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American Harbor Defenses:
The Final Era
The first half of the 20th century saw the maturation, zenith, and subsequent demise of America's network of harbor defense fortifications, a system that had endured without interruption for nearly 150 years.
Here, a 12-inch gun near San Francisco is fired during a 1940 exercise, on the eve of the enactment of a final program that would replace existing installations with the most poiverful and extensive such defenses in V. S. history.
by Commander D. P. Kirchner, U. S. Navy, and
f*hot os from A/att&na/ Archives
,ate as the collapse of France in 1940, most of the nearly 700 fixed guns in the Ameri- n harbor defense system were weapons that had been installed prior to 1910. Included ere about 250 12-inch mortars, emplaced in groups to fire clusters of 700-pound pro. ct”es in high arcs onto the decks of enemy ships. Photo 1 shows such a battery at I ort t00nr°e, Virginia, during firing practice in 1918. In Photo 2, mortar rounds straddle a target sled. The stubby pieces had a maximum range of about 15,000 yards. Other *J.0r-caliber weapons included 8-, 10-, 12-, and 14-inch flat-trajectory guns, most of lch Were mounted on disappearing carriages that used recoil energy to lower the es behind earth and concrete parapets for servicing and loading. In Photos 3 and 4, In *!^'P°und shell is loaded and fired from a 10-inch disappearing gun at Fort Monroe. jj.1 e days before high-angle shipboard gunnery, such armament was almost invulner- e t0 naval weapons except for a few moments just prior to firing. Range of the 8-, 10-, 12-inch guns was about eight to nine miles; the 14-inch guns could reach 13 miles.
Panama Canal is seen in Photo 3. Also added were several models of railway the largest being a 14-inch gun having a range of over 42,000 yards with a 1 projectile. One of two used in the Canal Zone is seen in Photo 4.
During and immediately following World War I, artillery coverage of the most harbor defense areas was extended through the addition of a small number of 12-i°c guns on new high-angle carriages that increased their range to more than 15 mil1'*' Although effective, these guns were highly vulnerable to air attack as may be seen Photo 1, showing an installation on Corregidor. A few batteries of a new 16-iD weapon, the Army Model 1919, provided the harbor defenses with the most power* ^ service cannon ever produced in the United States. Seen in Photo 2, this gun had a raof>j of nearly 50,000 yards with a 2,340-pound projectile. The cancellation of a dozen cap'1* ships under the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, however, rendered surplus a number of new Mark II Navy guns, and these were made available for use in all subse quent 16-inch installations. One of four such guns mounted at the Pacific entrance to
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Prior to World War II, the United States had only once constructed a turreted defense installation. Fort Drum, seen in Photos 1 and 2, was completed at the moi'1 Manila Bay shortly after World War I and became known as the "concrete because of its distinctive shape and main armament of Army-designed 14-inch turrets. The fort was the only unit of the Manila Bay defenses to remain intact the long Japanese siege that ended with Corregidor’s surrender in May 1942. 1° early part of World War II, because of their immediate availability, several Navy turrets were adapted for harbor defense on Oahu, Hawaii. Eight 8-inch, twin-gun from the carriers USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3) were install crucial points on the island, as were two 14-inch, triple-gun turrets salvaged frofl^ battleship USS Arizona (BB-39). In Photo 3, one of the Lexington’s turrets is rerno'e Pearl Harbor for transfer to the Army in March 1942. In Photo 4, Battery vania, one of the turrets from the Arizona, is proof-fired in August 1945.
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ticallVaSt harbor defense program initiated in 1940 provided for replacement of prac- itig J a11 listing pre-World War I heavy armament by far more powerful weapons hav- Pair 0Vferbead protection. There were 12 5 new batteries to be constructed, each with a sejyj ^'*nch or 16-inch guns, most of them in the continental United States. Magazine, of re[Ce’ and power rooms were located between the guns and covered with several feet tatigj1 °rced concrete and earth. Protection for the 6-inch guns, which had a maximum Placecj°^ yards, consisted of heavy cast steel shields. In Photo 1, a newly em-
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e *n tbe Pacific Northwest. An identical gun, near San Juan, Puerto Rico, is seen
etlttanr.6'^nc^ &un near San Francisco is proof-fired. Photo 2 shows a gun and magazine
l2.;nchfribbean camouflage in Photo 3. A small number of new two-gun, 8-inch and Part 0f V^stadations were also included in the program. In Photo 4, an 8-inch gun, once ^ *be armament of the USS Minnesota (BB-22), overlooks Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, as that • r Hawaiian-type camouflage. Many old 5-, 6-, and 7-inch Navy deck guns, such 10 Photo 5, were also supplied for emergency use early in the war
tiexv j^O harbor defense program included plans for construction of over three dozen tf,eatteries of Mark II 16-inch guns, as well as for retention and modernization of ttiajo ^ 12-inch and 16-inch installations of the post-World War I period. In all of these "Caliber works the massive cover over the magazines extended out over the arraa- 2o t() Each gun was thus situated within its own casemate, a chamber covered by
and greatly reduced the number of guns required for coverage of a given area.
[ *t'stall^ ^Cet concrete, steel, and earth. A cross section of a representative 16-inch sb0vvatl°n, less the structural and reinforcing steel, is seen in Illustration 1. Photo 2 ^es*8n 3 partial*y completed casemate at Fort Story, Virginia, with its projecting canopy Voned to Protect gun and carriage from a direct hit. A 143-ton, 16-inch tube, seen in ts readied for installation through the rear of the casemate. Photo 4 shows a atld ettCX' battery with the two guns separated by 500 feet of magazines, passageways, lh(.. , rth cover. The 45,000-yard, 16-inch batteries could outrange nearly any ship in
Every long-range-gun installation was served by a network of up to a dozen observation stations situated along the coast for miles in either direction from tbe tery. Each station generally contained two optical instruments, one for obtaining angles for transmittal to a central battery plotting room, and one for observing the shot and obtaining correction data. Typical observation and plotting facilities are in Photos 1 and 2. In Photo 3, a 16-inch projectile is transported to its gun via trolley, and in Photo 4 a 16-inch gun at Fort Story, Virginia, is fired during night ^ tice. As the war progressed, an early form of fire-control radar was introduced, ^ 1945 most batteries could be directed by either radar or optical means, facilities visible in Photo 5 include two observing stations and (disguised as a tower) a seacoast artillery radar. Within three years after the war’s end, however, systems were obsolete, as was the harbor defense artillery itself. The era of missile sophisticated fire direction had begun.
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THE WORLD WAR II HARBOR DEFENSE ARMAMENT PROGRAM
The following is a brief summary of World War II American harbor defense installations, as projected in
the major program initiated in 1940:
Characteristics of Program Armament1
Range in yards
Projectile weight in pounds
Number of Batteries in Program
New batteries projected
Retained batteries to be modernized
(i.e., given overhead cover)
Breakdown of Batteries by General Location
Continental United States2
1 The 12-inch and 6-inch guns and all four types of carriages were of Army design and manufacture. The 16-inch guns were almost entirely from stock made available on cancellation of battleships Nos. 49-54 and , battlecruisers Nos. 1-6. The 8-inch guns were from stock removed from the battleships USS New Jersey (BB-l6)> USS Kansas (BB-21), USS Minnesota (BB-22), and USS New Hampshire (BB-25), in 1924.
2 Eighteen locations: Portland, Maine; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Boston; New Bedford; Narragansed Bay; Long Island Sound; New York City; Delaware River; Chesapeake Bay; Charleston; Key West; Pensacola! Galveston; San Diego; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Columbia River; and Puget Sound.
3 Nine locations: Balboa, Canal Zone; Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Sitka, and Seward, Alaska; Pearl Harbo6 Honolulu, Kaneohe Bay, and the North Coast of Oahu, Hawaii.
4 Seven locations: Cristobal, Canal Zone; San Juan and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; Trinidad; Jamaica! Bermuda; and Argentia, Newfoundland.
Because of a series of cutbacks in harbor defense construction as the course of World War II gradually re' I duced the threat to American shores, the number of batteries actually completed was considerably smallef than that projected for the program. Final completion of program armament ranged from a low of about 50 per cent of the 16-inch batteries to a high of about 90 per cent of the 12-inch batteries. Also, wartime install3' ' tion of readily available substitute armament, including turrets from the USS Lexington (CV-2), USS Saratoga (CV-3) and USS Arizona (BB-39) resulted in figures other than those originally projected.