NAVAL OPERATING BASE - MOBILIZATION AND WAR YEARS
Although the Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, had been in a standby status and seemingly neglected for the twenty years between 1919 and 1939, it had not been forgotten. The government of the United States was not unaware of the mounting tension in the world and as early as 1938 had sent a board, headed by RADM A. J. Hepburn, to make a survey of the Base. This board had recognized the inherent advantages of Guantanamo Bay as a locale for a Naval Operating Base and had recommended that the Station be greatly expanded and that aviation facilities be developed to the fullest. Tentative plans had been drawn up for the development.
Early in 1940 it was realized that the Caribbean area as a whole would be important to the defense of North America should the United States be drawn into the war that had engulfed Europe, and Congress appropriated money for carrying out the plans recommended by the Hepburn Board. By the time that agreements had been made with Great Britain for the United States to establish naval and air bases in the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Antigua, and British Guiana to form a chain of defense in the Caribbean area, the Naval Station at Guantanamo was well along in its development which was to make it the largest link in the chain.
That Guantanamo Bay was beginning to assume importance once more was indicated by the fact that President Roosevelt visited the Naval Station on 20 February 1939, on board the USS Houston. President Roosevelt also visited Guantanamo on 4 December 1940 on board the USS Tuscaloosa. He did not come ashore this time, but Captain G. L. Weyler, Commandant of the Naval Station, and a few senior officers made a call on the President on board.
In the fall of 1939 when the expansion program became a reality, the Naval Station consisted essentially of shops, storehouses, barracks, two small marine railways, a fuel oil plant, a Marine training facility, and an airfield, sufficient only to meet the needs of the Fleet while on winter maneuvers in this area. An indication of the size and activity of the Station before the expansion program began may be shown by the personnel allowance which was 22 officers and 345 enlisted men, including Marine Corps personnel.
Perhaps the most tangible step in the expansion program was the awarding of a contract in July 1940 to the Frederick Snare Corporation in New York City. This contract, designated as Contract Noy-4162, was originally intended for the expansion of Marine and aviation facilities at the cost of approximately $5,000,000. The contract was subsequently augmented until it reached approximately $34,000,000. Some additions to the contract resulted from suggestions made by the Secretary of the Navy and by President Roosevelt after his trips of inspection in 1939 and 1940. The history of Contract NOy-4162 is virtually the history of the World War II buildup of Guantanamo Bay.
Representatives of the Frederick Snare Corporation, Messrs. E. R. Akers and Manuel Gamba, arrived at Guantanamo to begin conferences and make preparations for the work on the same day that the contract was approved, 12 July 1940. Active field work was begun on 15 July. Due to the speed with which construction was begun, the contractors had no opportunity to make preliminary preparation; therefore all available equipment on the Station was turned over to the Frederick Snare Corporation for their use. In this way construction was started at once and shortly thereafter the necessary engineering organization and equipment was arranged for so that work could proceed on a large scale.
It had been agreed on a high level that the Marine Corps would relinquish its claim to and evacuate the area they were then using between Corinaso Point and Fisherman's Point in order that it would be available for the development of seaplane facilities. In return, a self-sufficient Marine Corps Base for a force of approximately 2,000 men was to be developed in the area beyond Deer Point, now known as Casa Point, Defense Point and Marina Point.
Accordingly the Marine Corps was provided with a new and self-contained Base with all necessary utilities, which included power and water treatment plants, cold storage building, refrigerated storehouse, garage, maintenance building, laundry, fire house, brig, magazine, barracks, mess halls, bakery, administration buildings, dispensary, officers' and non-commissioned officers' quarters, roads, walks, services and essential landscaping. The buildings were of semi-permanent construction with concrete foundations, tile ground floors, wooden superstructures, and asbestos shingle or tile roofs.
The airfield on McCalla Hill was equipped with three asphalt runways, taxiways, warming up platform, land plane hangar, utility building, administration and operations buildings, magazines, officers' and non-commissioned officers' quarters, barracks, mess hall, roads, walks, services and essential landscaping. At the seaplane base, facilities included a concrete parking area, two seaplane ramps, and a large field hangar.
At Leeward Point airfield, on the western side of the Bay, taxiways, warming up platform, storage facilities, distribution systems for water, small power plant, a temporary barracks, bachelor officers' quarters, and a small-boat landing were built.
Four tank farms for fuel oil storage were constructed under the contract with access roads, fire fighting equipment, and pumping and distribution equipment.
In October 1940, to help relieve the problem of housing on the station, 200 low-cost housing units (the area first known as Newtown, now Villamar), were added to the contract.
Also added to the contacted work in October, were the dredging of certain areas of the bay, the construction of three storehouses, a chapel, a school, additions to an existing machine shop, a net and boom depot, and miscellaneous small projects.
In October 1940, as a part of Contract NOy-4162, work was begun on the construction of additional magazines. The first new magazine was finished in December 1940 and work was continued until 92 such buildings were spread through the hills around the Bay. Additional Marines had been stationed here between September 1939 and September 1940, and with the construction of the magazines the Marines started patrolling the ammunition areas.
In the fall of 1940 guns were installed to cover the approaches to the Station from land and from sea. The Marines were given the task of manning these guns and the posting of lookouts, sentries, and patrols along the boundaries of the Station and along the shoreline.
Another indication of the farsightedness of the growing defense program was the arrival in September 1940, of an experimental Mobile Hospital Unit, the first of its kind. In a few days this unit had established a 500-bed hospital on Mobile Point, gaining much valuable experience.
The fall and winter of 1940 also saw the arrival of additional personnel for the Ship's Repair Department, Communications, and Supply a well as for other departments of the Naval Station.
The Base Established
These developments and additions, along with the expansion planned for the immediate future had, by the spring of 1941, outgrown the organization of the Naval Station. Therefore, in accordance with General Order 145, effective 1 April 1941, the naval shore activities in the Guantanamo Bay area were grouped together to form the Naval Operating Base. Captain (later Rear Admiral) George L. Weyler was Commandant of the Naval Operating Base thus formed, and the activities under his command were:
Naval Station - CAPT C. L Surran, Commanding Officer
Naval Air Station - CDR G. L Compo, Commanding Officer
Marine Corps Base - COL W. H. Rupertus, Commanding Officer
Naval Net Depot-LTJG L.H. Sample, Commanding Officer
The period of establishing the Naval Operating Base and reorganizing the Naval Station was long and involved and it was not until 1 December 1942 that the Naval Station was formally reestablished. Naval Station functions during the period from 1 April 1941 to 1 December 1942 continued under Captain Weyler assisted by Captain C.L Surran, who was known as "Captain of the Yard". Captain Surran became Commanding Officer of the Naval Station when it was reestablished.
In July 1942 another command, the Anti-Aircraft Training Center, was established as an activity under the Naval Operating Base with LT C. M. Smith as the first Commanding Officer.
The Naval Station was the largest activity under the Naval Operating Base and consisted of: communications, supply, ordnance, ship's repair (hull and machinery division), disbursing, ship's service, ship's store ashore, personnel, dispensary, education, and recreation. No attempt will be made to write the history of the Naval Station as separate from the Base since the activities of the Station were inextricably bound up with the overall organization, development, and operations of the Base.
As has been noted a contract had been let in July 1940 for the construction of air station and Marine facilities on the Base, and this contract was modified from time to time to include other construction for the Base as a whole. During the time the Frederick Snare Corporation was on the Base (from 12 July 1940 to 30 September 1943) civilian employees rose to a peak load, consisting of approximately 9000 contract workers and about 4000 government employees.
With this great increase in personnel it was necessary to build more housing. Building "I" which had been constructed about 1914 to house civilian employees, was changed to a Bachelor Officers' Quarters; and Building 90 (the present Guest House) was built for civil service employees. In 1941 the Air Station built a Bachelor Officers' Quarters on Radio Point to accommodate their rapidly increasing officer complement, leaving Building "I" for other Base officers. (The Air Station Bachelor Officers' Quarters was destroyed by fire on 23 July 1946 and rebuilt in 1948 on the same location.)
More quarters for married officers and enlisted personnel were completed during the spring and summer of 1941 and additional families began to arrive. Although at first undergoing many inconveniences, the peacetime life at this Base was pleasant and families added much to the enjoyment of the officers and men. For an enlightening account of the Base just prior to the war, see the account written by CDR Compo which is quoted in another chapter.
How short-lived was the pleasure of families on the Base to be, however, for with the outbreak of the war all families were evacuated from Guantanamo Bay and the houses became bachelor quarters.
During the emergency period officers also occupied servants' housing and an overflow housing unit of Homaja huts was erected. The capacity of the galleys and mess halls had to be increased and cafeteria service was established for the officers' messes.
In 1942 the Bay Hill Barracks with their galley and mess hall were completed and Naval Station enlisted personnel were moved there from barracks on Corinaso Point property, leaving those barracks for Air Station personnel. Due to wartime exigencies, no barracks built in this period had hot water facilities. This luxury was not added until 1948.
In the latter part of 1942 a bombproof command shelter, located adjacent to the Naval Air Station Administration Building on McCalla Hill, was completed. Fortunately it was never necessary to use this building as a bomb shelter. However, it is still maintained as an emergency command headquarters.
In 1943 the Naval Operating Base Administration Building was completed and offices were moved there from Building 15 which is now the Fleet Training Group Administration Building.
The Officers' Club was completed on Deer Point in 1943 and moved there from what is now Quarters 610 on Evans Point.
Public Works Department
Much has been said of the work done by the contractors on the Base during the early days of the war, but mention is seldom made of the Public Works Department. In 1940 only a few pieces of construction equipment were on hand, and even those were loaned to the contractor when their work was hastily begun. By the latter part of 1941, however, when the first of the new facilities were completed by the Frederick Snare Corporation and turned over to Public Works for maintenance and upkeep, the Department had begun to expand. In addition to the upkeep of all new facilities completed, the Public Works Department expanded sufficiently to construct roads, sewer systems, labor barracks, office buildings, and store houses; to improve electrical facilities, extend telephone facilities, lay a submarine communications cable to Leeward Point; and to perform numerous other jobs of enlarging and reconstructing.
In order to accomplish this work, Public Works employment rolls rose from 315 men in 1940 to 1513 men in 1945. When the Frederick Snare Corporation's contract Noy-4162 expired on 30 September 1943, the Public Works Department carried on all uncompleted contract projects. These consisted primarily of completing the ship's repair facilities and the installation of machinery in otherwise completed structures at various locations.
The services of some supervisory and technical personnel of the Frederick Snare Corporation were retained from the organization of Contract Noy-4162 and covered by a new contract Noy-7862, while approximately 1800 of the labor force then on the contractor's rolls were transferred to the Public Works Department. As projects were completed, personnel was reduced accordingly; however, the expansion of facilities continued, though tapering off, until the summer of 1944.
The Communications Department of the Naval Station might be used to illustrate somewhat the rapid growth of the Base. In 1939 this department consisted of one officer and 14 enlisted men who, in a small wooden building on Radio Point, handled receipt and transmissions of messages and maintained the communications equipment.
In the early months of 1942 there was a phenomenal increase in the amount of traffic; enlarged communications facilities were provided at the Naval Air Station, and by spring personnel had been increased to 32 officers and 220 men. Even with this number of personnel it was necessary for other departments on the Base to furnish officer personnel for encoding and decoding messages since the work load was extremely high. For example, in one week in 1942 outgoing messages totaled 54,000 and incoming messages totaled 75,000.
The Communications Department maintained this high level of work until November 1943 when the submarine menace subsided in the Caribbean. By 1945 the Department was manned by 25 officers and 159 enlisted men and had taken on the communications duties of the newly arrived Training Group.
Prior to the declaration of war, the Communications Department had operated a radio range for sending out signals and beacons to planes. Following 7 December 1941 radio signals and beacons discontinued except on emergency occasions. In the fall of 1942 the Civil Aeronautics Authority began normal operations of the radio range and of a separate radio station for communication with Naval Air Transport Service planes. Civil Aeronautics personnel operated the radio range and the NATS radio service until 1947.
Other phases of the Communications Department were a high frequency (radio) directional finder which was used in locating submarines, and a radar station which was located on the highest appropriate point on the Naval Reservation. One difficulty in establishing the radar tower was that the hill on which it was built did not furnish sufficient moisture to "ground" the apparatus so that a line had to be run down to the beach for this purpose. When this radar station was completed, planes were picked up on the radar screen as far as 142 miles away.
Another part of the Naval Station, the Ordnance Department, was responsible for the placing of shore batteries around the entrance to the Bay and for the naval magazines which were being constructed. A gun repair and gun mount maintenance and repair shop was set up. In July 1942 a degaussing and deperming range was put into operation which continued in its work until October 1944.
When the Fleet Canteen and the golf course were constructed in the area of the rifle range which, prior to World War II, had been one of the primary station services for the Fleet, a new rifle range area was selected in the vicinity of Randolph Ranch where three sets of butts were constructed consisting of a total of one hundred targets. Construction was completed and the range was put into use in 1944.
Ship's Repair Department
With the beginning of the war, the tempo of the Ship's Repair Department of the Naval Station was stepped up. The number of employees rose from 2 officers, 90 enlisted men, and 150 civilian employees in October 1940 to 35 officers, 1000 enlisted men, and 300 civilians by January 1944.
One of the major problems of the Ship's Repair Department was that of procuring spare parts for repair work. Sometimes they had to work on the principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul-borrowing spare parts from one ship to repair another and then borrowing from a third to repair the first. Not only did they have the problem of lack of space, spare parts, and machinery to work with, but the problem of keeping abreast of the new types of ships and equipment that were being built and used. At last work space, parts, and trained personnel were available so that the Ship's Repair Department accomplished a remarkable job of keeping all types of ships and small craft in working condition.
One of the problems of the Repair Department was dry docking facilities until in January 1943 a 3,000 ton wooden floating dry dock was built, by a private contractor, in a basin which had been dug out on Marine Site 2. In November 1943 a 1,000 ton steel floating dry-dock, AFDL-1 reported to Guantanamo Bay. A Homaja hut and living facilities were built on the pontoon deck for the dry dock personnel for their trip here.
The growth and development of the Naval Station Supply Department with its attendant disbursing, ship's service, and ship's store ashore division, will be treated in another chapter. However, some indication of its expansion might be shown here by a comparison of the disbursements for various years: in December 1940 disbursements amounted to $114, 362.59; in May 1945, disbursements totaled $793,679.51. On 15 October 1943 the Supply Department was consolidated with other Supply activities on the Base and was designated by the Secretary of the Navy as a Naval Supply Depot under the Commandant, Naval Operating Base; CDR M. A. Norcross (SC), USN, was the first Supply Officer in Command of the Naval Supply Depot. By 1 March 1944 the difficult reorganization had been consummated and the Naval Supply Depot was in full operation.
Perhaps the only unique service the Base rendered the Navy as a whole goes by the fascinating name of Loofah. Loofah sponges, a vine growth produced on the North coast of Oriente Province of Cuba, are used in the Navy for engine filters and in steamlines to take oil out of steam. For their purposes these sponges are ideal and superior to all other known materials. So with the war emergency and the rapid expansion of the Navy, and the great necessity for good materials to keep equipment in top-notch condition Loofah sponges became very important. These sponges were transported by mules from the north coast to Guantanamo City, by rail to Boqueron, and by boat to the Base. Here they were inspected and shipped to the United States.
In September 1939 the Naval Station dispensary consisted of six buildings, most of them connected by covered passageways, located on the site of the present Naval Hospital. With World War II in the offing, the dispensary, as it was then designated, was made very busy establishing outlying facilities. In 1941 a small dispensary was completed at the Marine Corps Base. In 1942 a 16-bed dispensary was completed at the Naval Air Station.
In September 1940, one of the most interesting experiments in Naval medical history was set up at Guantanamo Bay. Even at that time it was obvious that modern warfare had put a high premium on mobility and that hospitals were no exception to the rule. Therefore, plans were drawn up for a mobile hospital and to test its practicability it was to be sent along with a large expedition of Marines going to a Caribbean island. Guantanamo Bay was chosen an the site of the experiment, with the camp to be located some distance from the center of the Naval Station on a virgin peninsula composed of chaparral, cactus, and uval. This peninsula became known as Mobile Point.
When the hospital unit arrived at the Base their sad but enlightening experiences began right at the dock. The first materials landed were hospital ward furniture and caskets; the first-needed equipment such as tents, tools and stoves were unloaded four days later.
Since only a few construction men had been allotted to set up a hospital capable of feeding, treating, and housing 500 patients daily, the chief medical diagnostician became supervisor of tent erection; the psychiatrist devised and erected shower baths; hospital corpsmen acted as longshoremen, carpenters, and machinists. In spite of all difficulties the first hospital ward was ready for use in one week and the hospital was in full operation in two weeks.
From this pilot experiment at Guantanamo Bay, it was demonstrated that hospitals of great mobility could be constructed and that they could adequately care for the number of patients for which they were designed. Invaluable lessons, oftimes born of sorry experiences, were learned on the corals of Guantanamo and later paid dividends in human lives saved on the atolls of the Pacific.
Early in 1943 an underground hospital was constructed in an area south of Radio Point, for use in case of an emergency. This underground hospital has a capacity of 200 beds and complete operating, pharmaceutical, and messing facilities. It has been used during drill periods in the hurricane season, but only on a small scale to determine its practicality and adequacy. At one time the underground hospital was occupied for a period of approximately two weeks by the crew of a submarine which operating in the area. While the submarine was in Santiago de Cuba for a weekend liberty, one of the crew members became ill and died of polio before they could get to the Base hospital. While the ship was being thoroughly cleaned, and for morale purposes, the ship's company was moved into the underground hospital. They were in no way quarantined or isolated; from all reports they thoroughly enjoyed their stay ashore and found the facilities at the underground hospital very adequate.
Dental activities were part of the Naval Dispensary during the war in somewhat the status of an independent department.
During the war years, the Naval Station organization also included the keeping of personnel records, both civilian and military; the responsibility of all yard tugs, barges, lighters, etc., and the operation of the Naval Station Boat Shed. The Station Fire Department was also under the jurisdiction of the Naval Station.
During the years prior to 1941, one chaplain was attached to the Naval Station. Divine services were held on Sunday evenings at the movie lyceums. When families were living on the station, Sunday School classes were conducted in the school house on Sunday mornings. For Catholic personnel, a priest from Guantanamo City visited the Station every other Sunday to celebrate masses, which were held in the school building. On other occasions, Catholics attended Masses in Caimanera or Guantanamo City.
Construction of a new chapel with a seating capacity of 500 was begun in September 1941, completed in July 1942, and dedicated in April 1943 after a long wait for altar essentials and the purchase of furnishings which were paid for by private contributions. The chapel has a revolving altar and is used for Catholic, Protestant, and Hebrew services.
One of the important functions of the Chaplain's Department is the operation of the Base library system. During the war there were 20,000 books and numerous publications in the library. Reading material was distributed at 25 separately located libraries on the Base and a Ship's Library of 4,000 volumes was operated as a book exchange.
A tremendous expansion of recreational facilities took place in 1941 and 1942 when half a million dollars was appropriated by Congress for this purpose. Building went on continually during these two years and among the facilities built were twenty tennis courts, six volley ball courts, six basketball courts, three baseball fields, twenty softball fields, a new Officers' Club, a skeet range, a movie lyceum, three swimming pools and a nine-hole golf course. The golf course and the Fleet Canteen were on the site of the old Fleet Rifle Range.
When the Fleet Canteen with its beer garden, library, recreation hall, shower and locker room, and other facilities was built the enlisted men's recreation facilities were moved there. The former Enlisted Men's Club was made into a Chief's Club run by the Ship's Service Department. In 1944 it was reorganized as a Chief Petty Officers' Mess.
Other recreational activities included the motion picture exchange and the showing of movies; a daily radio broadcasting program; and liberty parties organized for enlisted men and officers to Guantanamo City and to Santiago.
The Welfare Fund for the Base was used to provide picnics, for recreational equipment, for prizes for sports events, and for train fares for recreational trips. It contributed to the maintenance of the golf course, and the Naval Station corral. It maintained sailboats, bowling alleys, and the small bore rifle range.
Early in the war the Navy Department received so many requests from advanced bases for help in aiding young men in the service to continue their education, that it was decided to experiment a little along the lines of off-duty education. Guantanamo Bay was selected for the experiment.
Officers with training and experience in the field of education were sent to Washington for a period of special training, after which they arrived in Guantanamo Bay with literally tons of instructional material. The schoolhouse which had been vacated with the evacuation of families at the onset of World War II was the first Educational Services Center.
Spanish was the most popular subject in the program of evening classes which was set up, but by no means the only language course, for in the curriculum were also French, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, German, Dutch, and Norwegian; taught by enlisted men, officers, and civilians; Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans. As a rule it was no serious problem to find competent teachers willing to give their time to help others.
Besides the language program the classes included mathematics, commercial subjects, seamanship, navigation, diesel engines, blueprint reading, refrigeration, history, English, chemistry, physics, music theory, and music appreciation. Special classes in remedial reading were organized for enlisted men who had not had the advantage of even a primary education. Classes in English were organized for Spanish-speaking civilian employees and for the Italian personnel of a group of submarines based here during a training program.
In addition to the evening class program, the Educational Service Program Officers served as representatives of the Armed Forces Institute and performed as educational counselors for any interested persons.
The Navy's program of war orientation was also the function of the Educational Services Officer. Weekly war newsmaps were distributed on the Base and the problems of the war and the coming peace were discussed for the benefit of the men.
Another Guantanamo first in the history of Navy Educational Services was initiated when ships based here or calling here were included in the educational program. This work was later recommended procedure for all bases.
After the success of the Guantanamo Bay experiment, other overseas centers were rapidly established. The new officers were given special indoctrination in Washington and then sent to Guantanamo for a period of observation of the educational services here.
Another recreational and morale feature of the Base during these years was the establishment of a Red Cross field office in April 1943.
In addition to the overall command of the component activities of the Base and also command of departments coming directly under him, the Commandant, Naval Operating Base, was also during the emergency the Commander, Guantanamo Sector, Caribbean Sea Frontier. This gave him jurisdiction over operations and policy concerning air-sea rescues, communications, net and harbor protection, navigational aids, mine-sweeping, Coast Guard, and the Joint Operations Center for this area.
In the early days of the war extensive destruction of Allied shipping by German submarines occurred in the Caribbean area. In the month of February 1942 German submarines sank 18 ships totaling 93,443 tons of shipping, mainly in the area around the islands of Curacao and Trinidad. In an effort to quickly alleviate this grave menace, Captain Weyler spent from 24 February to 1 March 1942 in Curacao in charge of operations against the Axis submarines. On 1 March he was relieved by RADM J. B. Oldendorf, Commander Naval Operating Base, Trinidad, who retained command of that sector of the Caribbean Sea Frontier.
In the year of 1942, 257 ships were sunk by enemy action in the Caribbean area, and only three enemy submarines were destroyed. Fortunately by the end of 1942 the Allies had their defenses in full swing, and by means of protective convoys, and anti-submarine warfare had reduced the German action until only 22 ships were sunk in 1943, with only one of these being sunk after July. In 1944 the number of sinkings had been further reduced so that only two Allied vessels were sunk in the Caribbean in that year.
In July 1942, however, when the sinkings were at their worst, all ships were placed in convoy under protection of United States and Allied escort vessels. Air coverage was expanded and coordinated with convoy movements.
Convoys in the Caribbean area were routed to Guantanamo Bay and here re-formed with other vessels for the same destination. Thus Guantanamo Bay, the point of intersection of convoys, became known as the "Crossroads of the Caribbean". Shipping through the Guantanamo Sector for a long period was second only to that of New York in number of ships and frequency of convoy movements.
In the summer of 1942 a staff of officers was assigned to the Commandant of the Naval Operating Base to assist him in directing operations in the Guantanamo Sector of the Caribbean Sea Frontier.
A Joint Operations Center was established to function as a clearing house and source for information on all Sector operations and to coordinate planning and initiating of air and surface operations. The Joint Operations Center was unique in that both air and surface operations were planned and controlled.
In 1942 an Escort Vessel Administration was established at Guantanamo Bay with the purpose of indoctrinating and training ships' personnel, serving as liaison between ships and shore activities, and coordinating repairs and services for the purpose of readying ships for sea in a minimum amount of time.
In order to effect control and to coordinate protection of merchant shipping against the growing submarine menace in the Caribbean area, the office of the Port Director, Guantanamo Bay, was expanded in June 1942. The Port Director, under the direction of the Commandant, Naval Operating Base, was charged with the responsibilities and duties of routing all merchant and naval transportation vessels in this area; with coordinating port movements, anchorages, materials furnished and repairs with inspection and general supply; and with other duties concerning navigational aids and logistics. The Port Director also maintained a communications pool of approximately 75 signalmen and radiomen who were assigned to merchant ships in need of Navy signalmen and radio operators.
To defeat the submarines and to keep convoys and independents safe, it took a combination of escort vessels, air patrols, escort carriers, armed merchant ships, and effective routing. The Routing Office of the Port Director played its part in convoy and ship safeguarding. The Routing Officer prepared convoy and sailing instructions and delivered them to the ships.
Other offices under the Port Director were the Publications Office with its responsibility for issuing all necessary publications and tables to merchant ships and seeing that such publications and tables were correct. One of the annoying but the nonetheless amusing problems in dealing with all types of ships was the characteristic complaint of the typical ship's master who had learned thoroughly all techniques of normal sailing. "I have sailed the seas for years, always reaching my ports safely and I did not have to bother with books." How difficult it must have been to convince such a man of the necessity of making corrections to keep his publications Up to date so that he could do his part to keep the convoy safe.
Other offices under the Port Director were the Hydrographic Distribution Office which sold and distributed charts to merchant vessels; the Armed Guard Inspection Service to inspect guns, magazines, darkening ships arrangements on the ships and to assist the Armed Guard Officer of the ships: and the Materiel Office which acted as liaison between merchant ships and the repair and supply facilities of the Base.
One of the other duties of the Port Director's Office was the establishment, in September 1942, of the Port Dispensary through which more than 1200 merchant marine and naval transient personnel received treatment monthly. A medical officer made calls on escort vessel personnel and an ambulance launch was assigned to the Port Surgeon to obviate the necessity of bringing all cases to the Dispensary. In 1944 the Port Dispensary became part of the Base Dispensary.
With the advent of the war in the Atlantic, the need for an extensive defense program for the harbor was apparent. It was necessary to protect the harbor against attack, control traffic in and out of the harbor, keep the surrounding area clear of any mines, and maintain a security patrol on the seaward approach to the harbor.
Of paramount importance in the war's defenses for Guantanamo Bay was the Net Depot which was established on Hospital Cay in the fall of 1940, with LTJG L. H. Sample as the first officer in charge. At first, personnel from the Naval Station began operations at the Net Depot and carried on the duties until especially-trained personnel arrived in the spring of 1941.
In the spring of 1941 a net slab and warehouses were built on Hospital Cay, construction of a powerhouse was started, and quarters were repaired to house naval personnel and their families.
The Net Depot was a separate command under Commandant, Naval Operating Base, and a "round the clock" work schedule was put into effect in the fall of 1941 to carry out the fabrication and laying of anti-torpedo and antisubmarine nets.
The control of opening and closing the nets and the repair and maintenance of the nets was the duty of the Net Depot personnel. In addition a net boom was laid along the north boundary of the Base and a "North Gate" lighter, manned by Naval Net Depot personnel was anchored in the same area for operating the net and controlling traffic through the channel.
Although the net is no longer used as such along the North boundary, it is still in place. The "North Gate" lighter is still there, also, now manned by Naval Station personnel for the purpose of controlling traffic through the channel.
Soon after the start of the war, four picket boats were assigned as harbor security patrol and to guide escort vessels to berths. Early in 1942 two Auxiliary Mine Sweepers, Coastal, arrived for duty. In the early months of 1943 when the enemy submarine menace was at its worst, four YP's maintained continuous antisubmarine patrol outside the outer harbor net and along the seaward approaches to the harbor.
Naval Air Station
One of the most important commands under the Commandant, Naval Operating Base, was the Naval Air Station. The development of the Air Station during the war years will be treated in another chapter, but should be mentioned here. The mission of the Naval Air Station during this time was to maintain and operate a Base for naval aircraft units, provide facilities for transient and Station aircraft, and render such flight services as possible in the training and convoying program of the Base. To illustrate the growth of the Air Station, it is noted that on 1 July 1941 there were 6 officers and 77 enlisted men stationed at the station; by July 1944 there were 47 officers and 486 enlisted men.
In accordance with the general defense plan for the Caribbean area, air stations were constructed at Portland Bight, Jamaica, and at Great Exuma, Bahamas; both of these coming under the Commander Guantanamo Sector. The Air Station at Great Exuma was, during the early days of the anti-submarine warfare, employed extensively by operational planes of the Guantanamo Sector and by seaplanes on training flights from bases in Florida.
The history of the Marine Corps Base and of its personnel based here during the war will be dealt with in another chapter, but it might be noted here that at one time during World War II there were 1,200 officers and enlisted men stationed here and as many as 6,000 undergoing training.
In 1939 a section of water front on Fisherman's Point, 100 feet by 55 feet, was transferred to the Coast Guard for use in the defense program. In January 1943, four 83-foot Coast Guard patrol boats arrived at Guantanamo Bay for escort and patrol duties. On 12 June 1943 the office of Coast Guard Representative for the Guantanamo Sector was established with headquarters at this Base being responsible to the Commandant of the Base in his role of Commander of this sector of the Caribbean Sea Frontier.
Fleet Operational Training Command
In August 1943 a representative of Commander Operational Training Command, Atlantic (COTGLANT) was established at Guantanamo Bay, with a training group to assist. This training group was charged with the coordination and supervision of training ships present for shakedown and refresher training. As soon an practicable after the arrival of any ship of the U. S. Atlantic Fleet assigned to this command for training, the Guantanamo Representative of COTCLANT sent an officer to the ship in order to furnish pertinent information and learn the immediate needs of the ship. Detailed instructions were issued for the individual security of ships, including definite directions for coordinating actions with the Naval Operating Base in case of attack.
It was found that Guantanamo Bay was an outstanding training center for anti-submarine warfare, by surface craft, largely because of the stable and reliable sound conditions for echo ranging. Officers and enlisted personnel alternated in giving shore training on attack teachers and sea training on many types of ships. Many ships and Unit Commanders reporting here for a training period, wrote spontaneous letters of appreciation for the initiative, tact, and resourcefulness displayed by' the training personnel. About 200 ships received training at the Base between August 1943 and the spring of 1945.
In February and March 1945 the training program of the DD-DE Shakedown Task Group was moved from Bermuda to Guantanamo Bay. The mission of this Fleet Unit was to shakedown destroyers, destroyer escorts, frigates, high speed troop transports, light mine layers, and gun boats. On 17 April 1945 the name of the DD-DE Shakedown Task Group was changed to "Training Group, Guantanamo Bay", and all the duties and missions performed up to that time by the COTCLANT Representative at Guantanamo Bay, were added to the Training Group duties. The Training Group was under the military command of Commander Fleet Operational Training Command, Atlantic and the coordinational control of Commander, Naval Operating Base. The first commanding officer of the Training Group was CAPT S. W. DuBois.
In 1945 the Training Group consisted of 69 officer and 190 enlisted instructors, maintenance and repair personnel, and necessary administrative assistants. In addition to staff personnel, the Training Group included the USS Altair (AD11), flagship and tender; Submarine Division 72 comprised of two R-boats and four Italian submarines which had surrendered to the Allies in Bermuda and had been attached to the Training Group for training of our personnel in antisubmarine warfare. Also with the Training Group was Utility Squadron Sixteen Detachment with twenty airplanes; a Fleet Camera Detachment with five officers and twenty-five men; target drone units, 2 ATA'S, 2 APC's (in service, not in commission), and the ships assigned for training.
In January 1946 the name of the Training Group was changed to Fleet Training Group and was placed under the military command of Commander Training Command, Atlantic Fleet. The Fleet Training Group responsibilities and command relationship with the Naval Operating Base were the same as those of the Training Group.
The Fleet Training Center was established as a component activity of the Fleet Training Group in March 1947, with LCDR W. A. Arthur as the first commanding officer. At that time the facilities and instructions included a Combat Information Center School and a Anti-Submarine Warfare School. The curriculum was increased to include instructions in Radiological Safety, and a Fire Fighting School was added in March 1948. The Center also serves as a hurricane warning and tracking station and its facilities are used for air-sea rescue work.
Anti-Aircraft Training Center
One of the activities conducted at this Base during the war was anti-aircraft training. The AntiAircraft Training Center was established on the Base in 1942 and in 1943 put under the coordination and control of COTCLANT and later under the Training Group.
The paramount task of the Anti-Aircraft Training Center was to accomplish the most effective anti-aircraft gunnery training for officers and enlisted men ordered to report to this activity for instruction in order that they be ready for active operations aboard ships to which they were assigned.
This first commanding officer, LT Cameron M. Smith, reported to the Naval Operating Base for duty on 12 June 1942, and during this month construction was underway on a storeroom, classroom, rangehouse, magazine, and firing line. In June 1942 there were no barracks or mess hall and personnel were living in the Naval Station barracks.
By July 1942 enough facilities were completed so that instruction could begin, and on 12 October 1942 the Anti-Aircraft Training Center was established. During October and November rain caused considerable damage to the firing line. During November this damage was repaired and training continued. By the end of 1943 a barracks, a bachelor officers' quarters, another classroom building, a messhall, and many other facilities had been completed.
Consolidation of Base Operations
By the spring of 1944 the submarine menace in the Caribbean area had decreased to the extent that anti-submarine warfare activity at Guantanamo Bay could be reduced. Only two vessels were sunk in the entire Caribbean area in 1944 due to enemy submarine action. The personnel in the office of the Joint Operations Center was reduced. Air operations were cut from continuous coverage flights to short sight or sweep flights with a subsequent reduction in Air Station personnel. The Little Goat Island Auxiliary Air Field in Jamaica was disestablished 1 September 1944 after having been in a greatly reduced status since January of that year.
The office of the Port Director was reduced in personnel from 39 officers and 200 enlisted men in 1943 to 14 officers and 26 enlisted men in 1944 and 1945.
The way in which reduction was made within the framework of the Naval Operating Base without completely stripping the Base of ability to expand again or to meet any emergency may be typified by the fate of the Escort Vessel Administration. In April 1943 the staff of the Escort Vessel Administrator totaled 22 officers and 41 enlisted personnel, with additional complement of 126 officers and 1325 enlisted men serving on the 22 ships attached to the Base for escort duty.
Beginning late in 1943 as the submarine menace gradually subsided, the functions of the Escort Vessel administration were absorbed by existing Base activities. By early 1944 supply functions had been taken over by the Naval Supply Depot, disbursing functions by the Naval Station Disbursing office, medical functions by the Port Dispensary, and all training functions by the COTCLANT Representative. In January 1945 material and boarding functions were transferred to the Ship's Repair Department. Thus the functions of the Escort Vessel Administration were absorbed by the base.
Rear Admiral P.A. Braisted relieved Rear Admiral G. L. Weyler as Commandant of the Naval Operating Base in April 1944. Rear Admiral Weyler had served as Commandant of the Base since September 1940 and had supervised the construction and expansion of the Base facilities, the development of war defenses, and the increase in the number of personnel. He had accomplished an important mission and had done it well. He was awarded the Legion of Merit.
On 5 May 1944, with the withdrawal of many of the Marine Corps personnel as well as general reduction in other personnel on the Base, a Bluejackets Defense Battalion was established by order of the Commanding Officer of the Naval Station to function as a mobile ground force providing additional guards for vital installations. By the end of the year 92% of the battalion qualified as marksmen, and 12% of the marksmen later qualified as sharpshooters. On 5 March 1945 a Base Rifle Program was started under the direction of the officer in charge of the Bluejackets Defense Battalion, devised to teach the fundamentals of the rifle and to give every man on the Base an opportunity to qualify as marksmen.
While Rear Admiral Braisted was here the title of Commandant, Naval Operating Base was changed to Commander Naval Operating Base, on 31 May 1944. Rear Admiral Braisted served only seven months as Commander, Naval Operating Base, and was detached in October 1944. Commodore J.J. Mahoney relieved Rear Admiral Braisted as the new Base Commander.
We will next turn to the wartime history of some of the Major Commands of the Naval Operating Base.
Go to Chapter Thirteen