RECENT TIMES -BASE EXPANSION SINCE KOREAN OUTBREAK
In the history of the Naval Base there have been four major periods of expansion during which construction and activity were greatly increased. The first period began with formal establishment of the Naval Station in 1903, development initially centering on North and South Toro Cays. The second major period of expansion occurred when station facilities were moved from Toro Cay and relocated and expanded in the vicinity of present Wharf Baker, started in 1911 and largely completed by 1914. The third period of expansion was brought about by the European War which became World War II, and the years 1940 to 1944 marked the major growth of the Base. The fourth period of expansion began with the outbreak of the fighting in Korea in 1950, and is still in progress.
There have also been three major periods of reduced activity during which facilities remained in status quo. The first began shortly after the dry dock fiasco on South Toro Cay, and the ensuing doubt as to the future of the Station. These years of uncertainty were from about 1907 to 1910. The second was the long period between World War I and World War II during which the Station led an austere existence. The third period, from 1946 to 1950, was a result of the usual let-down after a war, and came to an abrupt close when hostilities began in Korea.
Rear Admiral A. M. Bledsoe relieved Rear Admiral W. K. Phillips as Base Commander in June 1950. Shortly thereafter, the Korean crisis developed. This was followed by a reactivation program of ships taken from the "Mothball" fleets, incident to general Naval expansion to meet the emergency. The ships' shakedown training in most instances was at Guantanamo Bay for Atlantic Fleet vessels. Personnel allowances of the Fleet Training Group were measurably augmented to take care of their mission of training the reactivated ships and aircraft units. A large number of ships were ordered to the Bay, usually from 20 to 40 at a time, for periods of four to six weeks each. Since this Base is essentially a training base for the Fleet, and its mission is to support the ships in training, some increase in personnel and facilities to carry the workload was necessary in most of the Base commands.
In December 1950 Rear Admiral Bledsoe was detached as Base Commander to fill a vacancy caused by the sudden illness and detachment of the Commandant of the 15th Naval District. The writer, Rear Admiral M. E. Murphy, relieved Rear Admiral Bledsoe on 2 December 1950 and carried forward the plans and policies initiated by Admiral Bledsoe to meet the expanding workload of the Base. The history of the ensuing two year period is based on the personal experience of the writer and the narrative is understandably more personal in tone.
One of the first realizations of the writer after taking command was that Guantanamo Bay is the crossroads of the Caribbean, at least as far as the U. S. Navy is concerned. Within a short time the Base was visited in close succession by the U. S. Ambassador to Cuba, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the British Commander in Chief of the America and West Indies Squadron. Each stayed overnight at the Base Commander's Quarters at 1101 Deer Point. For the next two years there followed a veritable procession of important personages, both American and foreign, either passing through or visiting the Base. There was seldom a dull moment for those responsible for the reception and entertainment of visiting officials. Greeting old friends and making new ones at Guantanamo Bay will always be remembered.
In writing the history of this period security restrictions requires that much be left unsaid that would make interesting history. Fortunately records are much better kept than in former days, and there is ready access to more detailed material for those needing further information. The years 1951 and 1952 are comprehensive loose-leaf history in two volumes, with photographs and pictures, which is located in the Base Commander's office.
Leeward Point Airfield
The most important project in the expansion of the Base was a new runway and associated facilities for jet aircraft, located on Leeward Point. This project was already in the planning and estimating stage in early 1951. The contract was let to the Drake-Winkleman Corporation in the spring of that year. The work consisted essentially of grading and laying a concrete air strip considerably larger than the existing asphalt runway, which could not withstand the heavy loads and hot blasts from jet aircraft. After many delays the runway and parking apron were completed by the company, several months beyond the contract completion date. Delay in finding sand and gravel and lack of proper equipment for laying concrete were the principal stumbling blocks.
Meantime SeaBees from Naval Construction Battalions stationed here for periods of about 5 months at a time, worked on barracks buildings and supporting facilities. The field was made operational as of January 1953, but with much work yet to be done on the overall plan.
In a matter of years it is expected that the main Naval Air facilities will be at Leeward Point, with McCalla Field assuming a supporting role.
The building up of Leeward Point will require a new method of providing water, at present barged over from the eastern side. Whether it will be another pipeline to the Yateras River, an entirely new source such as from the Guantanamo River, or deep wells, remains to be seen. At present the matter of deep wells is being explored.
On 1 July 1951 important changes in the organizational structure of the Naval Operating Base were put into effect at the direction of the Chief of Naval Operations. Prior to this time the following departments performing Base wide functions came directly under the Base Commander: Public Works, Industrial Relations, Police, and Fire Departments. The Legal Officer and Chaplains were also on the Base level. Under the new organization the functions performed by these departments and officers were transferred to the Naval Station which was giver an additional mission of furnishing logistic support and services to other Base commands. The purpose of the change was to remove the Base Commander from routine operational matters in order that he and his staff might concentrate on planning, policy formulation, and coordination control of the various Base commands.
In the new organizational set-up the Industrial Relations Officer, Provost Marshal, Fire Marshal and Fire Chief continued primary duty on the Base Commander's Staff as assistants for policy and coordination control in their fields, but were given additional duty in the Naval Station along with their organizations, for routine operations and non-policy matters. The Public Works Officer and Legal Officer were placed on Naval Station level, but were assigned additional duty on the Base Commander's Staff to assist him in his supervisory capacity. Later on an additional Civil Engineer Officer was obtained and assigned as Base Civil Engineer Officer, thereby releasing the Public Works Officer from his dual role.
This type of organization has worked satisfactorily for the past year and a half.
Naming of Roads
Up to the year 1951 the roads on the Base had never been named, except for some in the Hospital area and the roads in Bargo and Newtown (Villamar). The need for road names in a community of some seven thousand residents and 45 square Miles of area is obvious. At any rate the Base Commander decided in the summer of 1951 that Base roads should be named. First, the main road threading the Bass was named Sherman Avenue after Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, U. S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, who had just died. A pattern of road naming was set up. Many Of the roads were given functional locaint a in ntamed r ruban national heroes, such as Marti, G6mez and Maceo. Roads in the Naval Air Station area were named for noted Naval Aviators, deceased commanding officers, or for men who lost their lives around McCalla Hill in the Spanish-American War. Former Commandants of the Naval Station were chosen for some of the roads on the Base. Some streets in Bargo and Villamar were renamed to conform to the overall pattern.
Road signs have been erected at all the important intersections, and road maps and directories have been issued. It is now possible to locate any spot or area on the Base with reference to a known road, street, or avenue. The Base, which is often described as "having grown up like Topsy", now has an air of maturity which its fifty years of development have amply justified.
During 1951 certain points and areas on the Base were given more appropriate names. Marine Site 3 was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Marine Corps, the buildings having been turned over to the Navy. The old name of Marina Point was therefore revived. In the spring of 1952 it was decided that Newtown was an unsuitable name for the Defense Housing Area so designated. Newtown was no longer new, and the name had an undesirable connotation. Inhabitants were polled on the question of a new name and the name "Villamar" had most popular support. Villamar (pronounced "Vee-ya-mar" in Cuban Spanish) freely translated, means "Town by the Sea". It was adopted and is now in general, as well as official, use.
Other names were changed to bring them in line with correct terminology. Among them "Pier Baker" was changed to Wharf Baker, it being a wharf, not a pier, and the Industrial Dispensary was substituted for the long outmoded "Labor Board Dispensary". Many new names were given to other places of interest or utility which previously had no official designation.
Name of Base Changed
On 18 June 1952, the Secretary of the Navy changed the name of the Base from U. S. Naval Operating Base to U. S. Naval Base. It was a change in name only, with the exception that the Fleet Training Center was assigned as a Base component making seven components in all:
Naval Air Station
Naval Supply Depot
Naval Dental Clinic
Fleet Training Center
Two additional Fleet commands, the Fleet Training Group and Utility Squadron TEN, are permanent activities on the Base, but not components, and come under the coordination control and limited military command of the Base Commander.
Roads rank high in the list of visible improvements accomplished on the Base during the past two years. Sherman Avenue has been widened in many places and better surfaced. The Sherman Avenue cut-off through the civilian Barracks area, by-passing the congested Industrial Area, was constructed. Many side roads were improved. In the outlying area roads were constructed or improved, notably Central Magazine Road and the roads branching out there from Crane Hill Road was re-graded and hard surfaced. New roads to Kittery Beach and Windmill Beach were constructed, providing excellent highways from the golf course area to those beaches, and to Radio Range and the old AATC area. New roads were built on the Leeward Point side in connection with the new airfield. On both sides of the Bay new boundary roads were constructed.
The SeaBees and the Naval Station Public Works Department share the credit for road construction and improvement. During the past 18 months the following Mobile Construction Battalions have been stationed on the Base: MCB One (twice), MCB 4, MCB 6 (twice), MCB 7 and MCB 8. The Base is indebted to these Seabees for many of the structural and landscape improvements that have come about.
The original lease agreement with Cuba charges the United States with responsibility for the maintenance of the boundary fences which mark out the Naval Reservation. However, except for some fencing on the east and west sides of the Reservation and fencing on the so-called "inner boundary", fences had been allowed to disintegrate over the years. Cattle, horses, and goats roamed at will in the northern areas. The smuggling problem was accentuated by these wide open spaces.
Funds were obtained to restore fences, and during the past year most of the work has been accomplished. The entire boundary fence is scheduled for completion during 1953.
SeaBee labor has again done the lion's share of the work. SeaBees have also built roads along the boundary fences.
One item of particular significance is the project, now well advanced at the end of 1952, to fill in the upper reaches of Granadillo Bay and join North Toro Cay with the "eastern mainland" at the boundary line. SeaBees are operating on a hill with power shovels and equipment and dumping the "fill" into this inlet of Granadillo Bay, creating a causeway across which a road and fence will be run. With the completion of this project, a matter of weeks, vehicles will be able to drive onto North Toro Cay and follow the boundary line to Wireless Inlet; also to reach South Toro Cay where the old drydock was started. Thus will again be added to the Base an area once considered of prime importance, but for many years virtually abandoned. Future Base development plans envision specific uses for North and South Toro Cays as well as for the large area to the eastward which has been reclaimed by the new fences.
In the spring of 1952 the first dredging of Guantanamo Bay in ten years was started. This project has been pushed for about a year, and funds and equipment were finally received. The Bay had last been dredged in 1942, and in the ensuing ten years the harbor had silted up several feet in many places. The larger aircraft carriers and battleships could not occupy the regular big ship berths, and had to anchor at the harbor entrance.
The dredge "Essayons", operated by U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, was assigned to do the job. The largest ocean-going dredge in the world, the Essayons was equal to the task. From March to November 1952 it worked around the clock, seven days a week (except part of every Tuesday for fueling), running dredging lines up and down the Bay, sucking up mud and silt which it would then proceed to take outside the harbor and disgorge. This cycle of operations continued with monotonous regularity.
The dredging operations were conducted without interfering with ships undergoing training, but not without effect on fishing. It was noted with regret by local Isaac Waltons that fish responded with less regularity to their lures during the time the Essayons was here.
Smaller dredges are scheduled to come in 1953 to complete the job and specifically to dredge the pier slips and inner recesses of the harbor.
New or Improved Structures
The past two years have seen many new buildings, many old buildings, converted and repaired, and new construction and improvements of various kind& Among them are the following:
Pier Love rebuilt
New Enlisted Men't Club (White Hat Club)
P. 0. Club remodeled and refurnished
Teen-Age Club (Quonset Hut conversion)
New Navy Exchange Garage New Thrift Shop
Marina Point BOQ (conversion)
Sherman Avenue Shopping Center established
Several new Supply Buildings (Butler buildings in general)
Six-Unit Apartment Building on Casa Point (conversion)
Four-Unit Apartment Building (Quarters X) (conversion)
New Post Office Branch in Shopping Center
McCalla Field runways re-surfaced
New Fleet Logistic Air Wing Terminal
Wharf Baker and Industrial Area paved
BB1 Fueling Station rebuilt
New Causeway on Maceo Road
New Public Works Transportation Buildings (near Victory Hill)
Nursery School built
Base School Building enlarged
Teachers Quarters enlarged and remodeled
Quonset hut village for SeaBees at Leeward Point constructed
New Fleet Training Group building (first half completed)
Buildings rehabilitated at AATC
Officers Club expanded, redecorated and refurnished
Windmill Beach opened up and developed
CPO Club practically rebuilt (not complete)
New Leeward Point runway completed
Replacement Housing Program (300 units) initiated
Enlargement and complete remodeling of Navy Exchange Conversion and opening of "Sports Shop"
Complete remodeling of Studio and installation of new equipment for Radio Station WGBY
Removal of old stands and erection of new steel bleachers at No. 1 baseball field, and fill and completion of a grass baseball field
Construction of an Archery Range
Construction of an outdoor roller-skating rink
4-5 May 1951-Guantanamo Bay Carnival, netting over $20,000 for worthy causes.
9 June 1951 -A flash fire, resulting from gasoline on the surface of the water, occurred in the vicinity of Wharf Tare. Two officers, four enlisted men, and one Cuban national died from severe burns or drowning in the tragedy. Several ships were tied up at adjacent Wharf Baker at the time. Material damage was superficial. The source of the gasoline has never been determined.
1 July 1951 - Important reorganizational changes were made on the Base, described elsewhere.
8 July 1951-Cuban-American Fraternity Day, held in Guantanamo City. This function was initiated in the interest of Cuban-American friendship by the Mayor of Guantanamo, Ladislao L. Guerra Sanchez, who was educated in the United States.
19 October 1951 -Visit of Senor Carlos Hevia. Carlos Hevia is an Annapolis graduate (Class of 1920) and was President of Cuba for 72 hours in the rapidly changing situation following the fall of the Machado regime in 1933. At the time of his visit he was Minister without portfolio in President Prio's cabinet and a leading candidate for President. It was his first visit to the Base. He was accompanied by Rear Admiral Pascual, Chief of Staff of the Cuban Navy.
15-16-17 February 1952-Guantanamo Bay Carnival, which cleared nearly $60,000 for charity and community purposes.
10 March 1952 - Revolution in Cuba, almost bloodless. Ex-President Fulgencio Batista took over the government in a surprise coupe d'etat. The Base was unaffected, except that liberty in nearby Cuba was stopped for a few days; and one Cuban Naval Officer sought, and was granted, asylum on the Base, later being permitted to enter continental United States.
1 May 1952-Establishment of Naval Port Control Office as a unit of the Naval Station.
17 June 1952 -Visit of Cuban Minister of National Defense, Nicolas Perez Hernandez, accompanied by Rear Admiral Jose Rodriguez Calderon, Chief of Staff of the Cuban Navy.
18 June 1952-"Naval Operating Base" changed to "Naval Base".
13 December 1952-Cuban-American Fraternity Day. The Mayor of Guantanamo City, Ladislao Guerra, who initiated this annual fete, had died on 7 December 1952. The function was held in modified form out of respect to and in honor of the deceased Mayor, and also as a farewell gesture to Rear Admiral Murphy, shortly to be detached as Base Commander. About 500 Cubans and 200 Americans attended. Friendly relations between Cubans and Base personnel are said to have reached an all-time high.
In the year 1952 the population of the Naval Base numbered about 11,000 of whom about 8,000 were Base residents and about 3,000 were commuters, the commuters in the main being Cuban workers living in nearby Cuba. These figures do not take into consideration ships in the harbor, whose personnel occasionally totaled ten or fifteen thousand.
Ships undergoing training, or on visits, were always welcomed in whatever numbers since the only reason for the Base's existence is to serve the Fleet. Facilities being somewhat limited, they were oftentimes overtaxed in order to provide logistic support, although some expansion has eased the situation. Pier space has been at a premium, and storage space has been tight. Barracks have been overloaded. Also married officers and enlisted men have had to wait an average of six months for housing. During the winter months when the weather around Chesapeake and Narragansett Bays have interfered with training in those areas, additional ships over and above the usual number have been assigned shakedown and refresher training at Guantanamo Bay. To carry this load, a number of officers and men have been transferred from the Fleet Training Group at Norfolk and Newport to temporary duty at Guantanamo Bay during this period. Since this area has good weather, a good harbor, and nearby operating area, and also an ability to expand on a temporary basis to accept added assignments, the demands have been met in stride.
The compilation of this history has been a larger task than was originally expected. Undertakings like this generally are. The writer is shortly to be relieved as Base Commander by Rear Admiral C. I, C. Atkeson the relief being scheduled for early January 1953. The writer finds -himself pressed for time, particularly in finishing this last chapter which is prepared in some haste. The history has been appearing in the Base weekly newspaper, the "Indian", during November and December 1962, and has another month to run, the material being ready for press. The matter of reducing the history to book form must necessarily fall on other shoulders. The writer's Aide, Lt. Commander James M. Mason and the Base Industrial Relations Officer, Mr. Herbert P. McNeal, have volunteered to do the final editing and arrange for printing the second edition in book form. Corrections and additions to the first edition have been going forward during the serial run in the "Indian".
The writer has found research on the history of Guantanamo Bay a very fascinating pursuit. It is something that can be carried on indefinitely, adding refinement after refinement. There is a practical limit in this instance, governed by a factor of time.
This is the first overall history of Guantanamo Bay ever written. It is hoped it will not be the last. One of the primary purposes of this work is to serve as an instrument of reference for those interested in Guantanamo Bay, and perhaps to stimulate further research. No high hopes are held for a wide circulation, but if this book gives a modicum of reading pleasure to those who hold this area high in their affections, as does the writer, then his efforts and those of his collaborators will have received ample reward.
Go to Introduction to Part Two and Chapter Eighteen