
  • South Battery with two 7-inch RML guns

By 1886 costs concerns, particularly in respect of protecting Table Bay led to the Defence Committee reducing the number of 9.2-inch guns to one, with 9-inch RMLs replacing the previously recommended 9.2-inch guns.  The 9.2-inch BL guns were to used in Table Bay.  Approval was thus given for the following:

  • Lower North Battery, 7-inch RML guns
  • Upper North Battery, two 7-inch RML guns
  • Cemetery Battery, two 9-inch RML guns and two 7-inch RML guns
  • South Battery, no armament
  • Noah’s Ark Battery, two 7-inch RML guns and one 9.2-inch gun when available

In March 1889 the Treasury finally approve two 9.2-inch BL guns, one for Noah’s Ark Battery and the other for Upper North Battery.

The North Batteries at Simon’s Town which included:

The South Battery, also called Cemetery Battery stood close to the old Dutch Boetselaar Battery, in front of the Simon’s Town Martello Tower.  This was replaced with Queen’s Battery.  This battery was supported by Noah’s Ark Battery which lay some 500 metres southwest of Queen’s Battery.

Simon’s Town had a Submarine Mining Establishment from about 1880 in the original dockyard.  It appears to have been lost when the dockyard was expanded between 1900 and 1912.


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