SALISBURY BEACH, Mass. — An important remnant of the country’s World War II experience was exposed along a Massachusetts beach this week, but historians and curiosity seekers may have just a short time to see it.
The remains of massive concrete gun batteries that guarded the exposed coastline from German submarines in the early 1940s were visible once again. Recent furious storms had washed away mounds of sand from the dunes that covered the relics. They are visible only on rare occasions, locals and park officials say.
According to northamercianforts.com, the Salisbury Beach Military Reservation once held a four-gun, 155mm battery on “Panama mounts,” along with a commander’s tower, barracks and other support buildings that faced the ocean.
After the surprise Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor nearly wiped out the Navy’s Pacific Fleet on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan, as well as Germany, joining the European Allied force. As fear gripped a nation at war, many worried another enemy attack on America’s mainland was imminent. With tens of thousands of miles of exposed coastline, part of America’s homeland defense tactics included establishing guard posts all along its shores.
An invasion never occurred, but the coast did face a deadly threat — German U-boats. The stealthy submarines operated off the entire U.S. coast, sometimes sinking ships within sight of the shoreline. No U-boats were ever sunk in local waters.
The turrets that were quickly erected were round, and they had guns that rotated 360 degrees. The site was critical in keeping the U-boats from gaining access to the Merrimack River and a path to key industrial areas inland.
The towers and guns were dismantled after the war ended and the site was returned to the state. But the mounts remained, but soon became buried deep in sand. A 155mm gun was a powerful weapon, capable of projecting a 100-pound shell up to 15 miles.
Along Salisbury’s rugged coastline today, other historic artifacts dating back to World War II sometimes turn up, said Mike Magnifico, a state Department of Conservation and Recreation employee, who worked along the shoreline for years. He has a cup-sized collection of gun shells that washed up by the sea over time.
Details for this story were provided by the Newburyport (Mass.) Daily News.