Delaware National Guard Bethany Beach, Sussex County Delaware
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District P.O. Box 1715 Baltimore, Maryland, 21203-1715
Executive Summary A historic context was prepared for the Bethany Beach Training Site, Delaware Army National Guard, located in Bethany Beach, Sussex County, Delaware. The Bethany Beach Training Site has been operated continuously by the Delaware National Guard since 1928, to provide training opportunities for the Army and Air National Guard.
The mission of the Bethany Beach Training Site, to provide a training locale for National Guard soldiers, has not changed since its inception, ,Trained has focused on anti-aircraft training, chemical warfare and communications. During its early years the focus was upon live fire exercises, with gun emplacements established on Bethany Beach that fired at offshore targets pulled by planes. These activities were discontinued since the 1960s, when Bethany Beach became an important tourist location. However training continues at the base and it serves to provide critical support to the Delaware Army National Guard.
The original arrangement of the camp has been largely maintained, but many of the buildings have been replaced or modernized. Additional modernization is planned, to allow the site to meet the training needs in a modern environment.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary i Establishment of the Site 1 Initial Period of Construction (1927-1928) 1 The First Encampments (1928-1939) 2 Governor’s Day Celebrations .3 Association with General Hugh S. Johnson 5 During the War (1940-1946) 5 After World War II (1946-Present) 6
Historic Context of the Bethany Beach Training Site, Bethany Beach, Delaware
Establishment of the Site
The Bethany Beach Training Site (BBTS) is a military complex located in the town of Bethany Beach, Sussex County, Delaware. The property has been owned by the State of Delaware since 1927 and operated for training purposes by the Delaware Army National Guard.
At the time of the establishment of the BBTS, the town of Bethany Beach was a small community of isolated beach cottages. It was noted as being a quiet, undeveloped community. Development of the town began in 1894 when the Christian Church Disciples of Scranton, Pennsylvania, began to acquire land for a summer retreat. The church formed the Bethany Beach Improvement Company in 1900, and constructed a large tabernacle on their property and subdivided the remaining lands into150 residential lots, which they sold to their members. The Bethany Beach Improvement Company added an auditorium, boardwalk and pavilions by the ocean.
In 1907, the influx of vacationers to Bethany Beach resulted in the construction of a Life Saving Station there, which was converted to a Coast Guard Station in 1909. Unlike developing areas around Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach remained a tiny village of ocean-front cottages and summer vacationers. Because the area was not overly developed and only sparsely populated during the summer, it was deemed a suitable location for the establishment of a military training camps further north on the beach.
Following World War I, the Delaware Army National Guard recognized the need to maintain the Guard in readiness, by training soldiers during times of peace. Initially training was done at existing National Guard facilities, such as the New Castle Rifle Range. Training camps at other facilities had been in operation since 1921. However, the existing sites were not suitable for training on larger weapons, such as anti-aircraft rounds, because of the inaccuracy of the rounds and the populated nature of the areas surrounding the facilities. The Delaware Army National Guard requested that the State of Delaware provide them with a site suitable for all forms of training.
The State of Delaware selected an undeveloped portion of the town of Bethany Beach in Sussex County for this purpose, and purchased the majority for the land for the Bethany Beach Training Site on April 29, 1927 from William P. Short. The area purchased did not include beachfront, which was publically owned, but was separated from it by only a single two lane road. Additional land was added in a purchase of June 5, 1934 from the Atlantic Coast and Inland Corporation. The present training site is comprised of these two major land acquisitions and totals 104.4 acres.
After the purchase of the property, additional contracts were issued for the first period of construction, with the initial site preparations being made in the fall of 1927. According to a news article at the time, “Bids for four contracts were opened at Dover by the State Highway Department. The projects included…a strip of road from Bethany Beach to the Government road, where the annual encampments of the National Guard are to take place.” (Chester PA Times, July 9, 1927). Activities at the site in 1927 were apparently limited to ground clearing, planning and initial engineering activities.
Initial Period of Construction (1927-1928)
The actual contract to build permanent facilities on the property was not issued until January of 1928, with construction occurring in the first half of 1928. The camp contained an administrative building, 13 mess halls, three buildings with salt water showers and latrines, wooden platforms to provide bases for tents, two storehouses for the Quartermaster Corps, a power house with pumps for the water supply, and a landing field with two runways measuring 200 feet by 1500 feet. There were also three large septic tanks, and a 20,000 gallon steel water tank. The camp was designed and constructed by Samuel Pasquale of Boston, for a cost of $44,300 (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, July 21, 1928)
Today, the remaining buildings that date to this first period of construction in 1928 consist of the frame Administration Building (#117), two frame storehouses (#113, 114) and a frame officers’ mess (#116). Additional land was purchased by 1934 and Building 115, a Mess and Conference Hall, was added (Groenendaal and Jones 1995).
The First Encampments (1928-1939)
The first encampment of the 198th Anti-Aircraft Regiment was held in August of 1928. Prior to the encampment, the National Guard issued a series of contracts to supply the camp with needed items, including meats, bread, ice, wood, gasoline and oil (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, July 21, 1928)
The Delaware Army National Guard assembled on August 4th for the first encampment at the new Bethany Beach Training Site, and although the encampment encountered some severe weather on the 16th of August, it was considered a general success. Governor’s Day, held on the 15th, honored Governor Robert P. Robertson. The Governor’s Day celebration drew a crowd of 600 visitors, who witnessed small and large gun exercises, athletic competitions, drills, musical performances by the National Guard bands, and an award ceremony (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 17, 1928).
In 1929, the property began being used by both the Delaware Army National Guard and Army National Guard units from adjoining states. In later years it would also be used by National Guard units from West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The 213th Brigade of the 28th Division, Pennsylvania National Guards, were invited to use the land for their summer encampment in 1929. In August of that same year, the 213th Coast Artillery trained in the use of anti-aircraft weapons against aerial targets, a practice that could not be performed at their own camps (Lebanon, PA Semi-Weekly News, February 28, 1929).
In 1930, the Delaware Guard assembled in Wilmington on Saturday, the 2nd of August, and traveled by convoy downstate to the BBTS. The 600 men and their trucks and supplies traveled down U.S. Route 13, with numerous spectators along the route waving them along. They were accompanied by their 40 piece regimental band, under the direction of Lieutenant J. Norris Robinson. The band was expected to play during the military maneuvers and at concerts for the men during the encampment. It was also noted that recreation at the camp included a series of hotly contested baseball games for the championship of the regiment (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 2, 1930).
Once the Guardsmen arrived at BBTS on Saturday, they were expected to erect the camp and have it fully functional by Sunday afternoon. The empty mess was supplied with the foodstuffs they had brought, the contractors arrived with their deliveries, and the men unpacked and set up their tents, cots and personal equipment in proper order. The actual field training was scheduled to begin promptly the following Monday morning. At the beach, sandbags were filled and arranged into formal gun placements for the training.
Training at the camp consisted of rifle and pistol target practice and competitions, the use of machine guns and 75 mm guns for firing at aircraft-towed targets, chemical weapon training, and other routine military training exercises.
Governor’s Day Celebrations
Each year, the encampment by the 198th Regiment was named after either the presiding Governor or a specially-selected Delaware Guard veteran. At the end of each encampment, the Delaware Army National Guard hosted a “Governor’s Day,” with a formal inspection of the troops by Delaware’s Governor. Each year it was a major event for the camp.
In 1930, the encampment was named after General T. Coleman DuPont. The Delaware Governor, C. Douglass Buck visited and inspected the camp on 13 August. The day began with the boom of 10 cannons firing 75-mm shells when the Governor’s car arrived at the camp. While a squad of buglers played flourishes, he was greeted by Adjutant General J. Austin Ellison and Col. John P. LeFevre, commandant of the encampment, (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 13, 1930).
The Governor was then given a tour of the camp and the training activities. Machine gun emplacements set up on the beach fired at balloons and sleeve targets towed by airplanes. 75 mm anti-aircraft guns were also fired at moving targets, and there was a demonstration of chemical warfare training with tear gas. Governor Buck was given a pistol on the firing round, and fired at a target. At 3:00 in the afternoon, the entire regiment passed by the Governor in a formal review of the troops. Athletics competitions were also held in the afternoon, including swimming competitions, a 100 yard dash and the baseball championships (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 13, 1930). Later, the Governor presided over an awards ceremony for the troops.
In the evening, a mock battle was performed for the large crowd in attendance. According to the local accounts:
“Night firing featured the close of yesterday’s program at the camp. The scene was reminiscent of the night air raids during the late war. Searchlights combed the sky for the imaginary enemy planes; 75 mm guns boomed; men worked quickly but quietly at the guns. And through it all could be heard the steady whine of airplane motors. Hundred who had come here for Governor’s Day remained until late to witness the night shooting. It was the first time during the present camp that the big guns were used at night. The searchlights made a big V with their rays and at this the guns fired.” (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 14, 1930).
Following the completion of schedule activities, orders were given to the soldiers to begin preparations to dismantle the camp and return to their respective armories. The messhall floors were cleaned and scrubbed, and all the tent floors were cleaned. The following morning, the supplies were packed back onto the trucks for movement, including hauling the 75 mm guns from their placements on the dunes back to the camp to be cleaned and dismantled. On August the 15th, all the tents were dismantled and the men loaded their personal gear onto the convoy trucks and made the day long trip to return to the Wilmington Armory (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 16, 1930). The camp was ready for the Pennsylvania Guardmen, who were preparing to conduct a similar two week training camp there the following week.
The 213th Regiment, 28th Airborne Division, Pennsylvania National Guard, arrived at Bethany Beach on the 18th of August to begin their two week encampment. One of the notable events was an “experiment with long wave radio transmission as sole means of communication between the airport communications, planes in flight, and Bethany Beach” (Titusville, PA, Journal, August 18, 1930).
Similar training exercises are documented for the 1933 encampment. In this year, the Camp honored Governor C. Douglass Buck, and was under the command of Colonel George J. Schultz. The training began with the arrival of the Delaware troops of the 198th Coast Artillery, Anti- Aircraft, Delaware Army National Guard, to the site on the 29th of July, 1933. It was noted that this camp has added improvements since the 1930 encampment, including: the assistance of “Bozo,” a 10-ton caterpillar tractor, used to tow the 75 mm guns to the dunes; and also the establishment of temporary radio station W3XF for communications during the encampment. A new “moving picture machine” was brought to show the films “42nd Street” and “Rome Express” to the men in the evenings (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, July 29, 1933). The also added a camp newspaper, the “D.N.G. News”, which was produced and distributed daily during the camp (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 9, 1933).
Governor’s Day was held at the camp on August 9th, with Governor Buck attending a similar series of exhibitions, marches, award ceremonies and athletic competitions that he has witnessed in previous years. This year, special note was made of a radio telephone that was installed in one of the airplanes, and radio messages were passed to people at the camp while the flight was passing by (Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE, August 9, 1933).
After the Governor’s Day celebrations were over, the orders were given to break camp and the soldier’s began on the 10th to dismantle the guns and other large equipment. They were scheduled to mobilize for the return on the morning of the 11th, but in the early hours of that morning the camp was struck with a heavy storm. Accounts of the event relate that five men were injured, most of the tents were destroyed, two telephone poles were knocked over, and the roof of the officers’ mess was loosened by the wind.
Association of General Hugh S. Johnson
Although the association was largely coincidental, General Hugh S. Johnson, retired, had organized the Selective Service in 1917, and long after his retirement, was called back into action by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help formulate the National Recovery Act in 1933-34. At this time, General Johnson has a vacation home in one of the cottages in Bethany Beach (Syracuse NY, Herald, August 30, 1934). General Johnson’s selection of this community for his summer vacation spot put him in close association with the annual training exercises of various National Guard units at the Bethany Beach Training Site.
The advisor to the President saw the benefits of the Guard training, but also pointed out an important recommendation to the President. He penned a column for the national press while watching the exercises of the 198th Regiment of Delaware Army National Guard at their annual encampment in 1938. He praised the training of the Guardsmen that he watched, but also commented that the Federal government should support more funding for full-time employment of the officers and increased training opportunities for the rest of the Guard (“General Hugh S. Johnson Praises Work of National Guard”, Syracuse Herald, August 3, 1938). Thus, it was General Johnson’s exposure to the National Guard units at Bethany Beach that caused him to recommend to the President and the country to support a change from the poorly trained National Guard of the 1930s to the better funded, trained and supplied National Guard system that would become standard practice during World War II and afterward.
During the War (1940-1946)
Military encampments at Bethany Beach by the Delaware National Guard were suspended during the years 1940-1946. A state guard was organized during this time, that participated at annual camps at the site until 1947, when the National Guard resumed its responsibilities. According to Groenandaal and Jones (1995), the camp was converted to a permanent operational facility at this time. Some of the major alterations included the construction of permanent Mess Halls in concrete block, a Motor Repair Building, and water supply systems. 130 concrete floor slabs were built to replace the temporary wooden slabs that had been used for the encampments. And a modern septic and water supply system was added.
By 1944, 13 concrete block barracks buildings had been added, along with two latrines. Some of these barracks apparently housed German prisoners of war. The war-time additions to the site included the current barracks and support buildings (#122-149), the entry building complex (#30, 113-117), Mess Halls (101, 104, 106, and 109), the water well plant complex (Building #150, 152, 153), and the Vehicle Repair Building (#151). Thus, by 1945, the Bethany Beach Training Site had completed its transformation from an annual summer encampment with only a few permanent facilities to a permanent, fully operational military complex, with the only significant later additions being the Post Engineer’s Building (#163), Building 164, and a recent extension to Building 115.
Post World War II (1946 - Present)
After World War II, Bethany Beach returned to its former use as a seasonal encampment site, with only a small staff working at the complex, but its duties have slowly expanded over time. In 1959, following the closure of Fort Miles by the U. S. Army, the Delaware Army National Guard leased the South firing range from them and continued to use it for live-firing training until 1974 (Baltimore District, 1995)
The current missions at the Bethany beach Training Site are to provide a garrison training environment, maneuver training areas and quarters to support the training of both Army and Air National Guard units. These missions include maintaining and operating a variety of classrooms, an aviation support facility, vehicle support maintenance facilities, and recreational use of the camp for active and retired National Guard members and civilian employees of the Delaware Army National Guard.
The Delaware Army National Guard is currently planning to replace many or all of the original structures at the Bethany Beach Training Site with a modern educational campus. This campus will continue to fulfill the same missions in the present, but be able incorporate improved classroom and housing facilities.
Chester Times, Chester, Pennsylvania. 1927 Delaware State News, July 9, 8, Chester, Pennsylvania. 1933 Cyclone Wrecks Delaware Guard Camp. August 11, 2. Chester, Pennsylvania. 1936 Soldiers Practice Gunnery. August 4, 16. Chester, Pennsylvania.
Delaware Public Archives n.d. Delaware National Guard file, Record Group 9015 003 001, Box 2, Folder 1 1938 Lt. William Mowlds Photo Album of 1938 National Guard Encampment, Record Group 9015 001 001, Code #51-53.
Evening Journal, Wilmington, Delaware 1928 Guard Camp Best State Has Ever Had. July 21, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1930 Guardsmen Ready to Break Camp, Go Home. August 14, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1930 Guard Spic, Span on Big Day at Camp. August 13, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1933 State Guard is Moving to Camp Buck. July 29, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1933 Salute given as Governor Reaches Camp. August 9, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1933 198th Regiment Making Plans for Trek Home. August 10, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1933 5 Hurt as Gale Levels Camp. August 11, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1933 Guard Troops Mustered Out Local Armory. August 12, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1937 800 Soldiers Go To Camp. July 30, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1937 Guard Camp Gets Set for War Games. July 31, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1937 Firing Begins as Guardsmen Unlimber Guns. August 1, 1. Wilmington, Delaware. 1937 Breaking Camp for Trip Home. August 13, 1. Wilmington, Delaware.
Jones, Thomas E. 1995 Historic Resources Survey of the Armories and Facilities of the Delaware Army National Guard. Prepared by Groenendaal and Jones, Inc., Easton, PA., under contract to 3d/Environmental Services, Cincinnati, OH., for the Delaware National Guard, Wilmington, DE.
Kathryn M. Kuranda 1997 Historic Context For Department Of Defense World War II Permanent Construction Report prepared by R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc. for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District
Lebanon Semi-Weekly News, Lebanon, Pennsylvania 1929 Entire 28th Division will Encamp at Gretna. February 28, 4. Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, New York 1934 Johnson Says He’s in Fight to the Finish. August 30, 11. Syracuse, New York. 1938 Hugh S. Johnson Praises Work of National Guard. August 3, 12. Syracuse, New York.
Titusville Journal, Titusville, Pennsylvania 1930 Guardsmen Aviators in Camp for Training. August 18, 1. Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Artillery Rattles Bethany Beach
By Michael Morgan
During the final weeks of World War I, the battleship Minnesota steamed steadily along the Delaware coast between Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. On Sept. 29, 1918, an explosion ripped through the ship's hull and only by the speedy action of the crew of the warship was the Minnesota able to limp back to Philadelphia. The military authorities quickly concluded that the American warship had been severely damaged by a mine planted by a German submarine. Several days later, the cargo ship Saetia was not so lucky. When the Saetia struck a mine off Fenwick Island, the ship sank within minutes.
The damage to the Minnesota and the destruction of the Saetia raised the specter that in the next war the Delaware coast might come under direct attack by enemy forces, and the American military authorities were prompt to react. To meet a possible attack on Rehoboth, Bethany Beach and other Delaware seaside communities, the 198th Coast Artillery of the Delaware National Guard was organized as a complete anti-aircraft regiment. Drawing upon veterans from the 59th Pioneer Infantry who fought in World War I, and the old Delaware 1st Infantry Regiment, the 198th gained its federal recognition in July 1921.
For most of the year, the soldiers drilled in state armories where they practiced coordinating the simulated firing of the gun batteries, tracking miniature targets and the operation of miniature searchlights from the armory drill floor. For the machine-gun battalion, the training included tracking and simulated firing on a miniature target under target-practice conditions. In addition to their armory drill, the 198th traveled once a year to Bethany Beach for two weeks of drill and live firing under realistic coastal conditions.
In the 1920s, Bethany Beach was only a small collection of cottages with a few dozen permanent residents. Most vacationers reached the resort by using the railroad to Rehoboth Beach, where they boarded a small boat for the trip through the coastal bays and down the canal to the Loop near the center of Bethany, where they could disembark for the short walk to the beach cottages. The completion of the Du Pont Highway in the early 1920s helped spur the construction of additional hard-surfaced roads in southern Delaware. As Delaware roads improved, more and more motorists began to drive down narrow Route 26 through Millville and Ocean View to Bethany Beach.
Despite the improvements in Delaware roads, a fully-equipped regiment took its time as it crawled across Sussex County to Bethany Beach. In 1929, the 213th Coastal Artillery Regiment, based at Reading, Pa., traveled to Bethany Beach in a convoy of trucks, trailers, motorcycles, and cars. It took this unit, (similar in size to the 198th and containing over 750 soldiers), five hours to travel from Milford to Bethany.
National Guard Encampment Bethany Beach 1935
When a National Guard regiment settled into its encampment on the north edge of the resort near Salt Pond, the throng of several hundred soldiers dwarfed the town's permanent population. Unlike those who came to enjoy the surf and sand, the National Guard arrived in Bethany to drill under conditions that they might encounter during the next war.The Coast Artillery Journal reported: "Bethany Beach has been utilized by the regiment for its annual camp since 1927, and its location has distinct advantages in many respects. All firing can be conducted from state- owned land over water areas directly in front of positions with a minimum interference from marine traffic. The 3-inch guns conducted their practices from a position about four miles from the camp area, while the machine guns were emplaced in a beach position in front of a discontinued Coast Guard station. Therefore it was possible, with two towing planes available, for gun and machine-gun units to fire at the same time without interfering with each other."
Once the 198th arrived at its encampment, the regiment got down to the serious business of setting up its guns and conducting live firings. On days when a section of the unit was firing, it was relieved of the routine camp activities so that it could devote an entire day at a time to training at the gun positions. Consequently, most of the firings were held late in the day when light and visibility were at their best. The firings of the three antiaircraft guns and the 32 Browning machine guns created quite a racket that echoed over the dunes. During the night firings, the regiment's three anti-aircraft searchlights provided an eerie glow accompanying the cacophony of the guns.
After the gun crews had been drilled with their weapons, the soldiers practiced firing at a target towed by a plane. In addition, the machine-gun units trained by firing at free-floating balloons. After the firings were completed, the targets were collected and holes were counted to determine gunners' accuracy.
In 1939, the outbreak of war in Europe made training at Bethany Beach especially intense and the members of the Delaware unit demonstrated that they were one of the best-trained regiments in the National Guard. The Coast Artillery Journal reported: "The announcement that the 198th Coast Artillery (AA), Delaware National Guard, has been awarded the U.S. Coast Artillery Association trophy for 1939 comes as welcome news to the officers and men of the National Guard of the little 'Diamond State.' Ever since 1934, when the 198th won this trophy for the first time in its history, the regiment has striven to repeat this signal accomplishment. In great measure, the award serves to recompense the 198th for the extended effort made necessary since last fall by the president's limited emergency proclamation, whereby the National Guard has been called on to assume an added load in organization and training."
When the country entered World War II, Fort Miles was constructed at Cape Henlopen. Armed with guns that could reach enemy warships off Bethany Beach, Fort Miles became the primary defender of the Delaware coast. Today, the obsolete spotting towers for the big guns at Fort Miles stand amid the dunes, but the National Guard continues to maintain its facility at Bethany Beach so that its soldiers will be ready to meet any threat to the Delaware coast.
This article first appeared in "The Wave".
Michael Morgan taught high school history for 32 years and holds a master's degree in history from Morgan State University. He may be reached at email@example.com.