Group preserving history at Fort Miles

An 8-inch ant-ship gun, capable of hitting a target 20 miles away, is on display at Fort Miles on the grounds of the Cape Henlopen State Park. A crew of 25 men was needed for the gun. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

An 8-inch ant-ship gun, capable of hitting a target 20 miles away, is on display at Fort Miles on the grounds of the Cape Henlopen State Park. A crew of 25 men was needed for the gun. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

LEWES — The United States saw changes across the country once World War II began, be it social, economic or geographic. Delaware, though a small state, saw a large portion of those changes, which live on today.

Built in 1940, Fort Miles, located within Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, was created in response to the recurring threat of naval attacks on the Mid-Atlantic shorelines and Philadelphia. Because the risk of invasion was, at that time, very real, the fort was outfitted with coastal artillery towers and patrols, the Navy’s biggest guns, underwater mines, a defense facility and searchlights powerful enough to light the beach at Cape May, New Jersey.

History buffs will enjoy the Fort Miles gun displays.

History buffs will enjoy the Fort Miles gun displays.

It was the largest combat-ready post on the East Coast and housed 2,500 trained personnel.

“The fort is one of the largest forts ever built in World War II, and it was built to protect the coast of New Jersey, the coast of Delaware, obviously, the coast of Maryland and the area of Philadelphia,” said Dr. Gary Wray, president of the Fort Miles Historical Association.

When originally constructed, the fort cost $22 million, which is equivalent to $332.9 million today, and held 16 major caliber weapons.

Created as a casemate fort, or an underground steel and concrete fortification, Fort Miles is not meant to be seen.

“You can’t find it because you’re not supposed to be able to find it,” said Dr. Wray.

“There are literally hundreds of facilities underground. It’s all camouflaged; the sand was moved, the structures were built, and the sand was put back,” he said.

Of the structures, the most commonly seen are the fire towers that line the beaches.

After the end of World War II, the fort served as a research and testing ground as well as a site to conduct

A gun from the USS Missouri rises from the Great Dune at Cape Henlopen State Park.

A gun from the USS Missouri rises from the Great Dune at Cape Henlopen State Park.

observations by establishing a sound surveillance system, or SOSUS. Through the U.S. Navy, this would serve as an underwater listening station geared toward detecting Soviet submarines.

Now, decades after Fort Miles was handed back over to the state of Delaware, the fort has transitioned from defending its shoreline to showcasing its history.

Together with its museum, the site sees approximately 2 million visitors per year. Last year, the Fort Miles Historical Association’s volunteers gave 20,000 tours to both locals and tourists. The majority, however, seem to be out of state.

“That’s usually the case with history,” said Dr. Wray. “It’s usually the people who are right on top of the history who don’t know much about it.”

Currently, Fort Miles is hoping entice visitors with a thorough museum and an addition to the park.

“The museum is actually an Army museum, because we were Army based,” said Dr. Wray.

Inside, the Fort Miles museum boasts an extensive static gun displays in the world.

The view of Cape Henlopen State Park is spectacular from the World War II observation tower next to Fort Miles.

The view of Cape Henlopen State Park is spectacular from the World War II observation tower next to Fort Miles.

“It’s quite spectacular,” he said.

The Fort Miles park, which is seen all over Cape Henlopen State Park, has a variety of weaponry from World War II on display that the Fort Miles Historical Association acquired from the Dahlgren Naval Base in Virginia.

Six-, 8-, 12- and 16-inch guns are featured throughout, and the fort recently welcomed a new addition to their collection.

As of May 20, the famed “Mighty Mo” from the battleship USS Missouri reached its final resting place within the confines of Fort Miles. One of the ship’s nine original 16-inch guns, Mighty Mo was saved by the Fort Miles Historical Association just days before being marked as scrap metal.

“The USS Missouri’s gun is an important piece of American history that will draw families and tourists to Fort Miles and the beautiful shores of Cape Henlopen State Park,” said Gov. Jack Markell during the May ceremony to welcome Mighty Mo.

Collectively, the weapons on display at Fort Miles represent the four major pieces of artillery used at Fort Miles during World War II.

Dr. Wray sees the addition as quite an accomplishment as well.

“Our goal was to have one weapon of the four major caliber weapons at Fort Miles, and we now have them,” he said. “Mighty Mo is our final barrel of the major weapons so we are now there.”

The Fort Miles museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Tuesday. The Fort Miles Historical Grounds are open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset. Guided tours are available to see Battery 519.

For more information on Fort Miles and the Fort Miles Historical Association, visit http://www.fortmilesha.org.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lexi Coon is freelance writer living in the Camden area.

A walk through the cantonment area and gun park is like stepping back in time. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

A walk through the cantonment area and gun park is like stepping back in time. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment