United States Army Coast Artillery Corps

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U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps
Coast Artilliary Insignia.png
Active 1901–50
Country  United States
Branch United States Army
Garrison/HQ Fort Monroe
Patron Saint Barbara
Colors Scarlet
Mascot Oozlefinch
Major Generals (Chiefs of Coast Artillery) Arthur Murray, Erasmus M. Weaver, Jr., Frank W. Coe, Andrew Hero, Jr

The U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) was a corps level organization responsible for coastal, harbor, and anti-aircraft defense of the United States between 1901 and 1950. The CAC also operated heavy and railway artillery during World War I.


Practice loading of a 10-inch gun on a disappearing carriage at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, NY, a typical Endicott period installation.

As early as 1882 the need for heavy fixed artillery for seacoast defense was noted in Chester A. Arthur's Second Annual Message to Congress where he noted:

"I call your attention to the recommendation of the Secretary and the board that authority be given to construct two more cruisers of smaller dimensions and one fleet dispatch vessel, and that appropriations be made for high-power rifled cannon for the torpedo service and for other harbor defenses."[1]

In 1885 the Endicott Board was convened. This board recommended a large-scale program of harbor defenses at 29 ports, including guns, mortars, and minefields. Most of their recommendations were implemented and new defenses were constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers 1895-1905.[2]

Army leaders realized that heavy fixed artillery required different training programs and tactics than mobile field artillery. The Artillery Corps was divided into two types: field artillery and coast artillery. This process began in February 1901 with the authorization of 30 numbered companies of field artillery (commonly called batteries) and 126 numbered companies of coast artillery (CA). 82 existing heavy artillery batteries were designated coast artillery companies, and 44 new CA companies were created by splitting existing units and filling their ranks with recruits. The company-based organization was for flexibility, as each harbor defense command was differently equipped and a task-based organization was needed. The Coast Artillery would alternate between small unit and regimental organization several times over its history. The head of the Artillery Corps became the Chief of Artillery in the rank of Brigadier General with jurisdiction over both types of artillery.[3][4]

USAMP Major Samuel Ringgold, built 1904, which planted practice groups of mines in the Columbia River during the 1920s. (National Archives and Records Administration)

The Coast Artillery became responsible for the installation and operation of the controlled mine fields that were planted to be under observation, fired electrically and protected by fixed guns.[3] With that responsibility the Corps began to acquire the vessels required to plant and maintain the mine fields and cables connecting the mines to the mine casemate ashore organized as a "Submarine Mine Battery" within the installation command, "submarine" meaning "underwater" in this case.[3] The larger vessels, mine planters, were civilian crewed until the creation of the U.S. Army Mine Planter Service (AMPS) and Warrant Officer Corps in 1918 to provide officers and engineers for the ships designated as mine planters.[5] The mine component was considered to be among the principal armament of coastal defense works.[6]

Taft Board and creation of CAC[edit]

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 this board were technical; such as adding more searchlights, electrification (lighting, communications, and projectile handling), and more sophisticated optical aiming techniques. 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. Due to rapid development of the dreadnought battleship type, a new 14-inch gun (356 mm) was introduced in a few locations, primarily the Philippines and Panama. The Taft program fortifications differed slightly in battery construction and had fewer numbers of guns at a given location than those of the Endicott program. By the beginning of World War I, the United States had a coastal defense system that was equal to any other nation.

The rapidity of technological advances and changing techniques increasingly separated coastal defenses (heavy) from field artillery (light). Officers were rarely qualified to command both, requiring specialization. As a result, in 1907, Congress split the Field Artillery Branch (United States), and Coast Artillery into separate branches, creating a separate Coast Artillery Corps (CAC), and authorized an increase in the Coast Artillery Corps to 170 numbered companies. National Guard coast artillery units were also formed by the states to attempt to bring the CAC up to strength in wartime.[3] In 1907 the United States Army Field Artillery School at Fort Monroe became the Coast Artillery School, which operated until 1946, and in 1908, the Chief of Artillery became the Chief of Coast Artillery in the rank of Major General.

World War I[edit]

US-manned 155mm GPF gun of Battery F, 55th Coast Artillery, France 1918

As with the rest of the US Armed Forces, the Coast Artillery was undermanned and poorly equipped except for coastal artillery weapons when war broke out in Europe in 1914. The War Department formed a Board of Review that recommended an increase in strength, which resulted in 105 new CA companies in 1916-17, although these were initially undermanned. After the American entry into World War I, the Coast Artillery as a whole was ordered brought up to strength, and 71 new companies were organized by July 1917.[7] A new regimental organization was adopted soon after. The Coast Artillery was designated to provide almost all US-manned heavy artillery (155 mm gun and larger), railway artillery, and later anti-aircraft artillery units. As with most WWI equipment, these units were primarily equipped with French- and British-made weapons, with relatively few American-made heavy weapons arriving in France before the Armistice. As with other American WWI units, the CAC units operated alongside French forces for the most part. The CAC units sent to France and Britain with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) were organized into a total of 11 brigades comprising 33 regiments, plus a replacement regiment, nine trench mortar battalions and thirteen anti-aircraft battalions (aka sectors).[8] Each artillery regiment had an authorized strength of 24 guns. However, only 13 regiments saw action, while the remaining 20 regiments did not complete training before the Armistice, and up to 6 of these never received guns. A total of 61 regiments were organized; however, at least 23 of these were organized in the US shortly before the Armistice and were soon disbanded.[9] The coast defense commands retained a company-based organization.[10] Only one regiment saw action equipped with US-made guns, the 58th Coast Artillery armed with the 8-inch howitzer M1917, based on the British BL 8-inch howitzer Mk VI. Seventy-two 6-inch guns and 26 5-inch guns were removed from coast defenses or supplied by the Navy, mounted on field carriages, and equipped four artillery regiments in France, but none of these completed training before the Armistice. After the war, most of the 6-inch guns were returned to coast defenses, but the 5-inch guns were withdrawn from coast defense service.[11][7][12]

8-inch M1888 railway gun
12-inch mortars on M1918 railway carriages

No US railway guns existed when the US entered WWI in early 1917. Due to low production and shipping priorities, the Army's railway gun contribution on the Western Front consisted of four CA regiments operating French-made weapons. These were organized as the 30th Separate Artillery Brigade (Railway), also designated as the Railway Artillery Reserve (RAR), which usually operated mingled with French units in an Allied RAR.[13][14] The 40th Artillery Brigade of three regiments was also a railway artillery brigade of the RAR; however, it did not complete training before the Armistice. The US Navy manufactured and operated five 14"/50 caliber railway guns that were delivered in time to support the final Allied offensives. With a view to getting numerous US-made weapons into the fight eventually, the Army also converted some of the many US coast artillery weapons to railway mounts. A total of 96 8-inch guns, 129 10-inch guns, 49 12-inch guns, and 150 12-inch mortars could be taken from fixed coast defense batteries or spares. Twelve 7-inch ex-Navy guns and six 12-inch guns being built for Chile were also available. To shorten a long story, none of these weapons were shipped to France except three 8-inch guns, as few of any type were completed before the Armistice. Forty-seven 8-inch railway guns were ordered, with 18 completed by the Armistice and the remainder completed later. Eight 10-inch railway mounts of 54 ordered were completed by this time, and twelve 12-inch railway mounts were completed by 1 April 1919. Three railway mountings for the Chilean 12-inch guns were ready for shipment by the Armistice; the remaining three barrels were retained as spares. Ninety-one 12-inch railway mortars were ordered, with 45 complete by 7 April 1919 and all major components of the remainder also complete. It is unclear how many additional railway guns and mortars were completed, but all 47 8-inch weapons and probably the 91 12-inch mortars were.[15] The 7-inch and 8-inch guns and 12-inch mortars used a common carriage, with outriggers and a rotating mount allowing all-around fire. This allowed the weapons to be used in coast defense against moving targets. The 8-inch guns and 12-inch mortars were retained on railway mountings after the war, while most of the 7-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch guns were returned to the coastal forts.[16]

The official birthday of the Army Warrant Officer Corps is 9 July 1918, when an Act of Congress established the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the Coast Artillery Corps, replacing previous civilian manning of mine planter vessels. Implementation of the Act by the Army was published in War Department Bulletin 43, dated 22 July 1918.[17]

Interwar Period[edit]

Coast Artillery Corps anti-aircraft sound locator and searchlight 1932

After World War I all but ten of the wartime regiments were disbanded, and most of the CA returned to a company-based organization. The four regiments of the 30th Railway Artillery Brigade initially remained, along with six tractor-drawn regiments equipped with the 155mm Gun M1918 (6.1 inch), developed from the French Canon de 155mm GPF (Grand Puissance Filloux, or high-powered gun designed by Filloux), a weapon these regiments used during the war.[3] This weapon, drawn by heavy Holt tractors, introduced road and cross-country mobility to the Coast Artillery, and allowed mobile defense of areas not protected by fixed harbor defenses. Circular concrete platforms called "Panama mounts" were added to existing defenses to improve the utility of these guns.[18] Budget reductions resulted in the disbandment of all but three of the tractor-drawn regiments and all but one railway regiment by late 1921. The anti-aircraft mission continued with three battalions in CONUS, one battalion in the Philippines, and a regiment in Hawaii.[3]

Railway artillery became a permanent part of the CA, but was not widely deployed. All 47 8-inch railway guns were deployed, but only 16 of the 91 12-inch railway mortars were deployed at any one time.

16-inch coast artillery howitzer, Fort Story, Virginia, USA 1942

Due to the continued improvement of battleships until the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty halted their construction, the Coast Artillery acquired some new 16-inch (406 mm) and 14-inch (356 mm) weapons, although in minute quantities. Only 22 16-inch and four 14-inch M1920 railway guns were deployed in CONUS, Hawaii, and Panama by 1938. The 16-inch guns were one 16-inch gun M1895, seven 16-inch M1919 guns, four 16-inch M1920 howitzers, and ten 16"/50 caliber Mark 2 guns (including some Mark 3 guns), the last taken from weapons produced for South Dakota-class battleships and Lexington-class battlecruisers cancelled by the Washington Naval Treaty. Twenty of about 70 of these weapons were initially given to the Army, but funding precluded deployment of more than ten until 1940. The remaining 50 or so weapons were retained by the Navy until 1940 for use on future battleships.

A postwar weapon deployed in more reasonable quantities was the 12-inch Gun M1895 on the long-range barbette carriage M1917. These were the same guns found in Endicott period installations, but on a high-angle carriage that greatly increased their range. Thirty guns were deployed in 16 batteries, including two one-gun batteries in the Philippines. These were the last improvements to the Philippine defenses until 1940, as the Washington Naval Treaty prohibited additional fortifications in the Pacific.

In 1922 fifteen companies of Philippine Scouts coast artillery were established. These units were composed primarily of Filipino enlisted men and US officers, and manned many of the coast defenses in the Philippines until the surrender of US forces there in 1942.

In 1924 the Coast Artillery adopted a regimental system forcewide, including National Guard and Organized Reserve components (see "Units" section below).[19] This lasted until the anti-aircraft regiments were broken up into battalions in 1943-44 and the harbor defense regiments were similarly broken up by late 1944.[20] On 9 June 1925 the Coast Defense Commands were redesignated as Harbor Defense Commands via a War Department order.[21]

By the end of the 1920s eight harbor defense commands in less-threatened areas were completely disarmed. These included the Kennebec River, ME, Baltimore, MD, Potomac River, MD and VA, Cape Fear River, NC, Savannah, GA, Tampa Bay, FL, Mobile, AL, and the Mississippi River, LA. Some of these were rearmed with "Panama mounts" for mobile artillery early in World War II.[22]

The new 16-inch and 12-inch batteries of the 1920s were all in open mounts, unprotected against air attack except for camouflage. Like the Endicott and Taft period emplacements, they were positioned to be hidden from observation from the sea, but were open to the air. This somewhat inexplicable situation was remedied by casemating the newer batteries in the late 1930s, about the time the Japanese had acquired several aircraft carriers.

World War II[edit]

Battery Davis at Fort Funston in San Francisco, with a casemated 16" gun, was among the largest and last seacoast weapons to be installed. Note the man at the right for scale.

The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 and the Fall of France in June 1940 greatly accelerated US defense planning and funding. About this time a severe lack of design coordination resulted in the Iowa-class battleships being unable to use the Mark 2 and Mark 3 16-inch guns, and a new gun design was required for them. With war on the horizon, the Navy released the approximately 50 remaining guns, and on 27 July 1940 the Army's Harbor Defense Board recommended the construction of 27 (eventually 38) 16-inch two-gun batteries to protect strategic points along the US coastline, to be casemated against air attack.[23]

The 16-inch guns were only the top end of the World War II program, which eventually replaced almost all previous coast defense weapons with newer (or remounted) weapons. Generally, each harbor defense command was to have two or three 16-inch or 12-inch long-range batteries, plus 6-inch guns on new mountings with protected magazines, and 90 mm Anti Motor Torpedo Boat (AMTB) guns.[24] In 1943-44, with most of the new defenses completed, the numerous older weapons of the Endicott and Taft periods were scrapped.

The attack on Pearl Harbor showed that the Coast Artillery, despite inclusion of the anti-aircraft mission, was ineffective against a mass air attack. Pre-war anti-aircraft planning had been very inadequate, with few weapons allocated, and the coast defense guns had become almost irrelevant. They were positioned to keep enemy ships out of a friendly harbor, but that was all they could accomplish. The Japanese invaded the Philippines shortly after Pearl Harbor, bringing the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays into the war along with the other US and Filipino forces in the archipelago. The Japanese initially landed in northern Luzon, far from the defenses of Manila Bay. Although the Coast Artillery did their best, their weapons were poorly positioned against the direction of enemy attacks and vulnerable to air and high-angle artillery attack. Eight 8-inch railway guns had been deployed to the Philippines in 1940, but six were destroyed by air attack while entrained in response to the initial landings, and the other two were placed in fixed mountings on Corregidor, but lacked crews and ammunition.[25] The 12-inch mortars of Battery Way and Battery Geary were probably the most effective coast defense weapons in the Battle of Corregidor, but again were vulnerable to attack. The US forces surrendered on 6 May 1942, after destroying their weapons.

The Coast Artillery faced two priorities during the war: mobilization and modernization. The National Guard was mobilized in 1940 and the Reserve units were mobilized in 1942. Most of the Reserve regiments not designated as anti-aircraft in 1925 appear to have been disbanded by World War II.[26] Besides new construction at most harbor defenses, the standard anti-aircraft gun was upgraded from the 3-inch gun M3 to the 90 mm gun M1. Except for the early-war fighting in the Philippines, the anti-aircraft branch was the Coast Artillery's only contribution on the front lines of World War II; almost all mobile heavy artillery overseas was operated by the Field Artillery.

The only time a post-1895 fort in CONUS was attacked was the Bombardment of Fort Stevens, Oregon by the Japanese submarine I-25 in June 1942. Battery Russell was attacked with a deck gun, but the fort's commander refused to return fire for fear of revealing the battery's position. Other than some severed telephone cables, no significant damage to either side occurred.

View of 90 mm anti-aircraft gun emplacement, Okinawa, 1945.

In 1944, with about 2/3 of the initially projected new batteries complete and most naval threats neutralized or destroyed, work was stopped on the remaining new batteries. The Endicott and Taft period guns were scrapped and the Coast Artillery drawn down in size. When the war ended it was soon decided that few gun defenses were needed, and by 1948 most of the seacoast defenses had been scrapped. With only the anti-aircraft mission left, the Coast Artillery was disestablished and the anti-aircraft and field artillery branches were merged in 1950.[3] Some of the mine planter vessels were transferred to the Navy and designated Auxiliary Minelayer (ACM, later MMA). The branches were later separated again and regiments eventually re-appeared. In the 1950s through early 1970s, the Anti-Aircraft Command and its successors operated the Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules missiles that, along with the US Air Force's BOMARC, were the successors to the Coast Artillery in defending the US mainland and friendly countries. Today the Air Defense Artillery carries the Coast Artillery's lineage, including many regiment numbers and the Oozlefinch mascot.

Chiefs of Coast Artillery[edit]

The Office of the Chief of Coast Artillery was established in the rank of Major General 1 July 1908 until it was abolished 9 March 1942, with functions transferred to the Commanding General, Army Ground Forces, effective 9 March 1942, by Circular 59, War Department, 2 March 1942.

Image Rank Name Begin Date End Date Notes
Arthur Murray.jpg Major General Arthur MurrayArthur Murray 1908-07-011 July 1908 1911-03-1414 March 1911 a[›]
Erasmus M. Weaver.jpg Major General Erasmus M. WeaverErasmus M. Weaver, Jr. 1908-07-0115 March 1911 1918-5-02828 May 1918 a[›]
Frank W. Coe.jpg Major General Frank W. Coe Frank W. Coe 1918-05-2429 May 1918 1926 03 1919 March 1926 a[›]
Andrew Hero Jr..jpg Major General Andrew Hero, Jr Andrew Hero, Jr 1926-03-2020 March 1926 1930-03-2121 March 1930 a[›]
John W. Gulick.jpg Major General John W. Gulick John W. Gulick 1930-05-2222 March 1930 1934-03-2121 March 1934 a[›]
William F. Hase.jpg Major General William F. HaseWilliam F. Hase 1934-05-2626 March 1934 1935-01-2020 January 1935 a[›]
Major General Harry L. Steele.jpg Major General Harry L. SteeleHarry L. Steele 1935-01-2121 January 1935 1936-03-3131 March 1936 a[›]
Archibald H. Sunderland.jpg Major General Archibald H. Sunderland Archibald H. Sunderland 1936-04-011 April 1936 1940-03-3131 March 1940 a[›]
Joseph A. Green.jpg Major General Joseph A. GreenJoseph A. Green 1940-04-011 April 1940 1942-03-099 March 1942 a[›]


Coast Artillery School device

In 1901, the regimental organization of the US Army artillery was abolished, more companies were added, and given numerical designations.

  • 126 companies of heavy (coast) artillery
  • 30 companies of light (field) artillery

In 1907 the Coast Artillery Corps was established and the Field artillery re-regimented

The Corps constantly reorganized the numbered companies until 1924. but during WWI created 61 regiments from the numbered companies, for service with the AEF. Most of these were disbanded immediately after the war. In 1924 the Coast Artillery Corps returned to the regimental system, and numbered companies were returned to letter designations. In order to promote esprit-de-corps, the first 7 regiments were linked to the original 7 regiments of artillery. The list below includes only Regular Army units; National Guard and Organized Reserve units also trained to man many of the defenses. The National Guard included 10 harbor defense regiments, two tractor-drawn regiments, and 13 anti-aircraft regiments. There was also a Coast Artillery Reserve of 14 harbor defense regiments, four railway regiments, three heavy tractor regiments, and 42 anti-aircraft regiments in 8 AA brigades.[27][28]

In WWII more expansion and reorganization occurred to the battalion/brigade system. The anti-aircraft regiments were broken up into battalions in 1943-44 and the harbor defense regiments were similarly broken up in late 1944, following an Army-wide trend that left only the Infantry as regiments. Anti-aircraft artillery brigades and groups (with a few coast artillery groups) were activated during the war, and probably controlled task-organized groups of battalions. More than 900 units were created with the following designations:[29]

  • Coast Artillery Battalion
  • Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion
  • Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion
  • Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion
  • Antiaircraft Artillery Searchlight Battalion
  • Barrage balloon Battalions

and later

  • Antiaircraft Artillery Missile Battalions.

Coast Artillery School[edit]

Distinctive unit insignia[edit]

  • Description- A Gold color metal and enamel device 1 inch (2.54 cm) in height overall consisting of a shield blazoned: Per fess wavy Gules and Azure in chief on an oval escutcheon of the first (Gules) in front of the cannon saltirewise Or an Artillery projectile paleways within a bordure of the last (Or) in base a submarine mine of the like (Or).
  • Background- The distinctive unit insignia was approved on 16 October 1929.
  • Device
  • Blazon
  • Shield- Per fess wavy Gules and Azure in chief on an oval escutcheon of the first (Gules) in front of the cannon saltirewise Or an Artillery projectile paleways within a bordure of the last (Or) in base a submarine mine of the like (Or).
  • Supporters- Two cannons paleways Or.
  • Motto: "Defendimus" (We Defend).
  • Symbolism
  • Shield

The design was used by the Coast Artillery School for many years but was never recorded by the War Department. It is a shield of red and blue parted horizontally by a wavy line; on the upper red portion of the shield is the insignia of the Coast Artillery, and on the lower blue portion a submarine mine in gold. A scroll bearing the words "Coast Artillery School" may be added to the device.

  • Supporters- Two cannons, muzzles up, are used as supporters.
  • Background- The device was approved on 8 November 1924.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]