Defense of Panama Canal – Batteries and Accommodation

The 14-inch M1920 railway gun was the last model railway gun to be deployed by the United States Army. It was an upgrade of the US Navy 14″/50 caliber railway gun. Only four were deployed; two in the Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles and two in the Panama Canal Zone, where they could be shifted between the harbor defenses of Cristobal (Atlantic) or Balboa (Pacific).

The Harbor Defenses of Cristobal, Panama (Panama Canal Zone, Atlantic side)

FORT RANDOLPH /Margarita Island /1911 to Panama, 1979; commercial development /KK


#1/2/14″/RY/1928-1948/ 2 guns for Panama, 4 empl. (#1 & #8) 1 empl. destroyed



Weed/2/ 6″/DC/1912-1946

X(4A)/4/155 mm/PM/1940

2C/4/155 mm/PM

5A/4/155 mm/PM

FORT DeLESSEPS /Colon / 1911 /to Panama, 1950s /KK

Morgan/2/ 6″/P /1913-1944/modified casemate mounts M1910

AMTB #3b/4/90 mm/F/1943-1948/Cristobal mole, built over

FORT SHERMAN / Toro Point / 1911 / MD, MC /to Panama 1999/KK






Pratt/2/12″/BCLR/1924-1948/Iglesia Pt., casemated-WWII

MacKenzie/2/12″/BCLR/1924-1948/Iglesia Pt., not rebuilt

Kilpatrick/2/ 6″/DC/1913-1946

W/4/155 mm/PM/1940

Other sites / ?

U/4/155 mm/PM/1918/Tortuguilla Point

V/4/155 mm/PM/1940/Naranjitos Point

Y/4/155 mm/PM/1940/Palma Media Island

Z(1A)/4/155 mm/PM/1940/Galetta Is.

1B/4/155 mm/PM//Galetta Is.

The Harbor Defenses of Balboa, Panama (Panama Canal Zone, Pacific Side)

FORT KOBBE (ex-Ft. Bruja)/ Bruja Point /Howard AFB to Panama 1999/ KK

Murray/2/16″ /BCLRN/1926-1948/Bruja Pt., casemated-WWII

Haan/2/16″ /BCLRN/1926-1948/Batele Pt., not casemated, empl. buried

AMTB #6/4/90 mm/F/1943-1948

Z (3A)

FORT AMADOR / Balboa / to Panama, 1997; commercial development /K

Birney/2/ 6″/DC/1913-1943/buried

Smith/2/ 6″/DC/1913-1943/buried

FORT GRANT /Balboa /to Panama, 1979 private development /MD, MC /KK

Newton/1/16″/DC/1914-1943/Perico Is., filled to loading platform level

Buell/2/14″/DC/1912-1948/Naos Is.

Burnside/2/14″/DC/1912-1948/Naos Is./

Warren/2/14″/DC/1912-1948/Flaminco Is., empls. filled to parapit edge

Prince/4/12″/M/1912-1943/Flaminco Is.

Merritt/4/12″/M/1912-1943/Flaminco Is.

Carr/4/12″/M/1912-1943/Flaminco Is.

Parke/2/ 6″/DC/1912-1948/Naos Is.

#8/2/14″/RY/1928-1948/Culebra Is., empl (see #1, Randolph), covered

T/2/155 mm/PM//Flamenco Is.

U (10A)/2/155 mm/PM//Flamenco Is.

V(10B)/2/155 mm/PM//Culebra Is.

Other sites /?

W (1B)/4/155 mm/PM//Taboquilla Is.

2B/2/155 mm/PM//Taboquilla Is.

unnamed/4/155 mm/PM//Paitilla Pt.

X/2/155 m/PM//Urara Is.

Y (1A)/4/155 mm/PM//Taboga Is.

Non portable version: the SCR-271 at Camp Evans


The SCR-270 (Signal Corps Radio, model 270) was one of the first operational early warning radars. It was the U. S. Army’s primary long-distance radar throughout World War II and was deployed around the world. It is also known as the Pearl Harbor Radar, as it was a SCR-270 set that saw the incoming raid about half an hour before the attack commenced.

Two versions were produced, the mobile SCR-270, and the fixed SCR-271 which used the same electronics but replaced the antenna with a model with somewhat greater resolution. An upgraded version, the SCR-289, was also produced, but saw little use. All of the -270 versions were later replaced by newer microwave units after the cavity magnetron was introduced to the US during the Tizard Mission. The only early warning system of the sort to see action was the AN/CPS-1, which was available in late 1944.

The non-portable version, the SCR-271-A, s/n 1 was delivered to the Canal Zone and began operation in October of 1940 at Fort Sherman on the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. It picked up airliners at 117 miles in its initial test run. The second set was set up on Fort Grant’s Tobaga Island on the Pacific end of the Canal by December of 1940, thus giving radar coverage to the vitally important but vulnerable Panama Canal. Westinghouse quickly ramped up production, and produced 100 by the end of 1941.


Local archivists and historians have encountered their greatest challenge in researching the early fortifications of the Panama Canal area installations.  In large part this is due to Army Regulation #348, issued locally on November 18, 1918, as Panama Canal Department General Order #48, “The taking of photographs or other views of permanent works of defence [sic] will not be permitted.”  This stringent level of secrecy was considered necessary by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Panama Canal which were responsible for the construction and security of the fortifications.

In September of 1911, while the breakwater was still under construction, fortification construction, which included batteries, gun emplacements and magazines, was begun.

The defense sites were designed to protect the Pacific entrance to the canal and the first set of locks at Miraflores against an enemy naval attack.  Also, “as at any fortified place from which a fleet may have to issue in the face of an enemy’s fleet,” the defense sites protected the clearly vulnerable ships transiting the canal until they could reach deep water.

The railroad line, which had been installed to aid in the construction of the breakwater, remained in place and was used to transport ammunition to supply the guns located on the islands’ defensive sites.

Of the eight batteries constructed at Fort Grant, three were located on Naos Island.  Battery Burnside, named in honor of Major General Ambrose E. Burnside (Third U. S. Artillery), was mounted with two 14-inch rifles on disappearing carriages, and had a range of 18,400 yards.  Battery Buell, named in honor of Major General Don Carlos Buell (Assistant Adjutant-General, U. S. A.), was mounted in the same manner as Battery Burnside. Battery Parke, named in honor of Major General John G. Parke (Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.), was equipped with two 6-inch rifles with a range of 6,000 yards.

The guns, mounted on disappearing carriages, were constructed “on an unsinkable and steady platform, and they [could] be provided with unlimited protection and accurate range-finding devices.”

In addition to these fixed batteries, the defense sites at Naos Island were equipped with 12-inch mortars “of a new and powerful type.”

Battery Newton, located on Perico Island, was named in honor of Major General John Newton (Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.).  Battery Newton was equipped with one 14-inch rifle with a range of 18,400 yards, mounted on a disappearing carriage.

Flamenco Island, the most heavily fortified of the islands, was equipped with four batteries.  Battery Carr was named in honor of Brevet Major General Joseph Bradford Carr (U. S. Volunteers)., Battery Merritt for Major General Wesley Merritt (U. S. A.); Battery Prince in honor of Brigadier General Harry Prince (U. S. Volunteers).- and Battery Warren for Major General Gouverneur K. Warren (Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.).

Batteries Carr, Merritt and Prince were manned with four 12-inch mortars each.  Construction of the batteries was begun in early 1912, and was completed (with equipment installed) by 1917.

Battery Warren was equipped with two 14-inch rifles on disappearing carriages.  These rifles “commanded the entire area of seaward approach,” with the exception of a small blind spot on Taboga Island’s southern side.  The battery “included space for ammunition storage, control and plotting rooms, and a communications system.  During construction of Battery Warren, an elevator was installed in a vertical shaft which was sunk 200 feet from the summit to connect with a horizontal tunnel which entered from the mortar batteries on the north side of the island.”

As a side note, before the construction of the batteries at Flamenco (or “Deadman’s”) Island could begin, two cemeteries located there were moved in August of 1911 to Ancon Cemetery near Ancon Hospital.  Many of those buried there were “soldiers who had died of tropical diseases while making the hazardous crossing of Panama en route to posts in California.”

Although Fort Amador’s primary function was to provide housing for the Coast Artillery units to manning the fortifications at Fort Grant, two batteries were constructed on the southern tip of the post.  Batteries Birney and Smith, which were identical, were mounted with two 6-inch rifles on disappearing carriages. Although ineffective against a naval attack on the Canal, they were capable of firing on small vessels, such as a screening force, minesweepers, submarines, or landing craft.” Construction of Batteries Birney and Smith was begun in 1913 and completed in 1917.  Battery Birney was named in honor of Major General David B. Birney, U. S. Volunteers.  Battery Smith was named in honor of Major General Charles F. Smith, Third U. S. Infantry.  The defense of the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal was completed with the installation of fourteen searchlights “to facilitate night firing” at Forts Amador and Grant.

On December 22, 1913, Fort Amador and Fort Grant Coast Artillery Posts were initially manned.  Among the first to arrive was the 81st Company, Coast Artillery, followed by the 45th (107 men) and the 144th (105 men) Companies on September 18, 1914.  Additional troops arrived in 1915, including the 40th and 116th Companies; in 1916, the 8th, 73rd and 87th Companies arrived for duty at Fort Grant.

Although the guns were fired on a regular basis, between 1929 and 1939 “shortages of funds and personnel resulted in many of the big seacoast guns being placed in caretaker status… In the years immediately preceding the U. S. entry into World War II all guns were rehabilitated, tested, and placed in service status.”

By 1939, “the growth of air power as a weapon of war forced the Panama Canal Department to increase its air defenses, thus necessitating more and bigger airdromes, and also compelled it to expand its ground defenses to provide adequate anti-aircraft artillery coverage of vital installations.”  The battery fortifications at Forts Grant and Amador, planned and constructed to defend primarily against a naval attack, were deemed obsolete and plans were made for them to be dismantled and salvaged.

Battery Warren at Flamenco Island was last fired on December 8, 1944.  Both guns were removed and scrapped in 1948.  It was later “converted for use as a site for HAWK missiles which [were] part of the Panama Canal defenses.  Much of the underground area [was] used in connection with the operation of the missile battery.”

The four guns of Batteries Birney and Smith at Fort Amador were dismounted in 1943 and disposed of.  “The concrete emplacements were subsequently covered with earth and the area used for the erection of family quarters.  Quarters No. 85 and No. 86 stand on the site formerly occupied by Battery Birney, while Quarters No. 87, No. 91 and No. 184 are in the general area of Battery Smith.”



Fort Amador construction falls into three approximate eras:  the Post Canal Construction Era (1912 – 1937), the World War II Era

(1938 – 1946) and Contemporary Era (1946 to the present).


Buildings erected to accommodate the work force during the construction of the canal were of a temporary nature. Predominant building materials, intended to last only until the completion of the Canal, included wood and sheet metal.

Following the completion of the canal, permanent communities were planned.  Chief Engineer Goethals strongly believed that U. S. citizens living in the Panama Canal Zone should live in beautiful communities – communities which would contribute to the quality of life for their residents.  To achieve that end, an architect was hired to prepare both an overall plan for the permanent communities – civic and military – and to design individual buildings.

Early architectural plans for Canal Zone communities were prepared by Mr. Austin W. Lord of the New York firm of Lord, Hewlett, and Tallent.  Mr. Lord, who preferred to work out of his office in New York, was assisted by several on-site Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC) architects.

Mr. Lord chose Itallanate Renaissance as the primary architectural style for the permanent buildings in the Canal Zone.  Details of the Itallanate style include interior courtyards, large, often arched windows and verandas – features which capture breezes to cool the buildings’ interiors – as well as heavily bracketed roofs.  It was also a style popular in the United States in the early Twentieth Century.

In addition to determining the overall architectural style to be incorporated into the new structures, Mr. Lord decided on building materials – reinforced concrete with hollow concrete block stuccoed on the outside and red clay roofing tiles which would last for decades in the harsh tropical climate.

After completing the architectural plans for about a dozen individual buildings (including the Administration Building in Balboa) for the ICC, Mr. Lord removed himself from the project. Unsatisfied with the fact that Mr. Lord preferred to work out of his New York office, Chief Engineer Goethals was not disappointed with this turn of events.

The early decision regarding style and materials made by Austin Lord were continued by subsequent ICC architects.

The ICC architect, Samuel M. Hitt, was responsible for the architectural aspects of the designs at Fort Amador and other installations, while Mr. T. C. Morris, an assistant engineer, was charged with the more technical aspects of “details and designs of foundations, reinforced concrete, and analyses for size, dimensions of beams, columns, floors, etc.”

Barracks designs – for Fort Amador as well as for other installations – were also “made in accordance with types furnished by the Quartermaster Corps, United States Army; and the types of quarters were determined by a board of officers consisting of Col.  William F. Blauverl, Lieut.  Col. Charles F. Mason, Maj.  B. T. Clayton, Maj.  William E. Cole, and Capt.  R. E. Wood.”26  The Board took into consideration the design program already formalized and approved by the ICC.

Typical Facade with Architectural Elements Identified

1)   Copper screened louvers 2)   “Media Aguas” 3)   Large copper screened porches 4)   Reinforced concrete exterior 5)   Living quarters located above ground floor 6)   Clay Tile 7)   Maids Quarters, launder, and storage areas on ground floor

The Isthinian Canal Commission also employed several landscape architects, the first of whom was Mr. William L. Phillips, who had “special charge of the details of townsites, streets, parks, etc.”

The design elements and construction methods at Forts Amador and Grant are typical of the excellent Post Canal Construction Era ICC architecture.  Foundation and structural elements were cast in concrete due to concern for building degradation from the tropical climate and termites.  Living quarters were raised to the second level with storage, maid quarters, and later, garages placed on the ground level.  The solid, reinforced concrete walls also rendered the buildings ratproof – a Sanitation Department regulation for the prevention of the spread of bubonic plague.

Sub-floors and interior partitions were also of concrete, with wood reserved for doors and window frames, media aguas, roof framing, and floors.  Copper screened windows and porches allowed for air circulation within the buildings, while at the same time keeping out mosquitoes – the carriers of Yellow Fever and malaria.

Due to the heavy rains that occur in the region, intermediate roof projections, referred to locally as ‘media aguas,’ served the purpose of keeping water away from windows and blocking the harsh mid-day sun from interiors.

Full-length porches allowed the off-shore breezes to circulate through buildings.

Over the years, many of these buildings have undergone alterations and additions in keeping with the times.  With the advent of air conditioning, many oversized screen porches were enclosed to provide additional living areas.  Casement windows were reduced in size and wood frames were replaced with aluminum. The result of many of these changes was to further remove the building occupants from the surrounding environment.  While some of the alterations to these structures reflect the original design theme, others have, unfortunately, strayed from the original design intent of the Isthmian Canal Commission architects.

The first of the Post Canal Construction Era buildings to be erected at Fort Amador were barracks, family quarters, the headquarters building, a wagon shed and a wood stable.

Constructed in 1915, Building #1 was Headquarters for the Coast Artillery Post.  The front and rear porches were originally enclosed with copper screen.

Construction of the two-story band barracks building (Building #2) was begun in December of 1916, and was completed around June 30, 1917.  The building contained a band practice room, an office, and three storage rooms for instruments and music on the first floor.  Sleeping quarters for thirty men were located on the second floor.

The first set of company barracks completed at Fort Amador

(Buildings #3 through #9) were turned over to the Coast Artillery on September 28, 1914.

Construction of the two-story, raised Bachelor Lieutenants’ Quarters (Building #30) was begun in March of 1917, and was completed around June 30, 1918.

The first floor of the Six-set bachelor officers’ quarters contained a public porch and two private porches, two “Sitting Rooms,” a library with built-in bookcases, a “Billiard Room,” two bedrooms, an “Alcove,” a service pantry, a kitchen, and a dining room.  The second floor included four bedrooms, four “Sitting Rooms” and an “Inspector’s Room” with a private porch.

Originally designed to accommodate six single officers, Quarters #30 was converted sometime around 1959 into four units of family housing.

Seven sets of four-family, two-bedroom Non-commissioned Officers quarters were completed in 1915.  In the photograph example, the original porches have been infilled, and the original windows and doors have been replaced.

The first sets of four-family (three bedroom) Lieutenants’ Quarters were begun in October of 1916, and were completed by June 30, 1918.  In this photograph example also, the original porches have been infilled, and the original windows and doors have been replaced.

The first sets of two-family (four bedroom) Captains’ Quarters were begun in November 1916, and were nearly completed by June 30, 1917.

Unlike the four-family quarters, these two-family (three bedroom) quarters were divided horizontally, with one family residing on each floor.  The ground, or basement, floors contained two “Chambers” and two “Trunk Rooms”.

The first sets of single-family four bedroom Commanding Officers’ Quarters were begun in October of 1916, and were completed by June 30, 1917.

Quarters #1 represents the most drastic example of alterations to a single building at Fort Amador.  At an unknown date, this building was converted from a two-family Field Grade Officers’ Quarters into single-family quarters, and became the official residence of the Commanding General, United States Army South


Following the 1979 return of Building #1 to the Republic of Panama, the Commanding General’s quarters was redesignated Quarters #1.

Two sets of single-family, two-bedroom Non-commissioned Officers quarters, Building #’s 452 and 453, were completed at an unknown date, but most likely between 1917 and 1925.  Unlike the other family housing units at Fort Amador, these one-story structures contain elements of the Tropical Caribbean French architectural style constructed during the Panama Canal Construction Era. The buildings are raised off of the ground by wooden piers, both the interior and exterior walls of the buildings are of wood frame siding, and the roof is of corrugated iron. Quarters #453 was demolished in 1978.

Administrators of the Panama Canal Zone and the military reservations located within the Zone recognized that “opportunity for diversion in the Canal Zone [was] limited.  The community [was] not self-governing and lack[ed] political interests.  There no industrial activity outside of the canal work, and initiative and ambition [found] little outlet but in the day’s work.  The employees live[d] in houses owned and controlled by the Government and [could] not develop permanent and personally owned homes in the Canal Zone.”

Concern for quality of life issues prompted both the Isthmian Canal Commission and The Panama Canal to construct clubhouses and other recreational facilities which were open to all U. S. citizens residing on the Isthmus.  Military personnel also had access to the Army and Navy Y. M. C. A. in Balboa.

Construction of the Band Stand at Fort Amador was begun in May of 1917, and was completed by June 30, l9l8.  Military bands gave concerts regularly at installations and clubhouses throughout the Panama Canal Zone.

Service facilities at Fort Amador and Fort Grant included a commissary, a post exchange, a gymnasium and a theater.  Schools and medical clinics were available within a few miles.

The Non-commissioned Officers’ Club, constructed in 1934, was demolished after being turned over to the Republic of Panama in 1979.

In 1936, Fort Amador’s 18-hole golf course was laid out and a Club House was constructed.

Constructed in 1932, the Post Theater included a stage and a projection booth on the second floor.


World War II Era construction was in reaction to the anticipated increase in the number of troops required for Canal defense. Typically constructed with wood framing, these structures were intended to last only a few decades.  With a few exceptions, emphasis was placed on function rather than aesthetics.

Casa Caribe, the six-unit Distinguished Visitors’ Quarters, was constructed in 1939.  Typical of the World War II Era, the two- story, raised structure is of wood frame construction.

The present Fort Amador Officers’ Club was constructed in 1941 as a bowling alley.

With an increasing emphasis on sports, a baseball field was laid out on the Parade Ground at Fort Amador.  The baseball field was named McCardell Field in January of 1957, in honor of Major Norman C. McCardell, U. S. Army Caribbean Special Services, who died on December 7, 1956, at Gorgas Hospital at the age of 39.


Contemporary Construction Era buildings were designed by District architects and engineers of the Corps of Engineers.  The design of these generic structures was intended to be international – that is, the buildings could be constructed at any military facility in the United States or in the world.  Little emphasis was placed on environment or locale.  The structure would protect the user from the cold climate of Alaska or the torrid heat of the Philippines – whichever were required.  Purely functional, little emphasis was placed on aesthetics.

Fifteen sets of two-family, three-bedroom Capehart quarters were constructed in 1960.  The Capehart quarters display a drastic departure from the previous Canal Zone architecture.

Ten sets of two-family, four-bedroom quarters were constructed in 1960.  Three of these quarters are located at the beginning of the Causeway.

Four single-family, three-bedroom Field Grade Officers quarters were constructed in the 1960’s.  Unlike typical contemporary construction, the design of these concrete family housing units managed to successfully recapture the feeling of the Tropics. The ground floor provides space for a car and a maid’s living area.  The elevated living area provides an openness to the surrounding landscape.