261st Coast Artillery (Harbor Defense) Delaware National Guard, World War II
Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins Jr. (DE ANG Ret) firstname.lastname@example.org
261st Coast Artillery Mobilization
The 261st Coast Artillery was federalized on January 27, 1941 in the eleventh mobilization increment to train at Fort DuPont Delaware City Delaware with a total strength of 334 men. The battalion was commanded by Lt. Col. Henry K. Roscoe. The men were sent by train after a week of preparation and last minute recruiting to their mobilization station at Fort DuPont on February 4th. “A” and “C” Batteries and the Medical detachment departed from the Laurel Armory; Headquarters and “B” Battery departed from Georgetown. Their send-off was reminiscent of the Civil War. Community ceremonies were held with speeches and presentations and a high school band led the march to the railroad depot. The community raised money to provide niceties to the men that the Army did not provide.
At Fort DuPont they were joined by the 122nd Coast Artillery Battalion (Antiaircraft) from the New Jersey National Guard. Both organizations shared in training for the defense of the Delaware estuary. The units were reinforced by 183 new arrivals from Fort Dix bringing the strength of the 261st up to 600 men by April 30, 1941.
Capt. A. W. Adams and Major Ralph S. Baker at Camp Henlopen, December 1941
On Easter Sunday, April 1941, Battery “B” was ordered to Cape Henlopen to establish an outpost of the harbor defenses of the Delaware Bay. At first, this was viewed as a temporay bivouac, but it was to turn into a permanent assignment. Major Ralph Baker was in overall command, under the purview of Headquarters of the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Bay and River, Fort DuPont, commanded by regular army Colonel George Rhulen, also commander of Fort DuPont, and the 21st Coast Artillery Battalion.
The weather was unseasonably cold and wet. There were no permanent buildings. Only tents were available for shelter. Located near a fish processing factory, the odor was ubiquitous and unpleasant, but the factory was able to provide a three inch waterline for the kitchens and other points, even providing warm water in the summertime if the sun was shining on the pipe. Preparations began for construction of permanent facilities soon after the arrival of the 261st. The Guardsmen named the location “Camp Henlopen”.
The 261st erected a tent city of some fifteen pyramidal tents and welcomed elements of the Headquarters to the camp on June 5, 1941. The Camp was renamed “Fort Miles” and the men continued their section and unit training, while lending a hand to the construction of permanent facilities. Battery “A” was also transferred to Fort Miles equipped with four 155mm guns of split trail French design. This was the only tractor drawn weapon used by the Coast Artillery.
Meanwhile, Battery “B” manned two, twelve inch disappearing fixed guns at Fort Saulsbury near Slaughter Beach. Fort Saulsbury was originally built starting in 1916, premised upon the range of guns of that day, to guard the Delaware Capes. It was not completed until the First World War was almost concluded, and the twelve-inch guns were not test fired until 1921. The guns fired a 2000 pound shell about four feet long. Fort Saulsbury served as a sub-post of Fort DuPont and was in a “state of holding” under the command of Sergeant Claude Fields in 1939. In 1940 and 1941 restoration was begun to bring the fort back to active status. In May 1941 Battery “B” arrived to complete the transition. The men observed the coast line from three steel towers that were built as part of the 1941 restoration. These towers were located at Stone Beach, Mispillion Light and Fowler's Beach.
In an interesting sidebar, Fort Saulsbury was the location for a US Arm training film entitled, “12 Inch Gun, Barbette Carriage” filmed in June 1942. The Director was Captain Roy, Signal Corps, and the Technical Advisor was Captain A.W. Adams.
Battery “B” also made a significant contribution across the water, establishing two 155 mm guns at Cape May Point New Jersey across the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The New Jersey guns would stay there throughout the duration of the war.
During the summer of 1941, elements of the 261st at Fort DuPont and Fort Delaware witnessed and supported rehearsals of the 21st Coast Artillery planting mines in the Delaware River and supported the 21st in the actual laying of mines in the Delaware Bay after the war started.
In August, 1941 public announcement was made that the army would build a multi-million dollar fortress at Cape Henlopen. Fort Miles was characterized as “one of the most important strategic seacoast installations in the United States.”
In August 1941 the 261st was rated as “outstanding” on three points of its harbor defense area in competition with other units. They were given a streamer for their battalion colors as a result. Small as it was, the 261st Coast Artillery had done much to prepare the defenses of the Delaware River and Bay for the war that would soon be upon them.
Captain Albert W. Adams was officer of the day at Fort Miles on December 7, 1941. He notes that at 2:00 P. M. “all hell broke loose”. No ammunition of any type had been issued to the troops, but by the evening they were “loaded” with 155mm shells, powder, fuses and thousands of rounds of .30 caliber machine gun ammunition.
George A. Penuel was a former member of Battery “B”, 261st CA (HD) from 1935-1939. He enlisted in the U.S.Navy and was on the USS Shaw at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when it took a direct hit on its ammunition storage . He was killed in action and his remains were never recovered. A memorial service was held on Easter April, 5, 1942 near Millsboro DE.
After the Pearl Harbor Attack, the guns of the 261st were moved into firing positions. The Navy established a Harbor Entrance Control Point whose purpose was to clear all ships entering the Delaware Bay. The 155s of Battery “A” were assigned to support this mission and fire on any vessel which failed to identify itself properly. These were nervous times in the aftermath of the Japanese Raid and the whole fort was “jumpy”. On only one occasion did they come close to firing on a ship in an incident on December 20th. An additional duty for all the batteries was a day and night vigil along the shoreline for enemy agents landing on the coast.
During the winter of 1941-1942 the unit would approach its zenith in strength at 625 enlisted men and 25 officers. Early in 1942 the battalion armament was improved. Battery “A” in addition to the 155s was also assigned two six-inch guns along with Headquarters Battery at Fort Miles. The Cape May Point, New Jersey site was augmented with Searchlights from Battery “A”. Battery “B” was given two six-inch guns in addition to the twelve inch guns already on site at Fort Saulsbury.
Thanks to their high proficiency marks, the army in its wisdom soon began skimming the cream of the crop of the 261st to establish the core of new commands elsewhere. In January 1942 a detachment of two officers (Captain Daniel Preston. Lee and 2nd Lt. James E. Marvel) and nine enlisted men from Battery “B” were ordered to Greenland to establish Battery “E” 53rd Coast Artillery. There they established a defensive position for the Army Air Corps ferry base, “Bluey West I” (later named Narsarsuaq Airbase).
On June 1, 1942 Battery “C” was ordered to Fort Delaware where they manned two batteries of three inch guns. The men of the 261st who remained at Fort DuPont composed of “C” Battery manned two, three-inch guns at Fort DuPont.. In addition, they were also armed with four 90mm towed guns. The men posted to Fort Delaware endured a life not too different than their Civil War predecessors. They were housed in the same brick buildings that once held confederate prisoners. There was no heat, electricity or showers. The garrison was supplied daily by boat from Fort DuPont. Eventually, an old 10kw generator was found and repaired, providing some electricity, powering a portable radio for news of the outside world.
As a unit, the 261st did not see action in World War II, but by late 1943, most of the original members had been transferred out to serve as cadre personnel for the many new field artillery units being trained for the invasion of Europe. Almost all of the men of the 261st saw overseas service as individuals before the war was over.
The War Department initiated a policy of converting Harbor Defense units into Field Artillery in April 1944. As a result, the 261st was partially deactivated. A cadre of ten officers and 120 enlisted men were sent to Fort Jackson South Carolina for retraining. The remainder of the men were folded into the Coast Artillery Regiment at Fort Miles where a few of the original members of the 261st served out the balance of the war.
261st Coast Artillery Battalion (Harbor Defense) January 1941
Commander Lt Col. Henry K. Roscoe Adjutant James R. Thorn Executive Officer Major Ralph S. Baker Headquarters Battery Captain Albert W. Adams Medical Detachment 1st Lt. John W. Lynch Chaplain Lt. James H. Bishop Battalion Sergeant Major Master Sergeant Frederick L. Manion Commander, Battery “A” Captain Luke S. Light Commander, Battery “B” Captain Thayer B. Royal Commander, Battery “C” Captain Gilbert C. Cosden
Jim Dan Hill, “The Minuteman in Peace and War” A History of the National Guard, Stackpole Books 1964,
Ray Bunting, “Fort Saulsbury and the Delaware National Guard”, Milford DE, ,
C.W. Warrington, Delaware’s Coastal Defenses, Fort Saulsbury & A Mighty Fort Called Miles, 1972, Reprinted by Delaware Heritage Press, 2003,
William H. Duncan, M.D. “Delaware National Guard, World War II, 261st Coast Artillery Battalion (Harbor Defense) (Separate)”, 2000 Unpublished Manuscript
William Conner and Leon deValinger, “Delaware’s Role in World War II” Public Archives Commission, State of Delaware, Dover DE, 1955, p. 49-50
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