Thursday, June 30, 2016

Happy Birthday America & Fort Story!

By Jerome Kirkland 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

This 1940 aerial photograph shows both Cape Henry Lighthouses and surrounding buildings at Fort Story in Virginia Beach. (Virginian-Pilot Photograph Collection/ Sargeant Memorial Collection
This July, Fort Story will be celebrating a century in operation. An official observance of this milestone will be held on Independence Day, capped by a performance by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band at the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Map source: "Plan for Entrance to Chesapeake Bay, VA," Report of Completed Works-- U.S. Corps of Engineers. (October 1934, Textural Records Collection, National Archives and Records Administration) 
If you are wondering why a Navy Museum blog post would be about a celebration at an Army base, there are a number of reasons. The first reason is that Fort Story is no longer strictly an Army base.  Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek and the Army’s Fort Story combined into Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in 2009 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program, becoming the first joint base in Hampton Roads. But the connection goes much deeper, especially if you look at the WWII period.
Both before and during the Second World War, Fort Story was in the perfect location for testing and training Sailors on new types of landing craft, having shoreline on both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

An LST photographed during training exercises at Naval Amphibious Base
 Little Creek in 1943.
In a previous blog post we talked about the Higgins Boats such as the Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), and the Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM) that were tested at Fort Story. This was followed with training soldiers how to embark and debark from these boats. Next came the Landing Craft, Infantry (LCI), capable of delivering 250 combat ready troops directly to the shore, and the more famous Landing Ship Tank (LST) which could carry 20 or more tanks (depending on size) along with over 200 troops.

Fort Story also had a connection with the Navy by way of the US Army Coastal Defense Corps.

Before America entered World War II, the US Army Mine Planting Service, part of the Coastal Defense Corps, built a mine tending ship dock and mine storage facilities next to the Little Creek Coast Guard station, with their headquarters on Fort Story. These mine planting facilities where there before construction on the Little Creek Naval Base began and would later become part of the base, after the Coastal Defense Corps was disbanded.

Another connection between Fort Story and the Navy can be traced to the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. This treaty limited the number of battleships the Navy could have. This created a problem, because the Navy already had 16-inch guns meant for the next battleships. These guns were put in storage until the Iowa-class battleships were designed in 1938. The battleship Wisconsin was one of the four Iowa-class ships. Due to design differences, they found the 1920s 16-inch guns would not work on the Iowa-class battleships.  So, what to do with these guns?  Enter Fort Story.

Two of the guns were installed at Fort Story and two were installed on Fort Custis, at Cape Charles.  These guns helped extend the range for the coastal defense of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, which is vital for American sea power.

The Army and Navy in Hampton Roads may have not always gotten along perfectly, but the outstanding training areas of Fort Story have helped make them an unbeatable team when called upon to defend our nation.  So as we observe the 240th birthday or our nation, we at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum would also like to wish Fort Story a Happy 100th Birthday.

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