Monday, July 4, 2011

Staring Down the Barrel of Freedom

67 foot barrel for a 16 inch shell with a 26 mile range....outstanding!
The in-laws are in town so we all ran up the road to the US Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground in northeastern Maryland.  I know that my post title is really gratuitous but I couldn't help but marvel at this weapon in particular (this is my third or fourth visit to the museum).   This is the M1919 gun, made in upstate New York from 1895 to 1943.  If you spend time on the coast, you have probably never seen one, as most were scrapped in the late 1940s, but you have probably seen the home of one or more of these guns without even knowing it.......

Coastal Defense Gun Emplacement - Credit: US Forting Blog

The M1919-16" packed an amazing punch that had never been witnessed before, and according to Wikipedia, it was actually designed for a giant class of battleships (Lexington) that were prohibited by a 1920s treaty.  But the US Army - who had already installed one on land in a disappearing gun battery along the Panama Canal, already had plans for the new surplus of guns.  The ominous range of the gun lent itself to a new system (the Endicott generation) of coastal defense forts perched up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The emplacements of these guns are always interesting to me because the guns are almost always gone.  It takes a lot of imagination to figure how they looked, how they were even put in place on those concrete swivels, and how they looked to passing U-boats and spy ships from offshore.   Because my travel has so often taken me to the coasts of the United States, I've seen a lot of these places.  The emplacements of San Diego.  And those of Fort Hancock in northern New Jersey - although I've never seen its sister protector of the NY Harbor, Fort Tilden (Rockaway, Queens).  Fort Miles in coastal Delaware - one of my favorite places. Fort Story in Virginia Beach - a place around which I've worked and played for most of my life.  Hampton, Virginia's Fort Monroe - site of at least one senior prom that I attended.  And of course, South Carolina's Fort Moultrie..a gun battery that outlasted nearby Fort Sumter. 

Why should you care? What does this have to do with freedom?

M1919-16" in action in San Fransisco Harbor - courtesy of American Military and Naval History Blog
Fact is, this failed naval weapon became an important chess piece in the early 20th century arms race.  As American engineers raced to develop both airplanes and radar systems with longer ranges, and American enemies raced to developed faster, more powerful, and stealthier ships and submarines, America's coasts and harbors sat largely unprotected except for our 4-generation old system of coastal defense forts and the unexpected acquisition of the M1919-16" gun.  This forgotten deterrent system, and the thousands of men who built and worked on them, kept America safe at a very complicated time in our history.  Here's to them.


biobabbler said...

=) Hear, hear. I worked at Cabrillo NM for years and my office, for several of those years, was on Navy land (they were kind enough to let us squat) in Battery Ashburn South. =) So, ironically, since I was, among other things, the wildlife person in the park, my office was underground, behind MANY inches of cement, windowless (so no wildlife sightings from desk) and between my office and the nearest Navy guys was a copper wall/door which was designed to protect against I-forget-what. Radio interference??

The park has some awesome historic photos of those guns.

And I saw one in SF (I think) that was one of the disappearing guns. Pretty cool.

So fun to be a biologist who is also somewhat ADD in a tiny park with amazing natural resources plus buried/hidden gun emplacements, etc. There was a place on our trail where a small building against the hillside had housed a giant klieg-like light on rails (to light up the things we wanna shoot at night), etc. Trippy, trippy place.

Incidentally, the LONG history of military occupation of Point Loma in San Diego, which includes excluding the public, is in large part why they have such wonderful natural resources there, despite being in a giant city.

J and M Flies said...

Nice post. I used to go there all the time for the tanks. It was nice to be able to walk around and see vehicles from all over the world and different time periods. I was sad to hear that they are/have transferred some of the vehicles to another place down in VA.

J & M Flies

Coy Hill said...

I really enjoyed this post. Amazing gun! I first learned of these coastal defenses while walking around the Eastern Shore NWR near Kiptopeke Va.

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