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What’s the history behind the huge concrete World War II target at the southern end of Fort Fisher?

Ben Steelman

The concrete target does date from World War II, when the Fort Fisher site from the Civil War was used as an anti-aircraft firing range, according to Ray Flowers of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

The questioner probably guessed wrong, though, in thinking it was an aviation target. More likely, it was used as an anti-mechanized target, as anti-aircraft crews cross-trained to fire on enemy tanks and armored vehicles as well as planes.

In the early 1940s, Fort Fisher became the largest firing range for Camp Davis, a vast anti-aircraft training facility located some 50 miles away at what is now Holly Ridge. (Other satellite firing ranges were located at Sears Point, New Topsail Inet, Maple Hill and Holly Shelter.)

Crews came down to practice gunnery and automatic weapons fire. Batteries of 40 mm automatic cannons and 50 mm machine guns were erected between U.S. 421 and the Atlantic Ocean. Training at the site begn in October 1941, and the anti-mechanized target range was installed in the summer of 1942.

The Fort Fisher battery was almost a mini-post in itself, covering several hundred acres with 48 frame buildings, hundreds of tent frames, mess halls, warehouses, a meteorological station, a post exchange, recreation center and an administrative building. At its height in 1943, the range could boast an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and a dental clinic.

The range, along with Camp Davis, was deactivated in 1944, as the need for antiircraft forces diminished. Among the few wartime remains at the site are a beach bunker (famously used in the 195os and ’60s by Robert E. Harrill, the “Fort Fisher Hermit”) and a grass landing strip cut through the Civil War fortifications and still visiible behind the Fort Fisher visitors’ center.

For more on Fort Fisher during World War II, click here. For more about Camp Davis, click here.


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