Crusty old Joe's

Kodiak Alaska Military History



The official web site of the Kodiak Military History Museum


Fort Abercrombie

Digital photo taken 2001 May 1 by Paul Van Dyke

Introduction

This is a World War II Coastal Defense installation with two eight inch guns. The remnants of both guns are on display. This site became an Alaska State Historical Park in 1969 consisting of about 186 acres. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 27, 1970. The office for the Kodiak Alaska State Parks is located here. There are three large concrete bunkers. The ready ammunition bunker at Miller Point has been partially restored and is used as a museum. One is used for parks maintenance, and the other is open but unrestored. There are many other smaller concrete structures including searchlight facilities, foundations for an SCR-296 radar transmitting station, and a few others.

Photo circa 1984 by Joe Stevens
Miller Point Bunker
before restoration
In June 1941 780 acres were reserved for the future fort. This is one of three forts in the vicinity of what was the US Navy Operating Base at Womens Bay on Nyman Penninsula, now a USGC base. The Miller Point fort was originally manned in April 1941 by Battery C, 250th Coast Artillery Regiment, California National Guard. They arrived on the Army transport St. Mihiel. It wasn't until April 2, 1943 that it was named for Lt. Col. William R. Abercrombie, a major US Army explorer of Alaska in the 19th century.

Other Ft. Abercrombies include one in North Dakota and ther may have been one in Kansas 1859 to 1877 but I can't find the reference.

Miller Point, later named Ft.Abercrombie, was part of a group of permanent coastal defense installations in the area. By November 11, 1941, it was manned by battery A. Battery B was located at Spruce Cape. (Part of Ft. Aberombie.) Battery C was at Long Island (later named Ft. Tidball, equipped with two six-inch guns). Battalion Headquarters was at Buskin Hill, with support barracks where the present day USCG housing is located at Nemetz Park. Battery D was at Cape Chiniak, later Ft. J.R. Smith. The batteries received the official "Fort" names on April 29, 1943. All ot these installations were part of Ft. Greely which was formally established in September 1941. (Named for arctic explorer, Maj. Gen. Adolphus W. Greely.) There were also searchlight installations at Kizhuyak Point and Mt. Herman (Spruce Is.). Bunkers are still on East Cape, Spruce Island.

The original crew of six observers were housed and fed at Ft. Greely. After the Pearl harbor attack, the site was manned continuously. Ultimately there were 150-200 men and about 25 Quonset huts at Abercrombie. All the Ft. Greely installations together reached a top strength of more than 11,000 men. In December 1944, all of the Ft. Greely installations were placed in caretaker status.

There are almost no Quonset hut remains in the park today. The Kodiak Military History Museum has title to a Quonset hut located in Bells Flats and intends to restore one or more Quonsets in the park. Volunteers will be needed.

Pole-cam photo by Joe Stevens
Miller Point Bunker
after restoration
There is a memorial located next to the Miller Point guns. One of the flag poles carries the Canadian flag. The RCAF stationed Bolingbroke bombers and fighters at the Naval Station but there is no mention of Canadians at Abercrombie. The memorial is a project of the Kodiak Lions Club.
Maps
This is from the Harbor Defense Annex.
Exhibit 41B, Miller Point, 8 inch Naval gun battery, site 16, September 1944. 694 Kb, 1688 x 2192. Google Earth coordinates of the 8-inch gun bunker: 57 50 12N 152 21 12W.

Armament
When the original members of the 250th Coast Artillery arrived on September 16, 1941, they had three 155mm (six-inch) batteries on Panama mounts. What happened to them? They were apparently originally situated at Spruce Cape, Woody Island, and Buskin Beach. At some time Abercrombie also had one automatic 40mm cannon, two .30 cal machine guns, and two .50 cal machine guns. Today there are two eight-inch guns, partially destroyed, displayed next to the remains of their original mounts.

Kodiak also had two 90mm batteries with two fixed guns each, a total of 52 .30-caliber machine guns, and an undetermined number of field artillery pieces.

One of the eight-inch gun barrels from Ft. J.R. Smith at Chiniak is displayed at the Buskin River Inn at the Kodiak Airport. The location of the other gun is unknown.

1943, Kodiak Historical Society The eight-inch Mark VI guns were designed as battleship guns for World War I. The photo shows Seabees installing a gun at Miller Point in 1943. The Army made special shore mounts to allow them to rotate all the way around. These weapons are described in the Artillery Catalog. The projectiles which weighed 200 to 260 pounds had manual time fuses, not proximity fuses. The guns were never fired at an enemy.

According to veteran Heavy Artillery Mechanic, George W. Reynolds "If my memory is correct, it seems to me that they destroyed [the eight inch guns at Miller Point] sometime just before Thanksgiving, 1948. The ones at Cape Chiniak were a little later."

From December 22, 1942, until September 1943, Roma O. Saltzgiver was the battalion radar officer for the 250th Coast Artillery in Kodiak. On August 2, 1976, the park ranger Dave Albert, interviewed Mr. Saltzgiver. Here is the transcript.

Firing Tables for the 8-inch guns. A Gene Slover project.

Summer 1943
Courtesy of Roma O. Saltzgiver
*
Courtesy of Roma O. Saltzgiver
*
1957
Gun battery emergency command station on top of ready ammo bunker. Don and Shirley Warner shown.
Searchlight shelter No. 22 Miller Point Don Warner shown.
Situation

Ft. Abercrombie today is reached by auto 3.7 miles from downtown Kodiak on East Rezanof Drive. There are signs to locate the main entrance to the Miller Point area which includes the park headquarters, camping facilities, and the gun emplacements. Some past park rangers were Dave Albert, Gary Reabold, Mike Goodwin, Ed Apperson, Claire Holland and now Wayne Biesel.

Piedmont Point
The Piedmont Point site which has a DEC bunker, a searchlight bunker, and the foundations of an SCR-296 radar tower is reached only by a hike through the woods from either the gun emplacement or from the end of Parkside Road.


SCR-296 radar building looking east,
1 August 1943 NOB Kodiak
(VFW collection)
Photo 1998 by Curt Law
Same site 1998
Photo by Joe Stevens
Searchlight bunker No. 21.

Only two in Kodiak are known to have a back door, the other is at Spruce Cape.
Photo by Joe Stevens
Searchlight bunker No. 21.
Photo by Joe Stevens
DEC for S/L 21 seen from S/L 21.
Report of Col. Bedford W. Boyes

Report of Col. Bedford W. Boyes Army (ret) 23 Aug 1975.
From "diary" of the 2nd Bn (reinforced) 250th Calif. maintained at Bn Hq Ft. Greely

1941

16 Sep - 2nd battalion 250th Coast Artillery (TD) arrived in Kodiak. (Battery C had arrived in April)

11 nov - ADC order "manned continuously -- Miller Point, Observation Post, 2d Bn Hq Btry. Spruce Cape -- Btry B, Long Island -- Btry C, Buskin Hill -- Bn Hq.

7 Dec - Pearl Harbor. 2nd Bn assumed battle positions. Bn order #30 "Miller Point Observation Station telephone to Spruce Cape, relay to Buskin Hill."

9 Dec - all buildings blacked out 2200 until daylight.

16 Dec - Bn command post acted as Joint Harbor Entrance Control Post.

- Dec - Included Miller Point in reconnaissance for harbor defenses. Monashka Bay and Mill Bay.

17 Dec - Searchlight installed Miller Point by Btry G.

21 Dec - Miller Point searchlight participated in Command Post Exercise.

1942

7 Mar - Search light at Spruce Cape - 2d platoon Btry X.

13 May - Navy contractors, Siems-Drake survey Miller Point for gun position. 155mm gun Panama mounts.

14 May - work begun on soil conditions tests.

3 June - Dutch Harbor attacked. Battle of Midway.

1943

5 Feb - two eight inch fixed gun installation had been constructed at Miller Point and assigned to Btry A, 250th Calif.

18 Mar - Further construction at Miller Point position. Also search light (Btry H). Guns mounted in open; critisided camouflage.

29 April - AG 660.2 (12-11-42)
Hq - Ft. Greely
Long Island - Ft. Tidball
Chiniak - Ft. J.R. Smith
Miller Point - Ft. Abercrombie

1944

250th Calif. moved to Seattle.

May - target practice for Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner (J.L. Farley, Col. Calif.)

Contractor
Siems-Drake was the prime contractor for the Navy base which was started in September 1939. They also did construction on Army jobs with the Seabees taking over in 1943. The Naval base construction cost about $70 million. Ft. Greely cost exceeded $17.6 million.

Seabees
Adapted from information provided by Reuben Burton, Jr. WA4RRK
rb4rrk (at) erols.com
May 1999

The 43rd NCB was commissioned during Nov.'42 at Davisville, R.I. facility after 3 weeks of boot camp. During the first week of Dec. we rode a troop train to Port Hueneme north of Los Angeles. The day after Christmas we boarded a train for Seattle and in two days we settled down on the USS Wharton [P-7], formerly known as the Southern Cross. Adm. Byrd used her on trips to the Antartic. We twiddled our thumbs for 9 days waiting for another battery and clearance. In a few days we sailed out of Puget Sound and into the meanest storm you would write home about. That mountain at the harbor was white from top to bottom. That was hardly a welcome sign for a group from generally Va. to Fla. and Texas. The next day our company was ordered to Sand Pt. in the Shumagin group. We remained there thru June. Built a good size pier and set poles of 110' for an antenna, a dipole. We were told the station would transmit a signal for aerial navagation. On our return to Kodiak we settled in Miller's Pt. in Quonset huts. Let's assume the bunker runs in an east west line. There was a road running down hill inland from the west end for something like a hundred or so yards. This was the area of the huts. Also in this area was the concrete mixer lying on the side of a slope. The cement, sand and gravel was dumped into the mixer from the high side of the slope, mixed in the revolving barrel, a large one, and eventually dumped into the trucks to be hauled to site of the bunker from the low side of the slope.

The concrete foundations for the artillery had been poured prior to moving to Miller's Pt. I assume by Siems Drake of Puget Sound, the private contractor. We never saw the guns. Anyway, we poured the floor, then commenced the job of forming the sides for the rooms and support for the roof. The maze of timbers to support the pouring of the roof was something else. I believe the roof is 7 feet thick. The network of reinforcing steel in this roof is overbuilt according to the experts. The bars near the bottom of the roof are square in cross section and one inch and a half in width. They are reduced in thicknest to three eights of an inch at the top.

The pouring time for this roof was 72 continous hours. Everyone in the group was involved. We worked shifts of 4 hours and off 8 hours. The trucks brought the concrete in a tub similar to an old style bath tub without an agitator. The concrete was dumped into a large bucket and hoisted over the roof area to be dumped by opening the bottom of the bucket. I was assigned to operate the vibrator. For those who don't know a vibrator is a tube of 3 feet in length and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. There is an eccentric in the tube which operates at a high rate of speed. It is turned by a cable within a flexible tube very much like a speedometer cable. As the concrete was poured in I would drop the eccentic into the flowing concrete and make the concrete run into all the nooks and cranies around the reinforcing steel rods. Droping this gadget through the maze of steel and withdrawing it to be dropped again in another slot of steel would keep you on your toes and in time you developed muscles you didn't realize were there. You see, I was 21 years old in a group of construction workers who averaged out at 37 years of age. These men had worked in the Great Depression on any job they could find, so they were rugged in more than one way. I can tell you I grew up fast. I was indeed fortunate to be associated with these men.

The roof forms remained in place for some 3 to 4 weeks. All of this work was performed in July and August which made the weather ideal for this time of year, as you know. 3 to 4 mos. after we poured this roof you could see the heat rising off it like a black top highway in August in Virginia. As the heat began to dissipate we commenced to pour sand over the structure for camouflage. We went so far as to plant shrubs in the sand, although I don't think they ever took root. You see, the sand came from the beach and was full of salt from the ocean.

When we were there was one road to Kodiak. It meandered through the forest and at one point it ran adjacent to a small bay. Not having a map I would say it was south and west of Miller's Pt.

We had 4 or 5 trucks to haul the sand from the bay to the bunker. I drove a Ford dump truck with a 5 yard capacity dump body. It had seen better days, but it served our purposes. You had to be careful, if not you could pop a universal joint with the slightest provication. One day I was hauling a load to the bunker, over the ups and downs of the road and I spotted a Command wagon headed my way. Both of us had to pull over to let each other by. Well I was headed down hill and put on the brakes and they failed, so, I turned to the right, went through some small trees and came to a stop in a creek and the truck caught on fire. I jumped out in the creek, raised the hood and tried to put out the fire with mud and water. At the same time, the occupants of the command wagon were in the water with me and one of them called for a fire extinguisher. Well, they couldn't find one on either vehicle. Well, the water and mud was flying from all directions and this man beside me was performing a noble job and at the same time laying down a good deal of profanity. In a few minutes we stopped the fire and stepped back to see what we had accomplished. I turned to this man beside me and recognized him as Errol Flynn. Now here was a real sport. He asked about my fire extinguisher. I said, On this truck? Who are you kidding? How about yours? We went to his wagon and we found one up near the roof and behind something. He had a great time kidding his fellow travelers. He had been at Millers Pt. as a representative of the U.S.O.

Later on we got the truck to the repair area, and the chief gave me a beautiful Mackbuldog. A big truck with a tandem rear end. I don't have the slightest idea of how much of that black sand we hauled from that bay but I can tell you that a storm came thru there one night with a lot of wind and the next morning when we arrived on the beach to continue, the road on the bank adjacent to the beach was washed away and the Northwest dragline we used to load the trucks was lying on its side in the bay. Seems like Mother Nature wanted the sand back.

While all of this going on we started another structure located down and away from the bunker by cutting away a bank to start the foundation. I don't know whatever became of that venture.

By the time September and October rolled around things began to slow down at Miller Pt. and some us were sent to Cape Chiniak. One night we were in our rec hall, a place for movies and such, and 5 or 6 men came in unannounced and sat down to "chew the fat". One was Stan Musial, the others were Frankie Frisch (Hall of Fame), Walker Cooper and Danny Litwiler. I'm sure you recognize Musial. Frisch had made his name some time before this meeting. The other two had been around a shade longer than Stan the Man. Musial was truly first rate. Very congenial. Frisch was stuck on himself. He made it a point to keep his beautiful World Series ring in full view. It was large. Had a green field with gold lines inlaid to represent the base lines and each base was a diamond. Cooper and Litwiler were major leaguers. Nice guys.

Around Nov. we moved to Bells Flats, and in December we boarded ship and headed across the Gulf of Alaska to the top of the Inside Passage, down to Ketichan, then to Seattle. From there it was to (then) Camp Parks just east of Livermore, California. We immediately went on a good leave for 30 days. Eventually I was detached from the good old 43rd and sent to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. I was there until Feb.45 and then sent back to Davisville, R.I. to join up with the 301st Battalion. This was the largest CB battalion. Over 2000 men. A dredging and diving group. We were spread from Guam to Pelileu to the Phillipines to Okinawa. I was billeted on the dredge New Jersey. A large and powerful machine. It dredged the harbor at Agana down to 40 feet. The 43rd went to Maui after 3 to 4 mos. in California and then to Nagasaki very shortly after the surrender. I believe the Battalion was disbaned in Nov. or Dec. 45. I was discharged in Jan 46. Would I do it again? You betcha.

Reuben Burton, Jr.



Reuben Burton, Jr.
Click for bigger view

Taken at the beach in the area of the washout. The man on the left with the black hat is a surveyor from Staunton, Va. The man in the center is a truck driver from Georgia. The man on the right is Reuben Burton, Jr. The bay is to the right. There is a pond in the left of the picture. The hole through the trees to Reuben's left is the road to Miller's Point.
Click for bigger view

Inside the Quonset hut used as a canteen. A pool table is located behind the group. The white square above their heads is a movie screen. Taken just before the arrival of Stan Musial and group.

Sign for Miller's Point Canteen from the previous picture.
Links

(Note: If largest photo version doesn't load, it may be only available on our CD-ROM of the website.)

http://www.kadiak.org/abercrombie/abercrom.html This page updated 2009 December 18

www.ka diak.org