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A History of Portsmouth Armory



Portsmouth Celebrates 300 Years

The annual two-week summer encampment of the regiment in August 1923 took place at Fort Constitution, in consideration of the 300th anniversary of the settlement of New Hampshire, and since the citizens of both Portsmouth and Dover requested their participation in the tercentennial celebrations. The regiment made camp on August 18 under canvas at Fort Constitution, and in the cantonment barracks at the New Reservation (later Camp Langdon). Headquarters Battery was detached and occupied the cantonment barracks at Fort Stark. The regiment participated in the Portsmouth parade on August 20, and the Dover parade three days later. On August 24 and 25 the regiment was inspected in camp by Brigadier General Mark L. Hershey, District Commander, First Coast Artillery District, accompanied by Major Avery J. French, C.A.C. No special review was held as the general was only interested in the actual training. The State Governor and Staff reviewed the regiment on the Golf Links of the Hotel Wentworth on August 29 before a large crowd, with the new regimental colors on display. Actual service practice took place during the second week near Rye Harbor. (18)

Old Portsmouth Armory in NH, now demolished /

The 1924 summer encampment took place at Fort Terry and Fort H. G. Wright in New York on Long Island Sound. The regiment traveled in two detachments by rail, preceded to camp by the truck convoy, which consisted of one White staff car, one GMC ambulance, five three-quarter-ton GMC trucks, five one-and-one-half-ton Packard trucks, two Dodge light repair trucks, and two motorcycles. The Gun Battalion switched to the 75mm AA guns that year since there was no allowance for the expenditure of 3-inch AA ammunition. The Gun and Machine Gun Battalions worked on night firing solutions at aerial balloon targets, tracked by the Searchlight Battalion. At Fort Wright, the regiment observed the 243rd Coast Artillery Regiment fire the big guns, and returned the favor the next day by showing off the various AA guns. (19)

The Great War Down Under

The regiment was inducted into Federal service on September 16,1940. After all the units were assembled in Concord, the regiment, numbering 56 officers and 1400 enlisted men, along with twelve 3-inch AA guns and their primary movers, and the rest of the regiment's heavy equipment and vehicles, left by train to Camp Hulen, near Palacios, Texas, on September 26. This was the first major movement of troops by rail in the United States during peacetime. The regiment received its first Selective Service draftees at Camp Hulen to fill out the ranks. Training maneuvers took place at Camp Hulen and in the desert near Midland, Texas, and in Louisiana during the 1941 Maneuvers with the 1st Cavalry Division.

A detachment was training in Tampa, Florida late in 1941 when the call came to mobilize for war. The regiment was called to New York City in December 1941, and all elements were in place within five days. The detachment in Florida made the 1200 mile motor march to New York City in 120 hours, joining the rest of the regiment. The regiment was reorganized at Fort Dix, New Jersey on January 12, 1942 and moved to San Francisco, California in February, sailing to Australia on February 18 aboard the S.S. Monterey. After 27 days at sea, the regiment arrived in Australia and emplaced its guns around Brisbane. The regiment was redeployed to Fremantle, near Perth, on March 23. While there, the regiment provided anti-aircraft defense, loaded submarines with ammunition for transport to Corregidor, emplaced and taught the Australians to use American coastal guns, received the first American nurses evacuated from the Philippines, and met the first Australian troops to return home from the Middle East. A third battalion was authorized in August 1942, and a fourth gun battery (a new A Battery) was given to the First Battalion in May 1943.

Return of the Squalus

One interesting incident that occurred in Fremantle in 1942 was the arrival of the U.S.S. Sailfish for repairs. The Sailfish was the repaired and renamed U.S.S. Squalus, which had sunk off the coast near Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1939 during a training dive. The rescue of the survivors and the raising of the sub made newspaper headlines around the country for days. In Fremantle at the time were the Gun Battalion commander, Major Ladd, and a group of enlisted men who had previously worked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the construction yard of the Squalus, and had, in fact, worked on the Squalus itself. They helped repair the Sailfish and had her ready for sea again in a few weeks. (20)

Final Destinations

The regiment left Fremantle and moved by rail 1700 miles to set up anti-aircraft defenses at Garbatt Field, near Townsville, Queensland, a bomber base that was used against Japanese positions on New Britain. The regiment also provided gun crews to help defend a secret air base at Iron Range, 125 miles south of Torres Straight. Although no enemy action occurred here, the commander of the Allied Air Forces gave a commendation after the operation saying that it saved many airmen and millions of dollars in equipment because of homing operations that used searchlights and radar. The regiment was using SCR 268 radar units including one placed on Rottnest Island off the coast of Fremantle.

The regiment was broken up on May 15 1943 into several elements. Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Battery became Headquarters and Headquarters Battery of the 197th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group; the 3rd Battalion 197th, along with A Battery (Searchlight), First Battalion, became the 237th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Searchlight Battalion; and the Regimental Band became the 281st Army Band in December 1943. The 1st Battalion 197th (with the new A Battery) became the 744th Coast Artillery Battalion, later on June 15 1944 becoming the 744th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion; the 2nd Battalion 197th became the 210th Coast Artillery Battalion, later on 15 June 1944 becoming the 210th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.

The units were used at various places and under different commanders, and as small detachments with a variety of missions. Portsmouth's old unit, D Battery, was assigned to the 158th Regimental Combat Team on the Legaspi operation in the Philippines. No longer providing anti-aircraft support, it provided terrestrial fire support for the infantry, maintained road blocks, and provided security patrols. Five of its enlisted men received Bronze Stars.

The 744th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion also served in New Guinea, and made the initial landing and reconnaissance of an island off Morotai. The 744th is also believed to have been the first unit equipped with ammunition having proximity fuses.


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