coast defense

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Nahant Sites

During WW2, Nahant played a key role in the harbor defenses of Boston. Four different batteries of coast artillery were located here, including Battery Murphy on East Point (two 16-inch guns), Battery Gardner at Fort. Ruckman (two 12-inch guns), Battery 206 at East Point (two of the newer 6-inch guns) and a temporary battery of two 155 mm guns that was emplaced at the tip of East Point early in 1942 while the other batteries were being built. In addition, a battery of three 3-inch antiaircraft guns was emplaced a short distance NW of Fort Ruckman, on what are now town-owned playing fields.

These emplaceements made Nahant the most heavily armed site in the entire harbor defense system, The location of the Nahant peninsula, jutting out toward the northern approches to Boston, and its height above sea level likely led to its priority as a site for coast artillery. The 16-inch, 12-inch, and 6-inch gun batteries were designated by the Army as three of the five top assets in the Boston Harbor defenses, in terms of tactical importance (the other two being the 16" guns of Battery Long in Hull and the 6" guns of Battery Jewell on Outer Brewster Island).

During the WW2 period, Nahant was also the site of five fire control structures (FCSs), making it second only to the pre-war complex at Fort Dawes (Deer Island) in terms of importance for the harbor's fire control system capacity. Four of the tall fire control towers were located there--two 8-story towers on Swallow Cave Rd. and two 6-story towers, one just west of Ft. Ruckman and one to the northweast of East Point, just off what is now Nahant Rd. In addition a fifth structure, a dual-station fire control cottage indicated on the map in Slide 2 at left as Location 131 Site 5A,, was located to the north and east of the Nahant Rd. tower, above a rock formation known as Spouting Horn (see Slides 3 and 4 at left). This structure was destroyed after the war, and a private home was built on the site. These structures were added to three older, pre-war fire control positions that were located in a 1920s-era building on the northern end of Bayley's Hill at Ft. Ruckman. [A target tracking radar for the Nike missile defense system was built in the 1950s even closer to the northern tip of Bayley's Hill.] East Point was also the location of the operations bunker for the northern group of magnetic loop cables that were used to warn of ships approaching Boston Harbor. This bunker still exists today.

For more detail on these sites, see the submenu tabs under "Nahant."

Suggested Reading: A very useful volume for those interested in exploring Nahant's coast defense assets in more detail is Gerald W. Butler's fine work, "Military Annals of Nahant, Massachusetts." Liberally illustrated with photographs and also with unique drawings by the author, based upon his research at the Nahant gun batteries, this 383-page soft cover book was published by the Nahant Historical Society in 1996, and is available from them.

Images of Nahant

  • Tower-and-Gun-1
    This image, taken from Bayley's Hill, shows the reenforced concrete casemate of Gun 1 at Btty Gardner. Today (in 2010), a public park sits atop the battery, whose gun positions have been walled off. The 6-story fire control tower to the left contained the Battery Commander's observation station for Btty Gardner, plus two base end stations (one each for each of Boston's 6-inch batteries) and an observation station for the commander of the northern coast artillery group. (PG 2009)
  • Nahant-Area-Map
    This wartime map shows the relative locations of Nahant's gun batteries and fire control structures. Btty Murphy is noted here as Btty 104. The monitoring station for the northern magnetic detection cable loops was located just south and a bit west of the 155 mm gun position shown on this map. (US Army Engineers)
  • Spouting-Horn-Bing
    This Bing map looks southerly. The former Site 5A cottage was located on the lawn south of the house at center. The orange pin indicates the location of the most southerly observation instrument in the cottage, that of the Battery Commander for Btty Murphy at East Point. The house at center was built after the war, after the Site 5A cottage was razed. The top of the cliff is about 60 ft. above sea level.
  • 131-5A-Site
    This photo looks north from the woods behind the lawn upon which the former Site 5A fire control cottage was located. Egg Rock is seen beyond the shore. No trace of the former cottage remains. (PG 2010)