Battery Townsley


In the late 1930s, with war already underway in Spain and China, global tensions were building steadily. In the United States, strategists called for a modernization of our long neglected coastal defenses and by 1937 projects of this sort were underway in several Bay Area locations.

Battery Townsley, Ft. Cronkhite

A view over Battery Townsley’s southern gun emplacement toward Rodeo Beach and Pt. Bonita.

The defense build up must have been a daunting challenge for planners. Aircraft had matured greatly in the preceding decade and coastal batteries could no longer hunker with impunity behind earthworks. They now needed protection from above in the form of reinforced concrete casemates, although some batteries would have to rely on the stealth afforded by less expensive camouflage netting. The coastal batteries of the time also had to confront the specter of battleships mounting sixteen-inch guns. This gave the opposition substantial firepower with a range of over 20 miles. The answer was to build new defensive batteries mounting the same sixteen-inch armament. San Francisco was home to what were essentially prototype batteries for these huge guns – Battery Davis at Fort Funston on the San Francisco coast and Battery Townsley on Tennessee Point at Fort Cronkhite in the Marin Headlands.

Battery Townsley

From the GGNRA archive – pouring cement for Battery Townsley, a 1938 construction photo.

Preliminary planning for Battery Townsley had spanned a decade. Once funds were approved in 1937, the battery’s two gun emplacements and supporting spaces for ammunition, targeting, and personnel were constructed quickly using a cut and fill technique. Battery Townsley fired the first 16” round from the US Pacific Coast on 1 July 1940. The battery was a major defense asset during WW II with a staff of 150 or so men. It remained on active status until 1948 when it was declared obsolete.

Battery Townsley, Ft. Cronkhite

A view of Battery Townsley’s southern gun emplacement.

I visited Battery Townsley some 64 years later and it remains an impressive work. The guns are long gone – each gun’s 1,000,000 pounds of steel cut up for scrap in the 1940s – but the concrete casements are in good shape and the earth cover continues to conceal the largely inaccessible support spaces of the battery. I flew a Sutton 16 in a fairly stiff breeze and it lifted the camera cradle with ease during an altogether pleasant photo session.

Here is a set of images from the session that I have posted to Flickr:




I am taking these aerial photographs as a volunteer with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For more information see

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