At the outbreak of WWII, the Army had 979 Great War-era French 155mm GPFs still on hand although they were being replaced by the new and much more modern M114 155 mm howitzer (many of the latter are still in use in the Third World today).
With the relegation of the old GPF to the reserve, when the balloon went up and German and Japanese subs started crawling just off the U.S. coastline, these vintage guns were pressed into service on what were termed “Panama Mounts,” a semi-fixed installation atop a circular concrete mount that allowed the gun to revolve and rotate in place.
Capable of sending a 95-pound shell out to 17,700-yards every 15-seconds with a well-trained crew, they could shatter the hull of a U-boat with ease or give a surface raider far from home at least a moment of pause. The mounts were so named because they had been first used in the Canal Zone.
Well, it appears that a long lost Panama Mount, manned by the 166th Infantry Rgt of the Ohio National Guard in 1942-43, was exposed after it had been buried in the sand along St. Andrews State Park, uncovered by Hurricane Michael last summer.
That’s the funny thing about history. It never really stays buried forever.
Here we see a U.S. Model 1918M1 155mm gun, the famous French GPF (Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux, a direct copy of the C modèle 1917 Schneider) of the Great War, which equipped U.S. forces overseas and– when upgraded with air brakes, new metal wheels, and pneumatic tires to allow for high-speed towing– remained the mainstay of the interwar Army throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
By the outbreak of WWII, the Army had 979 GPFs still on hand although they were being replaced by the new and much more modern M114 155 mm howitzer (many of the latter are still in use in the Third World today).
With the relegation of the old GPF to the reserve, when the balloon went up and German and Japanese subs started crawling just off the U.S. coastline, these vintage guns were pressed into service on what was termed “Panama Mounts,” a semi-fixed installation atop a circular concrete mount that allowed the gun to revolve and rotate in place. Capable of sending a 95-pound shell out to 17,700-yards every 15-seconds with a well-trained crew, they could shatter the hull of a U-boat with ease or give a surface raider far from home at least a moment of pause.
One such gun (pictured above) remains at Fort Morgan, Alabama, controlling the entrance to Mobile Bay.
In 1942 the fort received four GPFs, two of which (Nos. 176 and 802) were used on Panama Mounts on top of the old Civil War-era bastions while two others were left mobile.
These were manned by men of Battery F, 50th Coast Artillery throughout the duration of the War. It should be noted that, while Fort Morgan was an active U.S./Confederate base from 1819 through WWI, by 1931 it had been disarmed and abandoned, with the visiting 155’s of Battery F her last hurrah.
Established at Camp Pendleton, Virginia 1 February 1942, the 50th Coast Artillery was a tractor-drawn heavy artillery regiment. After just two months of training, Battery F entrained for Fort Barrancas (Pensacola) Florida. Arriving there on 7 April 1942, the unit left in a (slow) motor convoy to Fort Morgan to establish Temporary Harbor Defenses (THD) of Mobile and remained there until 1944.
Battery E went down the coast another several miles to my hometown of Pascagoula to defend Ingalls Shipyard from a point on Beach Boulevard, but that is another story…
Their use in Coastal Artillery was nearly the last hurrah of the GPF in U.S. service.
By May 1941, the M1917/18 was a Lend-Lease item and much of those stocks not used to guard the various beaches soon were on their way to the British, where they made an appearance in North Africa against Rommel and Co. The GPF also served in the Pacific, with at least 60 of the model captured by the Japanese in the Philippines.
Late in 1942, some 100 GPFs that remained in storage were mounted on the turretless chassis of the obsolete M3 Lee tank to form the M12 Gun Motor Carriage as a form of early self-propelled artillery. When teamed up with the companion Cargo Carrier M30 (also a turretless M3), which allowed them to go into the line with 40 rounds of 155mm ready, they proved popular in a niche role.
These tracked GPFs earned the nicknames “Doorknocker” and “King Kong” in service due to their ability to pierce up to seven feet of reinforced concrete and turn pillboxes into a smokey hole in the ground– a useful thing in Northeastern Europe in 1944.
If visiting Fort Morgan, be sure to check out the small museum just a few hundred yards from where the surviving GPF sits.
Inside the museum they have the guidon of Battery A, 104th Coastal Artillery, an Alabama National Guard unit mobilized for federal service 10 months prior to Pearl Harbor and then shipped to the Pacific in 1942, only returning home in January 1946.
As well as the typical WWII Coastal Artillery uniform of sun hat, olive coveralls tucked into canvas leggings, gas mask, and cartridge belt:
Of note, interwar Coastal Artillery coveralls were blue denim but were often worn by National Guard units operating 155mm GPFs in WWII, such as one of these big guns going boom, shown in the late 1930s Kodachrome below.
Below is a 10-inch (254mm) Watervliet M1888MI rifle on an M1896 disappearing carriage at Battery Jasper on Fort Moultrie Sullivan’s Island during World War II, as manned by the U.S. Army’s Coastal Artillery. The battery was named after SGT. William Jasper, 2nd South Carolina Regiment, who, during the attack of the British fleet on Fort Sullivan in 1776, heroically restored to the fort the flag which had been shot away by a ball from a RN ship.
Per Ft. Moultrie NPS:
Battery Jasper on Sullivan’s Island was completed in 1898 and boasted four 10-inch guns mounted on “disappearing” carriages. A 55-ton counterweight moved the gun to its firing position en barbette. The recoil from firing the 571-pound shell lowered the gun behind the protective, 80-foot thick embankment where it could safely be serviced and reloaded. Though it took 43 men to load and fire a gun, a skilled crew could aim and fire it every 30 seconds. The 10-inch disappearing could fire an armor-piercing shot 8.5 miles.
Today, there are no 10-inch guns at Battery Jasper. They were taken out of service and scrapped for the war effort in 1943. However, visitors can tour one of the gun positions and follow the steps the crew would have taken to fire one of these impressive guns.
Shots were fired with last week with 305mm Obuhov cannon (305/52 O) to honor Helsinki being capital of Finland for 200 years. The guns were retired from use in 1982, but one has been kept in shape for these special occasions. The gun was loaded with 80kg of gunpowder and 500l of seawater, leaving some 400m long trail of steam.
These guns, almost 100-years old could fire an amazing 50,285 yards with small diameter 692-pound coastal defense rounds. Thats 45kms or about 23-nautical miles. Now thats impressive.
Designation 12″/52 (30.5 cm) Pattern 1907
305 mm/52 (12″) Pattern 1907
Ship Class Used On Gangut, Imperatritsa Maria and Imperator Nikolai I classes
Coast defense mountings and TM-1-12 railroad guns
Date Of Design 1907
Date In Service 1910
Gun Weight 49.9 tons (50.7 mt)
Gun Length oa 624 in (15.850 m)
Bore Length 607.1 in (14.420 m)
Rifling Length 508.4 in (12.912 m)
Grooves (72) 0.079 in deep x 0.354 in (2.0 mm x 9.0 mm)
Lands 0.169 in (4.3 mm)
Twist Uniform RH 1 in 30
(see Note) 13,710 in3 (224.6 dm3)
Rate Of Fire Gangut: 1.8 rounds per minute
Imperatritsa Maria: 3 rounds per minute
Sevastopol after modernization in 1940: 2.2 rounds per minute
Twin coast defense turrets (1914): 1.5 rounds per minute
Twin coast defense turrets (1941): 2 rounds per minute
MB-3-12FM Coast defense turret: 2.25 rounds per minute
Open Coast Defense Mount: 2 rounds per minute