A Century of Service: The U.S. Navy on Cape Henlopen


Post War:  The Navy Remains on the Cape






































































































As the Harbor Enrance Control Post was turned over to civilian control, the Navy found other ways to utilize the area of Cape Henlopen. 

In December 1945, Navy guided missile testing was temporarily moved to the Herring Point area of Cape Henlopen. Over the next 13 months, 83 test launches of missile variants took place. Continuation of these tests elsewhere ultimately resulted in the Navy's first surface-to-air missiles:Talos, Tartar and Terrier.

On 10 March 1945 the Soviet cruiser Murmansk anchored in the Breakwater Harbor at Lewes. That ship had formerly been the USS Milwaukee (CL-5), the largest of 32 ships and hundreds of smaller craft that the U.S. had tranferred to the Soviet Union under World War II Lend Lease. The formal return of the ship occurred on 16 March.  At that time, two tug boats moved it to its final mooring in the harbor.  There the ship was repainted to remove the Soviet markings and the U.S. flag was raised. Then on the 18th.  Milwaulee moved to the Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard.  It was sold for scrap on 10 December to American Shipbreakers, Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware

During WW II harbor defense at Cape Henlopen had been a joint Army-Navy mission, coordinated by the Harbor Entrance Control Post (HECP). In May 1949, during the reorganization that followed the National Security Act of 1947, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended, and the President approved, the transfer of the Army harbor defense mission to the Navy. 


On 24 November 1949, the Commanding Officer of Fort Miles was informed that effective midnight on 30 November, "The Navy Department assumed responsibility for controlled minefield operations from Department of Army."

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Soon a Fourth Naval District active duty Harbor Defense Unit was established on Cape Henlopen under LTJG Holland. 


The Army minefield had been removed in July-October 1945 but the Navy unit took over the former Fort Mines mine pier, and associated facilities in the Breakwater Harbor.


The unit did not take over the nearby former Army minefield plotting and control casemate.  Rather it established its mine plotting and control center in the bunker of former Fort Miles Battery Herring on the ocean side of the cape. 

For its initial mine operations, the unit inherited three former Army L-73 type "Distribution Box Boats."  These were 65 foot diesel-powered boats with a 2 1/2 ton crane and capstan forward, capable of lifting the cable distribution boxes or mines from the seabed.

The Navy established a test controlled minefield of two groups of 13 mines each across the approaches to Delaware Bay, extending from Cape Henlopen to Fishers' Island off Cape May.  These were Navy type M-51 mines.  They were large 5x3 foot, 6200 pound cylinders loaded with 3275 pounds of TNT and equipped with a magnetic sensor. Each mine group was connected by cable to the mine control center.  The cable also had ten hydrophones along its length.  Thus, whereas in WW II there were three separate underwater harbor defense systems at the Cape---Navy magnetic loops and sono-buoys and Army controlled mines--- the new Navy system combined all three. 

The Harbor Defense Unit remained on the Cape until 1957 when a Naval Reserve Unit began training there to assume the harbor defense role.

Photo Credits


-Title picture: Boatswain's Mate rating badge. The rating that has remained in the Navy since the beginning.

Bumblebee missile launch: Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Provided by Delaware State Division of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Resources Division.

-USS Milwaulkee: From U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command, Online Library of Selected Images, http://www.history.navy.mil.

-Photo og Harbor Defense Unit. Thanks to Mr. Mickey Cauthen former member of the unit.

-Fort Miles mine pier area: From Coast Artillery engineer map "Shore Element, Mine Defense, Fort Miles" courtesy of http://www.frotmiles.org.

-Distribution Box Boat: From All Hands Magazine October 1954.

-M-51 mine: From "Mineman Memories" at http://www.hortshorn.usnavy/navy-mines-o6/htm.



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