Board of Fortifications

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Board of Fortifications report, 1886

Several boards have been appointed by US presidents or Congress to evaluate the US defensive fortifications, primarily coastal defenses near strategically important harbors on the US shores, its territories, and its protectorates.

Endicott Board[edit]

Endicott Period battery with two guns on disappearing carriages
10-inch disappearing gun at Battery Granger, Fort Hancock, New Jersey

In 1885 US President Grover Cleveland appointed a joint Army, Navy and civilian board, headed by Secretary of War William Crowninshield Endicott, known as the Board of Fortifications (now usually referred to simply as the Endicott Board). The findings of the Board in its 1886 report[1] illustrated a grim picture of neglect of America's coast defenses and recommended a massive $127 million construction program for a series of new forts with breech-loading cannons, mortars, floating batteries, and submarine mines for some 29 locations on the US coast. Coast Artillery fortifications built between 1885 and 1905 are often referred to as Endicott Period fortifications.

Prior efforts at harbor defense construction had ceased in the 1870s. Since that time the design and construction of heavy ordnance had advanced rapidly, including the development of superior breech-loading and longer-range cannon, making U.S. harbor defenses obsolete. In 1883, the Navy had begun a new construction program with an emphasis on offensive rather than defensive warships, and many foreign powers were building more heavily armored warships with larger guns. These factors combined to create a need for improved coastal defense systems.

The Endicott Board's recommendations led to a large-scale modernization program of harbor and coast defenses in the United States, including the construction of modern reinforced concrete fortifications and the installation of new batteries of large-caliber (14-inch, 12-inch, 10-inch, 8-inch, and 6-inch) breech-loading rifled artillery, coast defense mortars, and pneumatic dynamite guns. Fields of electrically controlled submarine mines were also a critical component of the new defenses, as were smaller guns (less than 5-inch caliber) used to protect the mine fields from minesweeping vessels and the larger guns from land attack.

The fortifications constructed as part of this program were a departure from the traditional masonry forts concealing massed batteries of smooth-bore cannon that had dominated U.S. harbor defense for most the 19th century. Instead, smaller batteries of up to four large caliber rifled guns each were installed in well-constructed emplacements hidden behind earth-covered concrete parapets. Most long-range, large-caliber rifles were mounted on disappearing carriages that would allow a gun to be raised to fire, but otherwise remain protected from the enemy's view or fire behind a protective parapet. Some large guns and most smaller guns were mounted on less expensive barbettes or pedestals(see table below).

Taft Board[edit]

Fire control searchlight at Fort Baker, California

In 1905, after the experiences of the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a new board, under secretary of war William Howard Taft. They updated some standards and reviewed the progress on the Endicott Board's program. Most of the changes recommended by the Taft Board were technical, such as adding more searchlights, electrification (lighting, communications, and projectile handling), and more sophisticated optical aiming techniques.[2] The Board also recommended fortifications in territories acquired from Spain (Cuba and the Philippines), as well as Hawaii, and a few other sites. Defenses in Panama were authorized by the Spooner Act of 1902. The Taft program fortifications differed slightly in battery construction and had fewer guns at a given location than those of the Endicott program.

World War I and later[edit]

By the time of the First World War, many of the Endicott and Taft era forts had become obsolete due to the increased range and accuracy of naval weaponry and the advent of aircraft. In the 1920s and 1930s, most U.S. coast defense facilities were put on "maintenance" status, a type of "mothballing." In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a new program of construction added huge 16-inch gun batteries, as well as rapid-firing 6-inch and 90 mm guns (for use against motor torpedo boats) to many harbors' defenses, and large fields of submarine mines were still being deployed as well. But as it became clearer that the U.S. was unlikely to face seaborne attack, these defenses were largely discontinued (by 1945), and were decommissioned altogether after 1946.

Endicott-Taft forts at war[edit]

The only Endicott era fort to come under direct enemy fire was Fort Stevens at the mouth of Columbia River in Oregon. On the night of June 20, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced off the coast and proceeded to shell Fort Stevens in the vicinity of Battery Russell. There were no U.S. casualties and damage to the fort was negligible. The battery commander made the decision not to return fire.

Several Taft era fortifications in the Philippines were attacked and captured by Imperial Japanese forces within a few months of the U.S. entry into World War II. Fort Mills, Fort Hughes, Fort Drum (El Fraile Island), and Fort Frank guarding the entrance to Manila Bay were subjected to a three-month siege that ended when U.S. forces surrendered on May 6, 1942. All four forts were recaptured by U.S. forces in early 1945. At no point was any of the Taft era weaponry used against the targets for which they were designed, namely armored ships.

Preserved forts and surviving weaponry[edit]

Preserved 6-inch disappearing gun at Battery Cooper, Fort Pickens

Several Endicott-Taft era forts have been preserved in the United States, though most of the period weaponry was dismantled and scrapped in the 1940s and 1950s. Fort Casey and Fort Worden on the Puget Sound in Washington State are now state parks, their extensive concrete gun emplacements, as well as many supporting structures, have been preserved and are now open to the public. Fort Winfield Scott at the Presidio in San Francisco contains several Endicott-Taft era emplacements in various states of preservation. Fort Winfield Scott is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Only a few examples of Endicott-Taft era weaponry survive to this day in the United States.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Endicott, William C., "Report of the Board on Fortifications or Other Defenses Appointed by the President of the United States," in U.S. House of Representatives Ex. Doc No. 49, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Government Printing Office, Washington [D.C.], 1886. Reprinted for the Coast Defense Study Group by Thomson-Shore, Inc., Dexter, MI, 2007.
  2. ^ McGovern, p. 28

References[edit]

Table of guns by caliber and carriage types[edit]

The following is summarized from American Seacoast Defenses, edited by Mark Berhow, with pages referenced from the rows. The units column reflects the lower of the original emplacements or the carriages built, since some emplacements were not armed and some carriages not used. Carriage models after 1905 are not included in the Endicott Era table.

Model Carriage Tube Caliber Units Page
M1901 disappearing rifle 12 inch 13 150
M1897 disappearing rifle 12 inch 35 148
M1897 Altered rifle 12 inch 3 146
M1896 Mortar Mortar 12 inch 308 140
M1896 disappearing rifle 12 inch 27 138
M1892 disappearing rifle 12 inch 28 136
M1891 Mortar Mortar 12 inch 86 134
M1888 lift rifle 12 inch 2 130
M1901 disappearing rifle 10 inch 16 128
M1896 disappearing ARF rifle 10 inch 3 126
M1896 disappearing rifle 10 inch 74 124
M1894 disappearing rifle 10 inch 35 122
M1893 barbette rifle 10 inch 9 120
M1896 disappearing rifle 8 inch 38 110
M1894 disappearing rifle 8 inch 26 108
M1892 barbette rifle 8 inch 9 106
M1905 disappearing rifle 6 inch 33 100
M1903 disappearing rifle 6 inch 90 98
M1900 pedestal rifle 6 inch 44 96
M1898 disappearing rifle 6 inch 29 94
Armstrong pedestal rifle 6 inch 8 92
M1903 pedestal rifle 5 inch 20 90
M1896 pilar rifle 5 inch 32 88
Armstrong pedestal rifle 4.72 inch 34 86
Army/Navy pedestal rifle 4 inch 4 84
M1903 pedestal rifle 3 inch 101 74
M1902 pedestal rifle 3 inch 60 72
M1898 parapet rifle 3 inch 111 70