Miles Historical Area, Lewes, Delaware
Captain Walter M. Urban, Jr. USNR (Ret.)
amidst rolling dunes, in the shadow of a World War II observation tower
in Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, DE is the Fort Miles Historical
Delaware River was a chief priority for defense planners during World
War II, because of the access it afforded to the giant trade centers of
Wilmington, Philadelphia and beyond. Fort Miles was a key piece in
the nation's coastal defense at that time. The heavy guns, mine fields
and searchlights of Fort Miles provided in-depth defense; however, the
growing use of long-range missiles and other modern weapons eventually
brought an end to harbor defenses in the United States.
World War II, coastal artillery batteries were located both here and
across the Delaware Bay in Cape May, NJ. They included 6-, 8-, 12- and
16-inch rifles plus an assortment of smaller artillery pieces. The first
gun emplacement was completed in late 1941 along with 15
observation/fire control towers (5 of which remain today) plus an
elaborate fire direction center. Fort Miles was home to 2,200 personnel
during its hay day in the early to mid 1940's.
The Fort Miles Historical
Association (FMHA), with support from private residents and businesses
in the Lewes, DE area, seized on the opportunity to acquire a 16-inch
naval rifle that the U.S. Navy had offered for donation. Located 150
miles away in the Chesapeake, VA area, three 16-inch monster cannon that
were originally mounted in turret II onboard USS MISSOURI (BB-63) were
stored. They were onboard the historic IOWA class battleship when the
"Mighty Mo" hosted the surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945 in
Tokyo Bay, Japan that ended World War II.
The FMHA was awarded
custody of one of those three barrels (barrel No. 371), but the expense
to move it was funded largely from private donors. Transporting one of
these rifles that weigh approx. 120 tons each, and measure 68 feet in
length, was no small feat. The trip included both barge and rail car
travel, with the final leg of the journey from Georgetown, DE to
Lewes... a distance of 16.5 miles... completed by the Delaware Coast
Line Rail Road.
was a lot of excitement on April 17, 2012 as a Diesel Engine No. 4054
pulled the special flatcar carrying Barrel No. 371 to a location just
outside the Cape Henlopen State Park. A brief welcoming ceremony took
place behind the Lewes Public Library as the train stopped to give
everyone an opportunity to see first-hand the incredible size of one of
these huge rifles.
the rail line ended just outside the State Park, a special crane was
needed to lift the barrel and it's three 2-ton each shipping saddles
onto a special flat bed truck for the remainder of the trip. It now
rests just inside Fort Miles less than one mile from the main entrance
to the State Park.
visiting the historic Fort can now see up close and personal this
historic rifle as it rests across the road from one of several
Observation Towers where lookouts once kept a constant vigil in case an
enemy surface ship or submarine appeared.
The barrel has not been
refurbished, but plans call for acquisition in the near future of at
least one mounting cradle that held one 16-inch rifle. Several are known
to be located in Dahlgren, VA... some 200 miles away. Again, the size of
these cradles is immense... in excess of 200,000 lbs. each. No definite
date has been set for when one of these cradles will travel to Fort
cradle arrives, and it is placed in a newly constructed foundation, the
refurbished barrel will be lifted into place. Visitors will get a chance
to see exactly what one of these huge coastal artillery batteries looked
like when they were relied on to protect the Delaware Bay from potential
attack over 70 years ago.
It should be noted, the
batteries at Fort Miles and in Cape May never fired a shot in anger. By
1958, Fort Miles was no longer important to the defense of the region,
and in 1964, 543 acres of the base were returned to the State of
Delaware, forming the heart of Cape Henlopen State Park. In April 2005,
Fort Miles was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Miles is a special place for families, history buffs, veterans, or
anyone interested in learning about the Delaware shore and WW II. Take a
tour of the Fort, enjoy an interpretive program and celebrate the
"greatest generation" in our nation's history.
Please review the following
links for video coverage of the movement of barrel No. 371.
For those of you who enjoyed this story check out the
link below and view the video to learn about the Gun
World War II Memorial located in
Phoenix, AZ. It was recently dedicated on
December 7, 2013 and features a 14-inch gun barrel from the Battleship
Arizona and a 16-inch gun barrel from the Battleship Missouri, set up
side by side representing the start and end of the war. It's a very cool
video and tells the story about how the memorial came to be.