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

Battery Richmond P. Davis, 1948

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


Additional Online Histories

The 16-inch BaHeries at San Francisco and the Evolution of the Casemated 16-inch Battery Coast Defense Study Group

Layout of Battery Richmond P. Davis, 1940
Drawing courtesy of Mark Bernow, Coast Defense Study Group

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

Battery Richmond P. Davis Today


 Gun 1's emplacement. May 2001


  Gun 2's emplacement. May 2001