MARINE CORPS - WAR YEARS
As has been related, the first United States forces to be landed in the region that was to become the Naval Operating Base at Guantanamo Bay were the Marines, who established a camp on Fisherman's Point on 10 June 1898. Intermittently from the time of the Spanish-American War until 1941 a Marine detachment was based on Fisherman's Point.
In the years before World War II there was only a small detachment of Marine Corps personnel stationed at Guantanamo Bay, but this small detachment kept in training and found this area ideal as a testing ground for established techniques and experimental military formations. The ships in the harbor were often boarded by Marines in amphibious practices and used as bases of operation against Hicacal Beach. The Marines had opportunity to participate with vessels of the Navy in countless battle practices off-shore as well as in landing operations at Culebra and Panama.
The war in Europe had a marked effect on Marine Corps activities at Guantanamo Bay. As early as 1939 personnel engaged in Force Landing Exercise 6 (FLEX 5) used Guantanamo as a base of operations in making landings on Culebra and Vieques Islands off Puerto Rico. FLEX 6 was similarly carried out in 1940.
When preparations were being made for FLEX 7 to be carried out in February 1941, a full Marine division, the First, was formed here around the nucleus of the First Marine Brigade. Under the command of Brigadier General Holland M. Smith, the Marines carried off the scheduled operations at Culebra jointly with the First Army Division. Following the Culebra landings the Division returned to its base camp at Guantanamo Bay until the Division was transferred to Quantico, Virginia, in April 1941.
In the summer of 1940 action was taken amongst other things to build an air station at Guantanamo Bay and the most appropriate spot for its location was found to include the Marine Corps installations at Fisherman's Point. When the contract for the construction of the air station was drawn up it included provisions for the construction of Marine Corps facilities at another location. A self sufficient Marine Corps base for 2,000 officers and men was constructed on Marine Site 1. (Casa Point) Marine Site 2, (Defense Point), and Marine Site 8 (Marina Point). This included mess halls, barracks, administration building, dispensary, laundry, maintenance buildings, warehouses, quarters, and other necessary buildings.
The war in Europe and Asia had resulted in a small increase in the number of personnel assigned the Marine garrison here in 1940. With the completion of the first new magazine in December 1940 (a total of 92 magazines were constructed by 1943), the Marines were assigned sentry duty in the magazine areas.
To the uninitiated the job of magazine sentry seems unexciting and extremely boring. During war there is nothing further from the truth. During the hours of darkness the post is almost devoid of light. Only the moon indicates the trace of the post and even this is unwelcome when it causes monstrous and distorted shadows before the sentry. In addition the sentry must contend with the thought of tons of explosives, which to the over active imagination, might detonate at any moment.
Nature, too, is sometimes an enemy. Numerous are the times when the innocent meanderings of a land crab or snake have caused hearts to skin a beat. And how often has a cow or horse wandered onto a post and, failing to answer the sentry's challenge, not lived to rue its incursion!
Another important duty devolving on the Permanent garrison was the training incident to range firing. The original rifle range at Guantanamo with its 285 targets was long considered the largest small arms range in the world. It accommodated not only Marines in a training status, but also Fleet personnel.
On 19 October 1941, shortly after moving from Fisherman's Point into their new quarters on Marine Site, the Marine Barracks was designated a Marine Corps Base.
With the declaration of war in December 1941 the Marines established beach patrols, gun watches, and lookouts. The beach patrols. conceived to prevent the landing of enemy elements, dovetailed with the magazine sentries. The guns, 3' and 6' coastal defense and antiaircraft guns, were emplaced in the hills above the Naval Air Station, at Conde Bluff and Leeward Point across the Bay and at other points.
A natural evolution from the run watches was the establishment of look-out posts about the Base. The Marines assigned to the look-out posts kept logs of all air or surface craft that came in view and recorded courses, speeds, and types. To carry out such patrols and lookout watches the total strength of the Marine Corps Base was, at one time, 1200 officers and men.
To augment the personnel attached to the Marine Corps Base, various defense battalions were stationed here during the war, both for training and to furnish personnel for the gun and look-out posts. Among the Marine defense battalions which served here were the Fourth, the Ninth, and the Thirteenth. The Thirteenth Defense Battalion. under Colonels Bernard Dubel and Richard M. Cutts, remained here from September 1942 until early 1944. Their headquarters were located in the building now known as the Little Theatre Building. A sidelight was the designing of the seahorse patch, by, a corporal of the Battalion which patch was later to become the hallmark of a sea-going Marine.
Shore Defense Force
Of paramount importance during the war period was the Marines' mission as part of the Shore Defense Force. A battalion of Marines and sailors was organized under the senior Marine officer present. The Base was divided into sectors and sub-sectors, each with its own code name and line of communication to the Force Control Center. In case of enemy attack at any point on the Base, word would be flashed to the Control Center designating the critical point by its sector and sub-sector name and the battalion would be immediately dispatched to that point. The Plan was repeatedly tested and amended through a series of practice alerts. War diaries also reveal many authentic alerts during the early months of the war.
During the last two years of the war the tide of battle receded from Guantanamo Bay. The 13th Defense Battalion was withdrawn in 1944 and the number of personnel attached to the Marine Corps Base was sharply decreased. The Marine Corps Base still tested and re-tested the Shore Defense Plan (even today the annual Base defense problem is a part of the Marines training schedule), but the danger of possible attack on the Base had dissipated.
Go to Chapter Fifteen