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11) Battery Harris

Updated: November 11, 2005
Battery Harris (East) 1999
Battery Harris (East)
(1999 Photo)

Henry L. Harris
Henry L. Harris
Photo courtesy of USMA

Named after Henry Leavenworth Harris, Battery Harris was the largest and most impressive gun battery in Fort Tilden. The two Model M1919MII 16-inch guns made the fort one of the most powerful fortifications in the world.

Together with a similiar gun battery in the Navesink Highlands of New Jersey named Battery Lewis (two 16-inch model M1919 MK XI M1 guns on barbette carriages model M4) on the opposite side of the New York Harbor, these powerful guns provided a field of fire that extended far beyond the New York Harbor along the shores of Eastern Long Island and Northern New Jersey.
Battery Lewis, 2000
Battery Lewis, Atlantic Highlands MR.
Photograph by Tom Page of The Online Air-Defense Radar Museum, -- Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

In 1922, the US Navy was forced to suspend the construction of six warships due to the restrictions of the 1922 Washington Armament Conference. Twenty completed model 1919, MkII guns were developed for these ships and were transferred to the US Army. The Army carriages required some modifications to accept the Navy MkII guns. These model 1919 MkII, 16-inch guns were manufactured in Watervliet Arsenal, in Watervliet NY. (Source: Curator, Watervliet Arsenal Museum)

In 1922, Fort Tilden's 16-inch guns were mounted in open "Panama mounts" that allowed the guns to rotate 360 degrees in azimuth and elevate to 69 degrees.

Battery Harris gun istallation 1922
The breech of the 16-inch gun during installation at Battery Harris in 1922
Photo: Alexander J. Kallaman

Battery Harris gun istallation 1922
The 16-inch gun being installed
at Battery Harris - 1922
Photo: Alexander J. Kallaman

Battery Harris, 1924
Battery Harris - 1924, US Army Photo
16-inch Gun
A view of the gun crew from the muzzle.
16-inch Gun
One of the two M1919MII 16-inch guns at Fort Tilden.
16 Inch Gun being Fired
A 16-inch gun being fired for practice at Fort Tilden (1940 -1941?).
Projectile Table
Projectile table at the rear of the 16-inch gun.

The Guns were "Casemated" just prior to WW2:
The guns were later casemated (covered by a concrete and dirt enclosure) in the early 1940s. This restricted each gun to a 145 degree arc of azimuth travel and a maximum elevation of 47 degrees. A two inch thick steel shield was also installed to protect the gun and the crew from frontal fire.

Battery Harris with Camouflage
Battery Harris during World War II with Camouflage Net
US Army Photos

The original emplacement in the open "Panama mounts" began in January 1921 and was completed in August 1922.

Once casemated, the guns were limited in azimuth as follows:

Gun 1 (Battery Harris West)
Model M1919 MkII, Serial #4 mounted in carriage #2
Casemate Directrix: 344 degrees
Right limit: 56.5 degrees (limited by casemate)
Left Limit: 271.5 degrees (limited by casemate)
Casemate started August 1941 and completed March 4, 1942

Gun 2 (Battery Harris East)
Model M1919 MkII, Serial #5 mounted in carriage #3
Casemate Directrix: 337 degrees
Right limit: 49.5 degrees (limited by casemate)
Left Limit: 264.5 degrees (limited by casemate)
Casemate started November 1941 and completed June 1942

Plan view of Battery Harris
Plan View of Battery Harris

Profile view of Batter Harris
Profile View of Battery Harris

Profile view of Batter Harris with gun installed
Profile view of similar casemated 16-inch battery with gun installed
(From: Emmanuel Lewis, Seacoast Fortifications of the United States, Published 1979)

Fire Control Towers:
Two towers were used as observation points in the horizontal-base system of position finding used to provide azimuth and elevation data to the gun crews. A 100 foot steel tower (B'-BC Station) on the SW side of Fort Tilden (the base still remains today) and a similar 100 foot steel tower (B"-BC Station) located at Arverne (Between B 58th, B 59th, Ocean Ave, and Rockaway Beach Blvd, in the NE corner of the block).

This tower was so remote from Fort Tilden that the following was noted in 1925, "On account of the isolated position of this station all fire control apparatus has been removed to Fort Tilden for safe keeping". This station in Arverne contained four telephones, one for the observer and reader for guns 1 and 2.

By 1944, additional fire control towers were added to all active gun batteries and the minefields of the Harbor Defenses of Southern New York. Battery Harris now had a total of seven base end stations, ten spotting stations, and eight radar installations (SCR-296 radar units mounted on 100' steel towers). This network of observation posts and radar installations ensured that targets could be detected and engaged at extreme ranges from Fort Tilden during periods of poor visibility.

Battery Harris Base End Stations
No. Location Description Assignment - Structure#
B1 Elberon, NJ Triple Deck Concrete Top Left Front - 3B
B2 North Long Branch, NJ Triple Deck Concrete Top Left Front - 4A
B3 Navesink, NJ Single Dug-InLeft Front - 7A
B4 Navesink, NJ 100' Steel (Short Beach) Left Front - 7D
B5 Seagate, Bklyn, NY Double Deck Concrete Top Left Front - 12B
B6 Fort Tilden, NY Double DeckConcrete Top Left Front - 14A
B7 Seaside, LI, NY Double DeckConcrete Top Right Front - 15A

Battery Harris Spotting Stations:
No. Location Description Assignment - Structure#
S1 Elberon, NJ Triple Deck Concrete Top Left Front - 3B
S2 North Long Branch, NJ TripleDeck Concrete Top Left Rear - 4A
S3 Navesink, NJ Single Dug-In Left Rear - 7A
S4 Seagate, Bklyn, NY Double Deck Concrete Top Left Rear - 12B
S5 Fort Tilden, NY Double Deck Concrete Top Left Rear - 14A
S6 Seaside, LI, NY Double Deck Concrete Top Right Rear - 15A
S7 Atlantic Beach, LI, NY Double Deck Concrete Top Right Rear - 17A
S8 Long Beach, LI, NY Double Deck Concrete Top Right Rear - 18A
S9 Short Beach, LI, NY Single Deck Concrete Right Rear - 19A
S10 Zach's Bay, LI, NY 100' Steel Tower Right - 20A

Battery Harris SCR-296 Fire Control Radar Installations:
(100' Tall Steel Towers)
No. Location Structure #
R1 Long Beach, LI, NY 18B
R2 Elberon, NJ 3A
R3 North Long Branch, NJ 4B
R4 Monmouth Beach, NJ 5A
R5 Navesink, NJ 7D
R6 Seagate, Bklyn, NY 12C
R7 Seaside, LI, NY 15B
R8 Arverne, LI, NY 16A

Switchboard and Plotting Room Casemate:
Battery Harris also had a casemated Switchboard and Plotting Room. This structure was originally only partially casemated, but was later upgraded to provide greater protection from air attack and gas attack. This structure was used as a central "nerve center" to receive sighting information from observation towers, compute the required azimuth and elevation for each of the two 16-inch guns, and supply firing information to the gun crews. Dedicated telephone systems were used for communication and plotting boards and mechanical computers were used to calculate correction data due to the effect of wind speed, wind direction, temperature, etc... on the travel of the projectile.
Deflection and Elevation Display Board Operators at
Battery Harris receiving gun pointing data from
it's nearby Plotting and Switchboard casemate.

Plotting Board
Type of Plotting Board used in Coastal Artillery
ROTC Manual of Coast Artillery - 1938

Ammunition Storage:
Magazine 1, 2, and 3 are located along the railroad line that supplied the heavy ammunition to the 16-inch guns of Battery Harris. The rail line actually extends through each of these brick structures.
Typical Magazine Building Exterior
(1999 Photo)

Typical Magazine Building Interior
(1999 Photo)

Roll-down steel doors were used to secure each magazine. The casemates of Battery Harris East and West as well as an additional casemated magazine located behind Battery Harris brought the total number of magazines to six.

Fire Control Radar:
During World War 2, Battery Harris was equipped with the latest in fire control radar systems, the SCR-296 , a precision radar system that allowed targets to be detected and engaged in darkness and poor visibility.

Generator Building
90KW Generator Building for Battery Harris
(1999 Photo)

Battery Harris was completely self-contained and did not rely on commercial electric power which could be unavailable in a combat situation. Three power generators, the Number 1 Power House, Number 2 Power House, and theReserve Power House were located behind the guns of Battery Harris. These three power plants had their own diesel generators and fuel supplies.

What's left today?
Today the guns are gone and only the casemates remain, overgrown with vegetation. An observation platform has been added to the top of Battery Harris East by the National Park Service. This vantage point allows the visitor to see the commanding view of New York Harbor that made Fort Tilden an essential component in the harbor defences of New York City throughout the 20th century.
Guns Scrapped
The guns of Battery Harris were cut up and sold as scrap metal after WW2
(Daily News Photo, Date Unknown)

Front of Battery Harris, 1981
Front View of Battery Harris
(1981 Photo)

Rear of Battery Harris
Rear Entrance of Battery Harris East
(1999 Photo)

Rear of Battery Harris
Inscription at Rear Entrance of Battery Harris East
(1999 Photo)

Side of Battery Harris
West Side Entrance of Battery Harris East
(1999 Photo)

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