Gun #386 arrives at Battery Townsley


Moving 16" gun to Battery Townsley

The 16″ gun being moved to its cradle adjacent to Battery Townsley, and the serpentine path it took to get there.(stitched panorama)

On October 1, 2012 I spent an interesting day out at the Marin Headlands watching the ingenious riggers of the Bigge Crane & Rigging Company move a 16” gun up the hill to Battery Townsley. Battery Townsley in the Marin Headlands and Battery Davis on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach were the two Bay Area batteries armed (of four planned) with 16” guns in World War II. Each battery had two gun emplacements within a huge concrete construction housing guns, munition storage, generators, and in the case of Townsley up to 150 resident troops.

Moving 16" gun to Battery Townsley

The 16″ gun barrel waiting at the Rodeo Beach trailhead before the climb to Battery Townsley. The barrel is loaded on carriages with large diesel trucks pushing and pulling.

Battery Townsley received its two guns in 1939 and was ready for action soon thereafter. Placing the guns was no small feat since they are the largest rifles ever made for the US arsenal. Each barrel weighed almost a quarter-million pounds and stretched 68 feet from breech to muzzle. The battery was decommissioned as an artillery emplacement by 1948 and its guns were cut up for scrap in that year.

Moving 16" gun to Battery Townsley

Preparing to hoist the gun barrel on a temporary gantry.

Fast-forward to the current day, the Marin Headlands are now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and visitors can take a short hike up the hill to see the once secret Battery Townsley. For several years now a group of park volunteers has been restoring the battery. If you time your visit to coincide with their open house days you can tour the interior of the installation – great fun. As part of this restoration project a plan was developed to install and display a surplus naval gun nearly identical to the guns originally mounted at Battery Townsley. The surplus gun was sourced from the Naval Weapons Depot in Hawthorne, Nevada where it had been stored since 1953. In one of those pleasant little turns of history the company that won the modern day bid to move the barrel from Nevada to the Marin Headlands was Bigge, the same company that moved the original guns in 1939. It was Bigge Drayage Company back then.

Bigge moving the original gun barrel in 1939

Bigge moving the original gun barrel in 1939 (image courtesy of NPS).

These photographs were taken during a pleasant day watching the crew methodically move this huge gun up the hill and into its storage place next to the battery. I began the day with a series of pole photographs of the gun in the Rodeo Beach parking lot (there was no wind in the morning). In the early afternoon I shot a quick round of kite aerial photographs at Rodeo Beach, the gun was still at the Rodeo Beach trailhead while transport hydraulics were tuned. I then hiked up to Battery Townsley to photograph the placement of the gun. I had originally planned to shoot a quick series of the gun being pulled through one of the hairpin turns on the approach road but my timing was off and I did not want to add distraction to what was a rather intense hauling session.

Here is a set of kite aerial images of the move that I have posted to Flickr:




And another set of images taken with a pole-lofted camera:




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

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