Typical 60" Searchlight (image from
www.skylighters.org) (see our links
An important component of coastal artillery and anti-aircraft artillery
of during World War I and II
was the searchlight battery. Fort Tilden was the home of several
searchlight units over the
A map from 1935 shows two 60-inch searchlights (believed to be Sperry 60"
units), one at the
East Battery, (later named Battery Fergusson), and another one at the
West Battery, (later
named Battery Kessler). Each of these gun batteries was also equipped
with an 25 KW
gasoline engine-driven electrical generator to power the
Another map from 1936 shows a searchlight designated SL #10 at the East
named Battery Fergusson), and the controller for this SL located at the
combined fire control
tower for Battery East (B'), Battery West (B'), and the harbor minefield
(M5), located in the SW
corner of the Rockaway Naval Air Station. A searchlight designated SL
#9 at the West Battery,
(later named Battery Kessler) had it's controller located at the 100'
steel "Tilden Tower",
co-located along with fire control tower for Battery Harris (B' BC),
Battery Kingman of Fort
Hancock (B6), and Battery Mills of Fort Hancock (B6) (both twin batteries
of 12-inch guns built in 1922), located in the SW corner of Fort Tilden.
At the tip of Breezy Point, a searchlight designated SL #8 had it's
controller located at the fire
control tower for Battery East (B2), Battery West (B2), and the harbor
minefield (M4), also
located at the tip of Breezy Point.
Temporary Mobile Searchlights
During February of 1940, four mobile searchlights and 8 AA guns were
brought to Fort Tilden by
troops from Fort Totten for night anti-aircraft practice.
How the Searchlights Work
The 60-inch searchlight had an aluminum enclosure, a parabolic glass
mirror, and an automatic
lamp mechanism which would strike the arc of the carbon lamp, rotate the
carbon rod and
maintain the proper gap to keep the beam focused properly. Electric
motors were used to
position the azimuth and elevation of the light from a remote location.
A 15KW generator was
required to power this large searchlight.
Kevin Hanley sent an e-mail with some new information concerning these
searchlights and he
added "As a interesting sidebar, one of the searchlights was shipped to
the Bausch & Lomb
Optical plant in Rochester, NY, in August 1920 to have its mirror
resilvered (I guess they just
don't do glasses!)"
Soldier at Fort Tilden manning a "Sound Locator" used to amplify the
approaching aircraft and aid in directing the
Soldier at Fort Tilden manning binoculars used to control the
The development of radar during World War 2 made the searchlight obsolete
since the radar
was unaffected by rain, smoke, overcast and low cloud ceilings. The Army
these early radar systems would be used to acquire targets at night, that
could then be identified
by the illumination of the searchlights. The radar systems later
incorporated IFF (Identification -
Friend or Foe) systems that would facilitate faster and more positive
approaching aircraft and ships.
What's left today?
There are no known remains of the searchlight installations at Fort tilden or Rockaway Point. Some of these old Army searchlights are still around and are used for advertising purposes. They are available for rent and are often seen at the grand openings of new businesses.