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 guns.

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 efficiency.

The guns were 16" M1919MII mounted on barbette carriage M1919. Specifically:
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 water.

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:  **

Plotting BoardM4Frankford Arsenal 1941#8
Spotting BoardM3Mergenthaler 1941#205
Range Correction BdM1A1Bendix#64
Wind Component Ind Frankford Arsenal 1929#363
Deflection BdT1Frankford Arsenal 1926#1
% CorrectorM1Frankford Arsenal 1934#33


**  Ref: Inspn. of Ordnance Matl. Report 3/17-30/42

also several homemade correction devices for computing range and azimuth difference for gun #2.

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;

@ 30,000 yds.  -393 yds.
@ 40,000 yds.  -538 yds.
@ 50,000 yds.  -734 yds.

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 index.

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 platform).

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 firing).

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 times.

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 follows:
FromToRange (yds)Azimuth (deg)
Tilden TowerArverne11086.09248.82
Tilden TowerLong Beach23748.70262.22
Tilden TowerZachs Bay40625.89261.98
Tilden Tower#1 Gun438.04241.34
Tilden Tower#2 Gun721.26242.06
Tilden TowerBridge South2250.29219.79
Tilden TowerGunnison (Hancock)15021.9336.92

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 devices.

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 artillery:
Case I:  Both elevation and direction are given by a sight directed on the target.
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 Memorial Bridge.

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