History of Seward Resort
Seward Resort is steeped in military history which was actually the original site of Fort Raymond during World War II (established in 1940). For a brief time, over 3,200 soldiers from various units of Infantry, Quarter Master, Military Police, Medical Corps and Engineer regiments called Fort Raymond home. In 1944, Fort Raymond was deactivated and converted into a military recreation area. The original Quonset huts remained as part of the Seward Army Recreation Camp and were rented by guests until the construction of the new resort in 1996.
Harbor Defenses of World War II
by Jennifer Laurie Cagle
Iron Doors, one of the more popular landmarks of Resurrection Bay, has interested me since the first time I saw it while on a fishing trip. I have always wondered what it would be like to be inside. Would there still be guns or bullets? Could old articles of army clothing be found? As a child, this sight fascinated me. It was hard to believe that it was built in World War II, before my parents were born. It was amazing! My wonderment of this battery prompted me to choose Seward and WWII as my topic for my research paper.
Before Alaska was a state, it played a major role in World War II. Army and Naval bases were established in order for the United States to protect the country and its territory. The small town of Seward was intertwined in all these important events and was even brought into some of the action. More freight was passed through Seward than any other civilian port in the world during WWII. The U.S. Army placed three forts and several other sites into the Seward area to be integrated as a part of the Coastal Defense System.
When I first started this paper, I thought that there were only two batteries along the coastline of Resurrection Bay, and I did not even know their proper names. It was not until I started my research that I discovered a Fort Raymond, a Fort McGilvray, and a Fort Bulkley. It has been a great pleasure to do this paper, because it has taught me so much about Seward's history.
Fort Raymond was named for Captain Charles Raymond of the Corps of Engineers. The captain was sent to Alaska in 1869 to determine, in longitude and latitude, the precise location of Fort Yukon. He determined that Fort Yukon was, in fact, positioned in Alaska. He officially claimed it as United States territory and ordered that the British Hudson Bay Company Post vacate the site.
The main Army post in Seward during WWII was Fort Raymond. Its purpose was to provide a garrison to protect the City of Seward, the rail terminus serving the interior of Alaska, and the harbor facilities.
Fort Raymond was located at the head of Resurrection Bay, 114.8 track miles south of Anchorage. Seward residents refer to the location as Forest Acres. Troops arrived in Seward on June 31, 1941, and they began to erect tents the very next day. Before mess facilities could be established, the troops marched through the mud to and from the boat for meals. It was officially designated Fort Raymond on August 27, 1941.
The camp was made entirely of tents until permanent housing could be finished. This housing was sufficient to accommodate 171 officers and 3,278 enlisted men. In August 1941, the Post Headmaster's building was the first to be occupied, and in May 1942, a second military building program was accepted. Construction of new buildings was initiated the same month. Many buildings were built, including a reinforcement area, quartermaster buildings consisting of headquarters, laundry, storage, and such, stevedore housing area, and a base camp for the 29th Engineers. The troops made use of the building as soon as they were finished, but none of the buildings were officially accepted until August 1943, nearly two years later.
On July 5, 1941, gun emplacements for the three-inch anti-aircraft guns and the automatic weapons began. The three-inch guns were positioned in the northeast sector of town. The automatic weapons 37mm, 50 cal., four 75mm were placed along the beach south of town. All installations, including Command Post, guns, quarters, fire control equipment, and communication trenches, were to be underground and camouflaged, if this was at all possible. These weapons batteries were complete with underground shelters.
Due to the positions of the three-inch anti-aircraft guns, it was believed that they would not be able to carry out secondary missions against enemy submarines and small surface craft in Resurrection Bay. For this reason, six 75 mm obsolete field artillery weapons were requested to supply additional beach defense. Four 75 mm guns were approved for this purpose and emplaced several hundred yards south of Fort Raymond.
During the time that Fort Raymond was in operation, many activities occurred. Besides the establishment of the South Cantonment (Caines Head Battery), and the placement of more weapons, the war affected Fort Raymond in other ways. On November 25, 1941, there was a general alert, and blackout regulations were put into effect. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, all enemy aliens found in Seward were arrested by the Army. Dutch Harbor was attacked on June 3, 1942 and a full alert was active in Seward for an entire week. In late March 1943, the Rugged Island observation reported an unidentified submarine. Orders were received on March 25, 1944, from the Alaska Department to dismantle, and all Harbor entrances control post functions ceased.
After the war, Fort Raymond was deactivated, and the Women's Society of Christian Service took over, operating the facility as a tuberculosis sanitarium. The reduction of tuberculosis cases gradually diminished until there was no longer a need for the sanitarium, which closed in 1957. Fort Raymond was reverted to military control and today is used by both Army and Air Force as recreation camps. Seward Methodist Church was originally the Army chapel for Fort Raymond, and the American Legion Post 5 was a NCO club erected by the officers of the 420th Coast Artillery battalion, which was stationed in Seward during the war.
Fort McGilvray was first named the South Beach Cantonment, and is often referred to as the Caines Head Battery. It is located eight miles south of Seward on the Coastline of Resurrection Bay. It rises over 550 feet on a rocky cliff above the water. Construction first began on July 20, 1941. The fort consists of over 4,650 acres. There was a large concrete underground fire control center, five concrete ammunition magazines, and a number of buildings. All supplies, including the 155mm guns and ammunition, were transported to Caines Head on floating equipment.
Fort McGilvray temporally contained the armament which the Harbor Defense System was centered around, the 155mm guns. These powerful weapons were placed at Caines Head until a permanent location could be approved. Rocky Point was recommended; therefore, access roads between South Beach and Rocky Point were approved. Fort McGilvray permanently contained two six-inch shield type guns mounts. The guns were around thirty feet in length and designed to fire a projectile up to sixteen miles.
Fort McGilvray was 99% complete when instructions were given, from the Alaska Department of Defense, to dismantle the entire Harbor Defense System of Seward. Ironically, it was ordered two days before the six-inch guns were to be test fired. Not a single shot was fired. The battery was ordered abandoned and was dismantled on March 4, 1947.
Today the concrete installations still remain. Caines Head Park is often visited by tourists, and it still contains the ruins of several buildings and the underground fire control center. More and more interest is showing and people have started to pay more attention to preserving an actual piece of our own history.
During the period of time that the Army was contemplating where to put certain installations, two locations were being considered: Rugged Island and Cape Aialik. When the list was reviewed, Rugged Island was placed fourth and Cape Aialik tenth in priority order. But the list was reconsidered again, and Caines Head was placed fourth and Rugged Island moved down to tenth. Regardless of priorities, all batteries were to be initiated simultaneously as soon as all stations were ready. The first construction work done on Rugged Island began on August 1, 1942.
The installation at Rugged Island was named Fort Bulkley which contained searchlights and fire control stations. There were twelve Pacific huts, an eighty-eight man mess hall, two Quonset huts, two warehouses, a dispensary, and a laundry. A combination Harbor Defense Command Post and Harbor Entrance Control Post was located at Patsy Point. The fort was constructed of concrete and was two stories. The ground floor contained six offices, a vault, officer and enlisted latrines, heating and power room, corridor, air lock, ventilating room, and stairs. But most interesting of all, there was also a CWS (Chemical Warfare Service) equipment room. The equipment was used to decontaminate persons and equipment if they had been exposed the chemical warfare. The second level contained the combination HDCP-HECP room and a room with SCR radar. The entire complex was covered with earth.
Fort Bulkley had a six-inch gun battery installed and two guns M1903A2. The ammunition was to be stored in a tunnel, which at the time of abandonment was ten by ten by thirty feet deep. The timbered structure supports were left intact. Fort Bulkley was 90% finished when orders were received to dismantle, and all Harbor Entrance Command Post function ceased on May 25, 1944.
There were other sites that were part of the Harbor Defense System. Rocky Point contained four 155mm guns, which were installed on Panama mounts. Also included in Rocky Point armament were two 90mm guns, mobile, and two 37mm, which were anti-aircraft guns. On Lowell Point, there was a searchlight battery. Lowell Point was approved for two 60 inch Sea Coast search lights to illuminate the required field of fire. One of the existing AA searchlights was assigned until they could be installed. Two 90mm guns were mounted permanently on concrete plugs, and there were also two mobile 90mm guns, which were anti-motor torpedo guns. The Fourth of July Creek position contained two 90mm mounted permanently and two mobile 90mm guns.
It seems a shame that after all the hard work and expense was put in, that the facilities were never used in an attack. All the preparing, building, and labor seems as if it was a waste. Just when almost all the work was finished, it was ordered to be torn down. Possibly, the reason Seward was never attacked was because it was so well prepared. Every defense site was placed so the entire bay could be covered in all directions in cross-fire. Batteries were placed along both the east side and west side of Resurrection Bay. In the case that an actual attack could have taken place while the Fort McGilvray was engaged, a terrible catastrophe could have occurred. Through my research, I found out that after the six inch guns from Fort McGilvray were dismantled, they were sent to San Pedro, California. There they were reassembled and test fired. Upon the first firing, the guns exploded, killing the entire gun crew. This could have happened just as easily while Fort McGilvray was in working order. I consider it a blessing that the harbor defense establishments never needed to be used. If they had, Seward may not have become the place it is today. Its history would have been changed inconceivably. Sometimes preparation is not followed by the expected results, but sometimes it is the best possible thing that can happen.
- Alaska Journal, page 191, Vol. 3., No. 3.
- Fort Raymond, Seward, A History of, WNRC, RG338, Box 373, Historical Department, Alaska Department, Vol. 2, Declassified by authority of executive order 1256, NNDG 745046.
- Page from the Past, A, Vertical File.
- Pederson, Wat and Elisa, A Larger History of the Kenai Peninsula, Adams Press, Chicago, IL, 1983.
- Poleske, Lee E. (editor) Resurrection Bay Historical Newsletter, Vol. II, No. 8, March 1973
- Resurrection Bay Historical Newsletter, Vol. XIX, No. 8, April 1989.
- Seward Phoenix Log, page 9, Thursday, July 26, 1990, Vol. XXIV, No. 45.
- Seward, The Story of, Seward, Alaska, published by the Resurrection Bay Historical Society, 1977.
- Thompson, Erwin N., Information came with letter.
- Turnbull, Jack, Letter, (stated information came from Ervin P. Goodrich, C.O. Btry "B") per interview with Lee Poleske.