The slow journey and celebrated arrival of the historic USS Missouri 16-inch gun barrel on April 18, 2012, at Fort Miles was a milestone in the development of the fort, but it was only the first phase of a project to create a gun display.
Four massive pieces are needed by the Fort Miles Historical Association to complete the display on the grounds of Battery 519, where it will sit at the entrance of a proposed World War II museum in Cape Henlopen State Park. Members of the association located the parts in 2011 at Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia.
On Jan. 17, association president Gary Wray received notice from the base commander releasing the pieces to the association. “It has taken tremendous efforts to secure money and permissions to get them from Virginia to the fort,” Wray said.
Wray said a $70,000 grant from the Delaware General Assembly will help fund most of the moving costs.
The parts include a 50-ton slide that will surround the middle of the barrel; a 50-ton base – called a girder – to hold the barrel and slide; a 19-ton yoke that will fit over the end of the barrel; and a 5,300- pound breechblock that will attach to the yoke. The girder is thought to be the last one in existence.
Fort Miles will also receive part of a 17.5-inch thick armor plate with a hole where it was pierced by a shell fired from a 16-inch gun. “Fort Miles will be the only place to see a 16-inch gun and shell and what it can do,” Wray said.
Lockwood Brothers of Hampton, Va., the same contractor who moved the Missouri gun barrel, has met with association members at Fort Miles to plan the move, which said could take place as early as the end of February.
Wray said once the gun parts arrive at Fort Miles, fundraising will begin to finish the project.
Wray said railroad ties will be placed on the sand to support the weight of the pieces and heavy-lift cranes will be needed to lift and place the parts. “That will be after thousands of hours have been spent removing rust and painting,” Wray said. “This is a costly and time-consuming project, but we're looking forward to it.”
After looking for a 16-inch gun barrel for a decade, the association raised $155,000 to save and transport the 120-ton Missouri gun barrel from the Norfolk Naval Base to Cape Henlopen State Park. The complex move by railcar and truck included a ferry ride across the Chesapeake Bay.
The gun barrel was salvaged from the USS Missouri, the battleship on whose deck the Japanese signed the surrender that ended World War II on Sept. 2, 1945. The gun is similar to a pair that guarded the entrance to Delaware Bay in Fort Miles during the war. All Fort Miles guns were removed after the war and sold for scrap metal – the same fate that awaited the Missouri gun barrel had it not been secured by the association.
Wray said Paul Nicolson of Delaware State Parks, who is chairman of the Fort Miles working group, has played a pivotal role in the project.
For more information go to www.fortmiles.org.