Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Fort Stevens was one of three forts built to protect the Columbia River entrance from attack by sea. The three forts were positioned to allow overlapping kill zones. Invaders would have to take all three forts to move attacking ships through the mouth of the river.
Fort Stevens dates back Civil War times and underwent several upgrades until it was decommissioned after World War II. Each upgrade enabled the fort to shoot larger, more penetrating projectiles farther at enemy ships attempting to enter the Columbia River.
In June 1942, during WW II, the fort was fired on by a Japanese submarine. The submarine approached the Oregon coast south of the Columbia River mouth. Since the submarine was out of gun range, the soldiers in the fort didn’t fire back. This caused quite a stir as conspiracy theorists created plausible and not so plausible explanations for why the fort didn’t return fire.
By not firing back, the Japanese navy would have been unable to determine the fort’s gun range and therefore would not have been able to easily plan raids up river to interfere with shipping.
The historic site is part of Fort Stevens State Park and is a fee use area. On arrival, we checked in at the above stop. We showed the park host our camping permit to gain entry. She gave us a Trail Guide & Historic Military Site providing the basis for self guided tours.
Guided tours are available for visitors who want to see more.
Trails can be taken from the campground to the old fort. Most, but not all of the fort is in the state park. The parts of the old fort not in the state park are privately owned.
The historic site public restrooms have been closed for some time. Visitors may want to stop off at other areas of the park to use the facilities before spending time in the historic site are.
Visitors do have the option of using portable restrooms. These were cleaner than ones provided at county fairs. Still, there is that yuck factor.
The museum was spartan but satisfactory.
The gift shop had great t-shirts. I bought an Oregon sticker.
The above cannonball dates from the civil war era. In the civil war era, the three forts with one mile range could have protected the Columbia River entrance.
The above mannequin represents a soldier, sitting at the top of a tower, using a WW II optical instrument to measure the distance, direction and height of a target vessel in the mouth of the Columbia. Gunners use this information to aim the big guns.
The guns, called rifles, were loaded and aimed in their down position where they couldn’t be seen by the enemy. Before firing, the guns would pop up, clearing the wall in front, then fire at the enemy and pop back down out of site.
The complex process of loading the gun required a number of soldiers working together. Pictures at the museum showed ten plus men at work loading the weapon. Between firing, the breach and barrel are cleaned and cleared of any materials. Hot cruft in the shaft can prematurely ignite the powder killing all the people getting the gun ready to fire.
After cleaning the breach and barrel, the projectile/bullet is loaded. Next comes the powder bag. This process is similar to how battleship guns are handled.
How the powder is actually lit, whether by an electric charge, primer of some other mechanism wasn’t discussed. Who would have thought firing a rifle could be so complicated?
On the ground level, the level below the guns, there were open doors leading into dank rooms and corridors.
Water dripped from the ceilings. Astoria, the nearest large town, receives, on average, 86 inches of rain each year.
Other batteries or gun emplacements are crumbling and falling down. Some of the gun emplacements date back to the civil war. The above one dates back to World War I.
The battery commander and mine observation stations have a commanding view of the Columbia River.
Since WW II, security threats to the USA have changed. Shore fortifications protecting against sea born attacks are no longer needed. Regardless, these fortifications helped us get to where we are today.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!