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Seacoast Fortification - Taft Board

By all odds the most important event of 1905 from a military standpoint was the appointment made on January 31, 1905, by President Roosevelt of a board to revise the report of the Endicott Board with respect to fortifications. In the Executive order creating this new body, Mr. Roosevelt very aptly stated that "The report of the Endicott Board, submitted nineteen years ago, was very carefully considered by its distinguished members. It enunciated sound military principles and recommended the best application of these principles with the conditions then existing. It fully deserved the generous support it has received from Congress.

Nearly two-thirds of the land armament recommended by the Board had been installed or provided for by 1914; but since the date of the report so many conditions then existing have been materially modified, and the engines or implements of war have been so greatly improved, and others, untried or unknown, of undoubted value developed, giving a greater advantage to the defense, that it is confidently believed our harbor defense can be completed effectively and satisfactorily with a much less expenditure of money than has been heretofore estimated. With this object in view, the Board will recommend the armament fixed and floating, mobile torpedoes, submarine mines, and all other defensive appliances that may be necessary to complete the harbor defense with the most economical and advantageous expenditure of money. The Board will also recommend the order in which the proposed defense shall be completed, so that all the elements of harbor defense may be properly and effectively coordinated."

The National Coast Defense Board - or " The Taft Board " as it is generally known - headed by Secretary of War William Howard Taft, made important revisions in the program with the goal of incorporating the latest techniques and devices. this board took pains to differentiate between coast defence and harbor defence - a distinction which is of importance insomuch as the United States had never had, and did not possess, anything beyond harbor defence, except insofar as the mobile army can be depended upon for the protection of our coasts.

The full report of the Taft Board was not rendered until February 1, 1906. Added to the coastal defense arsenal were fixed, floating, and mobile torpedoes and submarine mines. At the same time, the Army's Ordnance Department tested 16-inch rifles for installation in the coastal defense fortifications, in keeping with the trend toward larger and larger guns to meet the challenge of naval weapons of ever-increasing size.

Commercially and strategically the Chesapeake Bay was of the very first importance. With the entrance as it is now, unfortified, a hostile fleet, should it gain control of the sea, can establish, without coming under the fire of a single gun, a base on its shores, pass in and out at pleasure, have access to large quantities of valuable supplies of all kinds, and paralyze the great trunk railway lines crossing the head of the bay. The completion of the fortifications at the entrance to Long Island Sound was placed second to Chesapeake Bay only because there are some guns already mounted at the former, while there are none to defend the channel between Cape Charles and Cape Henry. The importance of the fortifications at the entrance to Long Island Sound is due to the fact that they constitute the first and chief line of defense of New York City against naval attack from that direction; they will prevent the occupation by a hostile fleet of Gardiner's Bay or other interior water as a naval base, and will also protect various manufacturing towns established along the Sound, including New London, Bridgeport, New Haven, and others. Next in importance were placed Puget Sound, Subig Bay, Guantanamo and the entrance to Manila Bay, in the order named.

There were four coast defense forts on Puget Sound. These were Fort Flagler, Fort Worden, and Fort Casey near Port Townsend at the entrance to Admiralty Inlet; and Fort Ward near the entrance to Port Orchard, where the Navy Yard, Puget Sound, is located. The National Coast Defense Board estimated that the total cost of the necessary defenses of Puget Sound would be $9,800,264.14. In addition to those expenditures, the Endicott Board, in 1886, estimated the cost of the defenses of Portland, Oregon, which include Forts Canby and Columbia on the Washington side of the mouth of the Columbia River, to be $2,919,000, and the National Defense Board, in 1906, submitted an additional estimate of $1,041,362 for the same points. These six coast defense forts employed 42 officers and 1485 enlisted men.

The military legislation passed during the year 1907 presented only a few notable features, the most important by all odds being " An Act To reorganize and to increase the efficiency of the artillery of the United States Army," approved on January 25th. The separation of this corps into two parts was advocated by the Secretary of War in his report for 1906. It seemed incredible to some that these two branches of the artillery should have been retained so long together, instead of being kept distinct and apart as almost every other military Power had found it expedient to do. Indeed, in Germany the coast artillery was designated as "Marine Artillery" and was placed under the supervision of the Minister of the Marine.

Due to economic and psychological conditions and the absence of evident danger they have not been re-armed with the most powerful guns of the day. This does not mean that they are without value. On the contrary, enemy ships can not seriously endanger us or inflict damage upon our territory unless they come within range of our guns and within this range the ships must inevitably be outclassed by the forts. Their value is sufficient to justify maintaining them in condition for immediate use and to keep them equipped with the most improved fire control, searchlights, antiaircraft, mine defenses, and all other modern accessories. The purpose was to make them so strong that they would never be attacked and this purpose should be effectively guaranteed.

Since the date of the report of the Taft Board, the coast defense project has been further modified from time to time by the War Department. The principal modifications include a change in the character of the proposed armament for the defenses of the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, the provision of armament for the defenses of San Pedro Harbor, Cal., and a reduction in the quantity of the armament prescribed for a number of places where changed conditions appeared to justify such action. It was anticipated that further changes would be needed to meet prospective increases in power and range of naval ordnance.



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