The Guns of Ventura©
The story of Ventura’s World War II
Coastal Artillery Battery
Photo of gun emplacement with men
On a windswept
cobble beach near the mouth of the Ventura
River, two large concrete
rings, each 38 feet in diameter, stand as mute reminders of a time when
soldiers came to this place with their machines of war. Here for a brief time during World War II,
the U.S. Army established a coastal defense battery. Here a pair of huge cannons sat atop the
concrete rings, and the GIs warily scanned the watery horizon for the first
sign of invasion or attack. This is the
story of Battery Two … of the not-too-distant past when WAR came to Ventura!
West Coast Attacked!
Americans on the West Coast following the devastating surprise attack by the
Japanese at Pearl Harbor. This fear was not groundless: large cities lay along the coast, miles of
beaches invited the landing of troops, and West Coast residents were receiving
almost daily reports of the continuing conquest of the Pacific by Japanese
forces. Existing coastal defenses were
located only at major harbor entrances, leaving the rest of the coast exposed
In late December,
1941, a number of long-range Japanese submarines reached the California coast and sank or damaged several
merchant ships. War jitters increased in
January, 1942, as rumors of imminent attacks by phantom warships were received.
In the evening
twilight of Monday, February 23, 1942, the Japanese submarine “I-17” surfaced
offshore from the Ellwood oilfield, 12 miles north of Santa Barbara, and opened fire with its 5.5”
deck gun on the oil wells and storage tanks there. Although the damage inflicted was slight,
this was the first attack of the war on the continental U.S., and it renewed fear in Americans living
along the Pacific
Photo of period newspapers
Coastal Defense Set Up
Photo of searchlight
this attack, the 2nd Battalion of the 144th Field
Artillery (California National Guard) was rushed from Fort
McArthur near Los Angles to set up
artillery batteries along the Santa
One such battery was established near the mouth of the Ventura River
where two 155 mm cannons were hastily set up on the beach (the rich Ventura Avenue
oilfields lay just up-river). In what
had been a city park nearby, soldiers set up a small tent camp in the
camouflage and shelter of a grove of cypress trees. They positioned a mobile searchlight to
illuminate targets at sea, and prepared for the worst.
By October 1942,
the Japanese forces were on the defensive, but the threat of attack along the U.S. coast had
not been eliminated. The 56th
Coast Artillery Regiment arrived in Southern California from Fort Cronkite near
San Francisco to relieve the National Guard Field Artillery units where were
At what is now the
Ventura County Fairgrounds the Regiment set up Camp
Seaside, command post for all the
artillery batteries and searchlight units between Point Mugu and Santa Barbara.
“Long Toms” Arrive
In contrast to the
World-War-I vintage guns used earlier, the 56th Regiment was
equipped with the much improved “Long Tom” guns which could fire a 95 –pound
projectile 14 miles! The accurate firing
of these large guns required careful coordination. Spotters at two separate observation posts
(one at Grant park above Ventura,
the other a few miles north on the bluffs above Seacliff)
took bearings on the target and relayed this information via field telephones
to the battery plotting room near the guns.
Plotters then calculated the target’s location and sent aiming
instructions to the gun crews who brought the guns to bear and commenced
firing! Twice a day the soldiers would
practice “dry firing” the Long Toms, and once a month they fired live
ammunition at targets towed offshore.
The GIs also participated in “war games” by
turning the guns to point inland and simulating a counterattack again enemy
troops which were occupying Ventura and the surrounding hills (the full-circle
iron rails of the Panama Mounts were designed to permit turning the guns to
fire inland in such a situation).
Photo of Long Tom, with crew on a Kelly
base (it looks like)[brochure text still attached]
GIs Dig In
The GIs quickly made Battery
2 more permanent. To provide stable
platforms and allow rapid turning of the big guns they built two concrete “Panama mount” gun emplacements (first used along
the Panama Canal). They laid asphalt roads and walkways over the
sand, and under the cypress trees they built barracks and other
wood-frame-and-tarpaper buildings, as well as a small ammunition magazine (see
map). The soldiers of Battery
2 trained continuously in order to maintain a high degree of readiness. A typical day included calisthenics, rifle
range proactive, and drill on an improved “parade ground”. The soldiers even helped the local
community: they fought fires, built fire
breaks, and picked fruit on nearby ranches.
Prologue (should be Epilogue)
By January, 1944,
the threat of enemy attack to the west Coast was gone and Ventura’s
Battery 2 was deactivated. The big guns and the soldiers who operated
them were shipped to the distant combat zones across the Pacific. The buildings were dismantled and the site
was abandonee. Today all that remains
are the two Panama
mounts, the foundation of the ammunition magazine, and a few pieces of the
asphalt road. Of the ten artillery sites
built by the Army to protect the Southern California coast, only three,
including Battery near Ventura,
still survive. Never test in combat, Battery 2 is today losing a different battle to the
relentless attack of erosion, wind, rust and vandals.
Still it is
possible to stand on this site and imagine those early days of World War II
when the future held so much fear and uncertainty for Americans, and when the GIs of Ventura’s Battery
2 stood ready to defend America
from attack …
PRESERVE YOUR HERITAGE!
This historic site is
protected within the boundaries of Emma
Beach and Seaside Wilderness
California Department of Parks and Recreation and the City of
you that this and all other historic sites are a
valuable part of your heritage and are protected by state and
federal law. Please do not remove or
disturb any artifacts.
Reports acts of vandalism to a Park Ranger or Camp host.
Department of Parks and Recreation gratefully acknowledges the invaluable
contribution of Mr. Jason Marmor for his research of Battery 2 and for his assistance in the production of
Funding for this
brochure provided by the CHANNEL COAST NATURAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION. All rights reserved.
Photos from National Archives.