April 17, 2015
During my quest for New Jersey lighthouses, I often enjoyed—or was perplexed by—unexpected discoveries. This occurred while photographing Cape May Lighthouse. About two hundred yards seaward (east) of the light sits a massive concrete structure—military judging from its windowless impenetrable exterior and its position right on the edge of the entrance to Delaware Bay. It is, however, totally unmarked—no signage whatsoever except maybe a “Keep Off” sign.
It perplexed me and I shot a number of photos of the structure from all sides. It also offered a potentially interesting framing option for the lighthouse.
Back at the computer, a quick Google search identified this as Battery 223. It is a World War II structure on what was then the Cape May Military Reservation. Construction was completed in 1943, and transferred to the Coast Artillery in 1944. Part of a coastal defense system, records indicate that the bunker was originally 900 feet inland. Also, when it was in service, it was covered in earth with vegetation growing over it to camouflage the structure. Today, due to coastal erosion, the stark concrete building sits at the edge of the water at high tide.
The bunker was manned by a rotating detail of naval gunnery crews, who spent their time scanning the horizon for enemy ships and submarines. It is reported that near the end of WWII, a German U-Boat commander surrendered his vessel just off the coast of Cape May.
The bunker is an imposing hulk, and although the walls are seven feet think, it was built as a temporary structure, constructed on top of wooden pilings that still look as if they are practically new.
The bunker served as an armory, target plotting room and quarters for the crews. The two 6-inch guns, mounted on turrets outside the bunker, fired 105-pound armor-piercing projectiles with a range of more than 15 miles. There are no records of Bunker 223 ever firing at an enemy vessel.
Crews could fire the guns at a rate of up to 5 rounds per minute. The gun crews were protected by a thick shield around the gun. There are no guns at the Cape May Bunker 223 site, but the turrets (mounting rings) are sometimes visible at low tide when not covered by sand. For more information on the shrouded 6-in guns of Battery 223, see “The Batteries of Fort Pickens,” and go to “Battery 234.”
The concrete hulk of Battery 223 sits on Cape May Beach like an alien structure from a science fiction movie.