Endicott Foritifactions in the NW.

This post under construction.

Endicott Fortifications

Secretary of War William Crowninshield Endicott.

By the end of the 19th century, America was emerging as a global power. Flush with victory from the Spanish-American War and the new possessions of Cuba and the Philippines, American officials began to worry about the attention this newfound influence would bring from the great European empires.

In 1885 a Presidential board was appointed to evaluated the nation’s coastal defenses. The board consisted of experts from the Army, Navy and civilians, chaired by then Secretary of War William Endicott. Officially known as the Board of Fortifications, their 1886 report issued a dire warning of neglect and obsolete coastal defenses, recommending a $127 million program to construct 29 forts on the most vulnerable waterways.

The Endicott Board, as it became known, suggested fixed fortifications with breech-loading, rifled cannons (a major improvement over the smaller smoothbore cannons in use at the time), anti-ship mortars, and submarine mines. The revetments and parapets were made of earth and reinforced concrete rather than masonry, and the large cannons were often mounted on carriages that retracted after firing, allowing easier reloading by their crews and protecting the cannons from incoming naval fire.

Endicott fortifications at Admiralty Inlet.

Endicott-period fortifications (those built between 1885-1905) usually mounted 14″, 12″, 10″, 8″, or 6″ guns in batteries of two, with various smaller caliber guns to protect minefields and flanks. The defense was focused on long-range precision-fired cannons and large mortars rather than the large batteries of inaccurate cannons they replaced. The fortifications were intended to slow an enemy fleet so friendly naval ships could move in and drive the enemy off. Lessons from the Spanish-American War led planners to expect enemy fleets with steel armored hulls and decks, requiring massive weapons to penetrate the ship’s armor.

Northwest Defense

Among the sites noted for new construction were the mouth of the Columbia River and the entrance to Puget Sound. The Sound was considered especially important due to the amount of shipping trade, raw resources, and naval bases in the area, not to mention the port cities of Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma.

Puget Sound map 1
Four yellow stars indicate the positions of Endicott-era forts defending Puget Sound.

Puget Sound connects to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which empties into the Pacific Ocean. Two access points large enough for ocean vessels exist at Deception Pass in the north, and Admiralty Inlet in the south. Deception Pass is difficult for large vessels to navigate, and empties to the east side of Whidbey Island. Careful navigation would be required to pass through both stretches. Guarding the northern route was a single Endicott position on Goat Island, named Fort Whitman. The fort held four 6″ guns overlooking a submarine minefield that could be remotely detonated. The gun battery was built in 1911.

google earth 3
Area of maximum effect from the interlinked batteries of all three forts.

Admiralty Inlet presented a greater threat due to being the more accessible waterway, thus needing a more robust defense. Also, minefields had to be much more carefully sewn since the majority of traffic was for shipping (I still don’t know if any of these forts made use of submarine mine or not). The defensive design called for three forts which could interlink fire from their main batteries and mortars, creating a deadly zone known as the “Triangle of Death”.

Historical photo of gunnery training on Endicott fortifications.

The network of forts essentially ringed Port Townsend, and considering the 10″ main cannons in each battery had a range of nearly eight miles, the tiny town may have come out worse for wear should such an engagement happen. Fortunately, the only target to receive fire from any of the forts was the occasional drone buoy for target practice.





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