Civilians trained to fire Ft. MacArthur’s guns

With the downsizing of the U.S. Army following World War I, Col. Henry J. Hatch, commander of the undermanned Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro, asked and received permission to train local civilians as artillerymen.

An article in the Sept. 30, 1921, Los Angeles Times explains the civilian training:

The first civilian coast artillery gun crew ever to fire a battery of Uncle Sam’s giant 12-inch mortars “got into action” at Fort MacArthur near Los Angeles Harbor late yesterday afternoon and banged away at a floating target 11,000 yards out at sea.

The gunners, all members of the Progressive Business Club of Long Beach, and including bankers, merchants, professional men and even a minister, have been studying coast defense and big gun ordnance for the past five months under the tuition of army officers at the fort and J. J. Collins, a member of the club, himself a former army officer.

By special permission from the War Department, secured by Col. H. J. Hatch, commanding the fort, the 12-inch mortar battery was put at the disposal of the civilian gunners yesterday and was worked and fired under regular army conditions. While several of the men manned the guns others worked in the plotting room, working out ranges and angles and directing the work of the men behind the guns. It was novel work for the civilians but serious work nevertheless, for the members of the club are preparing themselves to take over a battery at the fort in time of war emergency.

Col. Hatch praised the progress made by the civilians in their studies of coast defense and ordnance problems and paid many individual compliments to the men.

One of the most enthusiastic of the amateur artillerymen is the Rev. O. P. Bell, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church at Long Beach. Clad in overalls and with his face smeared with grime, the minister worked at his station behind the gun, manning the enormous ram with which the weapon is loaded and cleaned and taking his turn at the firing.

“It’s great fun to have under your control all the wonderful mechanism of a coast battery, and to know how to control it,” Dr. Bell declared.

The artillery class is composed of J. S. Carney, R. E. Mix, J. B. White, Rev. O. P. Bell, J. O. Knighten, Richard Melnotte, Bernard Devin, J. A. Stone, Cy Allen, R. W. Broadhurst, Lyman Chapman, Leo Clapp, E. J. Del Porte, Max Wallace, W. D. Lambert, Dwight Meteer, C. C. Lewis, William Kollender, J. F. Collins, Wallace Mathe, Benjamin Tompkins, Elmer Thompson and F. M. Heller.

A followup story in the March 25, 1922, Los Angeles Times reported the civilian artillerymen group, meeting weekly on Thursdays, had grown to 30 members.  The 1922 story also reported that “At Fort MacArthur the enlisted personnel is now about 20 per cent of the force necessary to adequately man the batteries in an emergency.”

The above six-photo gallery consists of four images taken for the 1921 story, one published with the March 25, 1922, story and a photo from 1924 of a Ft. MacArthur mortar being fired by U.S. Army soldiers.

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