Battery “C”, C.M.T.C., Fort Hancock, New Jersey


Ever since David Adams came from New Orleans to Galveston in 1861 to enlist in the Texas Artillery that played a decisive role in the victory of January 1, 1863 that maintained the freedom of the port city until after the end of the war – the city of Galveston was the last Southern place to surrender during the war of northern aggression – the artillery business has been something of the family trade when it comes to military service. John W. Young, Margaret Edythe’s brother, was a captain in the coastal artillery during the first World War who would rise to the rank of colonel and become one of the founders of the American Legion after the war. William J. Leach long before he met and married Margaret Edythe Young’s daughter, Laureene, trained in the coastal artillery and this entry is a photographic record of that experience.

Battery “D”, Tent 8, Left to Right, Faul [Blue], Wood [Red], Chatfield [Red], Leach [Red], McBrian [White], Hegeman [Red]

The CMTC wasn’t really the regular army for the trainees. The acronym translates to Citizens’ Military Training Campwhich was an alternative to universal military training,  rejected by the National Defense Act of 1920,  and was essentially an ROTC program for men who may not have otherwise had one available either because they did not go to college or their college did not offer such a program.  The program established that participants could receive a reserve commission as a second lieutenant by completing four successive summer courses (titled Basic, White, Red, and Blue) and while only 5,000 such commissions were awarded it is estimated that at least 400,000 men received at least one summer of military training through the program.

Fort Hancock sits in the shadow of the Sandy Hook lighthouse and is the first fort in a series guarding New York and it was originally designed, at the start of the civil war,  to have 170 gun positions that could cover the outer harbor and threaten enemy warships trying to stay out of the range of the main guns of Forts Richmond, Tompkins, Lafayette and Hamilton which guarded the Narrows.

The biggest guns ever mounted at Fort Hancock were the 12 inch “disappearing” guns. The type of disappearing gun at Battery Potter at Fort Hancock was built in 1892 and instead of using recoil from the gun to lower the weapon, two 12-inch carriages were placed on individual hydraulic elevators that would raise the 110-ton carriage and gun 14 feet to enable it fire over a parapet wall. After firing, the gun was lowered for reloading using hydraulic ramrods and a shell hoist. While the operation of the battery was slow, taking 3 minutes per shot, its design allowed an unlimited field of fire.

Battery Potter required a huge amount of machinery to operate the gun lifts, including boilers, steam pressure pumps and two accumulators. Due to the inability to generate steam quickly, Potter’s boilers were run nonstop during its 14 year life, creating a significant operating cost.  These guns had been taken out of service long before William Leach arrived there – they were decommissioned about 1906 [the year he was born] – but they were still in place and intact and were certainly interesting enough to photograph.

The M1900 Rifle [pictured above] at Fort Totten, which was all the other way at the end of New York harbor at Willet’s Point guarding the East River from its entrance at Long Island Sound, was a 12 inch bore that was 40 feet long and whose barrel weighed 132,380 pounds. Eight of these guns would be installed at Fort Mills, Corregidor, Philippine Islands and would not account for a single Japanese warship in 1941 although using smaller caliber weapons the garrison held out against an invasion force 75,000 strong for five months.

The guns on which the CMTC men trained were six-inch guns and they  were medium range (15 miles) guns used for coastal defense against light cruisers, destroyers, and other light craft. These guns were mounted on disappearing carriages or shielded barbette mounts. The M1900 carriage only provided a frontal shield, but later carriages included a wrap-around style shield that protected the gun and crew from three sides and from above. These guns had a rate of fire of 4 round per minute, and were called “Rapid Fire” guns. A 75mm gun could be mounted on the main gun tube for training purposes to allow gun crews to practice firing drills without using expensive ammunition. The 75 mm T16 guns (for the M1903A3), or the 75mm T17 guns (for the M1905A2) were used for this purpose.

Various type of carriages were utilized to mount these guns. All carriages required prepared concrete emplacements. These guns utilized either an electric or friction primer that was inserted into the obturator spindle at the rear of the breechblock and retained by the firing lock. This primer was either electrically fired or initiated by pulling a lanyard to ignite the small powder charge located within the primer.

The breeches of these guns were equipped with a “DeBange Obturator”. This device was used to seal the breech to prevent the damaging escape of hot propellant gases during firing. These guns used a powder charge contained in cloth bags instead of a one-piece brass cartridge. The nitrocellulose powder charges were contained in cloth bags that were made from a special raw silk known as “cartridge cloth”. This cloth burns without leaving any smouldering residue in the barrel which would present a safety hazard when loading the subsequent round. These powder charges were stored in separate magazines from the shells for safety reasons. A 32 pound power charge was used with the HE shell, and a 37 pound charge with the heavier AP shell.

Two basic types of projectiles were manufactured for these guns. Armor Piercing (AP) shells containing 4.5 pounds of Explosive D and weighing 108 pounds, and High Explosive (HE) shells filled with 14 pounds of TNT and weighing 90.5 pounds (unfuzed). The AP shell used a M47 Point Detonating Fuze, had a thicker shell, and used less explosive filler. The caliber of these guns were usually about 50. The term “caliber” in this case, refers to the ratio of the length of the barrel to the diameter of the bore. A 50 caliber gun with a 6 inch bore will have a barrel length of 300 inches or 25 feet. (6″ x 50cal = 300 inches/12 inches per ft = 25′)

A manual crank handle was used to aim these guns in azimuth. Later carriages were equipped with the M7 automatic data transmission system that allowed the crew to simply match the gun position to the pointer. The pointer was remotely set by the plotting room after the correct values were plotted and corrected. The gun was elevated using a manual hand wheel, or on later model guns, an electric-hydraulic elevation motor system was installed. Maximum elevation was 47.5 degrees, maximum depression was -5 degrees. The M2 carriage was equipped with the Atlantic Elevator Company Electric Elevation Drive, which automatically pointed the gun in elevation. A safety interlock prevented the gun from moving while the breech was open. Hand ramming was used to load the gun. No power rammers were required or installed. The M1903 and M1905 guns used a loading elevation of 10 degrees.

When the firing lock hammer was tripped by a lanyard or by the application of an electric current, the small primer cap within the primer ignited the black powder in the primer, which fired a jet of flame through the vent in the breech block, which in turn ignited the igniter charge of black powder located on the back of the powder bag. This ignited the main charge in the powder bag, which continued to burn while the projectile was forced out of the barrel. The soft copper rotating band on the projectile engaged the lands of the rifling in the barrel and forced the projectile to rotate. This rotation stabilized the projectile in flight and provided for accuracy. Once the projectile cleared the muzzle, any unburned powder continued to burn, but did not increase the velocity of the projectile since the expanding gases in the barrel could no longer exert any force on the rear of the projectile. An air scavenging system was installed on later model guns (A2 versions) to clear the breech of any burning residue with compressed air after the gun was fired. This protected the crew from the potential hazard of residual burning embers igniting the new powder charge while the breech was open for loading. These guns required cleaning after firing to protect the barrel from corrosion. Long rammers with burlap tips were dipped in a solution of soap and water to clean the barrel. All parts were cleaned and oiled to prevent the salt air from corroding the steel parts.

“Artillery succeeded where, otherwise, we would have failed.” General Charles P. Summerall

Other than death and taxes there is nothing that a civilian can be certain of. Both of these certainties hold true for the serviceman as well but he has a third certainty – INSPECTION! Here the camp is being inspected by the then Chief of Staff of the Army General Charles Pelot Summerall – a man who was uniquely qualified to do so.

Born in Blount’s Ferry, Florida in 1867, Charles Pelot Summerall attended the Porter Military Academy in South Carolina from 1882 to 1885. After graduation, he worked as a school teacher for three years. In 1888 he enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated in June 1892. He was first assigned to the 1st Infantry but transferred to the 5th Artillery in March of 1893.

Charles Summerall fought in the Spanish-American war in 1898. From 1899 to 1900 he fought in the Philippine Insurrection as an Engineer Officer and promoted to 1st Lieutenant. In 1900-1901 he was promoted to Captain and assigned to the 106th Field Artillery while participating in the attack on Peking during the China Relief Expedition at the time of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion.

From 1905 to 1911, Charles Summerall was the Senior Instructor of Artillery Tactics at West Point. He was promoted to Major in 1911 and put in charge of purchasing land for artillery training on behalf of the U.S. Army. In 1915 he was assigned to investigating the manufacture of munitions to be purchased by the U.S. Army.

Charles Summerall was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1916, and ‘full bird’ Colonel in 1917. In August of 1917 he was promoted to Brigadier-General. Serving on the front line in France during World War One, Major-General Charles Summerall was Commander of the First Division and later became Commander of the Fifth Corps. November 21st, 1926 Major-General Summerall became Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. He was promoted to full (four-star) General in 1929. In November 1930 after 38 years of service, he retired from the U.S. Army.

Captain Denis, B.A.C. Commander “D” Battery, Ft. Hancock, NJ, August 1927

Even though the service is about many things it was, for William J. Leach,  ultimately about the people he  served with and so we will end this entry with pictures of men that he still remembered and spoke highly of fifty years after the fact.

Lieutenant Selby – Battery “A”

Corporal O’Connor

Lee and “Huck” Salzman

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