In 2003, there were between 13,000 and 15,000 World War II veterans residing in the state of Delaware.
Recognizing that these veterans represented a valuable historical resource, Lt. Governor John Carney, in coordination with Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor and the Delaware Commission on Veterans Affairs announced “Project Delaware – World War II”, an oral history project intended to memorialize the accounts and experiences of the World War II veterans and those serving on the home front of Delaware. By the end of 2003, the Commission on Veterans Affairs had received over 400 completed questionnaires from veterans interested in participating in this project.
A Brief History of Delaware In WWII
Delaware was considered of great importance to those planning the World War II defense strategy of the United States. By merit of its proximity to the Delaware River and Bay as well as the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware was considered part of the “vital triangle” bounded by lines running through Norfolk, New York City, and Pittsburgh.
At the time, defense of the River and Bay rested squarely on Delaware’s shoulders, as three of the four defensive forts were located in the state. Fort DuPont and Fort Delaware located in Delaware City, and Fort Saulsbury near Milford were vital to the overall defensive plan of the country.
Delaware’s industries were also major contributors to the Allied cause. Shipbuilding became the state’s largest industry and shipyards in Wilmington and downstate built hundreds of naval vessels. The Dravo Corporation alone launched 187 ships out of its Wilmington yard. Delaware’s explosives and chemical industries, notably its three largest, DuPont, Hercules, and Atlas, were extremely active during the war. The state’s iron and steel foundries, textile manufacturers, and other industries also produced equipment and products for the Allied cause.
Delawareans who served in positions of prominence in the military during World War II include: Lt. General Thomas Holcomb, commander of the Marine Corps; Lt. General Eugene Reybold, commander of the Army Engineers; Vice-Admiral William Purnell Blandy, commander of Navy Ordinance, and a host of others. It has been estimated that more than 30,000 Delawareans, representing one-tenth of the state’s population in 1940, served in the armed forces during the war.
The major military installations in Delaware during World War II were:
Fort Delaware – on Pea Patch Island off Delaware City. In 1942, Battery C of 261st Separate Coast Artillery Battalion (Harbor Defense) operated two batteries of three-inch guns there.
Fort DuPont – located just south of Delaware City. It was the initial headquarters of the harbor defenses of the Delaware Bay and River until the opening of Fort Miles. Of Civil War origin, the fort was expanded in 1941 and became a center for many activities during the war, including service as a German prisoner-of-war camp.
Fort Saulsbury – located approximately seven miles east of Milford on Cedar Creek. It was established as a Coast Artillery defense unit during WWI. Its purpose during WWII was as a training base for the 261st Battalion, Harbor Defense.
Fort Miles – located on Cape Henlopen, it served as chief of the harbor defenses of the Delaware, opening on August 8, 1941. Huge stationary guns, concrete bunkers, and observation towers were established, the remnants of which can still be observed all along the Delaware Atlantic coast. Fortunately, the guns never had to be used, but a German prisoner-of-war camp was established there, and when the war came to an end, Fort Miles served as a separation center.
Important military airfields in Delaware included New Castle County Air Base, located at Hare’s Corner off Route 13; the Dover Army Air Field, near the state capital; and the Georgetown Naval Airfield, near the county seat of Sussex.