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7) Fort Tilden's 12-inch Mortar Battery

Updated: October 21, 2000

12-inch Mortar

Located inside the confines of the adjacent Naval Air Station Rockaway, Fort Tilden's temporary mortar battery consisted of four 12-inch mortars:

Model 1890M1, S/N 46, on Model 1896 Carriage, S/N 202
Model 1890M1, S/N 93, on Model 1896 Carriage, S/N 203
Model 1890M1, S/N 102, on Model 1896 Carriage, S/N 223
Model 1890M1, S/N 103, on Model 1896 Carriage, S/N 225

The four guns were transferred from the eight gun Battery Piper, at Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and installed in April of 1917. These four guns along with the four Model M1900 6-inch guns on pedestal mounts were the first armament to be installed at Fort Tilden during World War I.

Coast defense mortars were suggested by General Abbott, the Chief of Engineers in the 1880's. A battery of 16 mortars, concealed from view in pits, could be fired simultaneously to penetrate the lightly armored upper decks of warships. Improvements in the accuracy of fire control led to the installation of four gun batteries around the harbors of America and it's territories. These model M1890 mortars fired a 1,046 pound projectile at a high angle, up to a distance of 6.8 miles. (Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Volume 8, page 896, Columbia House, NY)

Mortar Battery
Rare Photo of Fort Tilden's Mortar Battery - Circa 1919
The four mortars are located in a row, in front of the magazine building.

In a letter from the Secretary of War, in response to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 11/12/18, it was decided that the mortar battery would not be fired for target practice due to "the considerable damage to the buildings and equipment of the Naval Air Station Rockaway". If it should have become necessary to fire this battery in an emergency, the Commanding Officer of the NAS Rockaway would be notified in advance. The Secretary of War also adds, " it is considered impracticable to have a coast defense battery so located that conditions in its vicinity practically prohibit its being fired at target practice or in actual service, steps are being taken to have new emplacements constructed at the western end of the Fort Tilden reservation. Upon completion of the emplacements, the four mortars will be transferred thereto."

Mortar Magazine
Fort Tilden's Mortar Magazine
(note shadow of mortar in lower right corner and NAS Rockaway Blimp hangar in background)
U.S. Army Photo

The new location was never constructed and the guns and carriages were removed on July 30, 1920 and were shipped via sea, on U.S. Army Barge #520 to the Ordnance Officer, at Fort Caswell, NC.

A letter from September of 1920 concerns the transfer of four (4) 12-inch mortars, carriages, railway, and ammunition from District Engineer, 2nd District, New York City, and a statement of the material.

Another letter from 4/5/21 indicated that the mortars were on mobile mounts and another refers to "railway mortars".

12-inch Railway Mortar
A similar 12-inch Railway Mortar at Fort Eustis, VA
US Army Signal Corps Photo.

Information from Navy records of the Rockaway Naval Air Station reveals that target practice was conducted during May of 1921. "Commencing May 24th, flights were made with F5L seaplane 3606 for the purpose of spotting the 12-inch mortar practice at Fort Tilden; very good spots were obtained and forwarded immediately to the batteries by radio from the plane. In some cases the spots were received by radio at this station and relayed to batteries and towing ship by radio telephone".

Recently, Mr Kevin Hanley, sent us an e-mail message about this subsequent location of the railway mortars:

As to the railway mortars, they were indeed located at the fort. It was originally proposed to relocated the pit-mounted ones, located adjacent to the Rockaway Naval Air Station property. However, they decided to go with railway mounted models instead. Four Model 1890 M1 mortars, on Model 1918 M2 railway carriages, were delivered to the fort in January 1919. It cost $3,500 to deliver them, by barge, to the site (the firm of Merritt & Chapman did the delivering.)

The mortars were moved to the western end of the fort. Four double-ended railway sidings had been constructed beforehand. The mortars remained on site until November 1921, at which time they were removed. Model 1918 ammunition cars were procured from the Erie Proving Ground, in Erie, Ohio, for use with these mortars.

As for the pit mortars, it is interesting how they were moved to the site. According to a letter from Col. Abbot of the COE, it was suggested (and later approved) to barge the mortars over from Ft. Hamilton to Tilden. At high tide, the barge would be beached. Then, at low tide, the mortars and parts would be rolled off the barge and across the sand to their concrete pads (apparently a similar procedure had been used at Subic Bay in the Phillipines.)

Thanks for the info Kevin!

The National Park Service at Fort Tilden, in Rockaway New York had recently acquired a 12" training mortar. It is believed this is the same mortar listed in the "Surviving American Seacoast Artillery Weapons" as being located at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, NY. It is reported that this mortar came from the Bronx.

The rear face of the breech has had the paint stripped away in a small area to reveal the following markings:

MOD OF 1911 NO 8

The mortar tube was delivered without a carriage and was lying in front of the Ranger Station at Building #1 in Fort Tilden. The gun was previously mounted on a concrete cradle at the Kingsbridge armory in the Bronx.

The mortar has since been moved to Fort Wadsworth, in Staten Island, NY, another unit of Gateway NRA.
Whats'left today?
No remains or either the mortar battery at NAS Rockaway, or the railway mortar battery along Shore Road exist today.
Can anyone provide photos of these mortar emplacements? If so, select "Contact Us" below.

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