(Image: Prioryman; abandoned 100 ton gun turret at Fort Gorazda, Montenegro)
Here at Urban Ghosts, we’ve spent a lot of time covering abandoned military bases and other facilities. From abandoned Nike Missile sites to decaying airbases, there’s little that’s escaped our sights. Now we’re turning our attention to abandoned gun emplacements, flak towers and derelict artillery batteries. From crumbling forts that once housed impressive cannons, to anti-aircraft guns left to rust on remote islands, the world is littered with these ruined monuments to bygone wars.
Fort Gorazda (Montenegro)
The history of the Balkans is one of insurgencies, counter-insurgencies, and governments trying to violently restore order. Nowhere typifies this as clearly as Fort Gorazda near Montenegro’s coast. Built in the 1880s to shore up Austro-Hungarian support in a volatile region, it soon became the location of innumerable battles.
(Image: Prioryman; abandoned defensive walls within the mighty fortification)
At the time, both Russians and Montenegrins were separately trying to oust the Hapsburg Empire. As a result, the fort came under repeated, heavy attack. Bombarded by batteries and assaulted by ground troops, it soon had to be heavily reinforced to ensure its survival. It’s this reinforced structure that still stands today.
(Image: Prioryman; abandoned Fort Gorazda entrance in Montenegro)
Latterly used by the Yugoslav Army until as recently as the 1990s, the abandoned fort now possesses a ghostly, haunted quality. Empty corridors lead to bunkers with narrow slits for firing out of, while the 100 ton rotating Gruson gun turret – thought to be the last of its kind – turns to rust outside.
Malabar Battery (New South Wales, Australia)
(Image: Adam.J.W.C.; observation tower at Malabar abandoned artillery battery)
If you go wandering through the headlands of Malabar National Park, south of Sydney, you might just stumble across an arresting sight. Bulky concrete towers dot a scrubby landscape, casting a watchful eye over Botany Bay. A remnant of World War Two, these unassuming structures were Australia’s first line of defense in case of a Japanese invasion.
(Image: Adam.J.W.C.; tunnels leading to the abandoned gun emplacements)
Most-impressive of all was Malabar Battery. Equipped with two six inch Mark XII guns, it was ready to turn any advancing enemy into little bits of skin and bone at the slightest provocation. It even had its own small tramway cut into the rock to help with moving the ammunition.
(Image: Adam.J.W.C.; derelict barracks at former Malabar Battery)
(Image: Adam.J.W.C.; Malabar Battery’s southernmost abandoned gun emplacement)
Needless to say, Malabar never saw any action (thankfully). At the end of the war it was decommissioned, the abandoned guns hauled off to a safer home. Thanks to its concrete exterior, it remains in eerily perfect condition 70 years later, and is now known as a haunt for urban explorers.
Fort Tilden Abandoned Artillery Battery (Queens, NYC)
(Image: Jim.Henderson; approaching Fort Tilden’s abandoned Battery Harris East)
Invasions of the United States are so rare that you can count them on a single hand (and, even then, it’s debatable if they really count). That didn’t stop the government from setting up one of the world’s biggest gun emplacements near New York in 1917. Known as Fort Tilden, the enormous bunker contained a gigantic 16” gun for scaring off enemy attackers.
(Images: Numb Photo; inside one of Fort Tilden’s cavernous abandoned artillery batteries)
As the threat of invasion receded during the 20th century, Fort Tilden eventually fell out of use. Briefly used as a Nike Missile site during the Cold War, it was finally decommissioned and handed over to the National Park Service in 1978. Today, the enormous abandoned artillery battery still watches over the landscape, waiting for an invading army that never came.
Fort Sherman (Panama)
(Image: MAdaXe; Battery Mower at Panama’s abandoned Fort Sherman)
In 1903, the United States found itself taking sides in a conflict between Colombia and its breakaway province of Panama. Almost out of the blue, a new country formed at the base of Central America. One that was resented and extremely vulnerable to attack. It was under these conditions that bases like Fort Sherman were built.
Designed as early as 1910, Fort Sherman was there to protect American interests. Specifically the Panama Canal, a then unfinished venture that was guaranteed to revolutionize shipping. With such a valuable prize to guard, it’s probably no surprise the fort was armed to the teeth. Wikipedia lists four 75-mm guns, four 155-mm guns, two 14-inch disappearing guns, eight 12-inch mortars and other assorted weapons of destruction. On top of that, it was home to an airstrip and one of the earliest radar devices.
Today, the abandoned fort lies silent, the rainforest slowly reclaiming it for mother nature. Meanwhile, the grievances that led to its construction have long been forgotten.
Princess Anne’s Battery (Gibraltar)
(Image: Moshi Anahory; Princess Anne’s Battery has four 5.25 inch AAA/coastal defence guns)
A chunk of Britain picked up and casually dropped off the south coast of Spain (it even, improbably, has Britain’s rainy weather), Gibraltar has long been disputed territory. Even in the 21st century, Spain continues to make noises about taking it back – albeit extremely unconvincing ones. Not so long ago, though, those threats carried much more weight. Hence the existence of Princess Anne’s Battery.
(Image: Steve Johnson)
Probably the oldest item on our list, Princess Anne’s Battery was first established in 1732. Of course, things have changed a lot since then. Updated in the 19th and 20th centuries, it’s now a giant metal monster; including four dual purpose 5.25-inch anti-aircraft guns (making it the last complete artillery battery of its kind in the world) capable of blowing a vessel clear out the water or a plane out of the sky. Or at least it would be if it were still operational. The abandoned artillery battery was decommissioned in the 1980s. Now it sits peacefully by a roadside on the vast hill leading up Gibraltar; a peculiar tourist site for visiting Brits to ponder over.
Abandoned Flak Tower Flakturm VII (Vienna, Austria)
(Image: Eigenes Werk; the abandoned flak tower in Augarten, Vienna)
In the dark days of World War Two, both Germany and Britain furiously prepared their cities for a possible aerial assault. In Britain, this meant barrage balloons, searchlights and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA / Triple A) guns. In Germany and its territories, this meant flak towers.
(Image: David Monniaux; abandoned Flakturm-VII G-tower in Vienna)
Gigantic concrete structures capable of holding thousands of people, the towers would pound incoming allied bombers with clouds of molten shrapnel, blasting many of them clean out the air. One of the best-surviving examples is tower VII in Vienna, Austria. Damaged by an explosion during the war, it’s now a spectacularly imposing block housing thousands upon thousands of pigeons. The gun-nests themselves remain intact; reminders of when bombers streaked through the air above German skies.
The Flak Towers of Hamburg (Germany)
(Image: San Andreas; Hamburg’s surviving Flakturm IV G-Tower)
In the whole of World War Two, only eight German flak towers were built – out of a planned twenty two. While most of those in Berlin were demolished after the war, the two that were thrown up in Hamburg still remain, albeit in a somewhat quieter form.
Like their counterparts in Vienna, the Hamburg towers were deadly. Each could spew up to 8,000 rounds a minute over a range of 14km, with a complete 360 degree view across the sky. They were angels of death, hovering over the flaming wastes of the German cities below, obliterating anything that strayed too near.
(Image: Dowd, J.; the ruins of Hamburg following Operation Gomorrah)
In the end, they weren’t enough to save the city. In July 1943, Operation Gomorrah was launched. Aircraft of RAF Bomber Command and the US Air Force dropped incendiary devices on Hamburg, resulting in a firestorm that incinerated 42,600 civilians – the same number as died during the full 267 days of the London Blitz. By the end, it seemed that the flak towers alone remained standing.
Abandoned Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) Guns on Iwo Jima (Japan)
(Image: Agsftw; abandoned anti-aircraft artillery guns (triple-A / AAA) on Iwo Jima)
The five-week melee on Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles seen in the Pacific during World War Two. Around 18,000 Japanese soldiers died, while the US suffered around 7,000 deaths and nearly 20,000 casualties. Even today, the island still bears the scars of those violent days. Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in the remains of the old anti-aircraft guns.
(Image: US Navy; also on Iwo Jima is this Sherman tank wreck from the brutal battle)
Abandoned where they stood at the head of the beaches, the guns now make for a strange tourist attraction. Decades of strong winds and salty sea air have done their damage, corroding away the weapons until they look like a child’s attempt to build a toy gun out of playdoh. Seen today, it feels like they’re remnants of a time now long-gone, a past that’s as distant as that of the ancient Greeks. Yet Iwo Jima is closer than we might think. Surviving veterans from both sides still meet there each year to commemorate the dead. In Japanese society, some of the wounds inflicted still remain raw. Of all the Japanese to die on the island, it’s estimated only half were ever recovered.
The Abandoned Guns of China (China)
(Image: Ahoerstemeier; Armstrong 6-inch gun similar to those abandoned in China)
Britain’s relationship with China is long and complicated. Today, the government flogs off state assets to Beijing. Around 150 years ago, they were sailing boats up the Pearl River to wreak revenge on China for cutting off the opium trade. The Opium Wars were a deadly, brutal affair that saw many lives lost. Fast forward to the present, and various reminders of that time are sprinkled across the country in the form of rusted, old gun emplacements.
Old forts still sit alongside strategic rivers, fenced off and crumbling after over a century of neglect. If you happen to stumble across the right one, you might still see an old 6-inch British gun on top – all but forgotten after all this time. Some historians and enthusiasts now like to tour the country and document them, revelling in the thrill of uncovering a surviving relic of long ago.
The Abandoned Gun Emplacements of Kiribati (Kiribati)
(Image: jopolopy; Kiribati is littered with abandoned gun emplacements)
In most nations, the abandoned gun emplacements of long-gone wars are forgotten structures, left to decay far from public view. On the remote island of Kiribati in the Pacific, they’re one of the country’s premiere tourist attractions.
(Image: Nick Hobgood; abandoned gun emplacement on Betio Island)
Left scattered across the white sands of Kiribati’s beaches by the retreating Japanese army, the old guns are a staggering sight to behold. Enormous structures significantly bigger than a human, many still point out to sea, as if awaiting the return of the US Navy. Although plenty are in near-mint condition, plenty more abandoned guns are now in advanced stages of decay.
(Image: Vilimaka Foliaki; the rusting remains of an abandoned Japanese artillery battery)
Many have been overtaken by the native flora and fauna. Many others are now little more than hulking wrecks, destroyed by over half a century of salt breeze and constant neglect. Still, they stand as an important reminder to humanity: to never forget the deadly cost of the war in the Pacific.