“There are strong arguments in favor of putting the principal harbors of the country in a state of adequate defense, even at very considerable cost. But the work should be done according to a well digested plan, which will give reasonable security that it will answer its purpose.” (New York Times, July 1, 1884)
Harbor defenses had constituted the primary element of the means employed by the Army for seacoast defense. Harbor defenses consisted of permanently installed guns of various calibers, which could be supplemented in an emergency by mobile coast artillery guns and controlled mine fields.
The Artillery District of Honolulu was established April 24, 1909 and consisted of Forts Ruger, DeRussy, Kamehameha and Armstrong (the District was renamed Headquarters Coast Defenses of Oʻahu.)
Following World War I and until the end of World War II, additional coastal armaments were constructed. Then, the Army mission was “the defense of Pearl Harbor Naval Base against damage from naval or aerial bombardment or by enemy sympathizers and attack by enemy expeditionary force or forces, supported or unsupported by an enemy fleet or fleets”.
Batteries at Fort Kamehameha, Fort Weaver and Fort Barrette (the latter two constructed in 1924 & 1935) completed pre-World War II coastal defense network for Pearl Harbor.
Batteries at Fort DeRussy and Fort Ruger were responsible for the defense of the South coast and Honolulu Harbor. While none of the large caliber guns were ever fired except in practice, the secondary anti-aircraft guns of coastal artillery units at Fort Kamehameha were credited with shooting down a number of attacking aircraft on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, as part of the growing Coast Defense network, numerous Batteries and their associated Fire Control Stations were set up around the Islands.
A Fire Control Station is an observation and command center used to direct fire from gun Batteries on the coast. Fire Control personnel spot and determine where the guns should aim (typically working with others using triangulation;) Batteries have the guns to fire at the targets.
In 1917, Waimanalo Military Reservation was created (later renamed to Bellows Field in 1933;) with the outbreak of WWII, Bellows was transformed almost overnight into an important facility where aircraft were prepared for their duty in the Pacific Theater.
Part of the defense of the facility was Battery Wailea, located at Wailea Point (at the dividing line between Waimanalo and Lanikai.) Search lights were emplaced at the Battery. The Battery was operational from 1942 to 1945.
It was initially armed with two mobile 155-mm guns (about 6-inches, that could send 96-lb projectiles 17,400-yds,) later replaced with two 5-inch guns (58-lb projectile, 10,000-yd range) (later supplemented with two 3-inch guns (15-lb projectile, 11,100-yd range.))
Battery Wailea was supported by Fire Control Station Podmore. Podmore, completed February 28, 1943 – named for a nearby triangulation station, supported other armaments and was made up of two stations: a single story North structure (29A) and a double-tiered South station (29B & 29C.) (Bennett)
Pedestals in the bunkers were mounts for high-powered optical instruments for determining azimuth and range of ocean vessels.
An observer and recorder staffed each observation station. Data obtained from the observer’s optical instrument was telephoned by the recorder to the assigned gun battery by a local-battery operated telephone. (Bennett)
The troops manning the site slept and lived in tents in shifts on the slopes. Water and power lines were brought up from below to serve the bunkers and tent quarters from the Lanikai side of the Kaʻiwa Ridge.
The Podmore stations were located in the South Sector of Oʻahu’s two defense sectors, and tactically assigned to the Harbor Defenses of Kāneʻohe Bay located in a tunnel system dug into Ulupaʻu Crater on Mōkapu Peninsula.
The harbor defenses were set up to protect the vital Navy seaplane and landplane base at the Kāneʻohe Bay Naval Air Station built on the Mōkapu Peninsula. (Bennett)
After end of WWII, the parcel was declared surplus by the General Services Administration (GSA) and was offered for sale to the highest bidder. Both the State and the City & County did not offer to acquire the parcel and the property was sold to a private individual. (DLNR)
Today, a hiking trail takes you to the Fire Control Station.
Most folks call the Podmore Fire Control bunker the Lanikai Pillboxes; a misnomer. As noted, the bunkers were built as an observation and command center for Battery Wailea and observation for Bellows Field.
A pillbox is a reinforced guard post, normally equipped with openings through which to fire weapons. The Podmore Fire Control Station was for observation, not weaponry.
The trail is part of our Na Ala Hele Trails and Access System. It is Na Ala Hele’s only coastal trail on Oʻahu. DLNR has plans to overhaul the trail at some point, following a master plan and community involvement. (DLNR)