Tillamook Head WWII Radar Site
Tillamook Head WWII Radar Site (1943-1944, 1948-1950) - A World War II U.S. Army Signal Corps Radar Site established in 1943 as a part of the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS). Used to provide early warning and direction of intercepts of approaching enemy aircraft. Located by Tillamook Head, south of Seaside in Clatsop County, Oregon. Deactivated in 1944 reactivated in 1948 and declared surplus in 1950. Also known as Station J-23.
This radar site was established in 1943 during World War II as a part of a chain of some 65 radar stations along the West Coast of the United States and Canada. These secret radar sites were built to provide early warning and interception of approaching enemy aircraft and ships but also served to assist friendly aircraft that were lost or had in-flight emergencies. This radar network was in addition to a network of search and fire control radars established at each of the West Coast harbor defenses.
This chain of West Coast radar stations was established in response to the June 1942 Japanese invasion and capture of the U.S. Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. The islands were both recaptured by U.S. forces and declared secured by 24 Aug 1943. The radar chain was constructed in late 1942 and early 1943 while the Japanese still had control of the islands and had conducted air raids on the U.S. bases at Dutch Harbor. The threat of further air attacks on the West Coast appeared real as did a possible Japanese invasion of the Pacific Northwest.
Two types of Air Warning Service (AWS) radar stations were built, long-range search radars (200~ mile range) and short-range Ground Control Intercept (GCI) radars (50~ mile range). The search radars would pick up and track possible enemy aircraft while the GCI radars would guide U.S. interceptor aircraft to these targets. The long-range search radar sites typically used the SCR-270 series radars while the short-range Search/GCI sites typically used the SCR-588 series radars.
The Tillamook Head WWII Radar Site was established as a Search/GCI site with a SCR-588 radar set under the command of the Portland Air Defense Wing. The site was operational from sometime in 1943 to mid-1944 and then placed in standby status with the equipment removed. Manning during the operational period was typically 45 to 50 men operating as a detachment of the headquarters at Portland International Airport (note: the detachment numbers and unit designation changed several times while the site was active).
Post-war, the site was reactivated and operational again by 1 Apr 1948. This was the result of a 27 Mar 1948 Fourth Air Force headquarters requirement that the 505th Aircraft Control & Warning Group (AC&WG) at McChord Field begin immediate 24-hour operations to provide an “air defense radar net” in the Pacific Northwest. The 505th AC&WG activated radar detachments near Neah Bay, Spokane, Pasco, and Seaside. The Seaside site was located at the old Tillamook Head WWII Radar Site just south of Seaside. Initial equipment included a TPS-1B radar and an SCR-399 HF radio. The site remained active until the Lashup System was established in 1949-1950 and then it was declared surplus.
The construction of the Tillamook Head radar facility in 1942-1943 required a road from Highway 101, along the route later known as “Radar Road.” At the time of road construction, the military dictated that the tall timber lining the sides of the road should be cut back to prevent the radar facility from being cut off by a winter tree fall. The result was a long, linear strip of younger forest, following the road through the old-growth, still visible today.
This radar facility was a split site with the Radar Operations area separate from the Cantonment area. The Cantonment area contained 14 frame buildings which would have included a dining hall, three or four barracks, a common washroom/latrine, a headquarters building, a combination recreation hall/supply, and other support buildings.
The operations site was described in a surplus property report by the War Assets Administration as a single concrete Operations building, (underground), 21’ x 80’. Typically included would have been the SCR-588 antenna on four concrete support piers. The operations building housed the radar equipment, an operations area, and three generators. The operations building was built into a hillside and visitors to the site today can walk on the roof level and observe the air intake vents and other piping on the roof. The two entrances to the underground level were each built with two sloping concrete retaining walls on the sides to keep the entrances free from collapsing earth. These two entrances are now blocked by steel gratings.
Deactivated in 1944 reactivated in 1948 and in 1950, declared surplus property and offered for sale.
Operations Site - Now part of Ecola State Park property, The shell of the underground operations building has both hillside entrances blocked by heavy steel doors. Above ground, the air intake and exhaust vents are visible with the most prominent being the triple intake vents for the three generator radiators. Also visible are the concrete antenna support piers on the west side of the building.
Cantonment Site - Now part of Ecola State Park property, no visible remains.
Easiest access to this site is from the Indian Beach Day-use Area of the Ecola State Park (not the Ecola Point Day-use Area). Parking is limited and there can be a long wait for a spot if you come at a busy time.
At the Indian Beach Day-use Area, two trails go up to the Hikers' Camp, these two trails make up the 2.5 mile (round trip) Clatsop Loop Trail that takes you very close to the radar site. As you start out from the parking lot, a wide trail goes straight ahead and a narrower trail branches off to the left, the wide trail was formerly the military road to the radar site while the narrower trail is a typical northwest hiking trail. The wide trail is a steady climb all the way up to the 700+ foot level, there are few a flat spots but the climb is unrelenting for a mile and a quarter. This path is by far the easiest for the non-professional hiker and can be done in sneakers. The narrow path is more arduous and less safe for inexperienced hikers because it has many uneven areas strewn with rocks and exposed tree roots. You probably need to have hiking boots on for this trail or you risk a fall or a sprained ankle because the damp nature of the forest makes everything a bit slippery. We took the wide trail up and the narrow trail down and if I were to do it again I would take the wide path both ways.
Once at the top you will find the Hikers' Camp close to the junction of the two trails and the radar site is straight ahead west toward the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Overlook. The radar site is on the left-hand side of the trail to the overlook and you cannot miss it because the trail actually goes through the site right where the wooden catwalk starts. Look to your left and you should see the steel door to the underground entrance the second entrance is a bit further down. Above the doors, you can see the vents and to the right of the second door, you can see the remains of the antenna piers.
Visited: 8 Sep 2018