Fort Worden

Amazing Fort Worden

Fort Worden shouldn’t be mentioned without mentioning its sister forts. Fort Worden, Fort Casey, and Fort Flagler were linked together as if they were one fort. This was because they all had one task. They created a crossfire that defended Puget Sound from a Naval attack. These forts, all acted as one, even though miles of water separated them.

The Army named this fort, and only this fort, after a Navy Admiral. John Worden was the Commanding Officer of the USS Monitor during the Civil War.

Port Townsend

As I mentioned in our previous post about Port Townsend the town received sustaining help in the early 1900’s all associated with defense associated with World Wars I and II. You might say that Port Townsend built Fort Worden. Here is a link to the article. Port Townsend

Alexander's Castle was built in 1883 during the same period as most buildings in Port Townsend. It was a private residence located on ten acres north of town.
Alexander’s Castle was built in 1883 during the same period as most buildings in Port Townsend. It was a private residence located on ten acres north of Port Townsend.

Before there was a military fort located just to the north of Port Townsend a Scottish Pastor, Alexander built a “castle” like home about four miles north of town. When the Army built Fort Worden, they converted Alexander’s Castle for military use.

The Navy at Bremerton

The reason the Army built a fort here is that the Navy chose to place the most important (and still the most important) Naval Station on the west coast at Bremerton Washinton.

Google map of the Puget Sound
Google map of the Puget Sound. The long island in the center-left of the picture is Whidbey Island. There are only two ways to enter Puget Sound. North of Port Townsend and through Deception Pass between Filadigo island and Whidbey island. Bremerton is located further to the south on this map.
This picture was made by using the Google Earth tool. It shows Deception Pass Bridge on the left side of Deception Pass Island. Canoe Pass Bridge to the right of Deception Pass Island.
This picture was made by using the Google Earth tool. It shows the Deception Pass Bridge on the left side of Deception Pass Island. Canoe Pass Bridge to the right of Deception Pass Island.

Deception Pass is so narrow that an attacking ship if it were small enough to enter, would be easy to destroy with any small cannon. Even the rumor of a minefield at Deception Pass would eliminate it from consideration as an entrance to Puget Sound. The inlet leading to Puget Sound was narrow but nothing like Deception Pass. Here is a link to our story about Deception Pass. Deception Pass

The Puget Sound

Puget Sound is a very complicated waterway. Islands are numerous, connected by passages and dead-end channels. Overall it is a very unique waterway. The Strait of Juan de Fuca connects Puget Sound to the sea. The one place that an attacking ship would have to cross if attacking Puget Sound and Bremerton was the Admiralty Inlet. This narrow choke point made Puget Sound easy to defend with three well-positioned forts. Fort Worden and Fort Flagler on the south and Fort Casey to the north created a triangle that could shoot any ship trying to enter and attack Puget Sound.

Google map of Fort Casey Fort Worden and Fort Flagler 3
The white line drawn on this Google Map is the route an attacking ship would have to take through the Admiralty Inlet right between Forts Worden, Flagler, and Casey.

Battleships

In this period of history, battleships were the biggest threat. Battleships are equipped with huge long-distance guns. These forts were built strong enough and had big enough guns to outmatch the battleships. Unlike Army Artillery the big guns were used to fire directly at any opposing ship. Usually, artillery is used to shoot high, over the top of hills then the shells drop to the target. At these forts, they had artillery positions but the biggest guns were pointed directly at the target. The army designed and equipped Fort Worden with 41 guns. Gradually the army sent most of these guns to Europe as the warfare changed from battleships to aircraft carriers.

View of Fort Casey on Whidbey Island
View of Whidbey Island looking at the target area from Fort Flagler. Any ship in this area would be targeted from all three forts.

Submarine nets and searchlights

How could the big guns be so certain that they would hit the target? The Navy and Coast Guard hung huge underwater steel nets from anchored buoys across the inlet. These same nets restricted the movement of surfaced submarines and ships to a very narrow channel. Then of course the army practiced shooting at targets towed in the restricted channel between the forts. The result was that the army was very accurate when shooting at targets at known locations in the crossfire.

Anti Submarine Net on display at Fort Worden
Submarine Net on display at Fort Worden

Searchlights during the war lit up the channel looking for any ships that might try to slip through the channel at night. One story describes how powerful the searchlights were. Anyway, the story is that after dark soldiers played a night baseball game at one of the forts being illuminated by the searchlights from the other forts.

A Navy Aldis Lamp was used for visual Morse code on ships and at Fort Worden.
A Navy Aldis Lamp was used for visual Morse code on ships and at Fort Worden. Aldis Lamps also were used to communicate between Forts Worden, Casey, and Flagler.

Effective

During World War I and later during World War II these three forts were so effective at defending the Puget Sound that they were never attacked. Even though we don’t think about it, the threat was very real. During World War II, Hawaii, and Alaska were attacked and even Oregon at Astoria was attacked by a submarine sailing up the Columbia River. The Puget Sound was very well defended and never attacked.

View of the target area from the parade ground at Fort Worden.
View of the target area from the parade ground at Fort Worden.

Our Visit

We visited Fort Flagler and Fort Worden while we were camping south of Port Townsend. Before crossing the ferry, when we were at Whidbey Island, we visited Fort Casey. In fact, we embarked on the ferry at Fort Casey for our trip across the Admiralty Inlet. Here is a link to our story about our ferry ride. Our RV floats

View of the beach at the entrance of Puget Sound facing north.
View of the beach and Point Wilson Lighthouse at the entrance of Puget Sound facing north.

Fort Worden and Fort Casey are now multi-use areas in the Washington State Park system. There is a conference center at both Fort Worden and Fort Casey. Fort Worden has an arts center and community college. Fort Casey is the departure point for the Washington State Ferry to Port Townsend. All three forts have camping areas. Fort Worden has two camping areas, one on the beach and one in the forest.

Google Map of Fort Worden 2
From this map, you can see that Fort Worden is an extension of the town of Port Townsend.
Google view map of Fort Worden
From this view of Fort Worden, you can see that it has a natural high point and the gun emplacements were all elevated above the surrounding area. The parade ground and houses are to the south of the hill. The Point Wilson Lighthouse and Port Townsend Marine Science Center were closed during our visit.

Controlling fire

The following two pictures depict the plotting area now located at the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum on Fort Worden. All three forts had a similar plotting table. This one was located at the Harbor Defense Command post on the top of the hill at Fort Worden. An enemy ship would have been first sighted coming towards the in the Strait Juan de Fuca and by the time the ship made it to Fort Worden all three forts would have been ready to deliver overwhelming fire.

Gunfire Plotting Table at Fort Worden
Gunfire Plotting Table at Fort Worden is now located at the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum.

Lookouts would communicate the position of a ship to the gunfire plotting table and the fire directors would then relay this information to the gun emplacements.

Artillery team using the gunfire plotting board.
Artillery team using the gunfire plotting board.

I love this picture of the plotting room. Obviously, the picture is staged. If there was an actual engagement the room probably would have about twenty officers (including the Commanding Officer) supervising the six soldiers doing the actual work of plotting the enemy position and directing the guns.

The role changed in World War II

Fort Worden took on a new mission during World War II. The army only needed less than 1000 soldiers to operate the fort as a defensive coastal battery. The Navy moved in and modernized much of the coastal defense. The Navy also added anti-aircraft batteries in the locations that previously held the army guns.

This picture was taken during World War II. Mostly Fort Worden had been converted into a training base for the military.
This picture was taken during World War II. Mostly Fort Worden had been converted into a training base for the military. The gun emplacements on the tree-covered hill at the top of the picture were so effective at preventing a naval attack that the army was able to use the base for multiple uses.

Links to our visit to the Olympic Penisula

Port Townsend

Lake Crescent

Hoh Rain Forest

Kalaloch Beach

Olympic Rain Shadow

Quinault Rainforest and Kestner Homestead

Links

Washinton State Ferry System

Historic Fort Worden

Washington State Parks Peninsula Region

Historic Fort Casey

Historic Fort Flagler

6 thoughts on “Amazing Fort Worden”

  1. There is a Thousand Trails up in that are that we like to go to. Did you get your Invisibrake hooked up? It was nice getting together in Garibaldi.

  2. Great presentation. Never new that much about Puget Sound and the forts. Also loved the floating RV and never had that much discussion on CBDR since my midshipman days. Great stuff Scott. Chip

  3. As always very interesting. I loved the part about
    Alexander’s Castle and describing the island access. can’t wait to visit!

  4. Glad you made it to a favorite place our ours. In our younger years, we used to have flashlight wars in the bunkers. Memories. Glad you have great ones.

  5. Pingback: The Charm of Port Townsend - FoxRVTravel

  6. Pingback: Oregon Attacked at Fort Stevens - FoxRVTravel

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