The Navy at Cape Henlopen

A Century of Service


Cold War: Naval Radio Station

In 1960, the Navy began building on Cape Henlopen what was then the world's largest radio antenna. This was a tropospheric screen, high frequency, radio transmitting antenna.  The antenna could  focus its signal in a narrow beam onto an area of the atmospheric layer formed at a height of about 10 miles at the top of the earth's troposphere and bottom of the stratosphere.  In that way it was able to have the signal reflected back to the earth's surface at a specific location.  This permitted the transmission of highly classified material in a relatively undetected and secure fashion. 

By June 1963, Naval Radio Station, Lewes was activated as a component of Naval Communications Station Washington DC.  It was one of three stations whose function was to provide reliable, secure, telephone, teletype and data communications between national command centers ashore such as the White House Situation Room and the Pentagon War Room to the wartime command relocation site  aboard the ships of the National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA).

One of the two ships was always on alert duty at sea at any time, usually off the East Coast within 100 miles one of the  shore stations. If nuclear war erupted, the alert ship was third in line behind the Strategic Air Command (SAC) airborne command post or the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) underground command post to provide secure relocation facilities for senior national security officials to assure continuity of command and control of strategic military forces operating worldwide. The ships had special presidential quarters and a replica of the Pentagon War Room.


The large antennae were located atop of the earth-covered former dual 12 inch gun Battery 519 and the transmitter site was in the former Battery Hunter. 

View of Tropospheric antennae atop battery 519.

The few personnel of the Radio Transmitting Station were quartered in the new multi-purpose building that had been built for the Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) Naval Facility, also established on Cape Henlopen in 1962. 

The station was closed when the function was relocated to West Virginia after 1968.  The antennae were dismantled in 1976.

Photo Credits


-Tropospheric Screen Antenna: Courtesy of the Submarine Veterans Assn.

-NECPA ships: U.S. Navy Heritage and History Command.

-View of troposheric antennae: Delaware State Parks in Michael A. Hamilton and George W. Contant "Fort Miles: The Cold War in Miniature" in Outdoors Delaware Fall 2011.

-Battery Hunter: Author's photos.

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