The Guard during World War II: A Look Back at the Coast Artillery
A Washington National Guardsmen stands by his Coast Artillery position near Hawthron, CA (circa 1942).
In the morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, more than 350 Imperial Japanese fighter planes, bombers and torpedo planes launched from six aircraft carriers in two waves, attacking the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor.
The surprise military strike led the U.S. calling for a formal declaration of war on the Empire of Japan and its official entrance into World War II.
Ten months prior to the United States being thrust into World War II, two units of the Washington National Guard were called into federal service at North Fort Lewis to begin training on a highly important mission that would span the course of the war.
The 205th Coast Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft)
The 205th Coast Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft) and 248th Coast Artillery Regiment (Harbor Defense) were called into service Feb. 3, 1941, to begin training on what would be a four-year mission of protecting the West Coast of the U.S. and the major metropolitan cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.
In June of 1941, the unit began mobilization across the West Coast and parts of Alaska. Battery “E”, 205th Coast Artillery, set sail from Seattle for Seward, Alaska. In July, two additional batteries of the 205th joined them as part of the defense of the Northwest Passage.
On Oct. 29, 1941, the War Department directed the remaining units of the 205th Coast Artillery to move to Camp Haan, near Los Angeles, California. The unit arrived for duty Nov. 22, 1941, only two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After more than two years of service in the southern California region, the 205th went through a number of reorganizations. Some units split off and were assigned to other commands. One such unit was the 530th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Weapons Battalion (AAAW BN) (originally 2nd Battalion, 205th Coast Artillery) which was mobilized to Greenock, Scotland in December 1944. The 530th AAAW BN was reassigned to the 15th Army, and moved to Germany in April 1945 before returning to New York City for deactivation on Halloween Day 1945.
Today, the 205th Coast Artillery lineage is still serving proudly in the Washington National Guard’s 205th Regimental Training Institute, based at Camp Murray, Washington.
Battle of Los Angeles
On the night of Feb. 24, 1942, just three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, air raid sirens sounded throughout Los Angeles County, signifying an attack was eminent. A total blackout was ordered and thousands of air raid wardens were summoned to their positions.
Washington National Guardsmen from the 205th Coast Artillery assigned to the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade took their positions in the evening darkness, preparing to defend their country from another attack.
Then at 3:17 a.m., the Guardsmen began firing their 50-caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells into the air at reported aircraft. More than 1,400 shells would be launched throughout the next hour. When the “all-clear” was given at 7:21 a.m. several buildings and vehicles were damaged by shell fragments.
Within hours of the end of the air raid, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox held a press conference, saying the entire incident was a false alarm due to anxiety and “war nerves.” A statement by the Army the following day claimed the incident might have been caused by commercial airplanes used as a psychological warfare campaign to generate panic.
Speculation was rampant as to invading airplanes and their bases. Theories included a secret base in northern Mexico, as well as Japanese submarines stationed offshore with the capability of carrying planes. Others speculated that the incident was either staged or exaggerated to give coastal defense industries an excuse to move further inland.
In 1983, the Office of Air Force History concluded that an analysis of the evidence points to meteorological balloons as the cause of the initial alarm.
The 248th Coast Artillery Regiment (Harbor Defense)
The 248th Coast Artillery Regiment (Harbor Defense) was called into active federal service by Presidential Proclamation on August 31, 1940.
One of the original Field Artillery units of the 2nd Infantry, Washington National Guard Regiments, the 248th was no stranger to federal activations. Organized into 12 companies of Coast Artillery, the 248th was ordered by the President of the United States on July 25, 1917 into federal service and assigned to duty at the harbor Defenses of Puget Sound.
As coastal artillery become more important after World War I, the 248th added three more companies in Aberdeen, Snohomish and Olympia. With the addition of the 205th Coast Artillery Regiment in 1939, Washington had two units focus on the defense of the coastlines against enemy aircraft.
On Sept. 1, 1940, the 248th Coast Artillery was organized by combining the 1st Battalion and Regimental Headquarters Battery, 248th Coast Artillery. On Sept. 16, 1940, the 248th Coast Artillery (HD) was inducted into federal service at the home station of the respective batteries and concentrated at Fort Worden, Washington. The entire 248th Coast Artillery was relieved of Harbor Defense duties and transferred to Camp Barkeley, Texas, leaving Fort Worden, on April 25, 1944.