Exploring Battery Russell, you’re sure to gain a new level of respect for soldiers, past and present. While this particular battery is no longer active, it once played a substantial role in the defense of the Oregon coast during WWII. It’s one of my absolute favourite sites at Fort Stevens.
A little history
Battery Russell, one of nine concrete batteries at Fort Stevens, protected the mouth of the Columbia River during WWII. Built from 1903-04, it was named after Bvt Major General David Russell who died during the Civil War in 1864.
Battery Russell, manned full-time only after the attack on Pearl Harbor in WWII, gained the nickname of ‘Squirrelsville’. With the housing quickly built and soldiers rotating in and out every few days, it wasn’t a popular station.
Attack on Fort Stevens
On June 21, 1942, at 11:30 pm an enemy Japanese I-25 submarine attacked Fort Stevens. It snuck through the mouth of the Columbia River and surfaced about 10 miles offshore and began firing haphazardly towards the fort.
Soldiers manned their stations but, for unknown reasons, held their fire. Luckily most of the submarine’s fire landed harmlessly, with only a few touching down near Battery Russell. The attack didn’t injure anyone, but it did scare locals. They strung barbed wire up and down the beach, through the Wreck of the Peter Iredale, and set up a citizen’s patrol.
Exploring Battery Russell
Battery Russell protected the Columbia River from the south while Fort Columbia and Fort Canby protected the river from the north; the three forts created the triangle of fire.
This unsuccessful attack was the only wartime action Fort Stevens ever saw. It’s also the only U.S. mainland military base that’s been fired upon since the War of 1812.
Battery Russell was deactivated in 1944, only two years after the attack. It was active for 40 years.
Ghosts of Battery Russell
While I’ve never experienced anything akin to a ghostly sighting on my three trips to Battery Russell, there have been many reports that say otherwise. It’s even topped lists of most haunted places in Oregon! Despite no soldiers having died at Battery Russell, Fort Stevens was active during the Civil War and may be what accounts for these sighting.
Many people report having seen a man in army fatigues holding a knife in the Battery, as well as a young man with a flashlight, searching for enemy soldiers along the bike paths. While these accounts are most often located in and around the Battery, some people have recounted tales of sighting elsewhere at Fort Stevens, including the campground! Rest assured, though, the worst that has ever happened is that these people went home running!
I’ll admit, though, there’s a little piece of me that wishes I had run into one of these ghosts – it would be quite the tale to tell!
Visiting Battery Russell
There are many batteries at Fort Stevens but Battery Russell is one of the few that’s completely open to explore. It’s my favourite and can easily become yours.
Make sure to pick up the brochure in the parking lot. It has lots of info on each room and some history on the Battery.
Most of the rooms are well lit, but the deeper you venture into the Battery the darker the rooms become. Be careful of birds as they often make nests in the smaller rooms. Pack a flashlight if you’re planning on exploring the darker rooms (and be on the lookout for ghosts!).
The walls are covered in mildew but, unlike other batteries, they aren’t covered in slugs. Those little guys are gross!
The second level of the battery once housed two disappearing guns. Today it’s a large, fenced-in pit. These guns could fire 600-pound shells up to 8-miles; they would raise up, fire, and retreat back below the flat roof. If you were to walk towards the Battery from the water you wouldn’t realize it was there until you were on it.
The Pacific Rim Peace Memorial is also at Battery Russell. It commemorates the American and Japanese soldiers involved in the attack on Fort Stevens and calls for everlasting peace between the two countries. The memorial is large and surprisingly difficult to read.
Information & Location
It’s easy to spend anywhere from five to an hour at Battery Russell. It’s not usually busy, so take your time exploring all the rooms and bring a picnic! For an added bonus, bike from the campground and leave your bikes at the rack.
To view more photos of Battery Russell, check out our SmugMug gallery.
Duration: ~1 hr
Distance: ~1 km
Difficulty: Easy, no hiking involved