San Mateo Coast during World War II

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum A World War II observation bunker overlooking Whale Cove (by Devil's Slide) that never became a restaurant.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the San Mateo Coast was very vulnerable to enemy invasion.

Patrols were immediately formed to keep track of any suspicious or military activity that was going on along the coast. There was only one main highway along the coast, so it was used extensively for the movement of military personnel to the different posts that would be established. As these positions would be facing the Pacific Ocean and be concerned with water, the Navy and the Coast Guard were the main departments that guarded the coast, although the U.S. Army’s 56th Coast Artillery pulled four 155 mm portable howitzer guns to the coast and placed them in El Granada. These howitzers would give mobility to the small force that was there at first. Foot and horse patrols on local beaches were directed from a 100-year-old building/pub and inn (Wave Crest Inn) that was on the southern skirts of Half Moon Bay. In the small community of Montara, the post office building was used for the U.S. Army officers’ quarters. South of the Montara Lighthouse, the U.S. Navy established a gunnery school and radio station with a number of station houses and offices. Air Force airplanes would fly a short distance from the shore with targets behind them and artillery fire would be directed from these facilities. In the Moss Beach area, they built a radio station as well as numerous other embedded bunkers.

Driving south on Devil’s Slide, one can still see these steps that led to the fire control stations and observation bunkers built on the hill to the right (Devil’s Slide Military Reservation). Originally, there were 198 wooden stairs to the facility at the top of the hill. They were later made out of cement. Three men manned the bunkers and they had to carry their daily rations of food and water to the top every day, as there was no electricity, running water or food available. As one continues south from Devil’s Slide, you can see an isolated bunker on the right that was purchased in 1963 by Alfred Wiebe. This bunker was originally embedded in a hill, but Mr. Wiebe planned to build a restaurant on the site and he began tearing down the hill for a building. However, after removing the rock around the bunker, he could not obtain the water and electricity to continue the project. The isolated bunker is now a silent sentinel of the second world war.

To accomplish the target practice and air reconnaissance for the gunnery school, an airfield was built in Moss Beach area in 1942. TBY aircraft was used to patrol the coastline and pull the wooden targets a short distance from the shore for the Army personnel to practice shooting. After World War II, the Half Moon Bay Airport was returned to civilian use and use as a standby airport for the San Francisco International Airport. After the war, the airstrip was used for local flying and drag racing, as well as storage for a number of vintage airplanes. There is a small café near the landing field that serves breakfast and lunch and once a year local residents host an event called the Dream Machines where members of the community exhibit vintage automobiles, farming machines and airplanes for a few days in April.

A number of bunkers were built along the length of the city of Pacifica. At the top of a hill to the east, at Milagra Ridge, an observation bunker and a fire control station for guns was built. Two 16-inch guns were being planned for the ridge, but the war ended before this was completed. In the 1950s and ’60s, an underground Nike bunker was built there. The Nike Hercules missiles were 42 feet long and were the main missiles that guarded the West Coast during the Cold War. These bunkers were cemented over after the site was deactivated.

Further north up the coast, Fort Funston was built by the ocean not very far from the Olympic Golf Club. The cliff gives a beautiful unobstructed view of the ocean, and two 16-inch guns that were made for the USS Saratoga cruiser were placed there. These guns have a range of 26 miles. They are embedded in reinforced concrete structures that were built around the guns. Today, the only remains of the bunkers is an observation deck near the cliff. The area is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area where hang gliders take off from the cliffs. On weekends, this facility is now a well-patronized recreation area.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.

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