2006-08-04 / Community

Once A Vital Defense Component; Now A Venue For Concerts, Little League

By Howard Schwach


A Nike-Ajax missile ready for firing at Fort Tilden's Battery Harris, circa 1957.A Nike-Ajax missile ready for firing at Fort Tilden's Battery Harris, circa 1957. Most people who visit Fort Tilden on the western end of Rockaway for a concert, an art exhibit, a show or a little league game have a vague idea that the fort, now a part of Gateway National Urban Recreation Area, was once a military base of some sort.

With the exception of those who take the annual "Battery Harris" tour given by the National Park Service a few times a year, few who visit know that the fort was once a vital link in our national defense during much of the Cold War era.

For nearly 20 years, from 1955 to 1974, Fort Tilden was home to Nike Battery NY-49 run by the Army's 505th Artillery Battalion that could quickly raise and fire four Nike missiles at attacking aircraft.

In fact, Fort Tilden, situated at the entrance to New York Harbor, had been a defense position for decades, first using cannon, then large coastal guns, and finally, missiles.

The four magazine configuration of first Nike-Ajax and later Nike-Hercules missiles was similar to its sister site on the New Jersey side of the harbor entrance. There was a similar site at Lido Beach as well. The storage area held as many as ten of the missiles at any one time.

A Nike missile could quickly be fired at incoming enemy bombers.A Nike missile could quickly be fired at incoming enemy bombers. In 1958, Fort Tilden became the first Nike site to use the newer, more powerful Hercules series of guided missiles. The site was closed in 1974 as newer systems took over the burden of coastal defense. The control area was mostly demolished but the launcher area remains intact today and it is Battery Harris, one of the launch sites, that gets the most visitors.


Battery Harris, one of the Nike firing sites is still available for viewing at Gateway National Park. The only other reminder of the fort's history as an air defense site is a unarmed Nike-Hercules Missile that stands on the great lawn.Battery Harris, one of the Nike firing sites is still available for viewing at Gateway National Park. The only other reminder of the fort's history as an air defense site is a unarmed Nike-Hercules Missile that stands on the great lawn.

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