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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!

 

Fear gripped 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 and vulnerable.

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 Coast

 

Photo of period newspapers

 

Coastal Defense Set Up

 

Photo of searchlight

 

Immediately after 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 Barbara coast. 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 transferred overseas.

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
Wood State Beach and Seaside Wilderness Park. The
California Department of Parks and Recreation and the City of
Ventura remind 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.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The California 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 this brochure.

 

 

Funding for this brochure provided by the CHANNEL COAST NATURAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION. All rights reserved.

Photos from National Archives.