Naval Station Norfolk

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Naval Station Norfolk
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolknavalbase3.jpg
Naval Station Norfolk in June 2009
TypeMilitary base
Coordinates36°56.7′N 76°18.8′W / 36.945°N 76.3133°W / 36.945; -76.3133Coordinates: 36°56.7′N 76°18.8′W / 36.945°N 76.3133°W / 36.945; -76.3133
In use1917 - present
Controlled byUnited States Navy
GarrisonU.S. Second Fleet/U.S. Fleet Forces Command
 
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Naval Station Norfolk
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolknavalbase3.jpg
Naval Station Norfolk in June 2009
TypeMilitary base
Coordinates36°56.7′N 76°18.8′W / 36.945°N 76.3133°W / 36.945; -76.3133Coordinates: 36°56.7′N 76°18.8′W / 36.945°N 76.3133°W / 36.945; -76.3133
In use1917 - present
Controlled byUnited States Navy
GarrisonU.S. Second Fleet/U.S. Fleet Forces Command
NS Norfolk Insignia

Naval Station Norfolk (IATA: NGUICAO: KNGUFAA LID: NGU), in Norfolk, Virginia, is a base of the United States Navy, supporting naval forces in the United States Fleet Forces Command,[1] those operating in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Indian Ocean. NS Norfolk, also known as the Norfolk Naval Base, occupies about four miles (6 km) of waterfront space and seven miles (11 km) of pier and wharf space of the Hampton Roads peninsula known as Sewell's Point. It is the world's largest Naval Station, supporting 75 ships and 134 aircraft alongside 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangars, and houses the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces.[2] Port Services controls more than 3,100 ships' movements annually as they arrive and depart their berths.

Air Operations conducts over 100,000 flight operations each year, an average of 275 flights per day or one every six minutes. Over 150,000 passengers and 264,000 tons of mail and cargo depart annually on Air Mobility Command (AMC) aircraft and other AMC-chartered flights from the airfield's AMC Terminal. It is the hub for Navy logistics going to the U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command theaters of operations, as well as to the Caribbean areas under U.S. Southern Command.

Contents

History

USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) arriving at Naval Station Norfolk, August 15, 2002.

The land on which the naval station is located was originally the site of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. During this exposition, high-ranking naval officers agreed that this site was ideal for a naval activity. A bill was passed in 1908 proposing that the U.S. Congress allow $1 million for the purchase of the property and buildings, but it died when the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was given a choice between this property and a new coal ship. He replied that a new ship was an absolute necessity. However, immediately after the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the Secretary of the Navy was persuaded to buy the property. A bill was passed for the purchase of 474 acres (1.9 km²); it set aside the sum of $1.2 million as payment for the property and an additional $1.6 million for the development of the base, including piers, aviation facilities, storehouses, facilities for fuel and oil storage, a recruit training station, a submarine base and recreation grounds for fleet personnel. Rear Admiral Dillingham was assigned the task of coordinating the area's development.

Construction of the training camp began on Independence Day 1917, and within the first 30 days housing for 7,500 men had been completed. The next six months saw the establishment of the 5th Naval District Headquarters and the Naval Operating Base, which included the Naval Training Center, Naval Air Station, Naval Hospital and Submarine Station. By Armistice Day 1918, there were 34,000 enlisted men at the base. When the available land became insufficient, a large part of the flats on the west and north were filled from dredging done to allow large ships to dock. During the fall and winter of 1917, approximately 8 million cubic yards (6,000,000 m³) of dredging took place.

NAS Norfolk

Important historical events were taking place on the air side of the station as well. November 14, 1910 marked the birth of naval aviation when Eugene Ely, a pilot employed by the Curtiss Exhibition Company, slowly accelerated toward the end of a 57-foot (17 m) wooden ramp constructed on the bow of the cruiser USS Birmingham. The heavy cruiser was anchored in the James River, not too far from the site of the Civil War's famous ironclad Battle of Hampton Roads between the Monitor and Merrimac.

NAS Norfolk started its roots training aviators at Naval Air Detachment, Curtiss Field, Newport News, on May 19, 1917. Approximately five months later, with a staff increasing to five officers, three aviators, ten enlisted sailors and seven aircraft, the detachment was renamed Naval Air Detachment, Naval Operating Base, Hampton Roads. The aircraft, all seaplanes, were flown across the James River and moored to stakes in the water until canvas hangars were constructed. The new location offered sheltered water in an ice-free harbor, perfect for seaplane landings, good anchorage on the beach front, accessibility to supplies from Naval Station Norfolk and room for expansion. Its mission was to conduct anti-submarine patrols, train aviators and mechanics and run an experimental facility.

World War I

When the United States became involved in World War I, the size of the Navy's air component was rapidly expanded. In the 19 months of U. S. participation, a force of 6,716 officers and 30,693 enlisted served in naval aviation. The training of mechanics to support the aircraft began in January 1918 at the Norfolk detachment and the first patrol was conducted five months later.

By then, the air detachment was recognized as one of the most important sources of trained naval aviators. In recognition of its importance, on August 27, 1918, the detachment became Naval Air Station Hampton Roads, a separate station under its own commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick N. L. Bellinger.

1920s–1930s

As World War I came to an end, the former NAS Hampton Roads saw erratic growth, growing to nearly 167 officers, 1,227 enlisted men and 65 planes. But, it was after the war that demobilization had threatened the future of naval aviation. Within seven months of the war's end, Navy manpower fell to less than half its wartime highs.

The Republican party rose to power in 1920, promising fiscal austerity. Congress cut naval appropriations by 20% and manpower Navy-wide was reduced. The carriers which Congress had authorized were impossible to man. After the 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover favored more naval limitation through international conferences, but the air operations in Norfolk continued.

On July 12, 1921, the name was changed again under the command of Capt. S.H.R. Doyle, to Naval Air Station Norfolk, with direct reporting to the Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C.

Using the same theories of Eugene Ely's flight nearly 13 years earlier, another milestone was achieved. The air station developed an arresting device to train pilots for deck landings aboard the fleet's first aircraft carrier, USS Langley. At the same time, the station also began work on the development of the catapult.

In January 1923, the Secretary of the Navy ordered a detailed study of the capacity of the bases and stations during war and peace. In comparing the development of the fleet and shore establishments, only Hampton Roads met the requirements.

Lighter-than-air operations, important for off-shore patrols during the war, ceased in 1924. In an effort similar to base closure struggles the military has today, civilian employees of the Assembly and Repair Department (forerunner of the former Naval Air Depot) joined the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce in successfully fighting the planned suspension of aircraft overhaul work. The training of air groups from newly-commissioned aircraft carriers such as Langley, Saratoga and Lexington demanded expansion, but appropriations were meager for shore establishments.

During the 1920s and '30s the Naval Station operated at a reduced operating tempo. The training component processed only 1,600 individuals by the late 1920s. By 1927, the Naval Training Station, whose primary mission was to operate 12 service schools and train new recruits, had been reduced considerably from its wartime status, training only 560 recruits at a command with triple that capacity.

During the late 1930s, major construction took place at Naval Station Norfolk. At this time, building K-BB (Naval Station headquarters), the galley, and many barracks were built. As the 1930s came to a close, the station also began to prepare for total war. By 1939, when the Atlantic Fleet returned to the East Coast, the Naval Station was clearly the biggest naval installation on the Atlantic coast. In April 1939, in something of a test, the Naval Station refueled, restocked, and returned to service 25 ships in one week. This force was but the prelude to about 100 ships converging on Norfolk at the time. It included the battleships California, Idaho and New Mexico and the carriers, Lexington, Ranger, Yorktown and Enterprise.

The expansion of shipboard aviation in the 1930s brought renewed emphasis to Naval Air Station Norfolk. Reverting back to its experimental roots, development and testing of catapult and arresting gear systems took the highest priority at the Air Station. The commissioning of the aircraft carriers Ranger, Yorktown, Wasp, and Hornet increased the tempo of routine training in navigation, gunnery and aerial bombing as new air wings formed prior to World War II. This demanded expansion, but appropriations for shore activities were meager. Although congressional approval was gained in 1934 for the purchase of land that would expand the airfield by 540 acres (2.2 km²), the matter was dropped. At the outbreak of war in Europe on September 1, 1939, NAS Norfolk encompassed 236 acres (1.0 km²) with two small operating areas, Chambers Field and West Landing Field. During World War II, the Naval Air Station had a direct combat support role in the area of anti-submarine patrols. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the start of the war in Europe was the National Emergency Program of September 8, 1939. It resulted in fantastic growth for all Navy activities in the Norfolk area. The combat support role began on October 21, 1939, when a 600-mile (970 km)-wide Neutrality Zone was declared around the American coast. Four Norfolk-based patrol squadrons, VP-51, US VP-52, VP-53 and VP-54 were among the first units to enforce the zone.

World War II

World War II profoundly changed the appearance of the Naval Station. With the eruption of war in Europe in September 1939, the station began to vibrate with activity. By December, the Navy had over $4 million in projects underway on the station. By the summer of 1940 the Station employed some 8,000 personnel, a number larger than any time since the end of World War I.

The Hepburn Board had made recommendations to Congress earlier in the year that would also double the size and workload of the station. Since Chambers and West Fields were encroaching on the activities of the former Naval Operating Base, it was decided to expand to the east.

East Camp, with an area of about 1,000 acres (4 km²) between the east side of Naval Station and Granby Street, had been sold off by the Army at the end of World War I. Congress authorized its repurchase in early 1940. On June 29 of that year, a contract was signed with the Virginia Engineering Company of Newport News for the expansion of the station. The cost of expansion and construction was to reach more than $72 million.

Aerial view of NAS Norfolk in the mid-1940s

Hangars, a new dispensary, three runways, magazine areas, warehouses, barracks and docking areas were patterned after similar existing airfields. The plan was revised and approved by Captain P.N.L. Bellinger, returning as commanding officer 20 years after first holding the job. Bellinger insisted that as many structures as possible be permanent ones. The air station was still largely composed of temporary hangars and workshops left over from World War I. Many were unsafe and costly to maintain.

The last permanent structure added had been the administration building, constructed in 1930. Special attention was paid to control facilities. Prior to the expansion, operations from Chambers Field had no traffic control system except for a white placard inserted through a slot on the roof to indicate the direction of the runway in use.

Some 353 acres (1.4 km²) were eventually reclaimed at a cost of $2.1 million. Two large hangars and ramps for seaplanes, barracks, officer quarters and family housing were built. This construction cut off Mason Creek Road and the Navy compensated the city by improving Kersloe Road between Hampton Boulevard and Granby Street.

Norfolk responded by renaming the road, Admiral Taussig Boulevard, in honor of the retiring commander of the Naval Operating Base.

In July 1940, the Federal government began dredging Willoughby Bay and the Naval Air Station seaplane operating area at Breezy Point, Virginia was constructed from reclaimed marshlands at the mouth of Mason Creek, Virginia. By the time President Roosevelt visited at the end of July, the station was clearly reaching the point where it could support ships engaged in war overseas.

In 1941, the possibility of U.S. involvement in the war looked more likely. Construction of more new facilities was pushed forward to match increased requirements. Directives from Washington meant facilities had to be developed to operate five aircraft carrier air groups, seven to nine patrol squadrons, the fighter director school and the Atlantic Fleet operational training program for 200 pilots prior to their fleet assignment. Further requests were made to provide training and maintenance facilities for British aircrew from HMS Illustrious and Formidable.

In June 1941, the personnel count at the Naval Station dramatically increased once again. There were now about 10,000 new recruits at the Naval Training Station, 15,559 officers and enlisted on station, and 14,426 sailors assigned to ships homeported in Norfolk. After Pearl Harbor, another $4 million was put into the receiving station to elevate its capacity by some 5,500 individuals. The Navy planned to double hospital capacity, as well as adding a full range of indoor and outdoor athletic facilities to go along with the construction of a new auditorium.

In all, these new requirements led to enlarging the construction project to five times its original scope. At the completion of the first round of construction, East Field was estimated to have the capacity for 410 land planes while Breezy Point's capacity was estimated at 72 seaplanes. From a manpower viewpoint, NAS Norfolk grew from an average of 2,076 officers and enlisted in December 1940 to 16,656 active duty in December 1943. For the first six months of 1943, the flight operations department recorded an average of 21,073 flights per month and an average of 700 flights per day. This represents a take-off or landing every two minutes, 24 hours a day.

The increased pace of operations made it necessary to further physical plant growth. In order to extend runways and provide more parking areas, an additional 400 acres (1.6 km²) including the old Norfolk airport were acquired. Finally, by 1943, the Naval Air Station had become the hub for a series of outlying airfields. Facilities were commissioned at Chincoteague, Whitehurst, Reservoir, Oceana, Pungo, Fentress, Monogram, and Creeds, Va., as well as Elizabeth City, Edenton, Manteo, and Harvey Point, N.C.

A new command, Naval Air Center, had been formed October 12, 1942 under Captain J.M. Shoemaker, the 15th and 18th commanding officer of NAS Norfolk, to coordinate operations within the Norfolk area. The outlying fields were used for training, patrol plane operations, practice bombing and aerial gunnery. The assembly and repair (A&R) department also offers an excellent example of expansion at the Naval Air Station. In 1939, A&R occupied four World War I hangars and a few workshops. It employed 213 enlisted men and 573 civilians in the overhaul of aircraft engines and fuselages.

In 1940, the naval aircraft program passed Congress with a production goal of 10,000 new planes later increased 15,000. To support this effort, A&R, after Pearl Harbor, went to two 10-hour shifts per day, seven days a week for a work force that now numbered 1,600 enlisted and 3,500 civilians. Women, who had been employed only as seamstress for wing and fuselage fabric, began working in A&R machine shops as labor shortages became acute. During the summer of 1942, the apprentice school was opened to provide training in nine trades. By war's end, assembly and repair had developed into a Class "A" industrial plant with peak employment of 3,561 civilians and 4,852 military workers.

After war was formally declared following Pearl Harbor, Germany began a U-boat offensive, "Operation Drumbeat", against shipping along the Atlantic coast. The Eastern Sea Frontier, a command headquartered in New York, directed the American response.

Locally, Fleet Air Wing 5 units flew under its operational command of the 5th Naval District. Wing 5 units involved consisted of scouting squadrons, 12 OS2U Kingfisher seaplanes and VPs 83 and 84 equipped with PBY5A Catalinas. By 1942, NAS Norfolk was home to 24 fleet units.

In this early phase of the war, the U-boats had the best of it. With a peacetime mindset still prevalent, valuable ships sailed independently—backlit by the lights of seaside towns.

From January through April 1942, the Eastern Sea Frontier recorded 82 sinkings by U-boats. During the same period, only eight U-boats were sunk by U.S. forces. Eventually, coastal convoys were instituted and more aircraft became available. German U-boats moved elsewhere and sinkings decreased. To move closer to their patrol areas and free up space for the training of new squadrons, NAS Norfolk-based patrol squadrons transferred their operations from Breezy Point to Chincoteague and Elizabeth City.

NAS Norfolk's biggest contribution to the winning of World War II was in the training it provided to a wide variety of allied naval air units.

At the start of the war, training activities at NAS did not fall under the direction of a single overseer. This changed on January 1, 1943 with the creation of Commander Air Force Atlantic Fleet with Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Bellinger in charge. The former NAS commanding officer was tasked with providing administrative, material and logistic support for Atlantic Fleet aviation units. AIRLANT also furnished combat-ready carrier air groups, patrol squadrons and battleship and cruiser aviation units for both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. To complete this task, Fleet Air Wing 5 in Norfolk turned over its operational commitments for the Eastern Sea Frontier to Fleet Air Wing 9 at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

In December 1942, recruit training at the base was abolished since the base was now more suitably equipped for advanced training for men going directly to the fleet. With the change in the training station and the declaration of war, the mission became that of a pre-commissioning training station. Three 1,000 foot (300 m) piers, which were used as convoy escort piers, were built during World War II.

On September 18, 1943, FAW-5 assumed the primary mission of providing training under the direction of AIRLANT. The aviation service school offered courses in metalsmith work, engine repair, radio repair and ordnance. Aviation machinist's mate A school consisted of two months of training and two months of practical experience in A&R department shops.

The advanced base aviation training unit helped sailors develop the skills necessary to maintain all types of aircraft at advanced bases in combat area. The aircraft they completed went to the fleet pool for distribution to squadrons in the process of commissioning.

A similar service for maintenance crews in squadrons awaiting the commissioning of new carriers was provided by the carrier air service unit. Among the earliest schools at NAS was the fighter director school, which taught fleet communications and tactics, radar operations and direction of aircraft from ships before moving to Georgia. The celestial navigation training unit instructed pilots being assigned to patrol squadrons. The aerial free gunnery training unit was originally located at Breezy Point, but moved to Dam Neck in 1943 to be able to carry out range work without restricting airspace.

Carrier qualifications training unit provided for field carrier landing practice, simulated carrier search techniques and qualification landings. Any carriers available in Hampton Roads were used to deck-qualify pilots, but the bulk of the load went to USS Charger. For most of the war, Charger acted as school ship both for squadrons in training and for flight deck personnel assigned to newly commissioned carriers.

The air station's impact on winning World War II was more extensive than most people think. With only a few exceptions, all Navy air squadrons that fought in the war trained in Norfolk. The air station also trained numerous British fighter squadrons and French and Russian patrol squadrons. From 1943 to the end of the war, a total of 326 U.S. units were commissioned and trained under the control of AIRLANT.

Undoubtedly, the loudest noise heard and one of the most devastating Navy accidents in Hampton Roads during World War II occurred at 11 AM September 17, 1943. A NAS ordnance department truck was pulling four trailers loaded with depth charges on the taxiway between NAS and the NOB piers. Each trailer was designed to carry four aerial depth charges. To save time, two additional charges were loaded on top of each trailer. Compounding the problem, the charges on top were not properly chained down. One of the charges slipped loose and became wedged between the trailer and the ground. The friction of being dragged against the road caused the charge to begin smoking.

An alert Marine sentry spotted the smoke and notified the driver who immediately stopped the truck and ran to a nearby fire station. Assistant Fire Chief Gurney E. Edwards hurried to the scene and attempted to cool down the charges with a fire extinguisher. As soon as he started his attempt, the first depth charge exploded, killing him instantly. For several minutes, charges continued to explode. The blasts shattered windows up to seven miles (11 km) away (10 km) and were heard in Suffolk, 20 miles (30 km) distant.

In the center of the explosion was a group of old enlisted men's barracks opposite the dispensary, the vicinity of the current location of V-88. A total of 18 buildings were destroyed by the blast. They were so badly damaged that they had to be razed. Thirty-three aircraft were also destroyed with a monetary damage of $1.8 million.

According to official histories, the shock of the explosion found people scaling fences that had been considered man-proof and impossible to climb. Other persons found themselves some time later with shoes in hand, waiting for street cars, with no memory of the event. The casualties amounted to 426, including 40 dead. Among them was Seaman 2nd Class Elizabeth Korensky, the only woman killed and the first WAVE to die in the line of duty in the war.

NAS Norfolk responded to the tragedy by building six new brick barracks to house the troops and added industrial space by building R-80, the largest airplane hangar in the world. Winning the war was a full-time effort.

Post war

Aerial view of Norfolk naval base, 18 October 1985, with (left to right) the aircraft carriers America, John F. Kennedy, Nimitz, and Dwight D. Eisenhower moored at piers No. 11 and 12.

Postwar period developments underscored the capacity of the Naval Station to change. The station at first stored inactive aircraft carriers, other reserve vessels, and finally submarines and destroyers. Fire fighting and salvage control now became specialties. The Atlantic Fleet Command came ashore in 1948 and placed its headquarters with a staff of 165 officers and 315 enlisted in an abandoned hospital. At the same time, the station rendered service to military as well as scientific pursuits.

Known officially as Naval Operating Base until 31 December 1952, on January 1, 1953 the name of the installation was changed to Naval Station Norfolk.

After the Second World War, the air side of the station continued to operate at near peak levels as well. It served as operational headquarters for the Fleet Air Command, and with the emergence of NAS Oceana as a Master Jet Base in the late 1950s, the tandem formed the nucleus of the biggest air base on the East Coast. The airfield was renamed as Naval Air Station Norfolk (Chambers Field) and would remain so throughout the postwar period through the end of the Cold War. In 1967 it came under the control of Commander, Naval Air Force, Atlantic (COMNAVAIRLANT).

The Norfolk facility remained the chief supplier of aircraft parts and a major rework plant. Classified as "industrial", the station employed about 7,500 civilians in 1946. In one postwar year the Navy invested $36 million in the overhaul and repair plant alone. The average annual payroll in the last had of the 1950s came to nearly $45 million. By 1976, the air rework plant covered 174 acres (0.7 km²) and included 175 buildings. In the 1970s and 1980s its workers restored or repaired, among other craft, F-14 Tomcats, A-6 Intruders, and F-8 Crusaders. From June 1980 until June 1981, the air station handled over 135,478 aircraft operations, 29,832 tons of air cargo, and 132,000 passengers. In 1996, as part of the Congressional "Base Realignment and Closure" (BRAC) process this plant, known by this time as the Naval Aviation Depot Norfolk, closed its doors.

The air station, at one time, was host to more than 70 tenant commands, including several carrier groups, a carrier airborne early warning wing and associated squadrons, a helicopter sea control wing and associated squadrons, and various Naval Air Reserve units, primarily the wing headquarters for Reserve Patrol Wing Atlantic, the local headquarters for Naval Air Reserve Norfolk and Reserve E-2 Hawkeye, C-9 Skytrain II and various helicopter squadrons. A Marine Corps Reserve medium helicopter squadron with CH-46 Sea Knight aircraft was also assigned. In addition, the air station rendered support in photography, meteorology, and electronics to the fleet commands of the Hampton Roads naval community. Naval Air Station Norfolk also responded to national times of stress, such as Operation Sincere Welcome in 1994, when 2,000 civilian workers, dependents, and non-essential military personnel were evacuated to Norfolk from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. This influx of people was an instance of history repeating itself, as the station also welcomed evacuees during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

One other milestone in NAS's history occurred in 1968 when the station assumed a major role in putting a man on the moon. The air station became Recovery Control Center Atlantic, providing command, control and communications with all the ships and aircraft involved in the recovery operations of Apollo 7.

As part of the Navy's response to the post-Cold War drawdown of the 1990s, many new initiatives were implemented at Navy shore installations to reduce their operating cost, improve their efficiency, and better match their capacity to the reduced size of the Navy. In 1998, the Navy began a major realignment of shore command organizations and processes throughout Hampton Roads in a process known as "regionalization". One of the biggest steps and efficiencies in this process was the merger of separate Naval Station and Naval Air Station (which were directly adjacent to each other) into a single installation to be called Naval Station Norfolk. The former naval air station organizational structure became the Air Department of NAVSTA Norfolk while the actual airfield became known as Naval Station Norfolk (Chambers Field). This consolidation became official on February 5, 1999.

Naval Station Norfolk supports Defense Depot Norfolk Virginia (DDNV).

Homeported ships (as of March 2012)

Carriers (6)

Cruisers (5)

Guided Missile Destroyers (24)

Frigates (4)

Amphibious Assault (8)

Submarines (6)

Military Sealift Command

Tenant Commands

See also

References

External links