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Coast Defense

From the time of the earliest European settlements to the end of World War II, coastal fortifications guarded the harbors and shores of the United States. Coast Defense is the systematic protection of a country against hostile attack along its coastlines. In providing such defense a nation will consider not only the safety of its territory, but also the security of its commercial interests. In any system of coast defense a good navy is the most important feature; and so essential is it considered, that all other means are regarded as adjuncts or auxiliaries of the navy. Along a well-defended coast, in suitable places, are stations or points of support where is stored the requisite material for building, equipping, repairing, and supplying naval vessels, and where provision Is made for furnishing men when additional force ia needed.

Coast Artillery is the term applied to guns of heaviest caliber, used for the armament of permanent works, chiefly on the seacoast. Their carriages do not subserve the purposes of transportation. Four systems of mounting were used with such artillery, i. e., the disappearing-, the turret-, the barbetteand the mortar-carriage. In the United States these guns constituted the only system of permanent fortification. For purposes of administration and instruction, by 1900 the coast artillery of the continental United States was organized into three districts - the North Atlantic, including all the forts from Maine to New York harbor, inclusive; the South Atlantic, including those from Delaware Bay to Texas, inclusive; and the South Pacific, including those from California to Washington, inclusive. These districts were commanded by colonels of the Coast ArtiUery Corps or by brigadier-generals appointed from that branch of the U.S.A. The forts of each harbor were grouped into commands called Coast Defenses, each designated by the name of the harbor on which located. In the outlying possessions of the United States the seacoast forts are organized into separate coast defenses. The Coast Artillery Corps is that part of the U.S.A. which was engaged in serving the seacoast guns.

Forts are built in places where the coast artillery may co-operate with the navy in obstructing the advance of an enemy intending to capture a city or to invade the country; where their guns may command the entrance to a harbor or other approach by water; wherever they may cripple the enemy's attack on the defensive fleet, leaving it free to attack the enemy in turn; where forts may assist each other and co-operate in repelling an invasion or preventing a blockade or a bombardment; where minor channels of approach may be closed or guarded, thus enabling the navy to give entire attention to the main channel, etc. Torpedo-boats, harbor-mines and the searchlight are all valuable aids for the forts. The unfortified coast, as well as the land approaches to cities, must be defended in time of war by whatever means are at command. National policy determines the character and extent of coast defense, and long-continued friendly relations with other countries may make extensive protection unnecessary.

The history of modern coast defense in the United States begins with the creation of the Gun Foundry Board in 1884, which was succeeded by the so-called Endicott Board in 1886. In its final report the Endicott Board fully and clearly set forth the general principles governing coast defense, and elaborated a suitable system. The changed conditions since 1880, due to the development of guns, smokeless powder, and all kinds of munitions of war, made it advisable to revise the system of the Endicott Board, and the National Coast Defense Board, composed of distinguished army and navy officers, under the presidency of W. H. Taft, then Secretary of War, was convened. This board, known as the Taft Board, submitted its report early in 1906. The Taft Board recommended the fortification of 29 ports in the United States (7 more than under the plans of the Endicott Board), 6 in the insular possessions, and 2 in the Canal Zone.

Their object is to so defend the places which they are designed to protect against direct attack by naval vessels as to force the enemy to make a landing either to effect their capture or reduction, or to accomplish other important military purpose. They were not designed to be selfdefensive against operations undertaken on their land side, neither were they expected to prevent the landing of hostile forces at other places than those controlled by their guns, from which to conduct a land campaign. It would not only be impracticable to defend with seacoast fortifications all of the possible landing places upon the coast of the United States, but it was considered that the country possessed abundant resources for dealing with any force which may set foot upon its shores, if it saw fit to organize them and make them ready for use, and that in forcing an enemy to the character of operations involving the transportation of troops and their equipment and supplies, the coast fortifications enormously increased the magnitude of the task of an enemy attempting to inflict material damage upon the United States over what it would be if such damage could be inflicted by means of a raid of fighting ships alone.

During 1946 the War Department Seacoast Armament Board made a survey of harbor defenses and installations. As a result, some harbor defenses were entirely eliminated, and obsolete weapons in others were declared surplus. Only certain types of modern fixed guns and submarine mines were recommended for retention. Units of the civilian components assigned to armament declared surplus were recommended for reassignment to mobile artillery designed to fire at moving or fixed targets.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:46:06 ZULU