Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Fort Funston: Battery Richmond P. Davis
(San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-61R)
 
Battery Richmond P. Davis, 1948
Battery Richmond P. Davis
by Gordon Chappell, Regional Historian, Pacific West Region, National Park Service

The unprepossessing Fort Funston was yet destined for a significant role in American military history for, prosaic as its existence had been thus far, it was destined to be home of a two-gun battery that was not only one of the three 16-inch batteries built to protect San Francisco Bay, one of only two of them which were actually armed and practice-fired, not only the first such 16-inch battery in the defenses of San Francisco, but the first casemated heavy caliber battery in the United States--the prototype for the Nation.

World War I had demonstrated the fatal vulnerability of the Endicott-type batteries, designed in the 1880s and 1890s before the invention of aircraft, to the bombing and strafing even of the primitive warplanes of that era. These guns had no protection against air attack. Nothing much had been done about this for many years after the World War. Engineers toiled away at their plans and drawings pretty much as before.

One concern was that San Francisco was vulnerable to attack by battleships mounting 16-inch guns standing off Point San Pedro beyond the range of the only gun that could train on them, the south emplacement-of Battery Chester at Fort Miley. Still, nothing was done at the time. Then the Washington Naval Conference of 1922 resulted in a treaty placing a moratorium on capital ship construction which outlawed 15 battleships and battle cruisers either already in service or under construction, creating a surplus of 16-inch naval gun tubes intended for them, which now could not be used in ships and thus became available to the army. Plans for a 16-inch battery at Fort Funston dated back to 1913, but it was not until the Treaty of Washington that anything much could be done to implement them. 'Now, new plans for a 16-inch battery at Fort Funston were drawn up in 1924, calling for two guns on barbette mounts. In the years that followed there was a plethora of different schemes, and it was decided in 1928 that two such batteries would be built, one at Fort Funston and one north of the Golden Gate. Surprisingly, it was not until 1936 that the first set of plans appeared which showed the two guns at Fort Funston covered with concrete and earthen casemates of a new design, the first casemated works to be built in San Francisco since the Civil War. Air power had done much damage in World War I and in the hands of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in the peacetime 1920s, but it still did not penetrate the mind of the military engineer until 1936.

Funding for the Fort Funston battery of-two 16-inch guns became available and construction began in October 1936. The barrels or tubes for the guns were ones which had been manufactured for mounting on the 35,000 ton battle cruiser U.S.S. Saratoga whose construction was stopped by the Treaty of Washington; instead, the ship was converted into an aircraft carrier, a type or vessel not proscribed by the treaty. Construction of the battery involved excavation of 113,598 cubic yards of sand and the placing of 24,933.6 cubic yards of concrete and 1,868,549 pounds of reinforced steel at a cost of $860,440.24. The job was completed on February 15, 1939.

Named Battery Richmond P. Davis for a distinguished Coast Artillery officer, these guns had a maximum range of 44,000 yards or more than 26 miles, an effective range of 44,000 yards, and a minimum range of 6,000 yards. -They had a field of fire of 145 degrees. The gun barrel weighed 146 tons, and the two guns were located 600 feet apart. The battery was test-fired in 1938, turned over to the Coast Artillery Corps in September 1940, and had a special manual devoted to this particular battery. A 35-man gun crew was assigned to the battery in World War II, and it was eventually given a radar range-finding system. The guns were periodically fired for practice, though never in anger; its presence served as a massive deterrent to attack by an enemy. By 1948 the guns were considered obsolete, a victim of air power and nuclear weapons. They were cut up into five foot sections -for scrap by the Richard Pierce Industrial Engineering Company of San Francisco.

Historian E.R. Lewis has said, "Though Battery Davis was never precisely duplicated, its essential form was used as the basis for all new 16-inch gun installations as well as for the modernization of most of the 16- and 12-inch batteries of the 1920s and 1930s." In his words, it was "the model for all subsequent heavy-caliber seacoast batteries built by the United States." One feature it had that was not often duplicated was a "burster course" or two-foot thick concrete shield sandwiched between layers of earth and sand some distance above the main concrete roof of the emplacement, designed to intercept and detonate prematurely armor-piercing shells which, striking this shield, would explode harmlessly still some distance short of the principal structure.

San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-61R

The 20 November 1957 map documenting the Fort Funston Military Reservation shows that Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 30th Antiaircraft Artillery Group used Battery Davis to house an AN/TTS-1D Surveillance Radar. This Site was known as SF-61R.

Originally Published in 1981 for the annual meeting of the Council on Abandoned Military Posts. Reprinted with permission of the author

 

Battery Richmond P. Davis
by Justin M. Ruhge

Fort Funston was selected for the first 16-inch battery on the west coast. The 16-inch gun and its carriage were the largest guns built by the Army and Navy for its coastal forts and battleships. The battery at Fort Funston was to be the first of the last great batteries of the last great forts in California. Six such batteries were to be built in California. Three were located in the Bay Area, two at San Diego, and one at San Pedro/ Los Angeles.
 
The need for such mega-batteries was based on the growing threat from foreign battleships that carried ever-larger guns. As early as 1915 the chief of artillery explained why it was necessary to emplace 16-inch guns at Fort Funston. Without these weapons, a hostile squadron could lay off San Pedro Point beyond the extreme range (20,000 yards) of the only gun that bore south along the beach - the left flank 12-inch gun at Battery Chester, Fort Miley, and with the range of navel ordnance of 21,000 yards effectively bombard the greater part of the City of San Francisco. If the ships were heeled or if more powerful naval guns were used, say a range of 25,000 yards, the entire City would be covered. 16-inch guns at Fort Funston would preclude this.
 
As presented earlier in this section on the "Last Great Forts", the Watervliet Arsenal had developed a solid cast 16-inch tube for this anticipated application in 1902, which weighed 74,000 pounds.
 
A new carriage was also developed by the Watertown Arsenal that allowed the new guns to be raised to 65 degrees in elevation as compared to about 15 degrees for the earlier barbette carriages of the Endicott period. The new carriages were designated Model 1917. Most of the new carriage was located below ground level so that the breech could be loaded at ground level and then the gun elevated to the high angles with the breech rotated below ground. The increased elevation of the new gun eliminated the need for new 16-inch mortars altogether. Designated the Model 1919, it was the most powerful service cannon ever produced by the United States. It was also the most expensive. It was capable of firing a 2,400-pound projectile to a distance of nearly 50,000 yards, about 28 miles. As such, its range was never exceeded by any naval gun, not even the 18-inch giants of the final Japanese battleships of World War II.
 
The gun itself was a wire-wound tube of nearly 200 tons that required two to three years to complete at a cost of over one third of a million dollars. The carriage, though relatively simple in design, demanded components of a size and quality that made it only slightly less expensive. Because of these enormous costs, fund allotments were made for one or two at a time. When this model was discontinued about 1924 only a handful of the monster weapons had been completed by the Army's heavy gun arsenal at Watervliet and the carriage works at Watertown Arsenal near Boston.
 
The suspension of the Model 1919 was a by-product of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 by which the United States agreed to terminate 12 capital ships then under construction, all of which were to carry a newly designed 16-inch, 50-caliber naval rifle. At that time the gun factory at the Washington Navy Yard had a substantial number of the new barrels on hand. As a consequence of the treaty, which was to last until 1937, these were offered to the Army for coast defense weapons.
 
The naval gun, designated the Mark II, was somewhat lighter and less powerful than the Army Model 1919. It, however, became the core of all future designs of seacoast fortifications.
 
The Model 1919 barbette carriage was modified slightly to take the naval gun and its cradle. The Army designated the new system Mark II Mod. 1, and it was a part of its planning from 1925 on.
 
In 1926, the San Francisco District Engineer prepared a new set of plans for a two-gun battery mounted on barbette, Model 1919 carriages. This battery was placed on the south half of Fort Funston. Navy guns would be used with a maximum range of 25.3 miles. Nine years later, in January 1935, the district engineer submitted a new plan for Fort Funston. Finally, another plan was submitted in January 24, 1936. This plan was revolutionary in that it returned to a casemated battery, the first since the construction of the casemated barracks on Alcatraz Island was halted at the close of the Civil War. This design took account of the new threat from air bombardment of gun emplacements which here-to-fore were built in the open without overhead cover as has been shown in earlier sections of this book. In the case of Fort Funston, the battery was armed and then the concrete casemate was built over it.
 
In 1937, appropriations for "Seacoast Defenses" made available $300,000 to initiate construction of the battery at Fort Funston. Construction of the huge battery began in October 1936. At the same time, the carriages were shipped from the Watertown Arsenal, Massachusetts and the guns from Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland by Army transport ship Ludington and special rail cars and finally trucks to the battery site where they arrived in March 1937.
 
The work involved the excavation of 113,598 cubic yards of sand and the placing of 24,933 cubic yards of concrete and 1,868,549 pounds of reinforced steel. The cost of the project, including the installation of the guns, amounted to $860,440. The main facilities were:
 
The guns were mounted beginning in July 1, 1937. The first gun took five months to install, the second two and half months. The cost was $45,296.
 
Once the guns were in place, work began on the historic casemates. Instead of brick, stone and mortar, the modern casemates were constructed of concrete and reinforcing steel.
After stabilizing the sand around the gun blocks to help support the casemate structure, work began on forms and placing of steel reinforcing rods and then pouring the concrete in one continuous pour. The two casemates for the guns consumed 7,816 cubic yards of concrete and 690,000 pounds of reinforcing steel. Their cost amounted to $182,938. A large concrete beam that included two large steel trusses weighing 20 tons each supported each canopy above the guns. The canopy was five feet thick on the outer edge and tapered to 11 feet at the retaining walls. The roof of the casemate in the rear of the canopy was thirteen feet thick and continued at this depth for a distance of fourteen feet from the retaining wall. It then reduced to eight feet for the rest of the casemate proper. The rear entrance corridor to the casemate had a roof that was five feet thick. The roof over the casemate proper was supported by thirty 6-inch I-beams, 60 feet long, and on 2-foot centers. These I-beams weighed 280 pounds per foot and were the wide-flange type. Over the casemate proper was placed a "burster course" of concrete sandwiched between layers of sand that was to cause any incoming bombs to explode before hitting the casemate. The "burster course" was two feet thick and had two layers of expanded mesh in it and two feet of sand on the top.
 
In 1942 a 2-inch steel shield was placed in front of the guns. The casemates were camouflaged with netting, paint and trees and shrubs planted over the concrete structures so it blended into the sand dunes.
 
Construction of the battery was completed on February 15, 1939. The Battery was named Richmond P. Davis after a distinguished Coast Artillery Corps officer who had served at San Francisco during his career.
 
Battery Davis was turned over to the Coast Artillery Corps in September 1940. With it was supplied a 56 page booklet entitled "Instructions for Maintenance and Operation of Battery Richmond P. Davis, Fort Funston, California."
 
Because of the heavy projectiles weighing up to 2,240 pounds, and power bags weighing up to 672 pounds used by the 16-inch guns, a hydroelectric system was built into the battery for ease of handling and safety. This system consisted of overhead tracks, switches, and hoists. The main track extended from Casemate 1 through the main corridor to Casemate 2, with a sidetrack to each shell-room. A second overhead track extended from the shell-rooms to the corresponding gun that they served. The switches were so arranged that the hoists could operate between any one of the shell-rooms and either gun or between shell-rooms. The switches were hand-operated from overhead chains. The hoists were stored in the shell-rooms when not in use.
 
To purge the guns of gases after firing before the breech was opened, a blow out system borrowed from the Navy was installed as a part of the gun battery. Without this feature, gases escaping from the open breech could be hazardous to the operators in the bunkers.
 
The firing range of this first 16-inch gun battery was 48,000 yards at a 47-degree elevation. Its effective range was 44,000 yards at an elevation of 40 degrees and 52 minutes. The field of fire of each gun was 145 degrees. The two guns in this battery were separated by 600 feet.
 
Because of these great firing ranges, a long target detection and fire control baseline was needed. In 1937, a fire control system was worked out for Battery Davis. The battery commander's station (BC, B1S1) was located just to the south of the battery. There were five additional spotting and surveyed ranging stations: Fort Miley, Mussel Rocks, Wolf Ridge, Fort Cronkhite, San Pedro Point and Frank Valley. With these locations, baselines of up to 15,600 yards could be established.
 
Once turned over to the Coast Artillery, training of the troops with these big guns began. The first firings were done with the troops standing outside the casemates. There was concern that the sound would deafen the operators or blow the casemate apart. None of these things happened. Future firings proceeded to train the troops and to develop the ranging system and to determine firing accuracy. Airplanes and balloons were used to observe splash points. One can only imagine the number of spent 2,400 pound projectiles littering the ocean floor about 25 miles away from Fort Funston.
 
During World War II a 35-man crew was assigned to Battery Davis.
 
When Radar became available early during World War II, one unit was assigned to Fort Funston, Battery Davis. The range detection capability of this miracle technology as well as its elevation and horizontal angle determining capability made it possible to inter-ranging information directly into the guns computers so that the base-end stations were no longer needed. This feature made these great guns effective day and night and in the worst fogs or rain.
 
Battery Davis was never used in anger but its presence was a major deterrent to an enemy thinking of attacking the American shores. The best use of forts is to stop aggression; they obviously worked on the Western Front.
 
Following World War II this great 16-inch battery, the last great guns, was dismantled and scrapped. It is a shame that not one was retained to show the technology of this last of the great forts. In 2004, the concrete casemates sit on the bluffs overlooking the ocean buried under sand and ice plants, deserted and forgotten. Signs do tell the story to those that never heard of World War II or the last great guns.

 

Additional Online Histories
 
Harbor Defenses of San Francisco - A Field Guide 1890 to 1950
The 16-inch BaHeries at San Francisco and the Evolution of the Casemated 16-inch Battery
FortWiki

 

Report of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications
 
 
Report of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications: Battery Richmond P. Davis
 
 
 
Battery Richmond P. Davis, October 1941
 
Newscopy: "While mock 'Battle of San Francisco' continues, harbor defense guns keep protective vigil. Above, huge sixteen-inch rifle at Fort Funston is being loaded with dummy shells by crew of Battery C, Sixth Coast Artillery. They look ready for action." Photographs courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library
 
 
Cross section of a 16- inch gun emplacement
 
 
Battery Richmond P. Davis Today
 

 

 Gun 1's emplacement. May 2001

 

  Gun 2's emplacement. May 2001
 
 
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Updated 8 February 2016