Service at Battery Harris, Fort Tilden, New York, 1942-1943
By: Frederick M. Baldwin
(As printed in the Coast Defense Study Group
Newsletter, August 1990)
Fort Tilden's Battery Harris was the 16" barbette installation manned by
Btry. G, 245th CA to which I was assigned as Btry. Commander in the late
spring of 1942.
My first introduction to Harris had been in 1936, when as a Sergeant in
the 245th, I walked through an open gate at the back of Fort Tilden and
was able to closely examine and photograph the two guns. The attached
pictures are those taken that day. As you can see the guns are out in
the open in the midst of the sand dunes. Two terra-cotta buildings at
some distance served
as magazines. (See note 1) Standard gage railroad tracks for the ammo.
supply connected the buildings with the circular tracks around the
By 1942 when I arrived at Tilden, the guns had been casemated and the old
magazine buildings emptied.
At this time the threat to the East Coast was diminishing inasmuch as the
German fleet had generally been neutralized, and only the possibility of
submarine forays remained. Thus the batteries of the post were manned on
a half hour alert status.
Harris had fired a target practice in 1941 and was manned by experienced
personnel. Thus the daily training was directed toward sharpening the
skills of the men in their assigned positions and in alternate
assignments, as well as working out any problems in coordination between
the guns and the range section.
The test of a smooth working coast artillery organization is in the
target practice results. Thus in the absence of actual enemy vessels,
the standard target practice is a measure of the unit's
The guns were 16" M1919MII mounted on barbette carriage M1919.
Tactical #1 was serial #4 Watervliet 1921 on carriage #2 Watertown 1919
Tactical #2 was serial #5 Watervliet 1921 on carriage #3 Watertown 1919
In 1942 both guns had 75mm excaliber guns mounted on the left side of the
carriage adjacent to the trunnion, as shown on the picture of the #2 gun
in 1936. The emplacement had a height of site of 16' above mean low
The armament of Tilden consisted of Harris, and two 6" barbette batteries
along the shore; one at the east end and the other at the west end of the
post. A fixed 3" AA battery was located in the middle of the sand dunes
to the east of #2 Harris. Out on Rockaway point was sited a 2 gun
battery of 3" barbette guns.
The plotting room was in a casemate to the rear and west of #1 casemate,
and included the following equipment: **
Range Correction Bd
Wind Component Ind
** Ref: Inspn. of Ordnance Matl. Report 3/17-30/42
also several homemade correction devices for computing range and azimuth
difference for gun
In addition to the above, 4 Depression Position Finders M1 class 2
Frankford 1941 were in the four base end stations. 3 azimuth instruments
M1910 A1 were available for spotting and general observation.
Base end stations were four 100' steel towers, located along the Long
Island shore at Tilden, Arverne, Long Beach and Zachs Bay (Jones Beach).
Tilden was used as the BC Station, as well as B', Arverne was B", Long
Beach was B"' and Zachs Bay was B"". Sockets were provided on the
plotting board for Gunnison Tower at Ft. Hancock, and Monmouth Tower,
down on the Jersey coast.
Each of the three distant towers was manned by a permanent detail of six-
seven men with a sergeant observer in charge. At least one man was on
duty in the tower at all times.
Due to the personnel requirements of the plotting room, the base end
stations and the guns, #2 gun was manned by a detachment of Btry. H
245th. The Btry. Commander of H acted as executive officer for Harris,
with the 2nd Lts. of G and H responsible for one gun each. The 1st. Lt
of G served as range officer.
Preparation for firing started with a study of the previous firings of
1940 and 41 in the emplacement book. These showed that the Developed
Muzzle Velocity of #1 gun was some 20 fps below that expected as well as
being the same amount under #2 gun. This velocity difference amounted to
the following range effects;
Aside from any systematic and personnel errors, the developed muzzle
velocity was the most critical variable that faced the Btry. Commander in
preparing for a successful shoot. In addition, an examination of the
bore of #1 revealed severe copper fouling about half way up the gun tube.
Gun crew and ordnance machinists tried in vain to remove this (#1 had
fired 31 rounds and #2
24 rounds to date).
Since #1 was the directing piece and all range and azimuth data was
initially determined for it, the range had to be corrected up for the #1
and then the range difference and azimuth difference applied to the
original data for #2 gun. Case III pointing (See note 2) was the
standard practice in this battery due to the low height of site and the
long ranges expected which placed the target below the horizon.
Bore sighting was done on both guns and #1 corrected for a small azimuth
error. Both were checked for elevation using a clinometer with the exec.
officer riding in a boatswains chair attached to the muzzle. Again #1
had to be corrected in elevation by means of the range disc
All electrical and hydraulic systems were carefully checked and
adjustments made as required (past firing records indicated trouble with
both systems in the past).
The target practice ammunition was checked; shells weighed and marked as
well as having the diameters checked. The rotating bands were checked
for tightness. The weights determined
the order in which the shells would be fired.
The powder was likewise checked to make sure all of the charges were from
one single lot, and that no deterioration had taken place since being
placed in the powder cans and stored in the magazines.
In the meantime the range section was busy running through plotting
exercises and working out any bugs showing up in the associated
equipment. Also very important was making sure all chart scales were
proper for the ammunition to be used. Actual tracking of vessels in the
NY Harbor approaches was used when visibility permitted, otherwise canned
courses were used.
Target practice ammunition consisted of 2340# CI Target Practice shells,
with a 7/8 powder charge (700#). Seven powder bags made up the charge,
each bag having an igniter pad on one end. In loading it was most
important that all the pads faced the breech and that the final few
inches of placement be done by the closing breech block. This as well as
the uniform ramming of the shell took considerable skill and care on the
part of the rammer operator.
Scavenging of the chamber and bore after each round was by an air blast.
(See note 3) The breech block was the Welin step thread type, unlocking
in 1/16 revolution (22 and 1/2 degrees). It was opened by manually
pulling down a handle which cammed the block to rotate counterclockwise,
unlocking it and allowing it to drop on a hinge mounting, to the open
position. As the block rotated, it cammed a valve to admit the air blast
to openings in the breech ring (An air compressor was located to the
right of the right side carriage under the floor of the gun
Inasmuch as the ramming was done mechanically, the guns had to be
depressed to 4 degrees elevation after each shot to align the bore with
the rammer mechanism and the spanner tray. The elevated to the proper
elevation for each shot. This meant that the range setter had to elevate
past the required elevation and then depress to that desired. Elevation
always had to be set in elevation to minimize jump.
The azimuth setter was located in a small compartment below the gun
platform next to the base ring, where he set the direction on the azimuth
circle affixed to the base ring (a most interesting place to be during
Ammunition was handled by overhead hoist from the magazine to transfer
cars, 3 shells per car, and three complete powder charges per powder car,
and thence to the circular track surrounding the gun, and then as needed
to the loading and ramming holding trays.
In preparation for service practice, many excaliber firings of the 75mm.
guns were conducted. This being mainly for the training of the range
section and the observers. During these periods the remote tower crews
were brought in to Arverne and Tilden towers as the 9,000 yds. range to
the target was not visible from Long Beach and Zachs Bay. Emphasis was
placed on tracking
and using the range rakes for spotting splashes. In use, the spotter
tracked the target with the center index and read the splash location
right or left in reference to the target. This method gave readings of
sufficient accuracy to be used on the spotting board, and thus determine
the actual deviation.
The battery was advised in the fall that it should be ready to fire a
practice immediately when so ordered by higher authority. Target
practice was finally ordered to take place on 12/2/42 or as soon
thereafter as practical, per T.P. order #3 Ft. Tilden 11/30/42 (a copy of
this order is attached).
The shoot was finally conducted on the afternoon of 31 Dec. which was the
first clear day for several months.
Firing was conducted by salvo, #2 following #1 by about 5 seconds. Fire
was conducted by two ranging salvos, with adjustment made by the
magnitude method based on deviations from the spotting board. Fire for
effect was again by salvo, with 5 rounds per gun.
All went well, with no problems at the guns or the range section. One of
the record shots damaged the target (When the tug returned to the dock,
all that was left of one target was the raft).
In computing a target practice score, one of the factors entering into
the calculations was the range; an increasing range acting to raise the
score, all things being equal. Fortunately the course used was such that
the range was increasing. The only base end stations that could track
the target were Long Beach and Zachs Bay, the target being towed below
the horizon from the other towers.
Besides the four 100' towers, use was sometimes made of the south tower
of the Marine Parkway bridge. (See note 4) The top level of the
structure provided a large room with windows that covered the field of
fire of all the Tilden batteries. The 200' height was used at times by
the Group and Groupment commanders. The only problem with this location
was when the lift span was raised or lowered the resulting swaying of the
tower had a tendency to make some of the personnel approach seasickness.
An interesting thing at Harris was the difference between the two
casemates. While identical in design, #1 was continually wet, the walls
running with water. #2 being perfectly dry. Apparently #2 was poured in
the summer, while #1 was done in the cold weather and chemicals added to
the concrete tended to make it hygroscopic, pulling the moisture from the
normally humid air and causing the walls to run with water at all
A major problem at Harris was the visibility. The horizon being
generally invisible due to the mist, fog, etc. A good seacoast radar
might have helped but there was no such equipment anywhere in the area
that would have done any good.
Cleaning the bore after service firing was done by sponging from the
muzzle, rather than from the breech end. This was necessary because the
rammer mechanism interfered with the long sponge stave that was
necessary. A short staved sponge was used to clean the powder chamber
from the breech. It was necessary to depress the gun barrel so that the
muzzle could be reached at a normal working height.
Incidentally, the muzzle drooped about 1/2 inch when the gun was
horizontal, and the muzzle whipped about 2 inches when fired.
Base line data from the office of the master
gunner was as
During the year, construction was proceeding on a room adjacent to the
south wall of the plotting room casemate. This was to house a gun data
computer, which would replace the plotting board and the other auxiliary
Sometime in the summer of 1943 while conducting an AA target practice at
Tilden, I saw the computer in place. It looked like an oversized M7 AA
director only bigger. I'd guess it was about 8' long, 4' wide and 6'
high, with handwheels, knobs and dials on all sides. Whether it was ever
used I do not know.
Late in the summer of 1942, Batteries G and H of the 245th were
redesignated A and B of the 7th CA. Thus keeping all the 245th at
Hancock and all the 7th at Tilden and Totten.
In the spring of 1943, I was transferred to Fort totten as Btry commander
of Btry F 7th. CA, as well as commander of Group 4.
In case anyone wonders about the score of the practice at Harris, after
all these years I do not remember the numbers, but everyone from the
Colonel down was happy with the results.
Frederick M. Baldwin Notes:
1. Four magazines were present in 1936, but being identical structures
and widely spaced apart. Baldwin describes seeing only two, but he may
not have walked down to the other two magazines.
2. According to the 1938 ROTC Manual of Coast Artillery;
"There are three method or "cases" of pointing used with seacoast
Case I: Both elevation and direction are given by a sight directed on
Case II: Direction is given by a sight directed on the target and
elevation is given by range scale,
elevation scale, or quadrant.
Case III: Direction is given by an azimuth circle or panoramic sight not
directed on the target and elevation is given by range scale, elevation
scale, or quadrant."
The guns of Battery Harris utilized Case III pointing using the M4
Plotting Board's azimuth and range information after it was corrected
using the Range Correction Board, the Wind Component Indicator, the
Deflection Board, and the Percentage Corrector.
3. Scavenging of the gun's chamber and barrel with 135 - 155 psi of
compressed air was an important safety precaution to ensure that the bore
was free of any smoldering bits of powder
bag remaining from the previous shot. A small ember could ignite the
next powder charge while the breech was still open, potentially killing
the gun crew in the breech area.
4. The Marine Parkway Bridge has since been re-named the Gil Hodges