Fort Miles

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Fort Miles
Part of Harbor Defenses of the Delaware
Sussex County, Delaware
Site information
OwnerPublic - State of Delaware
Controlled byCape Henlopen State Park
Open to
the public
Fort Miles Historic District
Battery 519 at Fort Miles, Circa 1973
Fort Miles is located in Delaware
Fort Miles
Fort Miles is located in the United States
Fort Miles
LocationCape Henlopen State Park, Sussex County, Delaware, USA
Nearest cityLewes, Delaware
Coordinates38°46′50″N 75°05′30″W / 38.78056°N 75.09167°W / 38.78056; -75.09167Coordinates: 38°46′50″N 75°05′30″W / 38.78056°N 75.09167°W / 38.78056; -75.09167
Architectural styleOther
NRHP reference #04001076 [1]
Added to NRHPSeptember 30, 2004
Site history
Built byU.S. Army Corps of Engineers
In use1942–1991
MaterialsReinforced concrete, earth
Battles/warsWorld War II
Garrison information
Current view of Fort Miles from the historic Tower 7, which was one of the many fire control towers that were made during WWII to spot enemy ships approaching the coast.
Restored World War II observation tower.
12-inch (305 mm) gun at Battery 519.
16-inch (406 mm) gun at Fort Miles in 2015.
8-inch (203 mm) railway gun converted to 9.12-inch (232 mm) experimental gun.

Fort Miles was a United States Army (also Navy after 1963) installation located on Cape Henlopen near Lewes, Delaware. Although funds to build the fort were approved in 1934, it was 1941 before construction began on the fort. On 3 June 1941 it was named for Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles.[2] As the primary fort of the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware, it was built to defend Delaware Bay and the Delaware River and to protect domestic shipping from enemy fire between Cape May and Cape Henlopen, particularly from the German surface fleet. The fort also operated a controlled underwater minefield to prevent ships entering the Delaware River estuary.[3]

World War I[edit]

In 1917 a single 6-inch (152 mm) gun was placed on Cape Henlopen, with another at the Cape May Military Reservation in New Jersey. These were removed after the war.[4]

World War II[edit]

Prior to World War II the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware consisted primarily of Fort Saulsbury near Slaughter Beach, Delaware, accepted for service in 1924. This fort had four 12-inch (305 mm) guns on long-range carriages, but was unaccompanied by smaller guns. It had effectively replaced several forts much further upriver, centered on Fort Delaware near Delaware City, though these remained armed until Fort Miles was built in World War II. The Delaware River was one of the coast defense areas of the US that most demonstrated the tendency of defenses to move seaward as gun range increased. The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 and the Fall of France in June 1940 greatly accelerated US defense planning and funding. On 27 July 1940 the Army's Harbor Defense Board recommended the construction of 27 (eventually 38) 16-inch (406 mm) two-gun batteries to protect strategic points along the US coastline, to be casemated against air attack.[5] Two of these batteries were to be at Fort Miles, initially called the Cape Henlopen Military Reservation. Construction on the first one, Battery 118 (later named Battery Smith, after Major General William Ruthven Smith), began on 24 March 1941.[2]

The first operational guns at the fort were four mobile 155 mm (6.1 in) guns, which deployed to the fort on 15 April 1941 with two partial batteries of the 21st Coast Artillery Regiment.[6] Concrete "Panama mounts" for these were completed in June 1942.[2] On 5 June 1941 elements of the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion of the Delaware National Guard arrived.[7]

The attack on Pearl Harbor accelerated construction and other activity at the fort. The United States declaration of war on Japan compelled the U.S. Army to continue to garrison the fort with the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion, who days before were slated to leave. Fourteen vessels, including USS Jacob Jones, a U.S. Navy destroyer, were sunk off the coast of New Jersey during the first six months of 1942. Numerous batteries (ranging from 90 mm (3.5 in) guns up to 16-inch (406 mm)) were installed at the fort and a large mine field[3] was laid in the waters off Lewes, Delaware in the following years, but the fort was to see no action during the conflict. In May 1945, the soldiers would receive the surrender of U-858, a German U-boat that was part of Wolfpack Seewolf at the time of the German surrender to Allied forces in Europe.

On 14 March 1942 Battery C of the 52nd Coast Artillery (CA) (Railway) regiment arrived with four 8-inch (203 mm) railway guns. By 10 September this battery was joined by Battery D with the same armament; Batteries C and D were initially the 2nd Battalion of the 52nd CA, and were redesignated as the 287th Coast Artillery (Railway) Battalion on 1 May 1943.[6] Another early battery was the "examination battery", Battery 5 of four 3-inch (76 mm) guns, completed 31 August 1942 and transferred for use 11 December 1943. Two guns each were taken from Fort Delaware and Fort Wadsworth, New York for this battery. In October 1942 the structure of Battery 118 (Smith) was completed, and in December 1942 the 16-inch (406 mm) guns were mounted, but the battery was not transferred for use until 21 December 1943.[2][8]

In late 1942 construction had yet to begin on Battery 119, the second 16-inch (406 mm) gun battery at the fort. Battery 119 was cancelled and replaced with Battery 519, a casemated battery of two 12-inch (305 mm) guns relocated from Fort Saulsbury. Construction began on Battery 519 on 15 November 1942, was completed on 31 August 1943, and the battery was transferred for use on 15 February 1944.[2]

Batteries 221 (Herring) and 222 (Hunter) were completed in August 1943 and October 1943, and transferred in March 1944 and December 1943, respectively. Each of these had two 6-inch (152 mm) guns on high-angle shielded barbette carriages, with a concrete-and-earth bunker for ammunition and fire control.[2]

Two 90 mm (3.5 in) gun Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat (AMTB) batteries were at Fort Miles as AMTB 5A and AMTB 5B. These were dual-purpose (anti-surface and anti-aircraft) guns. Each battery was authorized two 90 mm (3.5 in) guns on fixed mounts, two on towed mounts, and two single 40 mm (1.6 in) Bofors guns, although the weapons on hand may have varied. Both were completed in June 1943 and transferred in December 1943.[2][9][4]

Fort Miles was supplemented by three batteries at the Cape May Military Reservation in New Jersey. The first was Battery 25 with four 155 mm (6.1 in) guns on Panama mounts, built in 1942. Battery 223, a 6-inch (152 mm) battery similar to Batteries 221 and 222 at Fort Miles, was built in 1943. A 90 mm (3.5 in) gun battery was also built at Cape May in 1943.[10][9][4]

At its peak, Fort Miles was home to over 2,200 soldiers, men and women, including the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion, the 21st Coast Artillery Regiment, part of the 52nd Coast Artillery (Railway), and a detachment of the 113th Infantry Regiment.[6][7]

Fort Miles never saw any major action during World War II, firing its guns many times in practice and achieving high marksmanship ratings but never using those guns to engage an enemy. A 16-inch (406 mm) gun was fired exactly once in testing, and the resulting recoil damaged the emplacement, resulting in no further shells fired from Battery Smith.

Fire control towers, four- to five-story round-base concrete towers with flat observation decks, were set up along the coast as baselines to triangulate the position of suspicious ships or submarines. Five such towers still exist within the current boundaries of Cape Henlopen State Park, including one (#7) that has visitor access.[11] Many bunkers were also constructed to house guns and other weapons. Barracks, administration buildings, and a pier were also constructed as part of the fort.

With a significantly reduced threat from enemy surface forces, in March 1944 the first of several drawdowns at Fort Miles commenced. The Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (HHB) of the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion (CA Bn) moved to Fort Jackson, South Carolina in March and was inactivated there on 20 April, with personnel transferred to field artillery units. The remainder of the 261st CA Bn became components of the 21st CA at Fort Miles.[12][13] In April 1944 the 8-inch railway gun battalion (287th CA Bn) relocated to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and was reorganized as a field artillery battalion. In October 1944 the 21st CA was itself reduced to a battalion with the same number and placed under the Eastern Defense Command, and on 1 April 1945 was inactivated, with remaining personnel at Fort Miles transferring to the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware.[14][15]


The four largest coastal batteries at Fort Miles are Battery 118 (Battery Smith), Battery 221 (Battery Herring), Battery 222 (Battery Hunter), and Battery 519. Due to the late date of its completion, Battery 519 was never formally named and was only designated by its Army Corps of Engineers construction number.[4]

Batteries at Fort Miles[16][4][17][9]
Number Name Completed Disarmed Abandoned Armament Range (yards (meters))
5 (Exam) 31 August 1942 1946 four M1903 3-inch (76 mm) guns on pedestal mounts 11,300 yd (10,300 m)
5A 15 June 1943 1946 four (two fixed and two mobile) 90 mm (3.5 in) guns and 2 mobile 40 mm (1.6 in) guns 19,500 yd (17,800 m)
5B 15 June 1943 1946 four (two fixed and two mobile) 90 mm (3.5 in) guns and 2 mobile 40 mm (1.6 in) guns 19,500 yd (17,800 m)
20 Rail A December 1942 5 April 1944 four MK VI M3A2 8-inch (203 mm) guns mounted on M1A1 Railway Carriages 35,300 yd (32,300 m)
21 Rail B June 1942 5 April 1944 four MK VI M3A2 8-inch (203 mm) guns mounted on M1A1 Railway Carriages 35,300 yd (32,300 m)
22 15 June 1942 February 1944 "upon completion of permanent batteries" four 155 mm (6.1 in) M1918M1 guns on Panama mounts 19,100 yd (17,500 m)
118 Smith 31 October 1942 1948 1958 two MK II MI Navy 16-inch (406 mm) guns, mounted on Army M4 barbette carriages 45,150 yd (41,290 m)
221 Herring 31 August 1943 1948 1958 two M1903A2 6-inch (152 mm) guns on shielded barbette carriages 27,100 yd (24,800 m)
222 Hunter 29 October 1943 1947 1958 two M1903A2 6-inch (152 mm) guns on shielded barbette carriages 27,100 yd (24,800 m)
519 31 August 1943 1948 1958 two M1895 M1A2 12-inch (305 mm) guns on M1917 barbette carriages 29,300 yd (26,800 m)

Cold War[edit]

Most of Fort Miles was declared surplus in 1948 and 1949, but the Army continued to use portions of it through the early 1990s as a morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) area for active and retired military personnel and their families, with the facility coming under the management of Fort Meade. In 1964, 543 acres (2.2 km²) of federal land were donated to the State of Delaware to establish Cape Henlopen State Park. Over time, more land was transferred to the state park until Fort Miles ceased operation as a military MWR facility altogether in 1991, as part of the BRAC process. Fort Miles, consisting of approximately 96 acres, was transferred to the State of Delaware only for public park or recreational purposes. The State of Delaware reimbursed the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreational fund $14,369 for expenses expended to improve the property.[18] Its last official usage was as a bivouac for soldiers who had just returned from the first Gulf War.

In 1963, the U.S. Navy took control of a portion of the southern end of Fort Miles, including Batteries Smith and Herring, to establish a SOSUS listening facility. Naval Facility Lewes (NAVFAC Lewes) was established on site and would continue to operate there until 30 September 1981. Since the SOSUS program was not officially declassified until 1991, the actual operations of NAVFAC Lewes remained classified for the duration of the facility's existence.[19]


Battery Smith originally housed the two 16-inch (406 mm) guns and is now in use by Cape Henlopen State Park for storage. A 16"/50 caliber Mark 7 gun formerly on USS Missouri (BB-63) has been remounted at Fort Miles as a commemorative display; as of December 2018 part of the wreckage from USS Arizona (BB-39) was planned to be added.[20] Battery Herring, originally covered with sand like all the other batteries, was excavated and expanded for use as a U.S. Navy SOSUS station during the Cold War as part of NAVFAC Lewes. It is now abandoned. Battery Hunter is in use currently as a Hawk Watch station. Battery 519 originally housed two 12-inch (305 mm) guns. It is currently being renovated for use as a museum, celebrating Delaware's part in World War II. Tours began in 2004. It has a restored 12-inch gun similar to the original mounted at the south gun block. Additionally, it is being used to house a German-built 20 mm anti-aircraft cannon, captured from U-858 after its surrender. A former 8-inch (203 mm) railway gun, converted as a 9.12-inch (232 mm) test weapon, is also on site.[21][22] Four Panama mounts still exist at Battery 22, located near the Beach House within the park.[23] Walking tours of the bunkers and other facilities currently being restored are available during the summer. The project falls under the purview of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). Historic interpreters can be seen at the park during special events. These events are designed to give the public a demonstration of military life at Fort Miles when it was still in operation. Reenactors at the fort portray the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion and Detachment A, 1252nd Service Command Support Unit (Quartermaster Corps).[24] Several fire control towers remain around Fort Miles; at least one is publicly accessible.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Fort Miles at
  3. ^ a b Mine Field page at
  4. ^ a b c d e Berhow, p. 211
  5. ^ Conn, pp. 45–55
  6. ^ a b c Gaines Regular Army
  7. ^ a b Gaines National Guard, 198th CA and 261st CA
  8. ^ Battery Smith at
  9. ^ a b c HD Delaware battery list at
  10. ^ Cape May Military Reservation at
  11. ^ a b Harbor Defenses of the Delaware at American Forts Network
  12. ^ 261st Coast Artillery at
  13. ^ Stanton, p. 492
  14. ^ Stanton, pp. 459, 484
  15. ^ 21st Coast Artillery at
  16. ^ Archives Search Report Findings, Fort Miles Military Reservation (Final), May 1997, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
  17. ^ Berhow, p. 61
  18. ^ [1] An Act to Authorize Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1991 for Military Activities of the Department of Defense, for Military Construction, and for Defense Activities of the Department of Energy, to Prescribe Personnel Strengths for Such Fiscal Year for the Armed Forces, and for Other Purposes, US Government Printing Office, 1990, p. 1793
  19. ^ SOSUS The "Secret Weapon" of Undersea Surveillance". Undersea Warfare (US Navy) 7 (2). Winter 2005. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  20. ^ "U.S.S. Arizona wreckage to join U.S.S. Missouri gun at Fort Miles" at
  21. ^ Berhow, pp. 232-241
  22. ^ Surviving American seacoast artillery weapons at the Coast Defense Study Group (PDF)
  23. ^ Images of America: Fort Miles, Dr. G. Wray and L. Jennings, Arcadia Publishing, 2005
  24. ^ Reenactor information at


External links[edit]