Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Battery Richmond P. Davis
Defense Area Site SF-61R)
P. Davis, 1948
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
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.
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
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
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
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:
Pump house and Pumping Station
Battery Commander's Station
Power Room and Magazines
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
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.
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