There has long been a need for an authoritative history of Guantanamo Bay, particularly an account covering the early days. About a quarter of a century after the U. S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, was established, Captain Charles C. Soule, U. S. Navy, Commandant from 1926 to 1928, undertook such an account. He addressed letters of inquiry to several former Commandants, and received several helpful replies, some of them still being in existence. However, there is nothing to indicate that a written account ever resulted, in whole or in part.

Many articles have been written covering various phases of Guantanamo Bay's history, but it was not until the close of World War II that anything approaching an overall history was attempted. In 1945 there was assembled and edited a typewritten account entitled "Historic (sic) Sketch of Guantanamo Sector, Caribbean Sea Frontier, and U. S. Naval Operating Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba". The Editor was Commander R. E. A. Lambert, Supply Corps, USNR, Supply Officer in Command of the Naval Supply Depot. This historical sketch, a copy of which is on file in the Base Commander's office, was forwarded to the Secretary of the Navy (Director of Naval History) by ComNOB Gtmo Ltr Serial 5728 of 19 December 1945. In the Office of Naval History, two copies were bound (except for the first two sections dealing with pre-World War II history) and entitled "U. S. Naval Administration in World War II-Caribbean Commands-Volume II-The Guantanamo Sector, Caribbean Sea Frontier and the U. S. Naval Operating Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba". One copy of the bound book was retained in the Office of Naval History and the other was delivered to the Base, where it is kept in the Base Commander's library. It is an invaluable record of the 1941-45 period. For want of a better short title, this bound volume will be referred to as the "World War II Narrative".

Sketch was Incomplete

The original historical sketch, which was forwarded to the Office of Naval History in 1945, attempted to cover early history as well as World War II history. In the former, that is, the history of Guantanamo Bay or to the establishment of the Naval Operating Base in 1941, the account failed to attain an acceptable degree of accuracy. Evidently use was not made of the letters elicited by Captain Soule (perhaps they were not uncovered), nor was the substantial knowledge of old residents exploited to particular advantage. Other existing records were apparently not consulted. Then too, there was the stumbling block, common to all would-be chroniclers of early Guantanamo history, that records in those days were not well kept and some were probably destroyed in 1908 with the burning of the Monongahela. On this basis inaccuracies in the original historical sketch are understandable. In the "World War II Narrative" (bound copy) much of the unreliable material was eliminated.

A few years ago the Base weekly newspaper, "The Indian", issued in serial form "The History of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba". It consisted almost entirely of extracts from the original 1945 historical sketch, and featured early history; unfortunately the least reliable part depicted. This "history" has since been reprinted in the Indian approximately every year. During the past year I have been able to examine this account closely and have found it to be palpably inaccurate in certain particulars. It is a hodge-podge of information and misinformation. Apparently this "history" has been subjected to little editing, since it contains obvious contradictions. It is full of misstatements -some innocuous, some serious. For example, according to this account, a certain Commandant was given a 21 gun salute after a farewell party on the occasion of his detachment, which action earned him a general court martial and dismissal from the Naval service. There is some basis for this story in connection with an Acting Commandant several years later. However, the Commandant named in the account had no connection whatever with the incident. He was promoted after leaving Guantanamo and was a Captain in the Navy for many years. Since learning that this Commandant was unwittingly maligned in such a manner, confidence in the "history" as a whole was shaken, and I therefore suppressed it and forbade its reissue.

Having suppressed the "Indian account", I put myself in the position of having to supply a suitable substitute. This task has become somewhat of a challenge. In undertaking it, I have done a considerable amount of research work amongst the old records, such as they are, and the more recent "World War II Narrative"; I have explored the little known recesses of the Naval reservation, examining old landmarks and building foundations; and I have interviewed many of the old employees, one of whom came in 1906 and knew the old station when it was located on Toro Cay.

Results of Research

The results of my research, and that of my collaborators who have been kind enough to draft certain chapters and sections in the rough, have gone to make this pamphlet, it is believed, a reliable history of Guantanamo Bay-without pretence of being infallible. It bears little resemblance to any earlier narrative that deals with pre-World War II periods.

The first edition of this history has been appearing in the "Indian" in serial form. This second edition is being prepared for publication and issued in book form.

There are some narrative gaps in this account due to the paucity or absence of data. It does not purport to be a definitive history. For security reasons, recent history can by no means be complete. The purpose of the work is merely to provide historical information, now lacking, for Base personnel and other interested persons, and to record in a form that can be preserved-and in turn can be consulted-some of the significant facts and events associated with this important American outpost.

M. E. Murphy
Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy
U. S. Naval Base
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
5 January 1953


In the production of this history, I have personally written most of the chapters, have assembled the material for the appendices, and have edited the book as a whole. However, certain chapters and other portions have been prepared in the rough by my collaborators. In this category come the chapter on the Spanish-American War, all the chapters covering the 194O decade, and a few other portions. The "World War II Narrative," referred to in the Foreword, has been the principal source of information on the 1941-45 period. Specifically I am indebted to the following individuals for important contributions:

To LCDR J. M. Mason, USN, my Aide, and his wife "Trib", for preparing the chapters on the Naval Operating Base covering the Mobilization, War, and Post-War Years, and for assisting in the preparation of other chapters dealing with the War Years. Lt. Commander Mason has been my strong right arm in handling the details of publication in the Indian, and has volunteered to carry on in the publication of the history in book form.

To Mr. H. P. McNeal, Base Industrial Relations Officer, for the chapter on "How the Spanish Lost Guantanamo Bay." This material is included through the courtesy and with the permission of the U.S. Naval Institute, which is publishing a similar account in the Naval Institute Proceedings. Mr. McNeal has made other contributions to this work, and has volunteered to assist in the final editing before publication in book form.

To Mr. A. D. Hinds, Clerk in the Naval Station Public Works Department, an employee since July 1906, for imparting personal knowledge of early days and for serving as guide to the writer in exploring the far corners of the Base.

To Mr. C. V. Agdamag, Chief Clerk of the Naval Station Public Works Department, an employee since May 1921, for his contribution of material and knowledge concerning early history.

To Mr. C. D. Ransom, Resident Manager of All America Cables and Radio, Inc., for his notes on Cable Station history.

To Mrs. Marjorie Straughan, my Secretary, for her painstaking and seemingly endless work in typing and proof-reading draft after draft.

To Gerald A. Lewis (Jerry Lewis), Seaman, U. S. Navy, for providing the illustrations appearing in the various chapters.

To the Commanding Officers and various personnel, both military and civilian, of individual Base commands for many contributions too numerous to single out. Among the many who rendered assistance are:

CAPT R. H. Wilkinson, USN; CAPT J. W. Kimbrough, MC, USN; CAPT 0. L. Livdahl, USN; COL J. B. Hill, USMC; CAPT Frank Bruner, USN; CAPT M. A. Moon, DC, USN; CAPT W. H. Groverman, Jr., USN; CDR C. A. Messenheimer, SC, USN; CDR S. G. Shilling, USN; CDR J. W. Graham, SC, USN; CDR A. D. Whiteman, USN; CDR B. 0. Roessler, CEC, USN; LT G. M. Thompson, USN; LT C. G. Moore, USN; lstLT C. S. Smith, USMC; Mr. L. C. Serig; Mr. C. H. Sutherland; and Mr. L. P. Goldman.

Without the interest and assistance of the foregoing individuals the task of producing the history in its present form would have been insurmountable.

Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy
5 January 1953


0n the Southeast Coast of Cuba, an island known to romanticists as the "Pearl of Antilles", there is one of the fine harbors of the world. Not too well known to present day mariners because it is a closed port, it was a frequent port of call in Spanish colonial days. Today this body of water and the contiguous land constitute an important outpost of the United States, valuable far beyond the dreams of those who negotiated for its lease. The harbor is La Bahia de Guant�namo-Guant�namo Bay.

Strictly speaking, the written accent on the second syllable (Guant�namo) is required to indicate the proper Spanish pronunciation. To Americans this is unnecessary. In the half century of United States occupancy, the accent has disappeared. Guantanamo Bay is in effect a bit of American territory, and so it will probably remain as long as we have a Navy, for we have a lease in perpetuity to this Naval Reservation and it is inconceivable that we would abandon it. Our occupancy under this arrangement is much too valuable to us and also to the Cubans, who have found in it a boon to their local economy and added strength to their national security.

First Overall History

From time to time many articles have been published about Guantanamo Bay, covering various phases, but no overall, authoritative history that has ever been written--this in spite of the fact that this area has had an eventful past and is rich in historical lore; a lot of it perhaps legendary in nature.

Historically, Guantanamo Bay came first to view when Christopher Columbus entered it on his second voyage and spent the night of 30 April 1494. According to Washington Irving, Columbus landed at what is now Fisherman's Point. He and his Spanish adventurers were looking for gold, and not finding likely prospects, they left the next day. Columbus named the bay "Puerto Grande".

In the days of the Spanish Main, Guantanamo Bay was somewhat of a pirate stronghold. It is reputed that Naum, Sores, and Rosillo made it and Escondido Bay their base of operations for a considerable period, no doubt for the purpose of preying on shipping passing through the Windward Passage. Legend has it that a famous and bloodthirsty pirate named Rosario, whose home port was New Orleans, was chased into the bay and took refuge some distance up the Guantanamo River.

At other times, Guantanamo Bay was used as a haven for ships bent on peaceful missions. Hervey in his "Naval History of Great Britain" (1779) described this bay as "a large and secure haven, which protects the vessels that ride in it from the hurricanes which are so frequent in the West Indies".

The year 1741 found the British and Spanish engaged in one of their frequent wars, growing out of trade conflicts in the new world. Guantanamo Bay was to figure briefly but prominently in this war. In March 1741, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, commanding the British West Indies Squadron, having been heavily reinforced with ships, and transporting 15,000 troops, undertook an attack on Cartagena (Columbia). General Wentworth was in command of the land operations. The Cartagena expedition was a failure, because operations were not speedily prosecuted and a large number of the troops fell victim to tropical diseases.

British at Guantanamo

The British then decided to prosecute the war against their rivals in other Spanish colonies. Santiago de Cuba was selected as the next objective. Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) Forrest Sherman, U. S. Navy, writes of this in an article printed in the U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings (Vol 57, No. 4, Whole No. 338). Quoting from this article: "Vernon sailed from Port Royal (Jamaica) on 1 July in his flagship Boyne, eighty guns, with eight ships of the line, one intermediate ship, eight frigates, and some forty transports, carrying 3,400 troops under Wentworth. Eight additional heavy ships, of which three were refitting, were left at Port Royal. Among the troops was the remnant of the American Regiment in which served Lawrence Washington, who later named his estate Mount Vernon after his Commander".

The fleet arrived at Guantanamo Bay on 18 July 1741, the bay having previously been reconnoitered and found undefended. About this time the bay, known to the British as "Walthenham Harbor", was renamed "Cumberland Harbor". After a council of war, troops were disembarked with the agreed-upon plan to attack Santiago from the east, marching the troops overland from Guantanamo.

Hereupon entered a period of delay in pushing the advance which was to prove fatal to success. Wentworth finally reached Santa Catalina de Guantanamo (now Guantanamo City) without meeting resistance, but here be went into camp and bogged down. His farthest advance-and that by a reconnoitering party-was to a point about sixteen miles from Santiago. By the end of September, the small army was riddled by sickness and disease, and all thought of offensive operations had ceased.

Admiral Vernon openly criticized General Wentworth for his lack of offensive spirit, and there ensued a bitter controversy between the two, which future history was to record. A century and a half later, in 1898, General Shafter was up against the same kind of an operation, and, after reading Wentworth's experiences, decided on a rapid march and bold attack on Santiago, before disease could weaken his forces-which tactics proved to be so successful.

In the meantime, Admiral Vernon had instituted a blockade of Santiago, and even considered a frontal attack from the sea, which was given up as being impractical. In Guantanamo Bay, he had sent his transports to the upper bay, perhaps what is known as Joa Bay, and had anchored his six heaviest vessels in line across the entrance to Guantanamo Bay, to guard against a surprise attack from the sea. Such had to be reckoned with, since the Spanish had a fleet of twelve of the line based in Havana. British light vessels were dispatched to watch this fleet, and also to operate against enemy privateers in the Windward Passage, which operations proved very profitable for the British.

Hospital Cay

By October more than 2000 troops were down with fever. No doubt sickness spread to Vernon's sailors. Legend has it that the British established a hospital on the largest islet of the Bay, which islet became known as Hospital Cay.

In November 1741 the expedition was called off, and troops began reembarking-thus bringing to an end four months of British occupation of Guantanamo Bay and one of the historic episodes of this area.

Over a hundred years later the British again figured in Guantanamo history, in a minor way. In 1854 a British warship, HBMS Buzzard, entered Guantanamo Bay with 10 or 12 yellow fever victims aboard. The skipper anchored near the principal islet or cay. He put his patients ashore for isolation and treatment. All the the victims of the fever recovered except one. E. N. Harrison, Paymaster, R. N., died on 1 December 1854, according to records on file locally, and was buried on the cay's south end. The cay has since been known as Hospital Cay. Whether the name dates back to Admiral Vernon, over a hundred years previous, is a matter of some interest but little importance.

Before the time of the Spanish-American War a railroad had been built from Guantanamo City to Caimanera. This railroad is known as the Guantanamo Railroad. On the eastern side, the Cuba Eastern Railroad, presently known as the Guantanamo and Western, was not to be built until after the turn of the century-the terminus to be known as Boqueron. These railroads facilitated the exportation of sugar and molasses, the principal products of the area. Another important product was salt, which was manufactured by evaporation of sea water on the salt flats of Caimanera and nearby localities. Some sixty million pounds of salt were at one time produced annually. Coffee and lumber are other exports.

Dry Area

The land surrounding Guantanamo Bay is semi-arid. The annual rainfall is 25 to 30 inches, with some years enjoying considerably less. There was one spring, long since dry, in the area now enclosed by the Reservation. There was, however, a well near Cuzco beach which provided one oasis in the otherwise dry countryside. The well dated back to the 1870's. It was used primarily for watering horses and cattle, and no doubt goats, which grazed in considerable numbers on the eastern side of the bay. The well at that time had water for human consumption and supported a farm house nearby, but today the well, still in existence, has water slightly brackish. Animals drink it, but it is not potable for humans.

Thus it can be deduced that lack of water was a strong factor in hindering the growth of population near this excellent harbor. Except for some fishermen and a few Pilots living on Fisherman's Point, and a few cattle farmers on the adjacent grazing lands, the area was devoid of people-that is, until the Spanish-American War brought Spanish troops to the locality in an unsuccessful defense of the Bay.

Go to Chapter Two