Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
(Naval Harbor Defense Unit)
by Sgt. Maj. (CA) Dan Sebby, Military
Historian, California Military Dpeartment
Fort Cronkhite was acquired on 5 April
1937 when the U.S. Army filed a Declaration of Taking against
the Marin Land and Cattle Co (Civil Case 20250) in the Southern
Division of the U.S. District Court in and for the Northern District
of California. The Site was the northernmost of series of coastal
fortifications that stretched south to Milagra Ridge in San Mateo
County. These forts were collectively known as the Harbor Defenses
of San Francisco and were sub-installations of Fort Winfield
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) records on file at the National
Archives (NARA) in San Bruno show that beginning in the mid-1930s,
the U.S. Army began deploying a new generation of 16-inch rifles.
These guns were placed in two-gun batteries located at Forts
Cronkite, Barry, and Funston; and at the Milagra Ridge Military
Reservation. These batteries, with their extended fields of fire
that almost reached the Farallon Islands, rendered all the existing
8-, 10-, and 12-inch batteries obsolete. These batteries were
also "casemated" or covered with a protective concrete
and earth roof. Construction of the battery at Fort Cronkhite,
Battery Townsley, began in March 1938 and was completed in July
1940. USACE records at NARA show that the battery was completely
self-sufficient with its own electrical power plant and water
supply. Battery Townsley also a very large reserve magazine for
the storage of 16-inch projectiles and powder bags.
To protect Battery Townsley from air attack, a battery of three
3-inch M1917 antiaircraft guns was emplaced on Wolf Ridge. This
battery became operational 26 October 1940 and had its own electrical
powerhouse and magazine. A 19 November 1948 map titled, Military
Reservation, Fort Cronkhite, also placed an additional four M-1
40mm mobile antiaircraft guns and four M-51 "quad-50"
trailer-mounted .50 caliber antiaircraft guns at the Site. The
same map also shows that two radar sets were installed to detect
aircraft and direct fire. A third radar set was installed to
provide target acquisition data to Battery Townsley's fire control
When not manning the guns, soldiers lived
and worked in standard U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps designed
700-series, wood framed buildings. A 30 June 1941 report titled,
Record of Equipment and Condition of Buildings, showed that the
Site could house 70 officers, 79 noncommissioned officers, and
1,545 enlisted soldiers. In addition to a battalion of the 6th
Coast Artillery Regiment (Harbor Defense) which was responsible
for Battery Townsley and other fixed coastal defenses, there
was a battalion of the 56th Coast Artillery Regiment armed with
155mm towed coast artillery guns (Chappell 1981).
Also on the Site were fire control stations for other batteries
within the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco. These were fortified
bunkers and had dedicated electrical power generators. These
stations provided fire control data to the following batteries:
Battery Townsley, Fort Cronkhite
Battery Richmond P. Davis, Fort Funston
Battery Construction 129, Fort Barry
Battery Construction 243, Fort Miley
Batteries Smith and Guthrie, Fort Barry
Batteries Rathbone and McIndoe, Fort Barry
The Record of Equipment and Condition
of Buildings indicated that general electrical power for the
cantonment area was supplied by the Pacific Gas and Electric
Company, while tactical structures, such as fire control stations
and radar sites, had their own electrical generators. In 1941,
there were 14 transformers at the Site. During World War II,
the nearest electrical substation was located at Fort Barry.
Documentation indicated the use of fuel oils as the primary source
for heating and cooking.
The site also used an incinerator for the disposal of garbage.
Documentation concerning how long the incinerator was used was
not found during the research process. However the structure
was shown on installation maps as late as 1966.
As the threat to the Pacific Coast declined, other uses for the
Site were found. During 1944, the Western Defense Command operated
a "Commando Combat School" on the Site (Chappell 1981).
In the History of the California State Guard, published by the
California National Guard in 1946, the school was shown as a
mock village in which tactical problems were conducted.
With the end of the war and the ascendancy of atomic weapons,
coastal fortifications were made irrelevant. The antiaircraft
guns were immediately withdrawn and in 1948, Battery Townsley's
guns were cut up for scrap. With this disarming of the battery,
the Site became an inactive installation under the control of
the Presidio of San Francisco. As an inactive installation, the
garrison was kept to a minimum to maintain the facilities in
the event of emergency or to provide additional housing for any
surges in Presidio of San Francisco's troop strength caused by
training or other operational requirements (Chappell 1981).
The Site remained in an inactive status until 1955 when The U.S.
Army began building air defense missile installations on Fort
Cronkhite. Nike facilities at the Site were actually two separate
On Fort Cronkhite's Wolf Ridge was the Control Area for Fort
Barry's San Francisco Defense Area Site 88 (SF-88). This area
was known as SF-88C. SF-88C was located north of the Launcher
Area (SF-88L) and allowed for 360-degree "line-of-site"
radar coverage by the Site's tracking and search radar systems.
The missile tracking radar would "lock-on" to the missiles
as they sat on the launcher and follow them from launch to impact
with the target. The Control Area was located away from the Launcher
Area because the high speed of the Nike missiles would have destroyed
the mechanisms of the missile tracking radar (Morgan and Berhow
Conversely, San Francisco Defense Area Site 87's Administrative
and Launcher Areas were located in the cantonment area of Fort
Cronkhite while its Control Area (SF-87C) was located to the
east, atop Fort Barry's Red Hawk Hill. The history of those portions
physically on Fort Barry will be reported on in the Records Research
Report for Fort Barry (Morgan and Berhow 2002).
The Administrative Area (SF-87A) contained the Site's administrative
and support functions. This included troop housing and messing,
recreational facilities, battery administration, supply buildings,
and vehicle maintenance facilities. World War II-era buildings
were used until the 1965 when more modern facilities were built.
The new buildings were of a standard concrete block construction
and were heated by fuel oil (Morgan and Berhow 2002).
The Launcher Area (SF-87L) was located adjacent to and north
of the Administrative Area and consisted of eight launchers and
two magazines (underground storage "bunkers") that
held a total of 20 MIM-3 Nike-Ajax multi-stage, surface-to-air
missiles. The Nike-Ajax missile (Figure 3 2) required facilities
for the fuelling of the Ajax (second-stage) portion of the missile.
The liquid fuel used for the Ajax was a combination of hydrazine
and red fuming nitric acid. The Nike portion (booster or first-stage)
used a solid fuel. The magazines were modified from May 1958
until June 1959 to hold 12 of the larger MIM-14 Nike-Hercules
missiles. The Nike-Hercules missile used a solid fuel for both
stages. Additionally, the Launcher Area also consisted of missile
and warhead assembly, crew readiness, and security buildings.
(Morgan and Berhow 2002).
In June of 1971, SF-87 was disarmed and deactivated and its facilities
transferred to the Presidio of San Francisco's Post Engineer.
This was followed by the deactivation of SF-88 in March 1974.
While the U.S. Army was operating the Nike air defense missile
program, it was disposing of large portions of the Site to other
government agencies. These tracts of land were the northwestern
portion of the Site.
On 7 September 1956, the Secretary of the Army transferred 192.19
acres to the U.S. Navy for the Naval Harbor Defense Unit. The
activities of this unit on this parcel of land have not been
determined during the course of research.
On 1 February 1961, the U.S. Army quitclaimed 146.27 acres to
the State of California. This land was for the proposed Tennessee
Valley Unit, Marin Headlands State Park.
The Secretary of the Army transferred 219 acres to the U.S. Coast
Guard on 1 August 1963. This was used to establish a U.S. Coast
Guard communications station.
On 20 May 1964, The U.S. Navy quitclaimed an additional 31.911
acres to the State of California. This land was added to the
proposed Marin Headlands State Park.
On 29 September 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Golden
Gate National Recreation (GGNRA) Act in which all Federal lands
within the boundaries of the Site were transferred to the National
Park Service (NPS). However, the U.S. Army continued to operate
its portion of the Site as a sub-installation of the Presidio
of San Francisco under a Memorandum of Understanding with the
On 10 September 1974, Fort Cronkhite was discontinued as a U.S.
Army installation and all controls were transferred to the NPS.
This was confirmed by Department of the Army General Order 25,
dated 16 December 1975.
by Justin M Ruhge
Fort Cronkhite was formed around
the Army's 1915 plans to construct two 16-inch gun batteries
in the Bay Area. In 1928, the Adjutant General of the Army announced
that there would be two batteries of 16-inch guns, one on either
side of the Golden Gate. It was not until the 1937 appropriation
that Congress approved expenditure of funds for the purchase
of land at Tennessee Point on which to build the immense 16-inch
battery to be similar to Battery Davis at Fort Funston. The appropriation,
"Seacoast Defenses, United States, 1937," approved
the expenditure of $318, 500 for the purpose of purchasing 800
acres of land to the north of Rodeo Lagoon. This tract included
Tennessee Point where the Army already owned 5.5 acres for its
searchlight installations, Wolf Ridge, Tennessee Valley, and
the headlands further north.
Fort Cronkhite was the newest and the
last of the military reservations to be founded in the Bay Area.
In addition to the battery, an antiaircraft battery, fire-control
stations and in 1941, three batteries of mobile 155-mm guns were
emplaced there. In the spring of 1941, a cantonment of World
War II wood frame "temporary" barracks, mess halls,
kitchens, and orderly rooms were rushed to completion. Eventually,
43 buildings were constructed. Battery E of the 6th Coast Artillery
established the first garrison on June 20, 1941. Despite these
tidy quarters, the men who manned the 16-inch battery lived within
the concrete walls so that the guns could be ready to fire on
fifteen minutes notice.
Fort Cronkhite was named in General Orders
9, December 17, 1937 in honor of deceased Major General Adelbert
Cronkhite who had commanded the 80th Division during World War
In January 1944, Fort Cronkhite became
a Commando Combat School, which it retained until December 1944.
In 1955, Nike missile battery 87 was constructed.
It served until 1965.
In 2004, Fort Cronkhite is a part of the
National Parks Service Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Battery Townsley's fire control system was designed to be similar
to Battery Davis. A BC station was sited near the battery. The
five observation and spotting stations were situated as follows:
B1S1 on Wolf Ridge, elevation 700 feet; B2S2 at Fort Funston,
elevation 200 feet; B3S3 on high ground north of Gull Rock, Bolinas
Bay on the Hill 640 Military Reservation, elevation 300 feet;
B4S4 at Fort Miley, elevation 300 feet; and B5S5 on the Frank
Valley Military Reservation, elevation 480 feet; B6S6 on Hill
640 military Reservation; B7S7 on Wildcat Military Reservation
in the Bear Valley area of Point Reyes National Seashore. With
these stations, seven baselines ranging from 4,200 yards to 15,300
yards could be laid out.
On Hill 640 was placed a Radar set SCR-296,
which was used during World War II for antiaircraft fire control
and then to direct the guns of Battery Townsley.
The ordnance instruments to be employed
in a typical fire control station were an azimuth instrument
M1910 and a Lewis depression position finder M-1-5. The cost
of both was $6,300. To build the station the engineers needed
$900 for materials and $350 for labor. Signal equipment consisted
of three or more wall telephones with headsets and one small
time interval bell. The total cost of a typical station came
With the establishment of Fort Cronkhite,
control of Serchlight Positions Nos. 16 and 17 were transferred
from Fort Barry to that post.
Report of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications:
Seacoast Searchlights Positions Nos. 16 and 17.
Searchlight No. 16, 1913.
Mounted on an elevator platform so the light could be stored
underground when not In use. Located on the Tennessee Point Military
Reservation. Army Presidio Museum Archives, Golden Gate National
Recreation Area, San Francisco.
The cantonment at Fort Cronkhite, with
its ubiquitous World War II type barracks, was rushed to completion
during the spring and early summer of 1941. A photograph taken
July 24, 1941 shows the nearly completed project and platoon
of soldiers marching on the Parade Grounds - possibly Battery
E, 6th California Artillery, which had officially established
the garrison only four days earlier. Despite the rows of tidy
quarters, the 150 men who manned the great guns of Battery Townsley
found themselves from 1941 on living within the concrete walls
of the battery itself rather than down on the shore of the Rodeo
Lagoon. They were still occupying the gloomy corridors a year
later when a plea was made for adequate bathing facilities for
them at the battery. It took fifteen minutes one-way by truck
to get down to the barracks to use the showers there. Because
the guns of Battery Townsley were required to be ready for action
within fifteen minutes or less, approval was given for the installations
The men manning the antiaircraft guns
also had to live up on Wolf Ridge. The personnel shelters, the
mess hall, and the battery offices were built underground. Because
of the sparse vegetation of the ridge, camouflage procedures
were extensive. Even aboveground passageways between the guns
and the other structures were covered with simulated rocks. This
"rock" consisted of a framework of wood and chicken
wire, covered with burlap, and plastered with a mixture of casting
plaster, cement and sawdust or sisal. Coloring matter was added
to the mixture, but the experimenters found they could get a
more satisfactory effect by spraying the finished rock with color.
Much of this camouflage was fragile in nature, but remnants of
it could yet be found on Wolf Ridge in 1979.
By 1944 the war had receded to the western
Pacific and the threat of a Japanese Naval attack on the west
coast had all but disappeared. Fort Cronkhite's mission now included
the function of a Commando Combat School, the first of its kind
in the Western Defense Command, began on January 4, 1944. The
school trained officer instructors in commando tactics and in
combat training for smaller units. Eight weeks were spent with
instructions in judo, war aquatics, physical training, hand and
shoulder weapons, scouting, chemical warfare, stream crossing,
map reading, infiltration tactics, demolitions, booby traps,
camouflage, jungle living, street and village fighting and communications.
The school lasted less than a year. It was closed in December
Greater emphasis was placed on antiaircraft
defense and training beginning in 1944. Special schools were
set up to give personnel intensive day-to-day training in tracking
and shooting down aircraft targets with many different types
of guns at several locations along the California Coast as well
as at Fort Cronkhite. .
Radar increased the effectiveness of the
16-inch and antiaircraft guns. However, the need for the great
coastal defense guns lessened with the elimination of most enemy
battleships during the war, the original reason for the coast
defense forts. The new amphibious landing techniques and equipment
developed during the war years also rendered harbors less necessary
for troop landing purposes. An occupying force could now be landed
on almost any beach anywhere with air cover support. Frontal
assaults on harbors were no longer necessary.
The Fort assumed a new function in the
late 1950s and early 1960s when it became the home of Nike missile
installations. In 1955 a Nike Radar control center SF88C was
constructed on top of Wolf Ridge at an elevation of over 800
feet. This complex served as the control center for the Nike
battery at Fort Barry. Of the several elements remaining today,
two radar control towers are considered to possess historical
To the north of the cantonment area, a
Nike launch area SF-87L was constructed. Presently adapted in
part for use as a maintenance area, this Nike complex is also
considered to possess a local level of historical significance.
The eastern half of the 1941 cantonment
was largely remodeled to house the Nike personnel. The western
portion retains its character as a World War II Army post. This
style of military architecture is quickly fading from the scene
as these wooden structures are removed and often replaced with
brick and mortar buildings on active Army bases.
The garrison was officially established
by Battery E of the 6th Coast Artillery June 20th, 1941.
The Fort Record Book states that the 56th
Coast Artillery Regiment was activated and assembled at Fort
Cronkhite in July 1941. The Historical Record of the Western
Defense Command places Headquarters and Headquarters Company
of the 56th Coast Artillery at the post from May 1, 1942 to February
1943. Other units were stationed for various lengths of time
during the war. Battery B, 173rd Coast Artillery Battalion was
disbanded on September 15, 1945.
In 1952, Battery C, 9th AAA Gun Battalion
was located at Fort Cronkhite along with Batteries A, C and D,
459th AAA AW Branch, Headquarters Battery AAA AW Branch, Headquarters
and C Batteries, 718 AAA Gun Battalion, and 93rd AA Gun Battalion.
In the late 1950s the Nike AAA missile battalions replaced these.
A complete listing of the known units stationed at Fort Cronkhite
is given in Historic Resource Study Forts Baker, Barry Cronkhite
of Golden Gate National Recreation Area California, pgs. 120-124,
by Erwin N. Thompson, 1979, National Park Service.
References: A History of
San Francisco Harbor Defense Installations: Forts Baker, Barry,
Cronkhite, and Funston by Emanuel Raymond Lewis, 1965, Prepared
for Division of Beaches and Parks State of California; Historic
Resource Study Forts Baker, Barry and Cronkhite, by Erwin N.
Thompson, 1979, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California;
Seacoast Fortifications San Francisco Harbor by Erwin N. Thompson,
1979, Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Fort Cronkhite, California,
and Battery Townsley by Gordon Chappell, 1981, National Parks
Service; Artillery At The Golden Gate by Brian B. Chin, 1994.
by Gordon Chappell, Regional Historian,
Pacific West Region, National Park Service
Fort Cronkhite in Marin County was the newest
and last of the many military reservations which defended the
Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay with their heavy guns, and it
represented the ultimate outer ring of coast-artillery defense,
for it was to be the site of one of two two-gun batteries of sixteen
inch guns in the defenses of San Francisco, and these were the
largest guns used by the United States.
Installation of the mighty 16-inch guns
in the defenses of San Francisco became a matter of serious discussion
as early as 1915, although planning at first was oriented toward
siting the guns at Fort Funston, southwest of San Francisco and
south of the Golden Gate. In 1928, however, the Adjutant General
of the Army announced that there would be two batteries of 16-inch
guns, one on either side of the Golden Gate. These guns had a
range of roughly 26 miles, a far cry from the two and a half mile
range of the guns of the 1850s, which could barely control the
narrowest part of the Golden Gate Strait between Fort Point and
Lime Point. These large modern guns could instead keep an enemy
fleet far out at sea, hopefully far enough so that enemy guns
would not be in range of the city and the harbor.
But the guns were not built for many years.
It was not until the 1937 appropriation that Congress approved
expenditure of funds for the purchase of land at Tennessee Point
on which to build the-immense battery. The army acquired about
800 acres north of Rodeo Lagoon and northwest of Fort Barry by
condemnation in 1937, the deed being recorded on June 21.
In March 1938 excavation on Wolf Ridge for
the new firing platforms began. In a secret letter dated December
31, 1937, the new battery was named for Major General Clarence
P. Townsley, who had commanded the 30th Infantry Division in France
in World War I and who had died in 1928. Fort Cronkhite itself
had been named only a couple of weeks earlier, on December 17,
1938, for the recently deceased Major General Adelbert Cronkhite,
who had commanded the 80th Division during World War 1.
Battery Townsley and its reserve magazine
both were completed and transferred to the Coast Artillery Corps
in July 1940. On July 1, the first 16-inch round ever fired from
the Pacific Coast of the continental United States was fired here.
In addition to Battery Townsley, an antiaircraft
battery designated AA Battery No. I consisting of three 3-inch
guns was completed on Wolf Ridge above Battery Townsley on August
26, 1940. In July 1941, three batteries of mobile 155 mm. guns
were similarly emplaced, and over a period of years five fire
control stations were built on Wolf Ridge.
The cantonment of World War II-type wood
frame "temporary" barracks, mess halls and kitchens,
orderly rooms, and other structures at Fort Cronkhite was actually
built there before America entered World War II; its buildings
were rushed to completion during the spring and early summer of
1941, and Battery E of the 6th Coast Artillery established the
first garrison on June 20, 1941, while finishing touches were
still being put on the barracks. America entered the war, of course,
on December 7. 1941, when the Japanese attacked the naval base
at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Despite the tidy quarters, the men who manned
Battery Townsley far above on the point lived within the concrete
walls of the battery, for the guns of Battery Townsley had to
be ready for action in fifteen minutes or less in time of war.
By 1944 the threat of Japanese attack had
receded into the Western Pacific, and Fort Cronkhite took on a
new mission as a Commando Combat School, the first in the Western
Defense Command, which began operation on January 4, 1944. It
was discontinued in December 1944.
Fort Cronkhite remained important in post-World
War II years. Radar fire control increased the accuracy of Battery
Townsley guns, until nuclear weapons and missiles rendered them
obsolete around 1948. In 1955, Nike missile battery 88 was constructed
at Fort Cronkhite. The radar control site, 88C, was on the top
of Wolf Ridge to the north, while launching site 88L was northeast
of the World War II cantonment near the base of the ridge, and
administrative site 89A consisted of concrete block buildings
replacing some of the temporary frame structures in the eastern
half of the World War II "temporary" complex.
Today the western half of the Fort Cronkhite
cantonment has been identified by the National Park Service as
a historic complex to be preserved as representative of World
War II "temporary" barracks and other structures once
so common across the nation, but now fast disappearing.
Originally Published in 1981 for
the annual meeting of the Council on Abandoned Military Posts.
Reprinted with permission of the author
Since the above article
was written in in 1981, very little changed at Fort Cronkhite.
The National Park Service and its partners have maintained the
military appearance of the post and have proved to be good stewards
of this historic installation.
SCR-296 Fixed Coast Artillery Gun-Laying Medium Wave Radar
Set No. 4
Description: Fixed Coast Artillery gun-laying
medium wave radar, assigned to modern 6 inch or larger batteries.
Uses: Set is designed to track a surface
target in range and azimuth. Data are sent to the plotting room
and used in firing. An SCR-296-A normally is assigned to one battery,
but may furnish data to more. Works with IFF RC-136-A.
Performance & Sitting: Range is shown
on "A" scope. The target is tracked in azimuth with
a pip matching oscilloscope or a zero-center meter. Range accuracy
is about ± 30 yards while azimuth accuracy is about ±
0.20 degree under the best conditions. The set has a dependable
range of 20,000 yards on a destroyer size target when employed
at a height of 145 feet. Site should be not less than 100 feet
above sea level; 150 to 500 feet is recommended.
Mobility: Shipment includes areas and separate
generator. When crated the total weight is 91,763 lbs. Largest
unit is 5,270 lbs.
Installation: SCR-296-A includes a tower,
an operating building, and two power plant buildings. The tower
is obtainable in heights of 25, 50, 75, and 100 feet. Concrete
floors must be put in locally.
Personnel: Operating crew consists of 5
men in addition to a power plant operator and maintenance man
who should be available at all times.
Power: Primary power of 2.3 KW is supplied
by PE-84C -- commercial or auxiliary 110 V, AC single phase. Generator
needs high octane gasoline.
For more information on the
SCR-296 radar set CLICK HERE
SCR-682 Transportable Microwave Seacoast
Artillery Set No. 2
Uses: Used by 155-mm and 8-inch railway
battalions. PPI gives indication of surface craft and low-flying
planes. Uses IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) RC-282.
Performance and Siting: Set covers 360°.
For a height of 100 feet, range will average 50,000 yards or
greater. At times, under favorable conditions, very much greater
maximum ranges will be achieved from sufficient heights of site.
Minimum range is about 500 yards. Azimuth accuracy is on the
order of ± 2 degrees depending somewhat on the range scale
in use. The range accuracy thus may be considered ± 3
per cent of the range scale in use. The range scales are 10,000;
4,000p; 160,000; and 320,000 yards. Set should be sited not less
than thirty feet above the surrounding terrain and preferably
at least 100 feet above sea level. The optimum height of site
is between 150 and 500 feet.
Transportability: A transportable version
of the SCR-582, the SCR-682 can be carried in two standard 2-1/2-ton
6x6 cargo trucks.
Installation: Set normally is operated
form a portable tower furnished with set. The operating components
are located near the tower in a Shelter HO-17 or housing constructed
by the using troops from materials obtained locally. No transportation
is furnished with the set.
Personnel: One man operates the set and
another plots the position of detected targets. These men relieve
one another every thirty minutes to reduce fatigue. For 24-hour
operation a chief of section, five operators, two power plant
operators, and one maintenance man are required.
Power: Requires about 1.28 KW, 120 V,
60 cycles, single phase.