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Cape Spear Battery And The Blackhead 'Dummy' Battery

Cape Spear

Date Last Modified: November 15, 2015

Cape Spear is most well known for being the most eastern point in North America. It is recognized by the Canadian Government as a National Historic Site because of this and the history of the lighthouse located here. The lighthouse was built in 1835 making it Newfoundland's oldest lighthouse. The lighthouse has been restored in recent years and two tourist information and museum built here making it a very popular place for tourist to visit in the summer months. 

What many do not realize about Cape Spear is the importance the area had in the second world war. That is until you walk down the boardwalk and discover the remains of an old gun battery and series of underground rooms and tunnels under the hillside. Cape Spears close proximity to convoy routes and the entrance to St. Johns Harbour made it an essential place to build a coastal defense battery, post-war signal station, and searchlight emplacement during World War II.

In 1940 the Canadian and American Permanent Joint Board on Defense saw Cape Spears potential and began building a heavy artillery site here. Two large concrete gun batteries were built into the hillside and were connected by underground tunnels. Built off the tunnels were many large rooms used for ammunition storage and living areas. Administration buildings, barracks, a canteen, and shelters were built nearby as well. 

The two guns stationed here were American 10 inch M188 guns on M1894M1 disappearing Carriages. They were originally installed at Fort Mott, New Jersey in 1896. There they were placed at a battery on the Delaware River to protect the approaches to Philadelphia. In November 1941 they were transferred and installed at Cape Spear. The two guns had a range of 7000 yards that would have allowed them to defend any attack by enemy vessels. These guns were known as "disappearing guns" because they were capable of being lowered behind a protective concrete barrier were reloading or maintenance could take place. The carriages and supports were dismantled and transferred elsewhere after the decommissioning of the site however the guns were left in place.

Although the guns were American, they were manned by the 103rd Coast Battery "A" troop which were part of the Royal Canadian Artillery ("B" troop were located at Fort Amherst and "C" troop at Fort Chain Rocks). American soldiers had operated anti-aircraft search lights and a nearby SCR-271 radar station nearby.  

At the end of the war in 1945, the site was decommissioned. Everything that was able to be removed from the battery was removed, including the gun carriages, radar, searchlights, etc. The guns were left behind and have now been restored and painted to their original shape for historical purposes. 

The Cape Spear Battery may just be the most easily accessible WWII battery on the island. A boardwalk and short walking trail bring you from the parking lot to the coastline where the battery is located. Some tunnels and rooms have been blocked off (presumably for safety reasons) but you can still explore several of the remaining tunnels and large magazine bunkers. Along the paths, there are several informative signs to read and on many days during the summer a local actor will dress up in a WWII uniform and give tours of the area, telling stories about the men who were stationed there.

Blackhead Dummy Battery

Now for more of a hidden place. Located on top of the hill between Cape Spear and the small community of Blackhead, along the East Coast Trail are the remains of a "fake" gun battery also known as a dummy battery. During WWII after the Battery at Cape Spear was built, two fake guns were placed atop the hill surrounded by a series of rock walls. The dummy battery had two purposes; to discourage attack by making the area look more fortified than it actually was and to distract the enemy or draw their fire in the event of an attack.

Sources

North American Forts- Cape Spear Battery

Newfoundland Encyclopedia - Volume 1 

Canada's "Newfyjohn" Tenancy: The Royal Canadian Navy in St. John's, 1941-1945 - By: Bernard Ransom