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


Cold War: Naval Tropospheric-Scatter   Radio Station, Lewes














































































As the Cold War deepened, the U.S. became concerned with maintaining the continuity of government in the event of a nuclear attack.  A presidential deep underground command center, nicknamed "Site R" was built in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, a few miles from Camp David. 


But, as an alternate relocation site for the President or a command center for other senior defense officials, a National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA "neck pa") was created.  By 1963, the NECPA would consist of two ships, the USS Northampton (CC-1) and the USS Wright (CC-2), one of which would always be at sea available for relocation of the President. 

But, already during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, Northampton  had been in the Potomac River awaiting President Kennedy, if required.








USS Northampton (CC-1)

The Navy would establish three radio stations to support the NECPA.  The first was on Cape Henlopen. 


The function of those stations was to provide secure, reliable telephone, teletype, and data communications support from command centers ashore, such as the Pentagon Command Center or White House Situation Room, to the NECPA.


Construction began in 1962 and Naval Radio Station, Lewes was established as a component of Naval Communications Station, Washington in  June 1963.  The station was initially placed in the earth-covered bunker of former WWII Fort Miles coast artillery 6" gun Battery Hunter. 

The floorplan for the installation of Naval Radio Station, Lewes in the bunker of Battery Hunter.

A mircrowave antenna was placed on top of the bunker.


This was to be a tropospheric scatter, or "troposcatter" radio station. 


Troposcatter transmissions were considered to be the most reliable and secure means of communication and the least susceptible to nuclear disturbances in the atmosphere.


They  take advantage of the scattering effects caused by conditions in the lower level of earth's atmosphere, the troposphere.  A narrow beam of low frequency microwave signals transmitted at high power and aimed at a chosen point on the temperature layer formed at about 10 miles altitude, where the troposphere and statosphere meet, will be refracted back to a chosen area on the earth or the ocean.   

The bunker of Battery Hunter was only an interim site for the station.


Because of the need for higher power transmissions, more spacious equipment areas and larger antennae were required.


In about 1965 the station was moved to the former WW II Fort Miles coast artillery earth-covered casemate of Battery 519.

Plan for moving the radio station from former Battery Hunter (Building 240, on right) to larger former Battery 519 (Building 640, in center).

Two large troposcatter antennae were built straddling former Battery 519.


This view looking northward from the beach shows the antennae with earth-covered casemate of former Battery 519 between.  


The size of the antennae can be estimated from what appears to be a person standing at the rear of the base of the nearest antenna.

View of the troposcatter antennae with earth-covered former Battery 519 between,  looking southward.  The size of the antennae can be estimated based on the nearby former WW II coast artillery fire control tower which is 114 feet high. 
Both the Wright  and Northampton had a large  gyro-stabilized horn-fed parabolic antenna required to detect troposcatter communications.
The Wright was the newer of the two ships and had, for that era, the most elaborate and powerful communications equipment ever installed aboard a ship. Her two antenna masts were 114 feet tall (156 feet above the water) and able to withstand 100-mph winds. She was equipped for  satellite communications (SATCOM) and carried a specially designed helicopter that pulled a wire cable nearly two miles high to serve as an antenna for SVLF (Shipboard Very Low Frequency) communication with submarines. The spacious command, electronic support spaces on Wright could accommodate the latest equipment required for the processing, storage, and display of command data. 
USS Wright (CC-2) showing parabolic troposcatter antenna and other antennae.

By 1970, sattellite communications capabilities had negated the requirement for troposcatter communications. The radio station and the ships were decommissioned.  The antennae were removed from Cape Henlopen soon thereafter.



Today Battery Hunter and Battery 519 are serving other purposes in Cape Henlopen State Park.

Photo Credits


-Title picture: Arm patch of the U.S. Naval Radio Station, Washington, of which Naval Radio Lewes was a unit.

-USS Northampton: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC).

-Floorplan of Battery Hunter; Courtesy of Delaware State Division of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Resources Unit.

-Antenna on Battery Hunter; "Navy Radio History Pages" of www.navy-radio.com.

-Plan for moving radio station; Courtesy of Delaware State Division of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Resources Unit.

-Tropospheric Screen Antenna: Courtesy of the American Submarine Veterans Assn.

-Tropospheric Antenna in 1970. Delaware Public Archives/Delaware Project.

-View of troposheric antennae: Courtesy of Delaware State Division of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Resources Unit.  Also in Michael A. Hamilton and George W. Contant "Fort Miles: The Cold War in Miniature" in Outdoors Delaware Fall 2011.

-Battery Hunter and Battery 519: Author's photos.

-Plan for museum at Battery 519; Courtesy of the Fort Miles Historic Assn.

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