[Ed. Note: John Merrill is an electronics engineer emeritus of the Naval Underwater Weapons Center at New London, CT. He was NUWC program manager for the ELF system known as Project Sanguine. Following rttirement in 1979 he co-authortd a history of the Center, Meeting 1M Submarine Challenge. ]
In 1775 with increased military action against the colonies by I the British, the Connecticut Council of Safety recommended fortifications be built for the towns of New London on the west bank of the Thames River and Groton on the east bank. At that time, New London with a population of about five thou-sand was the third largest town in the Connecticut Colony.
During the next two years, two earthworks type forts were constructed by relays of citizens and recruits from the country-side. The fort on the New London side was located about two miles north of the mouth of the river where it flows into the Long Island Sound. The fort site on the east side of the river on Groton Heights was opposite and just slightly to the north. This first New London fort was south of the town. Today, the fort area is surrounded by New London on both the south and west. The rocky point location for the fort rises at some places to about thirty-five feet above the river bank. In early times, the location was called Point Mamacock. Later it was some-times referred to as Fort Neck.
It has been suggested that in 1637 the same site was the location of the first English houses in the area which la~er became New London. The house or houses are said to have been built at the initiative of a Captain Stoughton. In June 1637, Stoughton with one hundred twenty men from Massachusetts Bay Colony arrived at Pequot Harbor (New London) on an expedition to exterminate if possible the Pequot Indians.
The fort on the New London side of the river was a rectangle about eighty feet on a side with earthworks on the north, east and south sides and open to the west. The heavy cannon were cast in Salisbury, Connecticut about 75 miles away in the northwest comer of the colony near the New York line.
The first fort at Point Mamacock was named in December 1775 for the current colonial governor of Connecticut, Jonathan Trumbull. The fort on the high ground on the east bank in Groton was named Fort Griswold for the then deputy governor, Matthew Griswold.
Fort Trumbull was manned and in March 1778 was strength-ened and repaired, while additional batteries were added. On September 6, 1781, Benedict Arnold, British brigadier general, led an expedition against Forts Trumbull and Griswold Arnold, native of nearby Norwich, Connecticut and former Continen-tal Army brigadier general was well acquainted with the locale. Captain Adam Shapley, Fort Trumbull’s Captain of Artillery, shot one volley, then followed orders to spike his He then took his 23 men across the river to aid Fort Griswold which was also under siege. Less than a month later on October 19, the British armies surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia.
After the Revolution, Fort Trumbull continued under the aegis of Connecticut. During President Washington’s second term, in 1794, Sieur de Rochefontaine, who fought with Washington’s Continental Army, was appointed civilian engineer to fortify certain harbors along the coast including New London, Connecticut. Money was authorized by the 3rd Congress to upgrade the Fort. Details of garrisoning for both peace and war were established. In October 1798, the Connecticut General Assembly ceded the Fort to the United States Army. This stewardship continued until 1910.
Starting in the 1830s, the United States undertook the building of a series of strategically located forts. The forts were to provide long term security against invasion. Collectively they were referred to as the permanent system.
A new Fort Trumbull was included in this new fort system. It was to be located in the area nearby the site of the 1775n7 Revolutionary fort It was located on a hillock slightly south of the original construction. The new fort would be constructed of granite from the nearby quarries and in the Egyptian Revival style which was popular at the time. Increased land was purchased for the War Department by an Act of Congress. Further land was also ceded to the United States. By the end of the centwy, the total area of the fort was about twenty acres. Senate appropriations in the order of $400,000 were approved in 1836 for the new fort. Construction of the granite fort was begun in 1836 and completed in 1854. An original painting of the fort by Seth Eastman in the 1870-75 period was hung in the Capitol in Washington, DC.
As the century moved on, Fort Trumbull was overtaken by technological events. Coast artillery to resist invasion changed in capabilities such as range and placement. New forts and emplacements moved closer to the sea. After the tum of the century, Fort Trumbull and the adjoining real estate became available government property.
Fort Trumbull and the adjacent acreage have coves on the north and south sides of the promontory. The coves are manageable for small boats, and piers on the river can accom-modate a wide range of ships. Extensive nautical use of the fort area began in 1910 with the arrival of the United States Revenue Cutter Service at Fort Trumbull.
Revenue Cutter Service ships, shore personnel and cadet corps became the primary tenant at Fort Trumbull. The following year, this use of the Fort Trumbull area was formal-ized with a transfer of Fort Trumbull from the War Department to the Treasury Department. In 1914, the Revenue Cutter Service’s officer school at the Fort was designated as the service’s academy. This location for the academy was used until 1932, when the present United States Coast Guard Academy was opened at a site also on the west bank of the Thames River in New London, about two miles further north. Overall, the Coast Guard has had a continuous presence since 1910. The kind, size and scale of the activities have varied.
World War I
After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Germany’s first merchant steamship sinking by submarine occurred October 26, 1914, bringing attention to this form of warfare. America’s attitude toward the German U-boat sinkings hardened when on May 7, 1915, the British liner LUSITANIA, on its way from New York to Liverpool, was sunk off the coast of Ireland by two torpedoes fired from the German submarine U-20. The LUSITANIA sank in twenty minutes. In the sinking, over one thousand lives were lost including 128 United States citizens.
Concern regarding the U-boat menace and United States military preparedness led to establishing of the Naval Consulting Board in July, 1915. The Board brought together some of the country’s senior inventors and engineers (including Thomas Edison) to address technology problems including antisubmarine considerations. The Board’s structure and deliberations did not include the membership of either the American Physical Society (physicists) or the National Academy of Sciences.
The U-boat sinkings continued and by the end of 1916 Germany bad 102 U-boats. During 1915 and 1916, unrestricted German submarine warfare by the U-boats was an off-on affair somewhat dependent upon the American diplomatic pressures and their reception by the German government and military.
The Naval Consulting Board addressed the submarine threat with a Special Problems Committee investigating submarine detection. By 1917, a research activity for the development of sound detection devices was in operation on the coast of Massachusetts east of Boston at Nahant. Industrial scientists and engineers from General Electric, American Telephone & Telegraph, and the Boston based Submarine Signal Company were engaged in the research and development efforts.
New London Area 1917
The declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917, generally increased the scope and scale of several activities in the area. The Navy with twenty first-line submarines instituted the United States Navy Submarine School in Groton across the river from New London at the site of the Navy’s New London Coaling Station. The Coast Guard transfer to the Navy for the duration of the war increased the activity at Fort Trumbull. The Electric Boat Company1, a submarine builder since the turn of the century, owned a subsidiary in Groton, the New London Ship and Engine Company. Diesel engines for ships and submarines had been produced at that location since 1911. Orders for submarine diesel engines for new construction for both United States and Great Britain provided further stimulus to the industrial activity in the region.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
A year earlier, George Ellery Hale, one of the country’s leading academic scientists as spokesman for the National Academy of Sciences, offered the services of the membership to President Wilson. Until this time, the academic physicists had not been involved in the search for solutions to military technological problems. In April 1916, the President accepted the Academy’s offer to help. In response the NAS set up the National Research Council made up of some NAS members and military representatives.
On January 9, 1917, Germany renewed its unrestricted submarine campaign. The following month the Navy asked the National Research Council to develop submarine detection devices. The committee addressing this effort was chaired by Robert A. Millikan, a well known physicist from the University of Chicago on duty as an Army officer. By the end of June 1917, the Navy authorized the National Research Council to start research at New London with a staff of academic profes-sors. An initial staff of six academic scientists and Millikan met at the Mohican Hotel in New London to discuss a submarine detection device that had been recently brought from France. The academic scientists who came to the Fort Trumbull area to work occupied buildings on the cove south of the Coast Guard facilities at Fort Trumbull.
FISCal support for the initial research and salaries at New London was from academic and professional scientific organi-zations. Vannevar Bush, one of the researchers, was supported for his work in New London on submarine detection equipment by a J. P. Morgan firm. Academic institutions represented included Harvard, McGill, Yale, Wesleyan, MIT, Cornell, Chicago, Rice, Columbia, and Swarthmore.
By early July 1917, Max Mason, a member of the New London research team and a mathematician from the University of Wisconsin, had conducted experiments both in the lake at Madison, Wisconsin and on a dock at New London with an underwater sound detector he invented. This detector was considered in some circles at the end of the hostilities to be the best of those available to the allied navies. Many of the researchers had come to New London from significant scientific and academic careers and after the closing of the research activity in late 1918 went on to continuing scientific achievement in several fields of science. 1\vo would receive Nobel prizes; R. A Millikan in 1923 and P. W. Bridgman in 1946.
President Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War 1, also had involvement with the research activities at Fort Trumbull. Early government support for the work was limited. In October 1917, Roosevelt was concerned with the transfer of funds for research on submarine detection devices. The Navy released $300,000 in support of the research. On October 12, the Navy took over the research effort; and the location was designated the Navy Experimental Station at New London.
Research and experiments at the Station included Navy aircraft planes and dirigibles. The seaplanes were located at the cove south of the Fort. Training of Navy personnel in operat-ing the detection equipment, listeners school, was another aspect of the activities at Fort Trumbull. By November 1918, the Station included laboratories and test facilities for thirty-two professors, three submarine chasers, three yachts, a destroyer, and more than 700 enlisted men.
A destroyer, USS JOUETT (DD-41), arrived at New London on January 15, 1918 for experimentation with antisubmarine devices. The JOUETT continued experimental work at New London until June 4, 1918. The JOUE’IT was fitted with the most sophisticated World War I non-electric binaural listening system. The destroyer was able to track a target submarine at ranges of 500 to 2,000 yards while it was operating at speeds of 20 knots.
In 1950, in his autobiography, Millikan observed regarding the Experimental Station, “long before the war closed, the New London Station had practically absorbed the Nahant Station and become one great center of antisubmarine and other naval experimenting, all done after the beginning of 1918.”
The Fort Trumbull site for the submarine detection research provided a waterside location with reasonable access to open water and proximity to the Navy’s Submarine School across the river several miles to the north, while the Electric Boat Compa· ny’s submarine engine subsidiary was within view on the east bank of the river in Groton.
The end of the War in November was followed by the closing of the Navy Experimental Station. However, many of the assemblage of scientists who comprised the resident, visiting and technical managers of the research at Fort Trumbull would, during the next two decades, grow in stature and prominence at both the national and international level, some in academia and some in industry. In 1940, when the submarine threat again became more menacing, they provided the core of the leader-ship which returned the Fort Trumbull area to a high technolo-gy site.
A theme promulgated by Hale in engaging scientists’ participation in the war effort was need for independence in the work in support of the military. A Hunter Dupree, in his 1957 Science in the Federal Government, noted “As the war went on, more and more of the NRC’s program went over to military control.. less capable of initiating projects, depending increas-ingly on the assumption that the military knew what to ask for.” The need for independence was not lost on Vannevar Bush, one of the 1917-18 researchers, in 1940 as he organized the national scientific and engineering resources to meet the German threat.