Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Fort Cronkhite: Battery Townsley

by Justin Ruhge

As early as 1929, estimates had been prepared for 16-inch guns on Wolf Ridge, and in 1935 the district engineer at San Francisco, Lieutenant Colonel H. A. Finch, had begun working on plans for a battery of 16-inch guns there, for the day when it would become a military reservation. By the end of 1937, these plans had been revised several times and brought to completion, the engineers having been able to incorporate several things already learned in the ongoing construction of Battery Davis at Fort Funston. Here at Cronkhite the gun casemates and the firing platforms would be built as one continuous operation. The two would not be monolithic in nature because gun-firing impacts were instantaneous, where machinery vibrations were continuous. The engineers wanted to "shock-insulate" the casemate-firing platform combinations from the remainder of the magazine structure by an inset of 4 inches of creosoted lumber in key locations between the casemates and the magazine. Another modification called for placing the radio station in the same structure as the plotting/ switchboard rooms rather than in a building by itself, as at Battery Davis which was planned under the old principle of dispersion. Also, as a result of tests at Battery Strong, Fort Rosecrans, San Diego, the engineers no longer wanted a sunken gallery at the entrance of the plotting/ switchboard rooms. Such a gallery served to trap gas around the air lock door.
While a geological report stated that tunneling would be feasible providing it was done in the summer, the engineers decided it would be costly and hazardous. When in March 1938 excavations of the firing platform blocks began, the engineers found that most of the rock was badly shattered chert. This convinced them that cut-and-cover was desirable for the magazine traverse. The excavated material, although rock, was approved for backfill, since there was not a problem with spalling rock at a casemated work.
Although it is sometimes said that Battery Townsley did not have a burster course as part of its cover, a completion report showed such a course over the casemates and the traverse, as well as over the plotting/ switchboard/ radio structure.
Colonel Dorst made some last minute changes in the plans. He noted that the approved layout had the power plant lying along a fault. He proposed moving it forward of the fault line and to place the plant alongside the main corridor to provide adequate air for cooling the radiators. This same arrangement had been made at Battery Davis. Because this battery had less storage space than Davis, Dorst wrote that "the otherwise wasted angle between the powerhouse and magazine No. 2 has been formed as a storehouse by the extension of the rear wall of magazine No. 2." Mindful of the complaints caused by the location of the Battery Davis latrine, the engineers had Battery Townsley's latrines incorporated with the main work.
It will be recalled that the Battery Davis reserve ammunition was stored in the Central Reserve Magazine, built by the Golden Gate Bridge Authority, at Fort Winfield Scott. Because of its isolated location, Battery Townsley had its own reserve magazine. This large five-room structure was located behind a hill some 700 yards to the east. The center room was to contain 200 shells piled four feet high, and each of the other four rooms held 150 powder cans. After World War II when the battle allowance of ammunition for Townsley had been reduced, this magazine became a Central Reserve Magazine for all the Batteries north of the Golden Gate.
Like Battery Davis, Battery Townsley was officially named before it was completed. In a secret letter dated December 31, 1937, the adjutant general wrote that the battery would be named in honor of Major General Clarence P. Townsley, another artilleryman. At one time, Townsley had been superintendent at West Point and later, the Commanding Officer on Corregidor in Manila Bay. In World War I he was one of the first American officers to arrive in France, where he later commanded the 30th Infantry Division. Townsley died in 1926.
The Battery was located on Wolf Ridge at 346 feet elevation. 350 feet separated the two Naval guns. Cost for construction was $595,000. Gun 88 was moved to emplacement 1 in July 1939. The long trip of this gun across the nation from the east coast Naval Gun Factory began in April 1938 when Admiral William D. Leahy notified the Secretary of War that early action would be taken to transfer two 16-inch 50-caliber Naval guns to the War Department for use at Tennessee Point. In the fall of that year, the Army also prepared to transport one of the two carriages from Watertown Arsenal, Massachusetts, on board the Ludington, the Army ship that had earlier carried Battery Davis guns to San Francisco. The Quartermaster General was informed that the carriage weighed over one million pounds and occupied 17,632 cubic feet of space.
When the Commanding General of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation learned that the Ludington was transporting a carriage, he recalled the problems that were experienced when that ship brought out the two 16-inch guns for Fort Funston in 1937. He now urged that the guns for Townsley be shipped all the way to Sausalito by rail, since the Southern Pacific Railroad had the necessary equipment. The General's recommendation was acceptable to the War Department, and in May 1939 the Quartermaster Department announced that the guns would go by rail in two shipments on a government-owned gun car. It is not known when the other carriage was shipped.
Battery Townsley and its reserve magazine were both transferred to the artillery in July 1940 before Battery Davis. On July 1, 1940 the first 16-inch round ever fired from the Pacific Coast of the Continental United States was fired by Battery Townsley.
Battery Townsley remained important after World War II when Radar fire control increased the accuracy of the guns. However, with the development of nuclear weapons and guided missiles, even this great gun battery was rendered obsolete in 1948.
Since 2012, the National Park Service has been restoring the battery as a museum. The battery is currentky opened to the bublic on a limited basis.
Report of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications.
Report of Completed Works - Seacost Fortifications: Battery Townsley and associated structures.
Images of Battery Townsley
Two Views of the Construction of Gun Block No. 1 for Battery Townsley April 2, 1937. Army Presidio Museum Archives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco.

Gun No. 88 being moved into Tunnel No. 1, Battery Townsley, July 27,1939. Presidio Army Museum Archives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
Gun No. 88 Being Moved to Gun Block No. 1, July 27,1939. Presidio Army Museum Archives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
Construction of the Battery Commander Station on Wolf Ridge. Presidio Army Museum Archives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco

Inspecting the breech of one of the two Battery Townsley 16-inch Rifles, 1941. Harbor Defense of San Francisco Photo Album, 5P, Signal Corps, Donated by Lieutenant Colonel John Schonner. Park Archive Collection, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
Loading a 2,200-pound, 16-inch Armor Piercing Projectile into the breech. Presidio Army Museum Archives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco.
Ramming Round and 640 Pounds of Powder into the Breech. Army Presidio Museum Archives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area,

1940: Note 2-inch thick steel shield around the face of the gun. Presidio Army Museum Archive, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco.
Battery Townsley 1940: Note the soldier standing in front of the gun for size comparison. Army Presidio Museum Archive, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco.
Test firing of Battery Townsley in 1940. Presidio Army Museum Archive, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco.

Additional Online and Printed Histories
John A. Martini's Website
Willis Spitzer's Recollections of Battery Townsley
National Park Service
Harbor Defenses of San Francisco - A Field Guide 1890 to 1950
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Updated 23 June 2017