Looking at Alderney from the sea, nearly every headland boasts a formidable array of ramparts in the eighteen forts and batteries that would have bristled with more than 220 smoothbore, muzzle-loading cannon; their intended targets were enemy ships, still wooden but often steamdriven in the 1850s. The landward sides of all the forts – including the hundreds of musketry loopholes – were designed to defend against infantry that might have reached the shore from enemy ships.

Queen Victoria landed in Alderney in 1854 to see the progress on the construction of the forts and harbour (commissioned as part of the 1842 plans for ‘Harbours of Refuge and Observation’ – click to read more).

In the picture below you can see the type and size of vessels in the harbour was filled with in the mid-1850s. Within ten years the ironclad warship would reign supreme and the proposed harbour would have been far too small and shallow to accommodate a fleet of these modern vessels.

Fort Touraille, later to be re-named Fort Albert following the death of the Prince Consort, was constructed between 1856 and 1859 and was the last of the forts to be built. Its polygonal design shows many features that set it apart from its predecessors on the island with its low profile, polygonal trace, extensive glacis, deep ditch flanked by musketry caponiers, and ramparts designed to mount as many guns as possible.

The original plan of Fort Albert (see below) shows it to have mountings for 35 guns on the ramparts and eight more on the cavalier. With the installation of two 6-inch BL guns at the turn of the century, a major alteration to the north-west corner of the fort was carried out. Not even the works associated with the German naval battery during the Second World War had as much impact on the fort’s appearance. These were all removed or blocked up when the 6-inch guns were installed at the turn of the 20th century after the cavalier had been lowered by approximately 3.6 metres (after PRO plan).

Fort Albert was a late design and was intended to be not only the strongest coastal defence work, but also to act as the main citadel should the island be overrun by enemy forces. What makes the fort so important in British fortification, apart from its unique history that includes its occupation by the Germans, is that there were only three other polygonal forts in the British Isles at this time. Fort Albert can be considered to be a prototype for the numerous Royal Commission Forts of the 1860s round the main Naval Dockyards in the UK. These latter forts, at the time, represented an advance on any in the world.

Construction of the western arm of the breakwater began in 1847 and continued until 1864. By 1856 the western arm had reached 900yards (823m) from the shore but from then on the work became much more laborious as the depth of water increased. In 1864 the head of the breakwater had reached 1,600 yards (1463m) from the shore in a depth of 130 feet (38m) at low tide. No further construction was undertaken on the western arm and the eastern arm was never started. This was because the harbour was still not big enough for warships of the tonnage by then contemplated; the era of the Ironclad had arrived.

In 1886 it was proposed to revise Alderney’s armament and to concentrate the defence in Fort Albert. The decision by the Joint Naval and Military Committee on Defence that Alderney would be a useful station for torpedo-craft in time of war, assured its status as a defended port in 1891. At the turn of the century, with the rationalisation of coast defence ordnance, Fort Albert was re-armed in 1901 with two 6-inch breach-loading guns while two 12-pounder quick-firing guns were installed at Roselle Battery along with two defence electric lights.

The pictures below include

  • Fort Clonque from the Zig-Zag path
  • Western face of Fort Grosnez showing musketry galleries and small machicolation
  • Fort Tourgis – part of the west wall of the Citadel with its musketry loopholes. The drawbridge archway from Battery No. 3 to Battery No. 1 can be seen in the right centre of the photograph. The constructions on the left are a German OP and a brick 20mm Flak position
  • Fort Houmet Herbe
  • Rat Island Fort and the coast of France
  • South-east musketry caponier and flanking gallery above, and entrance to the fort
  • One of the three 17cm SK L/40 German gun emplacements installed in German Batterie Elsass, Fort Albert
  • Fort Albert as constructed. Note the position of the original cavalier battery and the additional battery (No.1 Battery), rifle gallery, and four guns in casemates to the north-west

September 2013

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