Thursday, June 21, 2012

Battles Long Ago: Clatsop Plains 1942

Clatsop Plains (The Shelling of Ft. Stevens) Date: 21 JUN 1942

Forces Engaged: Empire of Japan - B1-type (Otsu-gata) fleet submarine I-25; 17 x Type 95 "Long Lance" torpedoes, 1 x 5.5"/50cal deck gun, 94 officers and enlisted crewmen under Commander Tagami Meiji

United States of America - Units of the Coast Artillery, U.S. Army., manning the harbor defense guns emplaced at Fort Stevens, Oregon.

So far as I can tell the batteries at Fort Stevens were heavily manned on the night of 21 JUN. The garrison consisted of most of the 1st Battalion, 18th Coast Artillery (U.S. Army) and the 249th Coast Artillery battalion, Oregon Army National Guard in federal service.

C Battery, 1/18th CA appears to have been detached with 4 x 12" railway mortars to Brown's Point further up the mouth of the Columbia River in January, 1942, but the remaining batteries; HHSB, A, and B, 1/18th CA and HHSB, A, B, and C 249th CA (ORARNG) were on duty at Ft. Stevens that night. In addition the cadre of a new Coast Artillery unit, the 267th CA, had arrived on 12 JUN to prepare for the arrival of the remainder of the unit in August.

The strength report for 30 JUN 1942 lists 129 officers, 5 warrant officers, and 2,194 enlisted men. Of these, the most closely involved were the artillerymen manning Battery Russell under one CPT Woods; which unit was crewing the guns I have not been able to determine.

Battery Russell, which faced the Pacific, mounted two M1900 10" rifled cannon on what was known as a "disappearing" carriage. This contraption was basically a set of folding legs that could be lowered to load the cannon and then raised above the emplacement parapet to fire, making the gun difficult to hit with the low-angle, flat-trajectory naval guns typical of the turn-of-the-19th-century when the cannon were manufactured.

The total armament of Ft. Stevens that night consisted of:

Battery Russell's two 10" cannon;
A total of eight 12" mortars: 4 x M1918 mortars mounted on railway cars and another 4 M1890 type emplaced in Battery Clark, and
Battery Pratt's two 6" M1897MI cannon.

The commander of the Harbor Defenses of the Columbia River was one COL Doney, CA...

...and all of this military might was part of the U.S. Army's Ninth Coast Artillery District commanded by MG Wilson far away and safe in his bed on the night of 21 JUN...

The Campaign: It's frankly hard to call the events of 21 JUN 1942 much of a "battle", much less as part of a "campaign". I wanted to tell the story as a curiosity and as a favorite part of Oregon history that is usually forgotten. It was an oddity in an odd moment in the Great Pacific War, but one that was serious enough to the people who lived through it, and so perhaps I should give the moment a bit of historical context.

But here's the problem.

The events of 21 JUN 42 make absolutely no frigging sense to me from a military standpoint.

Let's walk back the spring of 1942 a bit, shall we?

The two enemies had very different strategic objectives, and their military plans reflected that.

The Japanese needed the U.S. Navy off their ass so they could complete the subjugation of the Philippines and the seizure of the "Southern Resource Area" otherwise known as the Dutch East Indies colonies and the lovely petroleum hidden thereunder.

The United States needed to hold off the Japanese in the central Pacific until the Pacific Fleet could recover from the beating the received at Pearl Harbor, keep their lines of supply to Australia open (and that country un-invaded, although the Japanese had no real plans to do so the U.S. couldn't be sure of that), and then figure out how to pry open the Japanese defensive network that the Empire had flung out across the southwestern and western Pacific beginning after the First World War.

The wild card was the U.S. strategic intelligence gathered through various codebreaking schemes, which enabled the U.S. to anticipate the Japanese plan to stage a decisive engagement with the U.S. carriers in the central Pacific. This engagement went off as planned, but as we all know the decision was against the Kido Butai, which lost four fleet carrier decks and hundreds of talented fliers in the course of several days in June.

You would think that a Japanese fleet submarine would have been gawdamn busy in the month of June; scouting for the Combined Fleet, harrying the U.S. convoys supplying it's Midway task forces, sinking American carriers or some damn thing that supported Yamamoto's Operation Mai tactical plan for Midway.

But you'd be wrong, neh?

Instead of hunting Yankee sailors, in June '42 the I-25 and her crew were farkling about off the Northwest coast, because...

Would you believe - the Dolittle Raid?

The most common explanation I've read for the overall mission of the I-25's Third War Patrol was to commit mayhem along the U.S. Left Coast in retaliation for the audacity of the gringos bombing the Imperial homeland.

I'm not sure if I believe it. Except for one thing; the overall strategic fucktardry of the 大日本帝国海軍 (Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun)'s submarine forces.

And that was with a hell of a submersible force at the beginning of the war; the IJN had a total of 63 fleet subs on 8 DEC 41, including some of the most powerful in the world at the time.

Even a web page about Japanese imperial submarines has to admit that "(g)iven their (advantages in) size, range, speed, and torpedoes, Japanese submarines achieved surprisingly little."

The common explanation is that the Japanese had no real idea what to do with their subs other than throw them at enemy warships. And they did a fairly decent job of this in 1942.

But pitting slow submerged submarines (and remember that WW2 subs were really "submersibles" - they were actually pretty damn poor at doing anything submerged outside of running slow and silent for a damn short time until their batteries ran down and fumes and lack of oxygen overcame their crews, not to mention the incredible stench from the bilges where who-the-hell knew what awful swill floated - at least by 1942 most navy subs had actual heads, unlike the WW1 varieties where the crewmen used the bilges for a shitter) against sonar-equipped escorts is a mug's game.

And - remember, the WW2 subs had to spend a LOT of time on the surface - the U.S. naval air arm and long-distance reconnaissance aircraft got real good real fast at pickling off a depth charge or eight on whatever hapless Japanese sub they could find, and they found a lot of 'em.

But for the rest of it, the Japanese widdled their submarine force away in all sorts of pointless missions; resupply, snoop-and-pooping, lurking outside U.S. naval bases hoping to sneak a torpedo up the skirt of some careless Yankee...and, I suspect, this mission.

And the Third War Patrol really was pretty pointless. Listen, here's the itinerary for the I-25's 1942 West Coast Tour;

11 MAY 42: Departs Yokosuka.

27-30 MAY 42: Recons Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and USN units in Alaska in support of the Operation AL, the Aleutian diversion for the Battle of Midway. But the submarine is nowhere near the Aleutians during the actual operation - she's en-route to Oregon

14 JUN 42: On station off the coast of Oregon. I-25 is reported to "have launched a number of false bamboo periscopes to confuse the ASW vessels in the vicinity". Frankly, the bamboo-periscope thing sounds like a piece of slap-a-Jap racism except it's almost too bizarre for that so it may well be true.

Okay, pay attention, here's the odd bit, now:

18 JUN 1942: The web page listing I-25's movements during this time says: "ComSubRon 1 (RADM Yamazaki) orders the I-25 and the I-26 to shell military targets on the American west coast."
Frankly, that doesn't make sense to me if the point of this patrol was Revenge! for the Dolittle Raid. This seems like the kind of brilliant fucking idea some staff pogue comes up with for the combat types to try out. I wonder how the phrase "Trust me! This'll go slicker'n water of a cat's ass!" translates into Japanese? I think this entire operation was some REMF's idea of a killer career move. But that's just me; your mileage may vary. What do you think?


20-21 JUN 1942: torpedoes a British freighter northwest of the mouth of the Columbia, and attacks two other vessels, sinking none.

21 JUN 1942: fires 17 rounds of 5.5" at Fort Stevens on the N coast of Oregon, but inflicts no significant damage. (One dud shell landed near the golf course on Delaura Beach Road and is now a memorial) The Japanese actually intended to shell the "American submarine base at Astoria."

11 July 1942: Returns Yokosuka.

And that was that.

So I'm not sure if there really was much of a "plan" involved here. I think some staff puke attached to Submarine Squadron One got a wild hair up his ass after hearing about the fiasco that was Yamamoto's brilliant Midway operation and wanted one of his guys to kill some Yankees, ANY Yankees, goddamnit.

So Commander Meiji got his orders and the boys at Battery Russell got a rude awakening on a Sunday night.

The Sources: The usual; official records, war diaries, personal accounts, letters, newspapers, all the literary appurtenances of living in a literate society.

Of the written sources in particular I'd like to recommend Panic! at Fort Stevens by Bert Webber; a nice little illustrated account of the night, and probably the single volume specific to the event. Available from the Columbia River Maritime Museum (a pretty terrific place, as well...) here.

There's several good on-line places to read about the night of 21 JUN. The Wiki entry is perhaps the worst place to begin. It's a great example of "bad" Wiki; sparse, missing the Webber primary source, and contains a reference to a supposed B-17 attack that I frankly consider unlikely.

Somebody named Dale Fehrenger has a nice account of the evening featuring quotes from CPT Wood, the Battery Russell commander, and other participants. There are a handful of what look like factual inaccuracies (the B1 submarines are listed at 94 crew, not 108...but, then, wartime units tend to find places for people and equipment they're not "supposed" to have, so, there...)

An outfit called the "Coast Defense Study Group" has a great site for information on Fort Stevens here. Well worth a look, especially the terrific pictures.

The Engagement: The round tale of the night of Sunday, 21 JUN, is quickly told. But indulge me; I want to set the table a little bit.

First, the defenses.

The coastal guns at Ft. Stevens in 1942 - in fact, all around the mouth of the Columbia - were still largely sited and their fields of fire planned with the Spanish-American War parameters of naval architecture in mind.

The forts around the river mouth; Ft. Stevens on Clatsop Spit to the south, Ft. Canby on the south end of the Long Beach peninsula to the north, and the smaller Ft. Columbia just southeast of Chinook, Washington (also on the north bank) were designed engage an enemy force actually entering the harbor. Look at the fields of fire for the active Ft. Stevens batteries. Here's Battery Pratt's 2 x 6" guns;

And here's another pair of 6-inchers, these mounted on Battery Murphy at Ft. Columbia:

The real smashing was expected to have been done by the high-angle fire of the 12" mortars crashing down through wooden decks; as you can see, these weapons had considerably better arc of fire, although their range was not much longer than the much smaller 6-inchers:

(These diagrams are all from an archived 1937 document titled Annexes to Harbor Defense Project, Harbor Defenses of the Columbia viewable at the Coast Defense Study Group website) There is nothing listed in this annex for Battery Russell - since in '37 the battery was officially out of service - but the maximum range for a 10" M1900 is listed as 14,000 yards. So the arc of fire of Russell would have probably looked something like this:

You'll notice the red circle?

That's I-25's 5.5"/50 deck gun. Designed twenty years after the M1900, with half the size it has almost half again the range; 21,600 yards.

We'll get back to that in a moment.

So it must have been a pretty lazy Sunday night for the boys at Fort Stevens. Astoria, Hammond, and Warrenton - the closest towns - were still pretty rural places in '42, lots of fishing, clamming, and crabbing. Some saltgrass sorts of agriculture and dairying. The waterfront bars were known to be tough, and you were likely to get into a fight if you used the wrong look at some Finn pissed off from a long day and no fish. Or a different sort of look at his daughter.

But the lucky few were back from pass, probably telling the usual lies GIs have always told about the drinking and fucking heroics, while the post settled into the early lights-out routines. Sentries shook their heads and squinted into the dark of a June night. The busy day noises died away and the nighttime sounds took over; the distant surf booming and hissing, the sound of crickets and the whine of mosquitoes, occasional sounds of cars or trucks on the Coast Highway out in the eastern darkness.

Out in the greater darkness of the Pacific Ocean I-25 had surfaced some time before 2330. I could find no record of her course or speed, but I suspect that she was probably cruising slowly southwards, for reasons I'll explain later.

It must have been a nerve-wracking moment. The enemy's landmass, presumably loaded with pantsloads of scary dangerous aircraft, soldiers, and sailors lay less than 4 miles to port. The sub had used the local fishing fleet to slip through the sea mines and past the guardships, but there was no disguising the danger. The gun crew presumably had their helmets strapped on tight and their kapok vests over their summer whites as they cranked the cannon around and elevated the muzzle.

The number one man jammed the first round into the breech and the assistant gunner slammed the breech closed. The gun captain probably looked up at the bridge, and someone, possibly even the captain himself, barked 暖炉!

Open fire!

The crewmen said later that they didn't bother to use the 5.5" gunsight; their target was blacked out, anyway, and, besides, it's hard to miss the ground with a shell.

A long tongue of flame strobed the night, the first round spiraled out of the gun muzzle and then the crew waited impatiently until the bloom of fire announced the first enemy cannon round to land on a continental United States fortification since 1865.

Let's let CPT Woods take up the story.

Things went pretty crazy in the first moments under fire. Troops ran to their guns half-dressed or undressed, sirens screamed, one of the searchlight flicked on and raked the water only to snap off after an officer threatened to shoot it out for giving away the emplacement's position. Battery Russell was loaded and ready to fire within several minutes and CPT Woods requested permission to open fire from the central fire direction center at Main Post.
"While waiting for the order to return fire,"
the Fehrenger article runs,
"Captain Wood and his men considered their options. Since they couldn’'t tell exactly where the shots were coming from, they decided to focus on the flashes from the submarine and fire their guns over and under the flashes, like field artillery pieces. If they weren'’t able to hit the sub, that approach should at least scare it away.

Eventually a response was received: “Do not fire. – I say again; do not fire.

Wood’s men were unhappy. There was grumbling from soldiers at the guns and in the ammunition rooms below. Richard Emery, who was a soldier at Fort Stevens that night, said, “"We were frustrated. There was a lot of anger. We felt that we should have been able to fire back."
Apparently the combination of darkness and a target that consisted of a moving series of flashes had resulted in a poor plot in the FDC; I-25 was plotted as out of range of Russell's 10-inchers, and if Battery Russell couldn't hit her none of the Stevens batteries could.

But given the reported elevation of I-25's deck gun and the strike of the rounds it's likely that the submarine was no more than 13,000 to 15,000 yards away; possibly out of range, but possibly not. The lack of radar guidance for the older cannons was shown to be a critical flaw. The U.S. batteries remained silent.

At 2345 I-25 fired the last of 17 rounds. Her gun crew secured the cannon for dive, and the deck crew went below save for lookouts and the conning party. The submarine turned west, heading out to sea, and back to Japan. She slipped past several small boats, presumably fishermen, and, diesels thumming, began to pick up speed as she headed for home.

The cannonade of Clatsop Plains was over.

The Outcome: Utterly trivial; a minor Japanese tactical and propaganda "victory", if you will, but meaningless outside of an exciting evening for the participants and a black eye for the Coast Artillery Corps.

The Impact: Physical? Well...some craters on the beach, shell fragments all around Battery Russell, including damage to the backstop of a baseball diamond about 100 yards away.

A near-miss on a beach house where three kids peed themselves for the first time since toddlerhood.

A power line was scored, eventually rusted through, and broke.

That powerline, by the way, was on Delaura Beach Road, some considerable distance south of the initial impacts around Russell. See?

Which is why I suspect that I-25 was cruising slowly south as she fired; a random MPI like that doesn't make sense unless she was drifting south, in my opinion. No matter, really, except the site is monumented today:

But emotional?

For all that the actual military damage that I-25 did that night, the real impact of her attack (and the September aerial bombing by her E14Y1 "Glen" floatplane) was in the minds of Americans, who saw one more damn Jap attack after another (given the shelling of oil facilities in southern California in February, and now this...) The shelling probably contributed to the fear that imprisoned thousands of Japanese-Americans all over the West Coast, and helped fan the overall ruthlessness that characterized the Pacific War.

Mind you, the Japanese could do ruthless. And did.

For all that this was just a ridiculous and silly scrap, overall it was a pretty goddamn awful war.

Oh, and interesting - note that in the World's Probably Even Then Worst Newspaper the number of shells is listed as nine. Other U.S. eyewitnesses said eleven; almost no one said 17. Chances are that over a third of the Japanese shells landed in the water, or the soft ground typical of Clatsop Plains and didn't explode.

But perhaps the most significant fatality of that night was the Coast Artillery itself.

The inability of the coastal forts to keep off their insignificant attacker was a painful remainder that the era of naval gunnery was all but over. Aircraft would patrol the coasts from now on, and by 1944 almost all of the old batteries at Ft. Stevens were abandoned.

A pair of newer 5-inch guns were installed and quietly decommissioned within a year.

Ft. Stevens, Ft. Canby, and Ft. Columbia were all leased or sold within the next several decades; there are no active coastal defense installations in the United States.

The Coast Artillery Corps itself, which had been split off from the Field Artillery only in 1907, lived only another eight years and was merged back with the redlegs of the FA. Ironically, several old Coast Artillery posts were used in the Fifties as sites for CIM-10 Bomarc launchers, perhaps the last true heir to the fortified cannon defenses.

In a moment of panic fear of yellow hordes swarming ashore a renewed energy was applied to coastal defenses along the West Coast, however, including another layer of barbed wire entanglements along the beach.

The wire is said to have been buried under sand or washed away within a year and was never repaired or replace as it became starkly clear that the Japanese weren't going to visit.

What did remain tangled in the wreck of the Peter Iredale, however, and is said to have remained a hell of a nuisance for several years.

Ft. Stevens has been turned into a state park, where on nice summer days you can drive around the old concrete batteries and hear about the excitement of the night of 21 JUL. Oddly, the popular attraction of late has become the restoration of the older earthwork, built during the Civil War, and the swarms of black powder reenactors who show up to fight impossible blue-gray battles over weekends in July.

Battery Russell stands empty amid the riot of salal and Oregon grape that has grown up and through the silent flash doors to the magazines.

A plastic and wooden replica of the old M1900 cannon sits in simulated ferocity in the slowly decaying concrete of one of the revetments,

While timber grows from the old formation area, and in defiance of first sergeants long gone the walls are stained and scribbled with names and declarations of love, foolishness, and ferocity.

CPT Woods command post still looks out on the restless Pacific, the only Japanese vessels within its gunsights now the immense slab-sided car carriers bringing Mitsubishis whose intent is purely harmless. In the cool woodlands outside the zeeee of the hermit thrush echoes the whisper of the nightfire of seventy years ago.


Ael said...

Good one Chief.

One can learn a lot by looking at little events too.

Leon said...

The more one reads about the pacific war, the more one is amazed that the Japanese managed to accomplish anything. I've never seen such mind-numbing WTF-ness at a national level which still accomplished so much.

You have a military so riven by intra-service conflicts that the army runs it's own subs and a navy that seems to ignore a much more successful sub campaign being run by their allies. Combined with their propensity to continuously commit suicidal bayonet charges (the Yamato was sent on the naval equivalent of one) even in the late war (when it had long shown to be fruitless) is a catalogue of 'epic fails'.

FDChief said...

Ael: I'd say that this one pretty much defines the two sides in the Pacific War.

The Japanese - as Leon points out - are farting around doing something interesting and unusual but fundamentally pointless, wasting a vessel that might have been more useful doing something, hell, almost anything, elsewhere.

The U.S. is still getting unstuck from the bog of outdated war materials and organization it's had since 1918, but it learns quickly and will have pretty much scrapped the useless/pointless Coast Artillery harbor defenses within a couple of years.

And I guess my feeling is and has been for a long time, Leon, that the real marvel is that the Japanese government was so purblind as to let their Army run their head into the concrete wall that was the Pacific War. They did do a little better than expected, given their economic and geographic limitations. But they WERE hamstrung by those limitations. Yamamoto saw that, pretty much most of those Japanese not blinded by racism and victory disease did. But the warriors had their hands on the Emperor and the levers of power and they were going to drag everyone else to hell and they did.

The thing that nobody wants to say is how culpable Hirohito was in all of this. He could have stopped the rush to war, if he'd insisted. He didn't, partially because of the official deference of the Imperial throne to the civilian government but largely, I think, because he truly believed the Army leaders were right and that they could win.

We needed him after the war so all that was stuffed down the memory hole. But he really was, at best, the Dubya of 1941, and in an honest world would be remembered as such.

Ael said...

Hirohito may have been able to stop the rush to war. However, it may have lead to Japan getting rid of the emperor.

I expect that Hirohito judged that the institution was worth saving even at the cost of losing a war. (at least in foresight). He also may have thought that it was the only way to get rid of the lunatics in charge.

mike said...

Good post Chief! I think you are right regarding the random MPI not making sense. It seems to me though that they - the I-25 - did not have good targeting data and were spreading their stuff around.

I visited Forts Stevens, Canby, and Columbia several years ago. There are some breathtaking views from all three. Post Museum at Stevens is interesting. I also visited the memorial you mentioned where one shell landed on DeLaura Beach Road. But I never realized that 17 rounds were fired. It also sticks in my mind from that visit that they said most of the shells landed in a swampy area well south of the fort. Where is the memorial on the golf course that you mentioned? I thought all the golf courses in that area were well south of Astoria and Warrenton.

Somewhere I recall reading, perhaps at the Stevens Post Museum, that the order to not return fire was given in order to keep from giving away the location of firing positions. Or maybe that was an excuse later. But it makes sense if they had an imperfect firing solution, why give away the farm? And they probably could have deduced that there was just a single ship or just a small task force out there throwing projectiles at them by the rate of fire, no???

"The Japanese actually intended to shell the "American submarine base at Astoria." Is that info from Japanese sources? If so I think they had bad intel, and bad targeting. No subs that I know of were based or staged in Astoria during that time. So maybe they were feeling out the defenses, or wanting us to think they were. There were some ASW units in Astoria but not sure if they were there in June 42.

mike said...

PS - gotta love that Octopus on the 18th Coast Artillery pin!!!

FDChief said...

Mike: taken in order...

Agreed that the Japanese gun crew was just lobbing shots at random. The combination of no gunsights and the rolling of the deck must have produced a very scattered fall of shot. But the round impacting waaaaay south on Delaura Beach Road? That seems too far out of the range fan for simple random error, hence my suspicion that the submarine was idling southwards as it fired.

The Delaura Beach thing is not far from a golf course, but not actually on it. I'll revise that wording.

I think that the overarching reason for not shooting back was the worry that this was just the point element of a larger task force. Again, the lack of radar and aviation assets was key; the harbor defense commander had absolutely no way of knowing what ELSE was out there. He returns fire on this dinky toy (and I'm pretty sure that by the third or fourth round of incoming the FDC guys knew that this was a single light vessel of some sort) and moments later the entire First Battleship Division of the Combined Fleet rains 14-inch shells on his batteries and the Special Naval Landing Forces swarm ashore to impurify our precious virgin brides. Yike!

Add to that the fact that the only batteries even close to being within range were Russell, Clark, and the railway mortars - all the other stuff is either too far away or pointed wrong, like the 6-inchers at Battery Pratt.

But I think it went a long way to pointing out that fixed artillery in an age of airpower really was done.

Ans as far as the "submarine base", I think that that is from IJN records and interviews with I-25 crew. I think the Japanese intel on the smaller U.S. facilities was pretty sketchy. Again, they would have avoided a fight with us if they'd had their druthers. They didn't, but I think the lack of good intel reflects the difficulty they had getting agents around in the race-sensitive 1940's U.S. It was unlikely that any caucasian would work for them and an Asian would have stuck out like a sore thumb nosing around a harbor defense post in 1941...

FDChief said...

Ael: I think that Hirohito's interests weren't nearly as much about preserving the imperium - I think he knew that the extreme emperor-worship of the hard-line militarists kept him and his family safe from the sorts of violence used against ordinary politicians - as they were simply conniving for his (and what he saw as his country's advantage).

Everything genuinely scholarly I've read about the man describes him as an emotionally indifferent, politically astute manipulator. He was a winner, a survivor, and his actions before, during, and after the war testify to that. When the aggressive war party gained control in the Thirties he rode them into war. He tried to fiddle a negotiated peace in the end, then managed to work a deal with the occupiers.

I'm not saying the guy was wrong. He did what he felt he had to do. But I also think he's been given a pass on his role in WW2, and that role was much less spotless than it is played in the popular accounts, where he and the Japanese people are led to war by a cabal of eeeeeevil men. In letting Hirohito off the hook the Japanese are letting themselves off the hook for the crimes committed in their names just as by letting Dubya and his cronies off the hook we're trying to hide from our responsibilities in the Middle East...

Leon said...

Even worse, many right-wing Japanese politicos are denying their actions in the Sino-Japanese war. As long as that continues you can bet that there will be no friendly relations with China. There's a deep deep bitterness that still remains.

FDChief said...

Leon: Re: rightwingnuts and their habits - one of the things that I think we will live to regret is the degree to which we let the Bushies off from the charge of prosecuting aggressive war in Iraq.

The result of not connecting the dots on the Japanese atrocities in WW2 with the entire apparatus of Japanese government and the way it and the vast bulk of Thirties politics encouraged those atrocities is that it enabled the people who benefited to deny what they did and continue to write the histories. Even today many, possibly most Japanese either doubt or deny things like Unit 731, the systematic murder of POWs, and the enormous brutalities against China such as the Rape of Nanjing.

The excuse then was the Cold War and the "need" to protect our new Japanese ally from the Soviets.

What our excuse today is I have no idea.

But I think we will live to regret it.

Don Francisco said...

Love the post chief, a tiny incident that helped underline the obsolescence of something much bigger (coastal artillery).

Aviator47 said...

The history of the Coast Artillery is one of technology regularly and routinely making newly built fortifications obsolete. This is quite well told in booklet published by the Ft Hamilton (NY) Historical Society. Hamilton once guarded the East side of the entrance to NY Harbor, and Ft Wadsworth guarded from the west side. Originally, there was a man made fortification, Ft Lafayette, off shore of Ft Hamilton, as the effective range of guns at the time (early 1800's) did not allow the batteries at Wadsworth to interlock sufficiently with Ft Hamilton, so Ft Lafayette closed the gap.

We had quarters on Ft Wadsworth, Staten Island, across the Narrows from Ft Hamilton. Wadsworth had the remains of batteries from the late 1600's through WWII. Probably the most amazing was Battery Weed, built in the mid 1800's, and basically obsoleted by new artillery technology before finished. The structure still stands, is truly impressive and is open to the public/

FDChief said...

Al: I love that the traditional "three mile limit" of physical power was the maximum effective range of the old muzzleloading coastal defense cannon.

I guess the one thing that surprises me is the apparent unwillingness of the Coast Artillery to adopt radar fire direction. The Navy was already all over it by 1942, and it was fairly clear that enemy vessels would have it to return the harbor defense gunfire. Not sure why the CA seemed so unwilling to adopt the technology, but I think it went a long way to making such a mess of their work on the night of 21 JUN.

Combine that with the fairly obvious problems caused by air power, 1942 pretty much signaled that all that fortification evolution had reached a dead end...

Aviator47 said...


I wonder of the CA simply wasn't afforded the resources to investigate radar? Would be interesting to dig through the Army's archives to see. Of course, the Coastal Artillery was a ground forces answer to sea power, and radar wasn't a land forces tool. Probably not much different to the difficulties Army Aviation suffered on my watch before the creation of the Aviation branch in 1983. We had the various branches struggling for proponency based upon what was "important" to each branch. Thus, armed helicopters fell into "Aerial Rocket Artillery" (FA), "Escort and Attack Helicopters" (Inf) and Cavalry (AR). All basically the same birds, but with no consensus of configuration or employment doctrine. Meanwhile, TC was responsible for maintenance.

Ael said...

After Halifax Citadel, the United Kingdom increasingly went out of the coastal artillery business as it simply did not make strategic or economic sense.

A coastal fort is almost always useless because there are invariably no enemies to shoot at. If you put your fort's guns on a boat (even if it doubles or triples the cost of that fort) you can steam those guns to where ever you currently need them. Hence it is a no-brainer to ignore forts and build battleships.

Since the local 'important people' squawk about not being 'protected', you leave your old forts around to rot and staff them with incompetent people. This provides a perceived solution to a perceived problem.

Once you have airplanes (painted with large roundels) flying low over your various ports, you can dispense even with the Potemkin style forts.

FDChief said...

Al: Good question. Actually, the U.S. FA in general seems to have gone into a pretty static mode between about 1944 and 1964; if it hadn't won the Big One it obviously couldn't be worth looking into. It was only when we started getting pasted with NVA/VC rockets and mortars firing from concealed positions that we started wondering if there was a better way to shoot counterbattery fire than racing to the impact point and doing frigging crater analyses. Within five years we had all sorts of countermortar and counterbattery radars that could do realtime trajectory calcs and provide solutions directly to the guns - the sad tale of the Iraqi artillery in 1991 showed how much difference this made.

So I suspect that part of this was a deliberate decision by the U.S. Army not to throw a wad of good radar money after bad old coastal forts and part of it was a sort of stodgy traditionalism of the CA, which, I understand, tended to be as immobile and backward-looking as the forts they manned.

FDChief said...

Ael: Well, early in WW2 the fate of the German Operation Weserübung suggested that coastal defenses might still have a place in the arsenal for nations too small and economically weak to afford a genuine navy. But I think that fairly early on most nations figured out that the Norwegian success owed as much to the German failure to use aircraft to suppress the shore batteries as the qualities of the harbor defense guns themselves.

And the advent of reliable missile technology, especially antiship missiles, also helped make the fixed cannons obsolete. In a sense, tho, mobile Harpoon and/or Silkworm batteries are the modern-day successors to the old cannon forts...just that without aircover they're going to get hammered the same way.

Ael said...

Norway's coastal defenses lasted about as long as it takes for a king to slip out the back door. Hardly good value for the money. Note that a *Polish* sub was active in that fight.

FDChief said...

Dunno...cost the German navy one heavy cruiser and another pretty badly battered, not to mention all the dead grunts that were embarked. Pretty decent work for an antiquated fortification that had pretty much paid off the loan several decades before.

Here's the thing, though, that occurred to me as I was responding to seydlitz over at MilPub. These brick-and-mortar (or steel-and-concrete) things were a huge part of human geopolitics, economics, and society for, what, something like 400-500 years? Pretty much from the invention of cannon to the middle of the last century. They squatted pretty much everywhere human beings traveled by land or sea, peering out or down at the passageway they blocked off with a frown, ready to hammer away at anyone or anything that tried to pass through against the wishes of the holder. They helped make and break nations and empires, rerouted trade, shaped people's lives and politics for generation after generation.

And in a single human lifetime they were gone. Sure, there are minor tactical fortifications and bunkers here and there. But these huge coastal defense forts, their cannons, logistical support, infrastructure...gone as if they had never been.

That's a hell of a huge change. And yet we don't really even think about it other than to sort of shrug...