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Site Visit – Portmoon Anti-Tank Range

Situated approximately 1.5km East of the world famous Giants Causeway, Portmoon (Port Moon) is traditionally known for its historic Salmon fishing house. The site sits on Benbane Head in the town land of Carrowreagh. Remnants of this industry remain in the area in the form of the tin roofed fishermans lodge at the base of the cliffs, and the large ice house up top. It is not these buildings that caught my interest, but the WW2 remains scattered over the headland.

A contemporary map from the 1940s showing the location and type of military ranges and training areas in Northern Ireland. This site is marked as an A. Tk. (Anti-Tank) range at Benbane Head.

Constructed in the early 1940s as an anti-tank range, very little information seems to be available on this unique site – I am unaware of any other similar sites in the UK. The anatomy of the site appears simple in some respects, but complex in others. I have known and explored the site for around 15 years, and in the early years I spoke to a local man who shone some light on the operation of the site. The main point of interest he noted was boats towing aerial targets which the guns would fire at; as a fisherman, not something he fancied! Below are some images from the site, and an speculative estimate on the operation of the site.

Annotated aerial photograph of the site. Basemap (c) Google Maps 2016.

Site Operation

  1. As an anti-tank gun range, I would expect similar aspects in design to other small-arms ranges. Given its proximity to the sea, all shots would be directed into the water, therefore no impact area would be expect.
  2. The other two elements to any range are a firing point/s, and an element of targetry. Given that the shots are fired towards the sea to the North (top of aerial photograph), there is an apparent machinery garage for target towing mechanism and a target rail trench in the middle of the photograph, which places the firing point/s as being the vehicle hardstandings to the South (bottom of the image).
  3. There are two shelter pillboxes (or blockhouses) to the north, beyond the target rail. These are not defensive structures, as they contain no gun-ports, and the doors are protected in the direction of the firing points. Their exact use is unclear, but I can only speculate that Shelter Pillbox 1 was used to service the targets on the rail, and outside Shelter Pillbox 2 is another vehicle hardstanding. Perhaps this was for some form of target apparatus, or even shot tracking radar.
  4. On to the vehicle runway. Initially I had thought this could have been to launch small aircraft from, but as time went on, and given the surrounding landscape, I thought this unlikely. More suitably, this is more likely to be a firing platform for vehicle mounted guns. Given that so far the operation of the guns involves firing at ground based targets, perhaps this was the firing platform for sea-borne towed targets, as described locally.
  5. Every site needs storage and administration buildings, the foundations of these can be seen as marked on the aerial photograph.