As the U.S. entered World War I, the War Department saw it neccessary to fortify Rockaway Peninsula. Fort Tilden was named in 1917 and emergency defense works were constructed. The defenses consisted of two batteries with two 6-inch guns each, known as East Battery and West Battery. A platform for a 12-inch mortar battery was also constructed on adjacent land in Naval Air Station Rockaway, today's Jacob Riis Park.
With the end of the war, most of Fort Tilden's soldiers were reassigned and a small caretaker detachment remained to care for the Post, but the fortifications construction continued. In 1919, two 3-inch anti-aircraft guns were completed and in 1938, anti-aircraft Battery #5 was finished and used throughout World War II.
In 1924, Battery Harris's two 16-inch guns were emplaced. These were the largest caliber guns used in seacoast defenses. East Battery was renamed Battery Fergusson and West Battery was named Battery Kessler. Battery Fergusson was later replaced by Battery 220 and Kessler was modernized and used in World War II.
By 1941, it became apparent that U.S. involvement in World War II was approaching. Fort Tilden went from a small caretaker detachment to 1,000 men by June 1st. Construction of many barracks and support buildings occurred to support this increase in troops.
Battery Harris, and its 16-inch guns, were casemated in 1943 to protect them from aerial bombing. This new concrete structure also allowed easier handling of its one-ton artillery shells. An overhead trolley system on rails hanging from the new ceilings could transport the heavy artillery shells to the guns.
In addition to Battery Harris, Battery Kessler, Battery 220, and Anti-aircraft Battery # 5, Fort Tilden added a battery of three .50 caliber Anti-aircraft guns to further augment its defenses for World War II.
Click here to learn more about New York Harbor Defenses 1907-1945.
Click here to learn about Fort Tilden in the Cold War.
Read an oral history by Lt. Colonel Willis, who served at Fort Tilden in the World War II years.