Fort Miles

Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, Delaware.

FT Miles
View of Fort Miles from one of several fire control towers. The towers were manned by spotters who relayed location information back to the command post for the purpose of directing artillery fire at approaching enemy ships.

 

 

Fort Miles was an American military installation located on Cape Henlopen near Lewes, Delaware that was built to protect domestic shipping within the Delaware Bay and River from enemy fire - within the capes - from the German fleet. The panorama shown at the top of this article is the current view of Fort Miles from tower 7, which was one of the many fire control towers that were made during WWII to spot enemy ships approaching the coast. The fort was completed in 1941, days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Battery 118 (Smith) being declared operational on December 4th of that year. The United States declaration of war on Japan compelled the U. S. Army to man the fort with the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion, who days before were slated to leave. Fourteen vessels, including the USS Jacob Jones, a naval escort, were sunk off the coast of New Jersey during the first six months of 1942. Numerous batteries (ranging from 90mm guns up to 16 inch) were installed at the fort and a large mine field was laid in the waters off Lewes, Delaware in the following years, but the fort was to see no action during the conflict. The soldiers would receive the surrender of U-858, a German U-boat that was part of Operation Seawolf at the time of the German surrender to Allied forces in Europe.

 
One of two, Mark VI, M3A2, 8-inch railway guns on display in the park.

At its peak, Fort Miles was home to over 2,200 soldiers, men and women, including the 261st Coast Artillery, the 21st Coast Artillery, the 52nd Coast Artillery (Railway), the 198th Coast Artillery (AA) and the 113th Infantry (det). Most of Fort Miles was declared surplus in 1948 and 1949, but the Army continued to use portions of it through the early 1990s as a recreation area under the management of Fort Meade. In 1963, the US Navy took control of the southern end of Fort Miles including Batteries Smith and Herring to establish a SOSUS listening facility. "NAVFAC Lewes" would continue to operate as a top secret facility there until September 30, 1981. Fort Miles never saw any major action, only firing its guns once between its establishment and the end of the war. In 1964, 543 acres (2.2 km²) of federal land were donated to establish Cape Henlopen State Park. Over time, more land was transferred to the state park until Fort Miles ceased operation altogether in 1991. Its last official usage was as a bivouac for soldiers who had just returned from the first Gulf War.

Many bunkers were also constructed to house guns and other weapons. Barracks, administration buildings, and a pier were also constructed as part of the fort. Restored World War II observation tower. The four largest coastal Batteries at Ft. Miles are Battery 118 (Smith), Battery 221 (Herring), Battery 222 (Hunter), and Battery 519. Smith originally housed the two 16" guns, and is now in use by Cape Henlopen State Park for storage. Battery Herring, originally covered with sand like all the rest of the batteries, was excavated and expanded for use as a SOSUS station. It is now abandoned. Battery Hunter is in use currently as a Hawk Watch station. Battery 519 originally housed two 12" guns. It is currently being renovated for use as a museum, celebrating Delaware's part in World War II. Tours began in 2004. It has a restored 12" cannon similar to the original mounted at the south gun block. Additionally, it is being used to house a German built 20 millimeter anti-aircraft cannon that had been captured from U-858 after its surrender.

The Fort Miles Historic Area grounds are open 8 a.m. to sunset daily. The Fort Miles Orientation Building is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday from April 1 through October 30. From November 1 through March 31, the Orientation Building is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Public access to Battery 519 is only through guided tours. For more information see the Delaware Parks & Rec site at: http://www.destateparks.com/park/cape-henlopen/fort-miles/index.asp

Credits: All images by Susanne Coates, maps by Google, and text adapted from FortMiles.org, the Fort Miles Historical Association and Wikipedia