Homeland Security of the 1930s
This battery, named in honor of Major General Clarence P. Townsley, a general officer in World War I, represented the zenith of American military technology and became the prototype for subsequent coastal defense batteries. As early as 1915, the army considered mounting the 16-inch guns to protect San Francisco, and by 1928, the War Department made the decision to construct two batteries, one on either side of the Golden Gate straits. Battery Townsley at Fort Cronkhite in Marin was finished first, followed several months later by Battery Davis at Fort Funston.
By summer of 1940, Battery Townsley was ready for testing with live ammunition. Waiting for a non-foggy day in July took some patience, but finally, the fog cleared and several test shots were fired. As the mountain shock with the power of this incredible machine, a resounding roar was heard throughout San Francisco. The army calculated that the 16-inch guns' farthest range would be 25 miles out to sea, about the distance to the Farallon Islands. Battery Townsley, together with Battery Davis at Fort Funston on the coast south of the Golden Gate, became the prototypes for the army's future coastal defenses; the army planned to construct at least 25 additional 16-inch gun batteries along both the nation's eastern and western seaboards.
The growing threat of long-range bombers and nuclear weapons made Battery Townsley obsolete at the end of World War II. Its long-range guns, designed to shoot at battleships far at sea, were useless against aircraft flying at tens of thousands of feet. The big guns were scraped in late 1948, and the battery converted to use as a warehouse, temporary barracks, and underground test facility. Sealed for many years, the National Park Service began restoration work in 2006. Work continues to this day, carried out by a group of dedication Volunteers in Parks (VIPs).
Visiting Battery Townsley
Battery Townsley is now open to the public the 1st Sunday of the month, from 12 noon to 4 PM.
Battery Townsley is located one ½ mile up from the Fort Cronkhite parking lot, following the Coastal Trail; the walk up to the battery is strenuous so please allow at least 45 minutes. If you would like to request assistance to the site on open-to-the public days, please call the Marin Headlands Visitor Center at (415) 331-1540.
You can also visit the Marin Headlands page for more information about volunteering in the battery's preservation efforts, as well as directions and other programs and activities.