Fort Miles seeks World War II artifacts

A mannequin stands behind a 20 mm AA gun from a German U-boat that sank off Rhode Island in May 1945. The gun was recovered, restored, and is on display in Battery 519 at Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park. SOURCE SUBMITTED
August 30, 2014

Fort Miles Historical Association is enlisting the public's help to scout out artifacts for its World War II collection, ranging from cannons to a truck.

The fort in Cape Henlopen State Park needs a World War II-era weapons carrier with wheels (no tracks), WC-55 truck, cargo, 1 1/2-ton Dodge weapons carrier, said Dr. Gary D. Wray, FMHA president. The truck would be used to tow FMHA's WWII searchlight trailer, he said.

The wish list also includes two 155 mm GPF guns, M1918M1 or equivalent; one AMTB gun, 90 mm gun M1 on mount M3; two 6-inch coast artillery guns with shields, M1903A2 shielded gun, barbette; and five WWII-era shell tongs, metal/aluminum, used to grasp 12-inch shells weighing about 950 pounds.

Wray said it is not farfetched to think that the public could help the fort find such matériel.

Volunteers at the fort worked more than six years to restore a Flak38, 20mm AA gun from a German submarine sunk off Point Judith, R.I., May 6, 1945, the day before Germany surrendered.

In 1968, Melvin Joseph of Millsboro received permission from the German government to raise and restore the boat, U-853, which was the sister ship to a German submarine that surrendered to troops at Fort Miles May 14, 1945.

Although the mission to raise the U-853 was unsuccessful, divers recovered a gun that was taken to Georgetown and displayed in front of Joseph's business, Wray said.

Joseph donated the weapon to Delaware Technical Community College in the early 1970s. The college was unsure how to use the gun, so it sat in a wooded area outside the Delaware Tech Owens Campus buildings until 2004, when Wray found it. FMHA board member Joe Johnson had a truck from Coastal Towing haul it to his shop on Route 1, Wray said.

The refurbished gun is on display in Battery 519 at the fort, which defended Delaware Bay from German surface ships during World War II.

"That just shows that the artifacts we need could be here in Sussex County or on Delmarva," Wray said. "They could be across the United States, in someone's backyard or scrap heap. If you have anything on our list, we would like to have it."

He said the fort's World War II-era searchlight, a 1942 Sperry 60-inch spotlight with 800 million candlepower, was an eBay find.

"We struck gold there. You never know where World War II memorabilia will turn up," Wray said.

The association also needs one 90 mm AMTB gun; five WWII-era hoists, one-ton capacity chain fall with 6-inch trolley (hook type can be modified), used to handle 12-inch shells weighing about 950 pounds; and 15 12-inch powder canisters, used to store powder bags (each canister contained four powder bags).

The fort will evaluate memorabilia from veterans who served at Fort Miles during the war; civilians who worked there; and post-WWII items directly related to the fort, especially pictures, said Shawn B. Heacock, park interpreter, Cape Henlopen State Park - Fort Miles.

"We're very interested in items directly related to Fort Miles, including uniforms and mementos from people who served there, items traceable to the base and Fort Miles photographs from the World War II era," Heacock said. "We want donors to know that the items might be in storage for quite some time while we build our collections and prepare our displays.

"Unfortunately, we can't accept uniforms or memorabilia from veterans who did not serve at the fort," he added. "We appreciate their service, but we simply don't have the room."

Wray said the association would gratefully accept donations of items on the wish list, but he did not rule out paying for them.

"We're a nonprofit organization, so we don't have a lot of money to spare," he said. "We hope anyone with a 90 mm gun to sell would bear that in mind."

The association was formed in 2003 to restore Fort Miles to its World War II appearance and build it into a world-class WWII museum.

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