Hoxa Head battery and Balfour battery are very close to each other on South Ronaldsay, Orkney and can be easily accessed on foot from a nearby carpark. They are one of the best examples of both WW1 and WW2 coastal defence batteries on Orkney.
The main site comprises an excellent collection of military buildings as well as clear evidence of the concrete pads where many of the domestic buildings were situated.
Designed to work as part of an integrated defence strategy, pairs of guns were situated at Hoxa Head and matched with guns on the neighbouring island of Flotta – defending the southern entrance to Scapa Flow. The large guns were supported with smaller, rapid-fire armaments to defend against U-boats and faster moving craft.
Originally, 2 pairs of 4-inch guns were installed about 250m from the tip in 1915. They were arranged in two pairs in a horseshoe sharing a rock cut ammunition magazine at the base of the horseshoe shape.
The magazines are easily accessible and apart from animal manure and mud on the floor are in good condition. They are unusual in that each has an access door and window into a shifting lobby, with a doorway into a shared central storeroom.
A further installation of 6-inch guns was made at the tip of the head – now built over by the WW2 battery. This was commissioned in 1916 and had 2 additional rock cut ammunition magazines.
At the end of WW1, the site was decommissioned, and the guns sold for scrap.
In the late 1930s with the approach of war, the site was reactivated, and a new battery built. This used two 6-inch guns from a decommissioned WW1 ship and in July 1939 installed in front of the old WW1 emplacements. The ammunition magazines were re-used but the access routes were changed due to the new position of the guns. Additional equipment including search lights and a generator room were also added.
An additional site, Balfour battery was built a short distance north with rapid fire 12-pounder (76mm) guns to counter fast moving surface torpedo boats (S-boats) and this was built during March 1940.
Construction at Hoxa Head was slow and irregular, and the site was not finished until July 1942, and it was mothballed in July 1943 and the huts sold off and removed in 1947. The site was cleared by 1950.
There are two ammunition magazines, one for each gun. They are both accessed by narrow passages into the rock, the more northerly one is longer with more turns. Both are in good condition and easily accessed, although one appears to have been modified for use as an animal shelter.
The most notable features are the large apertures which would have had a sliding hatch for passing out ammunition and the rectangular shafts high up in the wall to allow passage of light. There is some indication that a frame (presumably glazed) was fixed to the interior light passage so that a lantern could be placed safely and provide limited illumination into the magazine.
There is also an equipment building with multiple concrete equipment pads, made from a corrugated Nissen hut that has then been covered in a layer of concrete.
The gun pits have deteriorated over time and unfortunately the roofs of both have collapsed into the pits below, making access near impossible.
There are additional buildings including a control room and some smaller brick structures.