History of Bethany Beach Training Site

Delaware National Guard
Bethany Beach, Sussex County Delaware




Prepared By:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Baltimore District
P.O. Box 1715
Baltimore, Maryland, 21203-1715



July 2008

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.

Daily Herald, Hagerstown, Maryland.
1933  Tornado Hits Guard Camp; Trio Injured.  August 11, 1.  Hagerstown, Maryland.

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 spinway@aol.com.
Delaware Military History