Fort Fisher during World War II Oral History

by:  Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

The Fort Fisher area was used as a military training base during World War II.

The main highway in the area was U.S. 421. The Hewett house was located on the Atlantic side of the road, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gates.

The highway ran maybe 75 yards parallel to sand dunes on the ocean side until it reached the historic ruins of Fort Fisher. At this point (currently The Riggins), the road curved out closer to the Atlantic and was located east of the old civil war main battery and then crossed in front of the Civil War Memorial. From there the road ran south to Federal Point ending at the Buchanan Battery.

In early 1941, the Army started anti-aircraft training along the beach and down on the sandy flats by the bay. The arriving trainees were faced with the sometimes harsh conditions on Federal Point as were those who were in Fort Fisher’s original ww2-machinegunCivil War garrison. A member of the 558th AAA Battalion stated the area was “a forlorn spit of sand and scrub growth pinched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River; a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand. It was strictly a no-nonsense place designed to put grit and fire in the bowels and brains of its trainees. They had to learn to coexist with the ubiquitous sand and mosquitoes to survive on Federal Point.” I will share a story later about our Federal Point mosquitoes.

There were barracks, mess halls, recreational facilities, warehouses, radio and ww2-soldiersmeteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, outdoor theater, guardhouse, an administration building and infirmary.

Passageways made of cinder block and concrete connected some of these buildings while boardwalks connected others.

By the time training operations ceased in 1944, the base covered an area of several hundred acres and had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and a dental clinic.

My early remembrances are just snapshots of what I actually saw during 1941-1944 because I was only two to five years old; what I recall are just flashes of events. Of course, there was evidence of the army being there long after they left the area.

Gun Emplacements Along the Beach
Starting just in front of our house and running south along the beach almost to the historical grounds of Old Fort Fisher were gun emplacements.

I later read that most were 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns. I recall that some of the gun bunkers were quite large. There were at least three large guns between our house and the two large houses just south of the gates.

Actually, there was a 50-caliber machine gun nest just outside of our yard and a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft battery with a searchlight within 30 yards of the edge of our yard on the south side.

Thinking back on it now, it seemed strange to me why the gun emplacements were located outside of the gates and they were located so close to our residence.

FF- WWIII do not remember how long the 50-caliber gun emplacement was located in the edge of the yard. I do have some recollection of the noise and the searchlights at night.  The searchlights were used to help locate the targets. There were also blackouts from time to time.  I never asked Dad about how he was able to sleep in the early days of shift work at Ethyl Dow.

Target sleeves on long cables were towed up and down the beach by airplanes for the gunners to develop their gunnery skills.   South of Old Historical Fort Fisher was a target range for gunnery practice on stationery as well as moving ground targets.  This mechanized target range enabled gunners to receive versatility training and learn to be effective against tanks and other armored vehicles.

After the Army left, there was evidence that the target sleds were pulled across the target range by a cable hooked to pulleys so a bulldozer could pull the target from a safe distance. The targets were rigged so it could be pulled both ways. The mechanized target range was located slightly north of the training facilities’ ammunition bunkers, and the “Rocks” were located a little farther south of the bunkers.