California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts
Fort Funston
(Lake Merced Military Reservation, San Francisco Defense Area Sites SF-61 and SF-59)
 
by Gordon Chappell
Regional Historian, Pacific West Region
National Park Service
 

About 1890 the army engineers planning new defenses of San Francisco Bay proposed to build two mortar batteries on a tract of land between Laguna de la Merced (Lake Merced or, more properly, Lake of Mercy) and the Pacific Ocean, in the southwestern corner of San Francisco. The Spring Valley Water Company, owner of the yet undeveloped land, was amenable to a 'friendly' condemnation suit, and in this manner the government acquired in December 1900 roughly 45 acres at $900 per acre, and established the Lake Merced Military Reservation. However no construction took place until World War I provided the stimulus, when in February 1917 the Engineers commenced building a temporary battery for four 12-inch mortars, with the guns for it to come from Batteries Stotsenburg-McKinnon, Pits 3 and 4. They also began work on a temporary battery to mount two 5-inch rapid fire guns to come from Battery Sherwood. The two batteries were turned over to the Coast Artillery Corps on January 30, 1919. The mortar battery, in which the four guns were arranged in a straight line, was named for Brigadier General Walter Howe who had died in 1915. The only concrete in the emplacement was in the gun platforms; the plotting room was a wooden building. The same was true for the rapid fire battery, whose ammunition storage was a mere wooden shelter between the guns covered with a thin layer of earth. This battery was named for Colonel Lawrence L.Bruff, an ordnance officer who had died in 1911, and it should not be confused with the later Battery Bluff.

Meanwhile, on June 26, 1917 the Lake Merced Military Reservation was renamed Fort Funston for Major General Frederick Funston, who had died that February. In July the post was enlarged by the purchase of an additional 150 acres lying to the south. Troops assigned to the batteries lived in tents while building their own wood frame barracks and quarters. The San Francisco Chronicle remarked on the occasion of raising the first flag over the new Fort Funston parade ground that the place looked more like a frontier post than anything else, for the garrison's buildings were almost all of frame construction, all but a few considered temporary, and while some of them were neat enough when new and freshly painted, none had any architectural distinction or decoration. The buildings housed the men who manned the batteries, and the post functioned as a sub-post of Fort Winfield Scott, the Coast Artillery command for San Francisco Bay defenses which comprised the western portion of the Presidio of San Francisco.

The garrison complex would grow during World War II by the construction of a new class of "temporary" barracks and quarters and other structures to a total by the end of 1942 of 86 buildings, but after the war its batteries became obsolete and it was demolished in its entirety, save for a few of the World War II buildings east of the road.

As for the batteries themselves, Battery Bruff was declared obsolete, a mere six months after it had been turned over to the Coast Artillery Corps, making it the shortest-lived battery in the San Francisco Bay defenses and raising real questions about its necessity in the first place. Battery Howe, on the other-hand, apparently retained its mortars until 1945, this "temporary" battery thus far outlasting the armament of many "permanent" mortar batteries.

After the original cantonment area was transferred to the City and County of San Francisco, a portion was retained by the Department of the Army and permitted to the California National Guard for the housing of an Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. The 20 November 1957 map documenting the Fort Funston Military Reservation shows that Battery A, 271st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion had four 90mm Antiaircraft Guns just west on the cantonment area. The California National Guard used the magazines at Battery Howe and Antiaircraft Battery Number 3 for ammunition storage and the balloon hanger as a storage shed for the mobile antiaircraft guns. This site was on City and County of San Francisco land outside of the California National Guard leased area and the area retained by the Army. This site was known as SF-61.

The last military use of Fort Funston was as a Nike missile battery location. It, too, is now obsolete.

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

Other Coast Artillery Infrastructure

Plotting and Switchboard Room: Located 700 feet northeast of Battery Davis's Gun No. 1, this facility was completed 21 September 1940. Power supply was provided by Battery Davis. The entrance to this station is partially buried.

Funston Groupment C2: This two-story structure, completed in 1941, is located 250 feet due west of the of the western most Nike-Ajax launcher (Structure 202) , This bunker was the command post during World War II for the active coast artillery batteries at Fort Funston (i.e., Batteries Howe, Bluff and Davis). Power supplied by Battery Davis. Presently this structure is integrated into a scenic overlook.

Fire Control Station Group 4: Completed in 14 November 1941, this structure is located 250 feet due west of the of the western most Nike-Ajax launcher (Structure 202) , This bunker was the Fire Control Station for Battery Bluff. Power supplied by Battery Davis. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Fire Control Station B1S1 Davis: Completed 21 September 1940 this structure was a two-story fire control station for Battery Richmond P. Davis. The station is located 1,300 feet south of Battery Davis's No 1 gun. Power supplied by Battery Davis. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Fire Control Station B2S2 Construction No. 243: A fire control station for Battery Construction 243, an unnamed two-gun, six-inch gun battery located at Fort Miley. Completed on 15 November 1943, this station was located 650 feet west of the magazine for Antiaircraft Battery No. 3. Power supplied by commercial sources with a back-up powerhouse. Due to erosion, this station is reported to have slid off of the bluff onto the beach below.

Fire Control Station B3S3 Wallace: Completed in 14 November 1941, this structure was located 550 feet south of Battery Davis's No 1 gun. This bunker was the Fire Control Station for Battery Wallace, a two-gun, 12-inch battery located at Fort Barry in Marin County. Power from a dedicated powerhouse. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Fire Control Station B4S4 Townsley: Completed in 14 November 1941, this structure was located 600 feet due west of the San Francisco Defense Area Site 59A's mess hall (Building 103). This bunker was the Fire Control Station for Battery Townsley, a two-gun, 16-inch battery located at Fort Cronkite in Marin County. Power supplied by the post's power grid. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Fire Control Station B4S4 Construction No. 129: Located 150 yards to the north of Battery Walter Howe, this fire control station was originally built in 1918 and rebuilt in 1926 and designated as Fire Control Station B1 & BC Howe During World War II, it was redesignated as a fire control station for Battery Construction No. 129, an unnamed, two 16-inch gun battery located at Fort Funston in Marin County. . Power supplied by the Fort Funston power grid with a backup power. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Fire Control Station B5S5 Construction No. 244: A fire control station for Battery Construction 244, an unnamed, two-gun, six-inch battery located at Milagra Ridge Military Reservation. This station was originally designated Fire Control Station B3S3 Chester for Battery James Chester at Fort Miley. Completed in 29 November 1943, this structure is located 100 feet south of the Funston Groupment C2 command post. Power supplied by the Fort Funston power grid with a backup power house. Presently integrated into a scenic overlook.

SCR-296 Radar Installation: Located 50 feet east of Fire Control Station B1S1 Davis. Completed 1 October 1943. Declared obsolete on 14 January 1946. Power from Fort Funston power grid with backup power provided by an onsite power house.

Radio Station. Completed on 21 September 1940, this underground radio station was located approximately 900 feet northeast of Battery Davis's No.1 Gun and adjacent to the Blimp Hanger. Power supplied by Battery Davis's power plant. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Power Houses: While most of the fortifications and supporting structures received their primary electrical power from either the post's electrical grid or Battery Davis's power plant, most of the fire control stations had back up generators housed on protected power houses.

Power House (1-Unit) Installation No. 2: Located 1,200 feet south of Battery Davis's Gun No. 1, this power house provided backup power to B1S1 Davis, B3S3 Davis, and Group 4. Completed on 27 June 1944. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Power House (2-Unit) Installation No. 2: Located in the southern portion of Fort Funston, this power house provided backup power to B5S5 Construction 244, B4S4 Townsley, and the Funston Groupment. Completed on 27 June 1944. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Power House (1-Unit) B2S2 243: Located 450 feet west of the 3-inch antiaircraft battery, this power house provided backup power to B2S2 Construction 243. Completed on 27 June 1944. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Power House (1-Unit) B4S4 129: Located in the Northern portion of Fort Funston, this power house provided backup power to B4S4 Construction 129. Completed on 27 June 1944. The structure is not visible and may have been removed.

Power House HO-1-A: Located 110 feet south of the SCR-296 Transmitter Building, this power house provided back up to that radar site.

Additional fire control stations. In addition to the more permanent, reinforced concrete structures documented above, there were several "troop built" structures dating to World War I that supported several of the batteries at Forts Funston, Miley, Winfield Scott, and Barry. These were little more than improved field fortifications made of wood and corrugated metal. These have all been removed or were allowed to deteriorate.

World War II Mobile Batteries

Throughout World War II, the specter of a Japanese air attack, no matter how remote, hung over the commanders responsible for the defense of San Francisco. Evan after the Battle of Midway, which destroyed much of its air arm, the Imperial Japanese Navy maintained the capability of striking the United States throughout the war. This included the capability of launching up to three float planes from the I-400 class of submarines.

With this in mind, dozens of mobile antiaircraft guns were placed throughout the bay area. Fort Funston's defenses were bolstered with the addition of five 40mm M1 "Bofors" antiaircraft guns mounted of the M2A1 carriage. These sites were assigned administrative the following numbers according to the 1948 map of Fort Funston:

Guns 24 and 25: Adjacent to Fort Funston's main cantonment area.

Gun 26: 100 feet east of Antiaircraft Battery No. 3

Gun 27: 600 feet southeast of Battery Davis's gun no. 2.

Gun 28: 100 feet east of Battery Bluff.

These guns were removed at the end of World War II.

The National Guard and San Francisco Defense Area Site No SF-61

On 5 May 1947 the California National Guard formed the 271st Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. The battalion headquarters and at least one battery were located at Fort Funston's main cantonment area. Each of the battalion's firing batteries was armed with eight of the M1 40mm "Bofors" antiaircraft gun on a M2A1 carriage and eight M51 Multiple .50-Caliber "Quad Fifty" Machine Gun.

In 1950, the battalion moved into a new armory which is still occupied by the California National guard to this day. The battalion continued as an automatic weapons unit until 1 January 1951 when it was reorganized into the 271st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion armed with the M1 90mm antiaircraft gun.

The 20 November 1957 map documenting the Fort Funston Military Reservation shows that Battery A, 271st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion of the California Army National Guard had four 90-millimeter Antiaircraft Guns just west of the cantonment area adjacent to Battery Walter Howe. This site was on City and County of San Francisco land outside of the California National Guard leased area and the area retained by the Army. This site was known as San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-61. (GGNRA Records)

The California National Guard continued to use the magazines at Battery Howe and Antiaircraft Battery Number 3 for ammunition storage and the balloon hanger as a storage shed during this period.

The battalion continued in it's "gun" role until 1 March 1958 when it was reorganized into the 271st Missile Battalion (Nike). At that time they began the process of transitioning to the Nike-Ajax air defense missile system and preparing for taking operational control of San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-59 in July 1959


Batteries at Fort Funston

 Walter Howe

 4

12 Inch M1890MI 

 M1896MI Mortar

 1917

 1919

 1945 (1)
Lawrence L. Bruff

 2

5 Inch M1900
M1903 Pedastal

 1919

 1919

 1919 (1)
Anti-Aircraft

 2 (2)

3 Inch M1917
M1917 Pedastal

 1925

 1925

 1945

Richmond P. Davis

2

16 inch MarkIIMI

 Casemated Long Range Barbette M1919M5

 1935

 1940

1948

Bluff

4

 155mm GPF

 Panama Mount

 1937 (3)

 1942

1945

(1) In 1917, temporary platforms were built for 8 mortars from Battery Stotsenburg-McKinnon. In 1919 two platforms were built for 5" guns from Battery Sherwood. The guns were removed later that year. Both emplacements have been destroyed.

(2) In 1937, the battery was expanded to three guns. This battery was also known as also known as Antiaircraft Battery No. 5 and later Antiaircraft Battery No. 3.

(3) Initially establisned to the west of the Anti-Aircraft Battery as shown below. After the storms of the winter of 1940-1941 weakened the bluff requiring the batter to be moved to the south of Battery Davis.


San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-59
 
by Command Sergeant Major Dan Sebby
California Center for Military Mistory
 
Located at the southern end of the former Fort Funston Military Reservation, a little of 71 acres were regained from the Veterans Administration for the purposes of building an air defense missile battery. The cantonment area (Site SF-59A) was built over the site of Fort Funston's southern garrison. The Integrated Fire Control (Site SF-59C) was located atop Mount San Bruno in San Mateo County and is documented below. The launch area (Site SF-59L) located between the cantonment area and Battery Richmond P. Davis, consisted of the 12 launchers and three magazines holding a total of 30 nuclear capable MIM-14B Nike-Hercules multi-stage missiles.
 
Initially this installation was garrisoned in 1956 by the Regular Army's Battery A, 740th Antiaircraft Artillery Missile Battalion. With the implementation of the Combat Arms Regimental System in 1958, this battery became Battery A, 4th Battalion, 61st Artillery Regiment.
 
In July of 1959, several of the batteries in the San Francisco Defense Area were turned over to the California Army National Guard and the battery at the former Fort Funston became the home of Battery D, 2nd Missile Battalion, 250th Artillery Regiment (1st California). Concurrent with this change was the posting to the 2nd Battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery at the site. The California Army National Guard remained at the Site until March of 1963 when the Site was inactivated.
 
Today, the Site is part of the Ocean District of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Site SF-59L is a public parking area while Site SF-59A serves as an Environmental Science and Air Quality Monitoring Center as well as the headquarters for the Ocean District, Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
 

 

Former launch area and missile assembly building. Nike Site SF-59. May 2001

 

 Former administrative area, Nike Site SF-59. Now the Ocean District Headquarters, Golden Gate National Recreation Area. May 2001
 
San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-59C


Located at the southern end of the former Fort Funston Military Reservation, 71 acres were regained from the Veterans Administration by the U.S. Army for the purposes of building an air defense missile battery. Additional land was acquired on Mount San Bruno from the Crocker Land Company.

The U.S. Army's Cold War antiaircraft/air defense artillery sites were identified by an identification system that included the initial(s) of the defense area and a site number (i.e. SF-59 meaning San Francisco Defense Area Site 59). To this basic identifier was a suffix identifying the function of the site or portions of the site. These would have included suffixes for gun and missile batteries, command and control facilities, and administrative and family housing areas.

When dealing with Nike sites, the overall site was identified by the basic identifier with three distinct functional areas identified by the suffixes A, C, and L:

Administrative Area (SF-59A): The Administrative Area was built over the site of Fort Funston's southern garrison and contained the site's administrative and support functions. This included troop housing and messing, recreational facilities, battery administration and supply buildings, and vehicle maintenance facilities.

Control Area (SF-59C): The control area (also known as the Integrated Fire Control or "IFC" area) was the location of the battery's radar and fire control systems. The IFC area was located atop Mount San Bruno in San Mateo County that allowed for 360º "line of site" radar coverage by the battery's missile and target tracking and search radar systems. The reason for locating the site away from the launch area was that the missile tracking radar would "lock on" to the missiles while they sat on the launcher and followed them from launch to impact with the target. The high speed of the Nike family of missiles would have destroyed the tracking mechanisms of the missile tracking radar if they were located close to the launchers. Documentation supports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not purchase the land for SF-59C nor did it enter in to a lease with the Crocker Land Company. The audited Corps of Engineers Real Estate Map indicates that the site was obtained under Construction Permit SFRE-989 and continued to operate it under that permit until 1 August 1963 when it was terminated.

Launch Area (SF-59L): Located between the Administrative Area and the former Fort Funston's Battery Richmond P. Davis, the Launcher Area consisted of the 12 launchers and three magazines (underground storage "bunkers") that held a total of 30 MIM-3 Nike-Ajax multi-stage surface-to-air missiles. Additionally, the Launcher Area also housed missile and warhead assembly, maintenance and fueling facilities. As such, this was the most secure area of the site and also included a ready room for missile crews when the battery was in a "hot" or ready status, security checkpoints and a kennel for military working dogs.

Initially this installation was garrisoned in 1956 by the U.S. Army's Battery A, 740th Antiaircraft Artillery Missile Battalion. With the implementation of the Combat Arms Regimental System in 1958, this battery became Battery A, 4th Battalion, 61st Artillery Regiment.

In July of 1959, several of the batteries in the San Francisco Defense Area were turned over to the California Army National Guard and San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-59 became the home of Battery D, 2nd Missile Battalion, 250th Artillery Regiment (1st California). Concurrent with this change was the posting to the 2nd Battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery at site SF-59A. The California Army National Guard remained at the Site until March of 1963 when SF-59 was deactivated. The Administrative and Launcher Areas were transferred from the U.S. Army to the National Park Service on 27 October 1972 under the provisions of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Act. As stated above, the Control Area was returned to the Crocker Land Company upon deactivation.

The Western Electric SAM-A-7/M1/MIM-3 Nike Ajax

The Nike-Ajax was the world's first operational surface-to-air guided missile system. Its origins lay in the immediate post-World War II time, when the U.S. Army realized that guided missiles were the only way to provide air-defense against future fast high-flying bombers. Western Electric became prime contractor for the XSAM-G-7 Nike missile system, and Douglas, as the primary subcontractor, was responsible for the missile airframe.

The first unguided Nike missiles were fired in 1946, but problems with the original multi-rocket booster (eight solid-fuel rockets wrapped around the missile tail) soon led to delays in the program. In 1948, it was decided to replace this booster pack with a single rocket booster, attached to the back of the missile. The main propulsion of the missile was a Bell liquid-fueled rocket motor, and the flight path was controlled by the four small fins around the nose. In November 1951, the first successful interception of a QB-17 target drone succeeded. The first production Nike (which had been redesignated SAM-A-7 in 1951) flew in 1952, and the first operational Nike site was activated in 1954. By this time, the missile had been designated by the Army as Guided Missile, Anti-Aircraft M1. The name had changed to Nike I, to distinguish it from the Nike B (later MIM-14 Nike-Hercules) and Nike II (later LIM-49 Nike-Zeus). On 15 November 1956, the name was finally changed to Nike-Ajax.

The Nike-Ajax missile used a command guidance system. Acquisition radar called Low-Power Acquisition Radar (LOPAR) picked up potential targets at long range, and the information on hostile targets was then transferred to the Target Tracking Radar (TTR). An adjacent Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) tracked the flight path of the Nike-Ajax missile. Using tracking data of the TTR and MTR, a computer calculated the interception trajectory, and sent appropriate course correction commands to the missile. The three high-explosive fragmentation warheads of the missile (in nose, center, and aft section) were detonated by ground command, when the paths of target and missile met.

One of the major disadvantages of the Nike-Ajax system was that the guidance system could handle only one target at a time. Additionally, there was originally no data link between different Nike-Ajax sites, which could lead to several sites engaging the same target. The latter problem was eventually solved by the introduction of the Martin AN/FSG-1 Missile Master command-and-control system, with automatic data communication and processing. Other problematic features of the Nike-Ajax system were the liquid-fuel rocket motor with its highly toxic propellants, and the large size of a complete site with all components, which made Nike-Ajax to all intents and purposes a fixed-site air defense system.

By 1958, nearly 200 Nike-Ajax sites had been activated in the USA. However, the far more advanced MIM-14 Nike Hercules soon replaced the Nike-Ajax, and by late 1963, the last Nike-Ajax on U.S. soil had been retired. In 1963, the Nike-Ajax had received the new designation MIM-3A. Despite the use of a Mobile Intercept Missile (MIM) designator, the mobility of the Nike-Ajax system was more theoretical than actually feasible in a combat situation.

The MIM-3A continued to serve with U.S. overseas and friendly forces for many more years. In total, more than 16,000 missiles were built.


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