Battery X at 80

Via the Army’s Center for Military History and the U.S. Army Women’s Museum:

On 5 May 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, the War Department formed the Military District of Washington (MDW) to plan and execute the ground and anti-aircraft defense of the nation’s capital. As the Army transformed its wartime stateside logistical structure from nine corps areas to the Army Service Forces (ASF) and its subordinate Support Commands, MDW became one of those commands. In its new role, MDW assumed responsibility for supporting the Army Headquarters commandant and the newly-completed Pentagon, in addition to Walter Reed Army Hospital, as well as ceremonial activities in Washington with the U.S. Army Band as a subordinate unit.

General George C. Marshall, began thinking about allowing women to serve in a limited combat role, in assignments to the anti-aircraft units of the Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) in the Continental United States.

In early December 1942, “Battery X” was formed. About 70 Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) members were selected to perform duty in anti-aircraft dugout emplacements. They received six weeks of training as range-finder operators, and in manning (no pun intended) anti-aircraft defenses. These WAACs were the first women in U.S. history to be part of a combat unit and were authorized to wear the branch insignia of the Coast Artillery.

“Battery X” personeel training on a 40mm/60 Bofors

Battery X at Bethany Beach Delaware working with a 90mm M1 AAA battery, 1943

They were expected to train other women to eventually replace male range-finder instrument operators at harbor defense installations in the Continental United States and mixed into the ranks of the 71st and 89th Coastal Artillery Regiments.

Despite the potential it may have unleashed, the experiment proved short-lived, disbanded in August 1943. It remains relatively unknown, not even declassified until the 1970s.

In more detail:

In the experiment, General George C. Marshall and Colonel Oveta Hobby hand-picked eleven WAC officers and fifty-eight enlisted women to compose the WAC component of Battery X, and the two complimented units worked around the clock in three 8-hour shifts to operate the M1A1 90mm heavy antiaircraft gun batteries and their supporting radar stations. The experiment ran from February to August 1943, when the experiment concluded with a radar tracking and gun-laying test on Bethany Beach, Delaware. In the concluding test, the WACs used radar to aim the connected 90mm gun at a moving target attached to a B-17 heavy bomber. This test was deemed to be successful by General Marshall and Colonel Hobby, though the units were quickly disbanded for other roles in other theaters. The WACs served until the end of the war, where most enlisted women were discharged from service and resumed their civilian lives. Others continued serving in the WACs, creating the core of the peacetime WAC organization.

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