WWII Gun Barrel

Big Gun Ceremony


Refuge military history

Before becoming a haven for millions of songbirds, monarch butterflies and thousands of raptors, Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge was Fort John Custis, named after a prominent eighteenth century resident of Northampton County. The strategic location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay encouraged military uses of the area in the years before the refuge was established. After World War II, the federal government acquired the land that is now the refuge. During the war, large bunkers housed 16-inch guns designed to protect naval bases and shipyards in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. In 1950, the U.S. Air Force acquired Fort John Custis, renaming it the Cape Charles Air Force Station. Radar towers and additional buildings were built by the Air Force, which occupied the area until 1981.

Gun barrel

If this barrel could talk, oh the stories it could tell. Barrel #393 was manufactured in 1943 at the Washington Navy Yard and placed in service on the U.S.S. Missouri, BB 63, (Mighty Mo). The first recorded date the barrel was onboard the ship was May 16, 1945 as the left gun on the rear turret #3. It was on board the Mighty Mo at the time of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945. Though this barrel only joined the Mighty Mo during the last four months of World War II, it was used during the entire Korean War. The Navy records every shot fired through each particular barrel to determine its wear. This report is called a Navy Star Gauge Report. For instance, The Star Gauge Report on May 16, 1945 shows barrel #393 fired 10 times at 2500 feet per second (fps); two times at 2690 fps; 10 times at 1800 fps and 25 times at 1900 fps. The last Star Gauge Report we have found is dated May 25, 1953 and shows that barrel #393 fired 31 times at 2690 fps and 149 times at 2075 fps. How fast is that? When the gun was fired at 2690 fps, the projectile traveled one mile in two seconds. Sometime between the date of this last Star Gauge Report and the next Star Gauge Report on August 9, 1954 all of the barrels on the Mighty Mo were replaced. The used barrels were off loaded and barrel #393 was stored at the St. Julien’s Creek Annex Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. It looked as though barrel #393’s influence in this world had come to an end, but it turns out it hadn’t reached its final resting ground!