Category Archives: Artillery

The Defense of the West-SeaCoast Fortifications

Unlike the eastern seaboard, the western coast of the continental United States has relatively few major ports. From south to north, the main seaports include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. There are others, but those are the “Big Five” handling the majority of seagoing vessels.

Interestingly, all five are quite suited to seacoast defense. Depending on the time in question, Los Angeles and Puget Sound might have posed a challenge for the defender, but by the Endicott period, the guns and mines available were quite suitable to close off each port.

Craig has an interesting post on the concerns the Union had for the security of San Francisco during the Civil War. At that time, San Francisco was by far the most significant western port, and as the shipping point for the vast majority of California gold rush gold that was financing the Union, could have made a very attractive target for a Confederate raider, or an adventurous foreign power, say England.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

Similarly, last weekend I enjoyed the view from Cabrillo National Monument.  CNM and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery are today on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma, but used to be within the confines of Fort Rosecrans, a Coastal Artillery post with several batteries guarding the entrance to San Diego harbor.

 

One of the interesting things about San Diego is that it has only one channel in or out. To say that Fort Rosecrans dominates that channel is something of an understatement. The seaward facing batteries control the approaches, and the channel itself was narrow enough that even a very modest minefield could completely seal the channel.

The Endicott/Taft period batteries consisted of 8 12” mortars, 4 10” guns, 2 5” guns (later replaced by 2 3” guns) and two 3” guns.

A mine casemate for a controlled minefield was also included.

To give you an idea how restricted the channel is, here’s the USS Chancellorsville, CG-62, passing through the channel.

 

During World War II, several additional batteries were added.  The big punch added was a pair of casemated 16” guns at Battery Ashburn (aka Battery 126).

Arguably the most interesting two batteries were Battery Zeilin and Battery Gillepsie. Battery Zeilin was two 7” guns on pedestal mounts, while Battery Gillespie consisted of three 5” pedestal mounts.

Both batteries were originally training batteries for the US Marine Corps. And therein lies an interesting side story.

The US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for the defense of the US ports and harbors and those of its overseas possessions. But what of advanced bases?

During the interwar years, having tasted the success of large scale operations in World War I, the Marines were soon relegated back to fighting in banana wars in South America, and providing detachments aboard US capital ships. In search of a raison d’etre, the Marines looked to the Pacific, and like others, saw a likely war with Japan.

They saw that any US fleet movement across the Pacific would entail seizing and defending forward operating bases. And contra our vision today of the Marines storming the beaches, the hope was they would be able to occupy undefended, or lightly defended island outposts, and then defend them against Japanese counterattack. Accordingly, there was a significant slice of Marine Corps doctrine that focused on seacoast defense of forward bases. And Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were training batteries allocated for Marine Defense Battalions to practice their trades.

And apparently, the instructors at Battery Gillespie did right by their students, as Marines manning 5” guns at Wake Island suceeded in sinking the IJN destroyer Hayatuke during the initial Japanese landing attempt, the first of many Japanese surface ships sunk during World War II.

Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were turned over to the Army early in the war. And while Fort Rosecrans was never called on to actively defend San Diego, it stood guard throughout the war. Further it was a major training center for the Coast Artillery, providing training in both seacoast defense and anti-aircraft artillery defense.

The age of aviation rendered the seacoast gun obselete by the end of World War II, and Fort Rosecrans was soon surplus to the Army’s needs. Closed in 1948, it was turned over to the Navy in 1959, and continues to this day to be home to significant naval activities, as well as the lovely Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and the beautiful and popular Cabrillo National Monument.

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The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

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Op-For: “Where is the Case for Co – Ed Ground Combat?”

Indiana Guard Fires Historic Artillery Mission Adds M777 Digital Artillery Piece to Arsenal

Alte kamerad LTCOL P, Marine artilleryman extraordinaire, has a great piece about a great piece.   He points out some pretty sobering stats from the continuing effort to make ground combat a co-ed sport.

In the 155 mm Artillery Lift and Carry, a test simulating ordnance stowing, volunteers had to pick up a 95 lb. artillery round and carry it 50 meters in under 2 minutes. Noted the report, “Less than 1% of men, compared to 28.2% of women, could not complete the 155 mm artillery round lift and carry in the allotted time.” If trainees had to “shoulder the round and/or carry multiple rounds, the 28.2% failure rate would increase.”

As LTCOL P points out, such a test is in no way, shape, or form anywhere near realistic.  The HE M107 projectile is 95 pounds, a tad heavier with lifting eyebolt.  I would posit that making the test the moving of ten or twenty of those projectiles over, say, 100 meters, BEGINS to get to what kind of heavy manual labor is involved in being a field artilleryman.  I would doubt severely that any female tested could get anywhere close to passing that particular test.  And that is simply a beginning test.  Try it after several days of 3 hours’ sleep in the snow or in yesterday’s rainwater, or in the 115 degree heat, after displacing twice in four hours and digging in spades each time.

You can be guaranteed the feminists and their spineless apologists in uniform will continue to find ways to obfuscate and slant results such as these and continue to scream for she-warriors who are the physical equivalent of men, when they are not being helpless victims, of course.   Our present and future enemies must be awfully impressed.

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90mm AA Battery in Action

A nice little film of an early 90mm AA battery at practice.  It gives a nice explanation of the director and rangefinder, and how that automatically controls the elevation and traverse of the guns.

Later, the optical rangefinder would be replaced by a radar rangefinder, usually an SCR-584.

Also, this was made before the proximity (or VT) fuze was in use. The time delay setting for each fuze was electrically sent from the director to each gun. On each mount, just to the left of the breech, there was a fuzesetter. Looking much like a cupholder, the ammo man would put the nose of each shell in the fuze setter, which would mechanically turn the fuze of the shell to the proper setting. The ammo man would hold the shell in until the casing of the previous round was ejected, and then pass the shell to the loader.

Obviously, once the VT fuze came into use, the fuze setter no longer had to be used.

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Salvage

An interesting and informative look at the truly herculean effort sometimes overlooked in the epic that was World War II.

Salvaging and reclaiming tanks and vehicles destroyed in combat was sometimes a disturbingly gruesome task, as the late Belton Cooper wrote so eloquently about.   But the salvage effort was truly impressive, and saved the cost of manufacture, transport, and time to supply the gigantic American arsenal in Europe and the Pacific with the spare parts needed to keep fighting.

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Marine Corps Gazette: Why Women Do Not Belong in the U.S. Infantry

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam during landing of United States Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March of 1965

Superb article from Captain Lauren Serrano in the Marine Corps Gazette.  She will undoubtedly become the target of feminists in and out of the Armed Forces as some sort of traitor to womanhood, much as Captain Kate Petronio has been.  But she is right as rain.  As was Captain Petronio.

Captain Serrano explores far more than the mere physical obstacles to women in the Infantry.   She tells an age-old immutable truth about young warriors:

Having women in an infantry unit will disrupt the infantry’s identity, motivational tactics, and camaraderie. The average infantryman is in his late teens or early twenties. At that age, men are raging with hormones and are easily distracted by women and sex. Infantry leaders feed on the testosterone and masculinity of young men to increase morale and motivation and encourage the warrior ethos. Few jobs are as physically and emotionally demanding as the infantry, so to keep Marines focused, the infantry operates in a cult-like brotherhood. The infantry is the one place where young men are able to focus solely on being a warrior without the distraction of women or political correctness. They can fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together.  …this is the exact kind of atmosphere that promotes unit cohesion and the brotherly bond that is invaluable. This bond is an essential element in both garrison and combat environments. Ask any 0311 what encourages him to keep training or fighting in combat when he thinks he can go no further, and he will respond, “My brothers to my right and left.” No matter how masculine a woman is, she is still female and simply does not mesh with the infantry brotherhood.

Well-stated, and spot-on.  A great article, well worth the read.

Semper Fidelis, Skipper.  You have the moral courage to speak an unpopular truth, for the greatest good of Corps and Country.  But for more Officers, men and women, especially senior ones, to have such a backbone.

 

H/T GPBW

 

 

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Fort Columbia- An Endicott Period Fort

You may have heard me mention Fort Casey on Whidbey Island. Fort Casey was one of many seacoast artillery installations built during the “Endicott period” around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

The series of forts erected varied in numbers and types of batteries installed, and in number and size of guns, as well. But they were also all built to virtually identical layouts, at least as far as individual gun emplacements. Further, the rest of each fort featured virtually identical officers quarters, barracks, messing facilities and other support structures.  Working from common components, if you will, helped speed up construction.

There are on the West Coast really only five major port areas that call for significant defenses: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. Each of these areas became home to several Endicott period fortifications. Ft. Casey was one of a trio of major seacoast artillery forts guarding Puget Sound, with other smaller batteries in support throughout the Sound.

Similarly, at the mouth of the Columbia River, three major seacoast forts stood guard. Ft. Stevens, Ft. Canby, and Ft. Columbia.  Stevens and Canby were rebuilt as Endicott forts upon older obsolete works. Ft. Columbia was new construction. All three forts are now part of the state and national parks systems in Oregon and Washington.

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