The History of The Needles
World War 2
The Second World War in Europe started early for a Cowes man at The Needles. On the 23rd August 1939, eight days before the German invasion of Poland, R.J.Davies reported to the local drill hall of the Island territorial regiment. At 4:30pm he and his comrades found themselves in the back of a truck bound for The Needles Battery. He said, "I never donned civilian clothes again until April 1946".
The two 9.2" guns and two machine guns were manned by about 50 men from Cowes and Freshwater. Conditions were very basic and leave was restricted, and as the war went from bad to worse, the garrison was repeatedly weakened. In 1940 there were only 15 men left to guard the battery, working shifts of 48 hours and putting up a dummy gun and soldiers to give the impression of greater strength. Plans were made to fight on the Island. If the Germans invaded, they would first be attacked on the beaches, then Newport would be the point of defence. If Newport fell, the final defence was to be in West Wight.
On 8th August 1940 The Needles garrison watched almost helplessly as the German Luftwaffe unleashed a devastating attack on coastal convoy CW9. The battle of convoy CW9 had started the night before but reached its climax in huge air battles over the Island's coastline from midday. When the leading ships of the battered convoy reached the Needles, the Germans launched their greatest attack, with 160 fighters, fighter bombers and Stuka dive bombers. Three RAF squadrons roared to the convoy's defence, and the sky above was twisted into a giant knot of 200 vapour trails while the ship's barrage balloons were shot down in flames and Stuka dive bombers screamed down to drop their bombs, raising pillars of water around the stricken ships. Two German and one British fighter crashed into the sea off The Needles. At the end of the day only four of the 29 ships were undamaged and seven had been sunk. Nineteen German and ten British aircraft had been destroyed.
Three days later another huge air battle took place when 176 German planes attacked the Dorset ports. One Messerschmitt and one Hurricane crashed into the sea off The Needles. On 25th August the RAF drove off a force of 150 German planes attacking Weymouth, one of the enemy's aircraft crashing nearby. Over the rest of August and September two German bombers and two Spitfires were shot down around The Needles.
Following their defeat in the Battle of Britain in 1940 the Luftwaffe switched to night bombing in 1941. On the 8th May a Heinkel bomber crashed at Farringford killing three of it crew and on the 7th July a further three Heinkels, returning from a raid on Bristol, were shot down in the sea just off The Needles. In 1942 another British plane, a Bristol Beaufighter, crashed off The Needles when its starboard propellor flew off. The crew were rescued.
After hostilities ceased in 1945, and the troops left, both batteries were deactivated and the downs became the domain of the rabbit again. The batteries were moth-balled and put up for disposal in 1952. In 1954 the guns were scrapped.
Alum Bay and The Needles by J.C.Medland (ISBN 1809 392 03)
A. T. Gilliam author of Wight Air Wrecks (ISBN 0 7524 2376 2)