Fort Oxford

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Fort Oxford (1944 - 1953) - Fort Oxford was a long-range counter-bombardment coastal gun battery situated 4 miles north-west of the entrance to Sydney Harbor, Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia, Canada. Originally to be built at Oxford Point, but moved to a more defensible location to the west before construction began, about 1/3 mile inland of the coast between Merritt Head and Bonar Point. Last deactivated in 1953. Also referred to as Oxford Battery in some documents.

Panoramic view from the roof of the Fort Oxford Fire-Control Observation Post. This view sweeps through about 180 degrees from St Anns Bay and the highlands to the north-west, through the Cabot Strait to the north to Sydney Harbour to the south-east. 60 years ago there were little to no trees to the block observation post's view to seaward.

Fort Oxford History

Part of the Harbor Defense of Sydney.

World War II (1939-1945)

Fort Oxford Site Plan
The imposing bulk of the Fort Oxford Fire-Command Observation Tower.

The largest single army construction project at Sydney in WWII was Fort Oxford, built in 1943 by E.G.M. Cape and Company of Montreal at a cost of $780,000. Armament consisted of three dispersed batteries of 9.2-inch Mk. XV guns mounted on Mk. IX carriages equipped with powered rammers and hydraulic drives. These were high angle mounts allowing a maximum firing elevation of 35 degrees giving a range of 29,000 yards (26.5 km. or 14.3 nautical miles), however the third gun was never emplaced before worked stopped in 1948. These were widely separated batteries, laid out in a similar manner to Fort Lingan, but on a more massive scale, each emplacement some 450 feet from each other and each a self contained unit with its own deep magazine. A long-range battery on an exposed headland was the most likely target for heavy enemy bombardment, and these design features were intended to ensure that a direct hit on one position could not disable the others. Together with the batteries at Fort Lingan to the east, the guns at Fort Oxford could keep a modern cruiser beyond effective gun range for a length of coast of over 50 miles, stretching from St Anns Bay to the north to Mira Gut in the east. A four-storey reinforced concrete fire-control observation post was located about 1/4 mile further inland, behind the batteries. An anti-aircraft battery (one 20mm Hispano gun) was also located here. A CDX fire-control radar tower equipped with a long-range slow-scanning coast artillery fire-control radar set was built in 1944. A second fire-control observation post was located at Point Aconi 3 1/2 miles to the north. The battery plotting room was set more than twenty feet underground and had concrete walls of up to ten feet thick. Nearly two dozen wooden accommodation buildings were scattered about the rear of the gun positions, and they were designed on the advice of camouflage experts to resemble a village.

The army encampment at Fort Oxford was indistinguishable from a common village as this photograph shows. (Photo: NAC, C-148531)
9.2-inch caliber gun.
Installation of the Mark IX pivot mounting for a 9.2 inch caliber gun of the Oxford Battery, probably in the summer of 1944.
Crew beside an assembled Mark XV 9.2 inch caliber coast gun of the Oxford Battery, 1944-45. This gun could fire a 380 pound shell up to 17 1/2 miles.

The CDX coast artillery fire-control radar had been developed by the National Research Council. This state-of-the-art equipment, which operated on a wavelength of ten centimetres, automatically converted contacts into firing data for a battery's guns. The initial plans for Sydney included four stations, three long-range slow-scanning sets at Lingan, Oxford, and Point Aconi to the north of Oxford, and a fast-scanning close-defence model for shorter range targets at Fort Petrie. Work began on the Petrie and Oxford installations, which had priority, during the first part of 1944, and they were the only ones actually built at Sydney.

The construction task at Fort Oxford that invoked the most back-breaking labour was the installation of the armament at Oxford battery. The first of the enormous 9.2 inch guns - a Mark XV barrel on a Mark IX mounting, the most modern installed at any site in Canada - arrived at Halifax from Britain on 1 February 1944 and was shipped by rail to Sydney Mines. The load filled seven railway cars and weighed more than 125 tons, including the twenty-eight-ton barrel (almost 36 feet long), the mounting, circular armour plates to cover the pit of the emplacement, and a full turret-like armoured housing that enclosed the entire top of the mounting. The one-hundred-man detachment of the 36th Coast Battery that remained at Chapel Point undertook the work of trans-shipping each massive component onto flatbed trucks, moving it out to the site, and hoisting and levering it into place. Expert artificers were installing the last of small parts and making adjustments when the second gun arrived at the end of May. The third gun would not arrive until the spring of 1945. The project lost its urgency while the second gun was being installed, and none of the Oxford guns was in fact ever brought into action during the war.

The 9.2-inch guns provided the mainstay of the British coastal defences located all around the world for over 50 years. The first were naval guns but by the 1890s they had appeared in land service on a wide variety of disappearing and railway mountings. The Mark 7 carriage introduced a powered rammer and hydraulic drives, the Mark 9 carriage was a simplified Mark 7.

Post World War II (1946-1953)

Work at Fort Oxford continued until early 1947, with the assistance of technical parties from Ottawa and Halifax, to complete the installation of Oxford battery's third 9.2-inch gun.

In 1947 and 1948, the army stripped the coastal fortifications and placed the equipment into immediate reserve at Fort Petrie and Killkenny Barracks where it could be properly preserved, ready for quick reinstallation should war again seem likely. At Oxford and Fort Lingan, only the main components of the heavy guns at were left in place under the charge of a few caretakers.

In 1953 or 1954 the stored equipment was removed, possibly shipped to NATO partners in Europe still conceivably at risk of naval assault on their shores.

Current Status

The battery site is located mostly on Crown Land, a short walk through the woods along a path found near the junction of Little Pond Road, Schoolhouse Road and Beachview Drive in Little Pond. The A fire-control observation post is located nearby on undeveloped privately owned property off of Boutiliers Lane. The site contains the remains of the concrete three-storey fire control station, the concrete gun emplacements and over twelve hundred of feet of concrete trenches interconnecting the gun emplacements and the fort's other infrastructure. All of the concrete structures are damaged and covered with graffiti. No period guns or mounts in place.


Location: The community of Little Pond, near Alder Point in Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Maps & Images

Lat: 46.287032 Long: -60.274615

Sources:

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