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Alehaven – Plan of Uncontrolled Minefield

  • Author: Anonymous
  • Date: c1941-43
  • Dimensions: Map: 41.2 x 42.3 cms / Sheet: 48.9 x 61 cms


A riotous manuscript chart of the imaginary port of “Alehaven”, drawn by a British naval officer based at Port Edgar, c1941-3

About this piece:

Alehaven – Plan of Uncontrolled Minefield


Manuscript chart in pen and ink with additional colour washes on card. The card laid on contemporary canvas backing. Evidence of old pinning or tacking, with nine rusted hole punctures & nicks to peripheries of sheet. Extensive damp stains and dust soiling across whole image, fortunately without causing any significant deterioration, loss or smudging to the original manuscript pen work and colouring.

From November 1939 the Scottish Port Edgar base at South Queensferry, sitting directly opposite the naval base of Rosyth and in the lee of the Forth Railway Bridge, comprised a shore-based training facility, H.M.S Lochinvar, as well as a naval base for British mine-laying & minesweeping operations in Northern waters. Some 17000 men were trained at H.M.S Lochinvar during the war, including the exiled Crown Prince of Norway, Olaf, who was one of a significant number of Norwegian sailors and seamen who, having fled their homeland, trained here throughout the wartime period, following the fall of Norway to the Nazis in early 1940. Given the content of the chart, which includes references to mine-laying and features an anti-submarine boom, it seems very likely that this chart was produced during the period between 1939 and 1943, after which Port Edgar was converted to a combined operations facility in preparation for the Normandy landings in June 1944.

A small defensive minefield had in fact been laid at the entrance to the Forth in 1939. In September, 1939, H.M.S. Plover, a coastal minelayer, formerly attached to H.M.S Vernon at Portsmouth, was employed to establish further minefields off the Bass Rock and in November and December the coverage of this minefield was extended. However a Port Edgard-based boom defence vessel (Bayonet) was sunk in the Forth on December 22nd by a German mine laid by German submarine U-21 six weeks earlier, and some changes were soon made to the shape & extent of the existing British minefield. In this early period of the war, defensive mines were laid along the southern shores of the Firth of Forth, the main shipping channel lying along the northern shore, on the Rosyth side, to the north of the Isle of May. These mines were designed to prevent any enemy ships, including submarines, from attempting to enter the Forth and a number could be detonated electronically from an installation on the Isle of  Inchkeith should an enemy vessel be spotted over the minefield. Such defensive measures were taken all along Britain’s North Sea & East coasts to try & protect vital merchant shipping lanes and naval channels. By the same token, the Germans also wished to destroy and damage as much British shipping as possible and extensive mine-laying was also carried out by both the German Luftwaffe & Navy at the entrances to Britain’s east coast ports and estuaries, including the Forth. Like the Bayonet, the famous cruiser, H.M.S Belfast, now moored adjacent to Tower Bridge in London, was one of the numerous British vessels badly damaged by one such German (magnetic) mine as it was leaving the Firth of Forth in November 1940.

The coastal landscape of “Alehaven” includes innumerable allusions to alcohol, drunkenness and drinking. So the principal settlements in the neighbourhood include the village of Much Tippling, with its Church of St. Bass the Bitter, not to mention the nearby settlements of Muddling, Much Feeling, Much Piddling in the Drain and Soddington Parva, the latter situated adjacent to the Water Works (a Gents Lavatory!). Further landmarks include Lager Park with its central lake, Vernon Testing Pond (littered with floating bottles); Stagger Wood; Fiddling Common; Leigh Park Ho (Lunatic Asylum); a farm called The Cowpats; and last but not least a stream named Virgin Water which flows down to the sea through the marshy terrain of Pinch Belly Bottom. The port and harbour of Alehaven itself bears a striking resemblance to  wartime Port Edgar, though in mirror image. It features an inner harbour surrounded by port installations and outer basin with protective harbour walls.  Its main shoreline thoroughfare is labelled Nausea Road. It has two Churches, one on the northern outskirts called St.James the Less, a second in the south named St.James the Lesser Still. Beyond the latter church, a road winds up Heartbreak Hill, past Lennox Garage and the hamlet of Little Energy to the hilltop of Hope Goneaway, with its settlement of Great Muddling. A railway line also runs out of Alehaven to the north-east & is labelled the Drinkhaven & Aleport Rly. The topography of the adjacent shorelines continue in the same vein. The sweeping expanse of Brandy Bay is punctuated by the twin promontories of Bols Head and Kummel Head at its eastern end, leading onward to Queer Cove, Hangover Cliffs and Gin Point, where the headland Lighthouse is denoted by a candle(N.B: Bols was & remains an extensive brand of Dutch liqueurs, flavoured with fruits and exotic oriental spices and Kummel is a very similar Russian spirit, flavoured with caraway & cumin and always particularly popular in the golf clubs of Scotland, where it is still known as the “putting mixture”!)

An anti-submarine boom, in the form of a string of floating bottles, is laid across the mouth of Brandy Bay, patrolled along its length, in a small motor boat, by The Rev Chasuble Surplice R.N. (Minor Canon), Boom Commander. It is just possible this might be a joke at the expense of the official R.N. Chaplain of the Port Edgar Base throughout much of the wartime period (1938-43) , the Rev Robert Jefferson [d.1952], who was also Minister of South Queensferry.

Just beyond the boom a frustrated lone seaman has run aground on Private Bar, whilst further out to sea, a fully equipped mine laying vessel lies grounded on Saloon Bar, a short distance from Nip Rock, its cargo of ball-shaped mines rolling off the stern and crew members diving overboard.

Inside the boom, the artist has created an array of erratic & spiralling lines, some in the form of knots, marked respectively MF, MK (probably a reference to the Mark number used to designate different types of floating mine), ML (Mine Loop ?) & GL (Guard Loop ?), acronyms associated with wartime mine laying. All lines emanate from the Control Pub Hut at Kummel Point. Close by a series of warning & marker lights announce “Black Flash Ev.10 Secs”“Pink Spots Ev.12 secs”. This would appear to be the “uncontrolled minefield” described in the title.

Ordinarily in wartime,  a “controlled minefield” would consist of a series of defensive cables, usually in the form of an outer seaward guard loop/loops and an inner mine loop/loops, the latter armed with a series of buoyant mines attached to shoreline firing cables, the whole network usually strung across the entrance to a bay or harbour and all loops connected to the shore & main control post by smaller tail cables. The defences were usually overseen from a network of shoreline observation and control posts, as here with the Control Pub Hut. Enemy submarines penetrating the area would usually be detected by small movements on sensitive shoreline galvonometers as they passed over the outer guard loops; the mine loops would then be set to active by shoreline operators and, when necessary, the mines detonated via the firing cables.

The peripheral decoration & embellishment of the chart is particularly fine. Lower left is a Coat of arms, incorporating a set of navigation lights encircled by a buckled belt on which is inscribed the motto, in Latin  : “Nunc est Bibendum” (Now we ought to drink). It is surmounted by a crown of beer glasses and bottles in turn inscribed “Beer is Best“, the whole design embellished with semi-naked mermaid supporters on either side, each draped in a Red Ensign. Between them they hold a further banner inscribed with the further Latin motto : “Nil Panicus” (No panic !).  Yet another naked mermaid, reclining on a Red Ensign pillow, lounges above the elaborate Scale lower centre which offers measurements in Cubits, Versts, Farshaks, Leagues and Perches. An equally decorative compass spur is made up of navigational accessories and equipment, including pennants, ropes, a steering wheel, sextant, navigational lights, two dolphins & a star fish. A replica of an official-looking German wartime Kriegsmarine stamp, incorporating the German Eagle and swastika, is provided for additional verisimilitude. Further inscriptions indicates that the type of Projection is : Involved Bifocal; that the Point of Origin of Coordinates is: Royal Naval Officers Club, Port Edgar; that the Magnetic Variation is “180º West of East (1884)” ; and “that the edges of this Sheet are neither Grid North nor anything”. Further notes indicate that the Survey was done by:  Karl Blocus J Bull, Britisch Subject, Kartographischer Officieren; and that it has been checked by: Graf von Blessmann, Oberkommandant Geheimstadtspolizei, with another official-looking Nazi eagle & swastika stamp added for good measure (& crossed out).

A couple of small but significant clues within the chart suggest that the map’s designer and maker had some experience working with the Royal Navy’s Mine Design Department (also known as the Admiralty Mining Establishment). Two of the place names on the chart clearly reference this specialist facility, which at the outbreak of the Second World War was based in Portsmouth. Initially it was located at the shore establishment, H.M.S. Vernon ( hence: “Vernon Testing Pool” ), located at Portsmouth’s present-day Gunwharf Quays. However after that facility was badly damaged, first by a booby trapped German mine which exploded in one of the facility’s laboratories in August 1940 killing five research personnel (and then subsequently in March 1941, by a German bombing raid on Portsmouth, which destroyed one of its main buildings and killed over 100 naval personnel), the Mine Design Department moved out of Portsmouth. In August 1940, the Royal Navy requisitioned Leigh Park House (hence: “Leigh Park Ho, Lunatic Asylum” !), a striking Gothic Victorian country house near Havant, the former estate of the Fitzwygram family. The Mine Design Department and its staff moved in two months later, in October 1940. Some sources indicate that after the bombing of H.M.S Vernon in March 1941, various different sections of the facility were dispersed, not only to Leigh Park House, but also to other naval bases around the country, including Port Edgar. It seems possible that our map making artist may very probably have been one of these naval mine specialists or may, at very least, have worked alongside some of them and gained an insight into their operational work & reputation (!) during his posting at the Port Edgar base.

A truly unique and remarkable creation, the product of an immensely talented & alcoholically-inspired wartime imagination !

Refs: John Frayn Turner : Service Most Silent – The Navy’s Fight against Enemy Mines [ G.G. Harrap & Co Ltd, 1955 / Pen & Sword Books 2008]