Soon after the local citizens of Port Hueneme
improved their port facilities with private funds, the U.S. Navy
purchased them, acquired additional land, and began building an
Advanced Base Depot (ABD) to supply the needs of the Navy's construction
battalions (SeaBees) operating in the Pacific. The depot received
supplies, stored them in huge warehouses and then shipped them
overseas as needed. Seabee units came and went through the port
also. A private company, the Pacific Naval Air Bases Co., operated
the depot throughout the war under contract with the Navy. The
depot expanded regularly and by 1945 it could accommodate up to
21,000 base personnel and SeaBees in transit. The docks could
handle 9 cargo ships and two tank landing craft simultaneously,
and the rail yard could hold up to 2,000 boxcars.
After the war, Port Hueneme was designated
a permanent installation. The Navy took over operations and as
other Naval depots closed down around the country some of their
operations and personnel came here. Throughout the Cold War Port
Hueneme was the Navy's main ABD on the west coast.
Source: World War II Sites in
the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
The Naval Construction Battalion Center
(CBC), Port Hueneme, California, is the west coast homeport of
the Navys mobile construction force. CBC supports the training
and mobilization requirements for more than 2,600 active duty
personnel. The CBC also operates a 1,600-acre naval base. The
CBC is located on the vast agricultural Oxnard Plain, about 60
miles north of Los Angeles, right on the Beautiful Southern California
The mission of CBC is to prove a homeport
and furnish training, administrative and logistic support for
Seabees serving in many parts of the world. CBC provides training
and mobilization requirements for four active duty Seabee battalions,
Naval Mobile Construction Battalions THREE, FOUR, FIVE and FORTY,
and more than 16 reserve Seabee units. The CBC's mission is to
support the Naval Construction Force, fleet units and assigned
organizational units deployed from or homeported at the CBC; to
support mobilization requirements of the Naval Construction Force;
to store, preserve, and ship advanced base mobilization stocks;
to perform engineering and technical services, and such other
tasks as may be assigned by higher authority.
Over the years, the Port Hueneme center
has expanded or contracted, depending on the world situation and
the needs of the Navy. At present, CBC is responsible for procurement,
storage, maintenance and disposal of the construction equipment
and materials which make up the Propositioned War Reserve Material
Stocks. Many of the Center's departments, such as the Supply Department,
Comptroller, Civil Engineers Support Office and Facilities System
Office provide direct support to other Navy commands. In addition,
CBC provides support to more than 40 tenant commands with missions
ranging from Seabee support to shipboard missile systems testing.
Port Hueneme (pronounced "Why-nee-mee")
is located on the vast Oxnard plain, northwest of Los Angeles.
The coastal area of Ventura County boasts some of the finest weather
available anywhere. The base itself covers more than 1,600 acres
and has more than 29 miles of roads and streets and 10 miles of
railroad track. Port Hueneme offers the Navy's only deep-water
port between San Diego and Washington. Continuing its mission
today, Port Hueneme provides a homeport that furnishes training,
administrative, and logistic support for Seabees serving in many
ports around the world.
NAVSEA Port Hueneme Surface Warfare Center
Division is part of the largest Navy Systems Command which is
comprised of nearly 50,000 professional men and women. NAVSEA
Port Hueneme prides itself on the unique capabilities it possesses
to provide Support to the Navys fleet. NSWC PHD provides
test and evaluation, in-service engineering and integrated logistics
support services for surface and mine warfare combat and weapons
systems for the surface Fleet. Weapons systems include Point Defense,
NATO Seasparrow, Harpoon, Tomahawk and Aegis.
An integral part of the NSWC PHD capabilities
is the Surface Warfare Engineering Facility (SWEF). Housed in
a five story, 50,000-square foot building, the SWEF provides system
engineering, development and integration of U.S. Navy shipboard
offensive and defensive weapons systems. The SWEF hosts a variety
of fully operational systems, including sensors and launchers.
The site affords clear paths for the installed radars to the open
ocean and allows line-of-sight flight paths to the building. The
SWEF is capable of simulating shipboard problems for investigating
engineering solutions, ship system operational problems, new developmental
programs including hardware and software upgrades and training
for ship systems personnel on special events. The SWEF was designed
to provide the Navy with the capability to safely conduct a multitude
of full engagement simulations for the purposes of tactics development,
operational evaluation, fault analysis, and training without the
burdensome cost of actually taking the systems to sea or using
currently installed systems on board ships.
The Surface Warfare Engineering Facility
is a land-based test site and laboratory facility that allows
test and evaluation of systems designed for use by the fleet.
The SWEF ocean front environment makes it possible to simulate
shipboard operational problems and evaluate performance without
the expense of using ships at sea or the personnel to support
these operations. There are three primary types of systems and
equipment installed at the SWEF complex: combat systems, fire
control radar systems, and missile launching systems. On a day-to-day
basis, SWEF personnel investigate, verify, and resolve fleet reported
problems related to these systems. They also test equipment prior
to its use in the fleet, ensuring combat readiness. In addition,
they use equipment in the SWEF to train personnel to operate and
maintain these systems, and they develop engineering changes to
improve system reliability, maintainability, safety, and effectiveness.
The Self Defense Test Ship (SDTS) is a unique
Navy asset located at PHD NSWC. The SDTS is a refurbished, remote-controlled
ship. The ship supports self-defense engineering, test, and evaluation,
without the safety constraints and in-port problems that are associated
with manned ships.
Since 1963, Port Hueneme has provided Underway
Replenishment (UNREP) engineering services to the Navy surface
fleet. UNREP enables aircraft carriers, surface combatants, and
amphibious ships to remain underway at sea indefinitely in support
of our national interests. It involves the transfer of all consumables
from supply ships to the customer ships while both are underway.
Items such as fuel, food, ammunition, repair or replacement parts,
and personnel are routinely transferred at sea. Port Hueneme has
the only fully equipped and operational UNREP test site. This
test site contains modern constant tensioned fueling and cargo
systems with Navy standard equipment that represents the latest
configurations for both the delivery and receiving parts of the
system. The test site has many uses.
As a test site, it is used to fully test
new systems, equipment, and configurations. Any new UNREP development
can be thoroughly tested under the controlled conditions, safety,
and economy of this dedicated land-based facility. After a new
development has been proven at the test site, it can be installed
on a ship for at-sea testing with a high level of confidence that
it will perform as designed. As a training site, it is used extensively
to train both Navy and civilian crews. Because the Navy standard
equipment installed at the test site represents the latest design
and highest population of UNREP equipment in the fleet, the training
provided in equipment operation and maintenance, as well as system
operation, is the most effective land-based UNREP training available.
As a demonstration site, it is used to demonstrate UNREP procedures,
systems, equipment and new developments to sponsors, fleet representatives,
VIPs, foreign military representatives, and public and private
tour groups. As a fleet technical assistance site, it is used
to simulate or duplicate UNREP problems reported by the fleet
and to develop special repair procedures. As an overhaul site,
it is used to overhaul and test items turned in by the fleet and
return them in operational condition.
Originally constructed as a temporary depot
in the early days of World War II, the Naval Construction Battalion
Center, Port Hueneme, California, is a veteran of World War II,
the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
In the early days of World War II, CBC was established to train,
stage and supply the newly created Naval Construction Force "Seabees".
Since then, the Seabees and the Center have made history together.
Officially established May 18, 1942, during World War II, the
center was responsible for the staging and shipping of 20 million
measurement tons of supplies and equipment and more than 200 thousand
men needed in support of the war effort. More construction supplies
and equipment were shipped from Port Hueneme than from any other
port in the United States.
When the Korean War came in 1950, Port Hueneme
was ready to serve the Navy again. Almost all of the Navy's construction
equipment and supplies used in that war were routed through Port
Hueneme. CBC supported all construction in Southeast Asia and
the Pacific during the lull following the Korean War, at the same
time keeping itself and its battalions in a state of readiness.
Waterfront facilities were updated. Replacement of deteriorated
wooden piers with concrete and many other improvements were made
throughout the base to keep it ready for any emergency.
The emergency was not long in coming. In
1962 the United States became actively engaged in the conflict
in Vietnam. At the height of the conflict, CBC shipping tonnages
soared to levels unmatched since World War II. Following the Vietnam
conflict, the center again shifted to peacetime support of the
When the Army of Iraq invaded Kuwait in
August of 1990, CBC was ready to support the Navy once more. More
than 1,800 port Hueneme Seabees built camps and countless miles
of roads in the Saudi Arabian desert. Again, the port provided
integral support, shipping, supplies and equipment needed to support
not only the Seabees, but the Army, Air Force and Marines as well.
More recently, Seabees played an integral
role in disaster recovery and humanitarian efforts both at home
in the United States and overseas. Using that special kind of
Seabee "know-how," the 'Bees have been directly involved
with projects that have benefited millions of people. From the
barren terrain of Somalia where they participated in Operation
Restore Hope, to the refugee camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where
"Operation Sea Signal" took them. Closer to home, the
Seabees supported disaster recovery efforts for victims of the
Malibu firestorms and Northridge earthquake.
The City of Port Hueneme is located on the
south central coast of California, 60 miles north of Los Angeles
and 50 miles south of Santa Barbara. Neighboring communities include
Oxnard, Ventura, and Camarillo. Offering beach-style living, Port
Hueneme features long sandy beaches and lush agricultural fields.
Crimes per capita are among the lowest in the county.
This area is commonly referred to as "The
Gold Coast." The coastal area of Ventura County boasts some
of the finest weather available anywhere. It is within easy access
of the metropolises giant of Los Angeles with all its sights and
sounds, and about 45 miles south of beautiful Santa Barbara. Neighboring
communities include Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Camarillo, and Ventura.
Major highways near the Center include U.S. Highway 101 and the
picturesque Pacific Coast Highway 1.
The Port of Hueneme is the only deep water
harbor between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area and
is the U.S. Port of Entry for California's Central Coast region.
It serves international businesses and ocean carriers from both
the Pacific Rim and Europe. The Port of Hueneme ranks among the
top seaports in California for general cargo throughput. The niche
markets that Hueneme serves include: the import and export of
automobiles, heavy agricultural equipment and industrial vehicles,
fresh fruit, fresh produce, forest products, and project cargo.
The Port of Hueneme is the top seaport in the United States for
citrus export and ranks among the top ten ports in the country
for automobile and banana imports. Its unique positioning near
the Santa Barbara Channel has also made the Port of Hueneme the
primary support facility for the offshore oil industry in California's
Central Coast area.
A deep submarine canyon, Hueneme Canyon,
which approaches within a few hundred feet of the harbor entrance,
provides good navigation and minimal wave and swell action. The
harbor is provided additional protection from severe storms by
the nearby Channel Islands.
The idea for building a Port was the direct
result of a coastal exploration by Thomas Bard in 1867. Bard had
learned of a strong offshore underground aquifer flow of fresh
water creating a deep water trough called Hueneme Canyon. Growing
frustrations experienced by Ventura County's early agricultural
industry in getting its expanding grain surpluses to broader markets
only tended to confirm Bard's vision of a port to serve as an
entrepot for the area's vast agricultural potential. Taking advantage
of Hueneme Canyon, a 1500-foot (Bard's) wharf was constructed
in 1872 to lighter goods between the coast and ships off shore.
On 24 January 1939 the Standard Dredging
Company began operations in the channel, although the official
ground breaking ceremonies weren't held until February 4th, with
Oxnard attorney Mark Durley serving a master of ceremonies. Appropriately
enough, Richard Bard who was destined to be known as the 'Father
of Port Hueneme," was asked to turn the first shovel. The
harbor was officially completed by July 4, 1940.
by Justin Ruhge, Goleta Historical Society
Port Hueneme is a deep-water port at the
edge of the Oxnard Plain. The seaport originated in 1871. Thomas
Bard, owner of most of the land in the area and future U.S. Senator
from California, built a 1,000-foot-long wharf and began importing
lumber and exporting grain. In 1938, Richard Bard, a son of Thomas,
helped organize a harbor district in which to build a modern seaport.
The port was built on 318 acres and completed in June 1940. At
that time, the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, Rear Admiral
Ben Moreel, created the Naval Construction Corps and needed a
west coast port for navy shipping during World War II.
The Navy acquired Port Hueneme in February
1942 for $2 million to which it added 1,273 acres. Construction
began on March 9, 1942. The first base commander was Captain
Louis F. Thibault, USN. The Advanced Base Depot (ABD) was officially
established on May 15, 1942. Until the end of the war the private
contractors, Pacific Naval Air Base, administered the base on
a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract at $1 million per workday.
By 1945 the base contained thirty-three
miles of railroad lines and sidings with a capacity of 2,000
boxcars; sixty-five miles of paved roads; tent cities, barracks,
and messing facilities for 21,000 military personnel; a complex
of warehouses; and an expanded inner harbor that could handle
nine cargo vessels and two tank landing craft simultaneously.
About 20 million tons of supplies were shipped out during World
The ABD at Port Hueneme originally served
as a receiving barracks for transient Construction Battalion
(CB) personnel and to relieve overcrowding in the large California
ports of Oakland and Los Angeles. The men were quartered at three
camps named Holliday, Rousseau, and Thomas in honor of deceased
civil engineers. They used their facilities to ready the materials
and to load advanced base materials on ships. Quonset huts were
shipped in for use as barracks and small shops. In addition Port
Hueneme organized and provided all the materials and operational
equipment for advanced airbases.
By the end of the war Port Hueneme had
a storage area of about 600 acres and fourteen major and minor
warehouses with a total area of 719,000 square feet. The Ninth
Avenue Pier at Oakland served as part of the main depot, but
the nine ship berths and loading ramps for LSTs at Port Hueneme
proper were able to ship out 225,000 tons a month.
On June 30, 1945, more than 10,000 men
were at Port Hueneme. One year later, with the Navy now assuming
command of the base, the personnel had dropped to 5,000.
The Naval Base at Port Hueneme became
a Naval Station on December 11, 1945. The Station now included
The Naval Construction Battalion Center, The Naval Training and
Distribution Center, the former barracks, and The Naval ABD.
On August 21 1946, The School of Civil Engineer Corps Officers
was transferred there and on December 19, 1949 The Naval Civil
Engineering Laboratory was also relocated at Port Hueneme.
As of April 1, 1947 there were 2,400 men
in a training program that for three months taught 400 men a
month the skills of construction work at The Naval Training and
From the late spring of 1946 to April
1950, Port Hueneme engaged in the roll-up operations that brought
600,000 tons of equipment and supplies from the Pacific and stored
them on 200 acres of outside storage space. It also accommodated
22,000 returning veterans who could not be taken care of in the
large west coast ports.
In August 1951 The Naval Station was closed and its function
assumed by The Naval ABD to which was added The Naval Advanced
Base Tactical Training Center. Five of the new CB units formed
during the Korean War were assigned to Port Hueneme.
In 1965, Port Hueneme reached its highest
level of operations since World War II in support of the Vietnam
War. A peak of 650,824 tons was shipped out in 1968. By 1973,
only 55,553 tons were shipped and the seven CBs sent out to Vietnam
in 1968 were reduced to four in 1973.
In 1974, Port Hueneme included 2,451 acres
of land, 792 acres of which were leased. It had facilities valued
at $100 million. There were six deep-water berths extending for
4, 208 linear feet from which could be shipped 125,000 tons a
month. There were 47 single officers' quarters, 1,947 housing
units for single men, and 500 family housing units. The financial
impact of its operations was about $100 million a year. Much
of its work was connected with construction at the Diego Garcia
Air Base in the Indian Ocean, and it's storing of prepositioned
stocks and also of Peace-time Operational Stocks.
About 70,000 visitors per year tour The
Navy Civil Engineer Corps and Seabee Museum located at Port Hueneme.
Reference: A Brief History
of the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Port Hueneme, Department
of the Navy, Port Hueneme, California, 1997.
When the Navy Came to Port Hueneme, 1942-1945, and Beyond (November
by Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr., Historian,
U.S. Navy Seabee Museum
Hueneme. The name remains confusing to
newcomers to Ventura County. Who-nee-me? Who-nay-may?
Hu-en-e-my, or way-nay-me? Hueneme is
the Spanish spelling for the Chumash Indian name for the location,
translating as resting place, and the present-day
name has changed from Point Wynema to Hueneme to Port Hueneme.
One constant for more recent generations of residents, however,
has been the U.S. Navy and the naval base at the port. Envisioned
as a temporary, wartime base for one of the Navys newest
forces in the first months of 1942, Naval Base Ventura County
instead remains an institution in the Naval Construction Force
and the local community. (By the way, the most used pronunciation
An Underwater Canyon
To understand the bases history
and establishment in 1942, it is essential to know how a landlocked,
deep-water harbor came to exist between San Diego and San Francisco.
Around 1857, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey first learned
of the existence of a submarine canyon off Point Hueneme. This
natural valley or deep gash in the continental shelf extends
about nine miles offshore from its head at the shore and dampens
the intensity of the waves, allowing them to break intact upon
the beach. Conditions posed a potential financial windfall: if
one could construct a wharf extending out into the deep, calmer
waters, then large ships could tie up to load and discharge cargo.
Eight years later, Thomas Robert Bard arrived in California as
the personal representative of Thomas A. Scott, president of
the Pennsylvania Railroad, the California and Philadelphia Petroleum
Company, and also President Abraham Lincolns Assistant
Secretary of War. Scott owned large tracts of land in California,
and through Bard he sought to develop the oil resources in what
is today Ventura County.
The Peoples Harbor
Bard would prove a visionary, able to
transform ideas and knowledge into personal fortune. In late
February 1867, Captain William E. Greenwell of the Coast and
Geodetic Survey, camped with Bard at Point Hueneme. Around the
camp fire, the captain explained to Bard the possibilities of
building a wharf at the site to profit from the natural advantages
of the canyon. That May, Bard wrote to Scott, stressing the need
for a wharf at the point to serve the area residents and tap
into the lucrative trade of grain and oil from the region to
markets in San Francisco and elsewhere. The following year, on
Oct. 31, 1868, Bard purchased Scotts land interests in
the Rancho El Rio de Santa Clara ó la Colonia totaling
21,375 acres for $150,000 in gold coin. A former Mexican Land
Grant dating to May 22, 1837, the land included the area around
Years later, Bard was able to pursue his
wharf. On Feb. 20, 1871, he incorporated the Hueneme Wharf and
Lighter Company and then headed to San Francisco to procure supplies
and learn everything he could about wharf construction. With
his supplies, knowledge and corporation in place, Bard secured
his wharf site at the beach area at what is today the end of
Market Street and succeeded in staking his claim to the land
on May 16, 1871. Wharf construction commenced a week later. From
June to July the piles pounded into the sand and on Aug. 1, 1871
the steamer SS Kalorama discharged a cargo of lumber and merchandise
at the 900-foot-long wharf.
From Wheat to Sheep
As the first true wharf between Santa
Cruz and San Pedro, Bards investment was successful. From
1871 to 1895, Hueneme was the second largest port on the Pacific
coast for grain shipments of barley, wheat and corn. Sheep, hogs
and cattle joined loads of grain sailing to San Francisco as
cargoes of lumber and general merchandise flowed into the county.
Warehouses joined the wharf to store grain until demand became
advantageous to sell to buyers in San Francisco and Liverpool,
England. As shipments increased, a lighthouse to improve navigation
was erected and began shining 40 miles out to sea on Dec. 15,
1874. The wharf itself grew to accommodate greater traffic and
larger vessels, being extended in 1897 to 1,500 feet and then
1,700 feet by 1912. Prior to the arrival of the railroad in Ventura
County in 1887, and later Oxnard in 1898, the wharf provided
the principal transportation route to and from the county south
of the Santa Clara River during this period.
Shipping, via the wharf, provided a growth
mechanism for Hueneme, Oxnard and Ventura. The opening of the
Panama Canal in 1914 and American entry in to World War I in
1917 both provided sources of increased activity at the wharf
for the agricultural products of the county. Some 114 ships made
Hueneme a port of call in the late teens. Perhaps in response
to the increased traffic, the Navy established a naval radio
compass station at Point Hueneme on Sept. 15, 1920, near the
lighthouse. The station transmitted and received messages within
a 50-mile radius, and by 1927 the Navy transformed the site into
a direction-finding station before closing the station effective
Oct. 1, 1931.
A Port Opens
The wharf served the community well during
this time, but competition from a wharf in San Pedro began to
cut into profits. A grander vision emerged constructing
a county harbor. In September 1927, the Ventura County Harbor
Commission met to discuss the possibility of constructing a port
at either Mugu Lagoon, Hueneme or Ventura, on the argument that
with an essentially agricultural and oil-producing county, the
movement of product by water would be the most profitable endeavor.
Studies requested by the commission advocated a Hueneme harbor,
arguing that it is the most economical to construct, maintain
and operate and is the most advantageously enlargeable when conditions
so require. The commission report, however, remained dormant
in part to the onset of the Great Depression. In 1933, the Hueneme
Dock Corporation, a private entity including Richard A. Bard,
Thomass son, submitted a Public Works Administration application
seeking $1.6 million in federal money to construct a harbor.
Bard and the countys farmers argued that a deep water commercial
port would be the most economical way to transport rich harvests
of sugar beets, lima beans, almonds, cotton, oil and mineral
products to markets at home and abroad rather than trucking everything
to the Port of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, on June 11, 1935,
PWA director Harold L. Ickes vetoed the loan after federal surveys
concluded the port would not be economically viable.
Undeterred, the citizens of Ventura County
decided to act independently. On April 29, 1937, citizens voted
to create the Oxnard Harbor District and the following year an
election on May 5, 1938, approved a $1.75 million bond referendum
to construct a harbor. A second attempt at obtaining federal
aid from the PWA failed. The first dredging began on Jan. 31,
1939, and the official groundbreaking took place on Feb. 4, as
Richard A. Bard moved the first shovel of dirt. In April, dredging
of the harbor entrance channel commenced and by years end
work focused on constructing piers and warehousing. On July 4,
1940, work on the port was officially complete and the new Port
Hueneme was officially dedicated two days later. The port channel
was 35 feet deep and 1,300 feet wide. The turning basin had a
low tide depth of 31 feet, and measured 1,100 feet wide and 1,250
feet long. Overall, the harbor comprised a total of 319.4 acres,
67 of which were water. Two wharfs, No.1 and No. 3, provided
berths for loading and unloading ships. The future looked bright.
Birth of the Bees
Unfortunately, the advent of war changed
the status of the port in its relative infancy. The Imperial
Japanese Navys attack on American military installations
in Hawaii, together with attacks on other military installations
in the Pacific thrust the nation into war. During the 1930s,
the American military establishment had undertaken preparatory
planning for a variety of scenarios. For the Navy, the Bureau
of Yards and Docks (BuDocks) bore responsibility for the construction
and maintenance of overseas advance naval bases. The overseas
construction then involved the use of private construction firms
and civilian personnel. Under international law, however, civilian
workers could not resist military action, and if engaged in conflict
could be treated as guerrillas and summarily executed. The war
therefore required uniformed, armed construction workers, men
trained and able to build, fight and defend their work. On Dec.
28, 1941, Rear Adm. Ben Moreell, BuDocks chief, wrote the Bureau
of Navigation (BuNav), requesting authority to activate, organize
and train a naval construction regiment, comprised of three construction
battalions numbering 1,073 enlisted men and 34 officers. It is
from the acronym for the construction battalions, CB, where the
phonetic Seabee originates. BuNav subsequently approved
Moreells request on Jan. 5, 1942.
With approval secure, Moreell and BuDocks
began to immediately recruit and build up a massive naval construction
force. BuNav allowed trained tradesmen to enlist in the construction
battalions; the men came from professional trades such as carpenters,
electricians, plumbers, drafters, steelworkers, welders, wharf
builders, longshoremen, mechanics and dozens of other skilled
trades. With demand immediate, more so in 1942, the Navy did
not have time to train men in construction and engineering skills,
and recruits from 60 different trades were offered petty officer
classifications based on their civilian construction experience
and their age at higher-than-average pay rates. The physical
standards were less rigid and the age range for enlistment was
18 50, allowing necessary qualified tradesmen to comprise
their ranks, although men in their 60s did slip into several
construction battalions early in the war. With advance bases
in various stages of construction overseas in both theaters of
war, BuDocks had to immediately ship out construction battalions
to replace civilian workforces. The first battalion shipped out
from the Charleston Navy Yard, SC, on Jan. 27, 1942, for Bora
Bora in the Society Islands, with some of the men having only
three weeks of military training.
Initially, BuDocks officials deemed it
essential that the construction forces be commanded and trained
by officers of the Civil Engineer Corps (CEC), themselves trained
in the skills these units were to perform. Prior to this, by
navy regulations, military command of naval personnel was limited
to line officers. The question was placed before Secretary of
the Navy Frank Knox, who on March 19, 1942, gave authority for
CEC officers to exercise military authority over all officers
and enlisted men assigned to their respective unit. It therefore
became immediately necessary for the procurement of competent
civil engineers to meet the battalion requirements of the Seabee
program. Eventually, more than 11,500 CEC officers, almost 10
times the number of pre-war CEC officers, served in the conflict,
most in duty with Seabee units. As with the Seabees, many of
the officers came straight from the civilian construction and
engineering communities, with rank often based on requisite years
of experience in the private sector.
We Build, We Fight
These CEC officers joined approximately
325,000 enlisted Seabees in World War II, constructing and maintaining
advance bases for the Navy, Army and Marine Corps in the Atlantic
and Pacific theaters. Seabees built airfields, supply depots,
advance base depots, staging areas for men and materials, training
areas, repair bases and bridges often under enemy fire and in
record time. In the Atlantic theater, Seabees constructed a series
of air and naval bases in Newfoundland, Iceland, and throughout
the Caribbean. Bases in Great Britain staged the forces of Operation
OVERLORD for the invasion of France and helped construct the
artificial Mulberry Harbor at Omaha Beach. Other Seabee units
landed in North Africa during Operation TORCH and enabled the
landings at Sicily (Operation HUSKY) and Salerno, Italy (Operation
AVALANCHE). In the Pacific, Seabees were practically everywhere,
from the frozen tundra of Alaska and the Aleutians, to the sweltering
jungles of the South Pacific islands. They helped salvage Battleship
Row at Pearl Harbor, maintained and defended Henderson Field
on Guadalcanal, supported Marine invasions of Tarawa, Saipan,
Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and constructed the massive airbases
on Tinian for the B-29 bombers which leveled Japan. By wars
end, Seabee became a household word to all Americans
as representative of miracle workers, able to overcome any obstacle.
But the Seabee work force posed only one
half of the equation necessary to construct Americas advance
bases overseas. Building materials, construction equipment, tools,
food, fuel and the seemingly limitless number of items required
for base construction and operation had to be centrally organized
and shipped together with the work force from the United States
to destinations overseas. To meet the requirement for peacetime
advance base construction in the Atlantic theater, at Quonset
Point Naval Air Station near Davisville, R.I., on March 30, 1941,
workers broke ground for the first Advance Base Depot (ABD).
At ABD Davisville, the Navy initially manufactured the wars
ubiquitous Quonset huts, and later used the base to ship all
the supplies used in the construction of bases in Newfoundland,
Iceland, Great Britain, France, the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Port Hueneme Named Advance
With war now extended to the Pacific,
the demand for a West Coast advance base depot grew exponentially
with each passing day and every Japanese success. On Jan. 29,
1942, Moreell wrote to the commandant of the 12th Naval District
expressing his desire to establish an advance base depot in the
San Francisco Bay area with the following requirements:
located between rail and water to deliver men and material by
rail, then ship overseas by water; possess at least 2,000 to
3,000 linear footage of waterfront; measure approximately 350
acres of land suitable for immediate construction of storehouses,
barracks and other structures; and preferably separate from any
existing naval establishment to avoid further congestion of present
Weeks later on Feb. 16, Moreell wrote
to the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold R. Stark, and reported
having found no suitable site in the San Francisco Bay area to
serve as a depot. Instead, he reported a site at Hueneme, Calif.,
with conditions ideal for an immediate commencement of construction.
Unless there are important strategic
considerations, my recommendation is that we acquire the site
at Hueneme immediately and establish such facilities thereon
as may be needed, concluded Moreell. On March 7, 1942,
the BuDocks chief received official approval from Secretary of
the Navy Knox to proceed with establishing an advance base depot
at Port Hueneme.
Residents in Ventura County could not
have anticipated the speed of development in the ensuing weeks.
The county and the ports history would forever change.
An extra edition of the Oxnard Press Courier for March 9 blared
the headline U.S. NAVY TO TAKE OVER ENTIRE OXNARD HARBOR,
announcing that at 3:30 p.m. that day Cmdr. H.W. Johnson, officer
in charge of construction for the 11th Naval District had met
with the commissioners of the Oxnard Harbor District and served
official notice of the Navys intention to take over Port
Hueneme. Johnson explained that the Navy would acquire 1,500
acres, including the entire port, and invest $4.5 million on
top of the purchase price of the land and port to improve facilities,
hiring 2,500 laborers and bringing in 5,000 new county residents.
The Guy F. Atkinson Company and George Pollock Company of San
Pedro received the contract to build the base.
Concurrently, as Johnson met with the
commissioners, surveyors were already at work on the property.
By March 12, the first construction supplies arrived by rail
at the port and bulldozers were hard at work leveling out areas
of dredged material to construct Quonset huts and other base
Initially, the Navy thought of the base
as a temporary, emergency facility. First discussions with the
harbor commissioners sought to lease the location for $185,000
annually. After surveyors and appraisers closely examined the
property, the Navy decided that outright acquisition of the land,
due to the character of the improvements that must be made
at this site and in consideration of the probable duration of
the war, would be a better decision legally and financially.
Noted Moreell in a memorandum of March 16, 1942, to then Under
Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, After the war, this
development will undoubtedly be disposed of by the Government,
as there is no intention of establishing a permanent station
at this point. The chances are that during the war, the need
for this small harbor for commercial purposes will disappear
completely, thus ownership by the Government will constitute
no hardship on the local community.
That same day in the U.S. Federal Court
in Los Angeles, the Navy filed condemnation suits for 1,573 acres
of land and water. The district judge authorized the Navy right
to take immediate possession of all properties. The condemnation
proceedings would conclude by May 18, with the Navy ultimately
purchasing the land and harbor for $2.2 million, below the appraised
market value of $3.6 million. For the farmers previously denied
federal funds to construct a harbor once more had to truck their
wares to Los Angeles for overseas markets.
Construction from March to May 1942 proceeded
at breakneck speed. Fields of lima beans, lemon trees and alfalfa
succumbed to a mechanized army of bulldozers. On March 15, the
Navy recalled retired Capt. Louis F. Thibault, a 1907 U.S. Naval
Academy graduate and veteran of World War I, to active duty to
serve as officer in charge of construction of the advance base
depot. Throughout April, the base began to take form as workers
erected Quonset huts, strong back tents and warehouses; laid
rail lines; paved roads; erected fencing; and improved some of
the wharf and port facilities. On April 21, 1942, the Navy officially
placed Advance Base Depot Hueneme, CA, under the command of the
Commander, Naval Operating Base San Pedro, CA. Several weeks
later on May 18, Thibault formally assumed command of the established
base. During this period, the first battalion of Seabees, the
3rd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), began to arrive by rail.
These men immediately went to work assisting in the base construction,
which, incidentally, serves excellently for their own training,
remarked Thibault in a letter to Moreell.
Open for Business
Initially, the base suffered from shortages
of building supplies, equipment and even security. Not until
June did small arms even arrive to arm the perimeter! Nonetheless,
the pace of the war, notably in the Pacific, only accelerated
ABD Port Huenemes growth. By July, the 7th NCB arrived
at the base to train and prepare for its first Pacific deployment,
and the first ships embarked for overseas bases from the harbor.
The first battalion to leave Port Hueneme by sea was the 11th
NCB, which sailed for Tutuila in the Samoa group on Aug. 12,
1942. Meanwhile at the northeast corner of the base, by the intersection
of Ventura and Oxnard roads, an array of Quonset huts organized
as an Advance Base Receiving Barracks rose from the former alfalfa
fields. Officially established on Oct. 23, 1942, as Camp Rousseau
in honor of Rear Adm. Henry H. Rousseau, CEC, USN, the barracks
encompassed 725 acres. In addition to barracks, the camp featured
messing, outfitting and training locations for Seabees embarking
on overseas duty. In October, five line officers arrived at the
depot to begin establishing a 10-acre ARGUS Assembly and Training
Detachment. Codenamed ARGUS in homage to the 100-eyed giant in
Greek mythology, the program assembled, trained and deployed
specialized radar radio tracking, direction finding, plotting
and fighter direction teams of officers and enlisted men for
advance base airfields in the Pacific War. The first ARGUS unit
shipped out in April 1943, followed by 30 more before the detachment
was disestablished on Aug. 12, 1944.
In addition to the ARGUS program, in the
fall of 1942 another specialized training unit became a base
tenant. An ACORN Assembly and Training Detachment set up shop
to the northwest of the harbor adjacent to Silver Strand Beach,
covering approximately 141 acres with a capacity of 3,080 personnel.
An ACORN was an airfield assembly unit designed to accomplish
the rapid construction and operation of a landplane and seaplane
advance base, or in conjunction with amphibious operations, the
quick repair and operation of captured enemy airfields. Every
ACORN had a Seabee construction battalion attached to it to build
and/or repair the airfield and necessary structures, as well
as a Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit to maintain the
base after the withdrawal of the construction battalion. Commissioned
on Feb. 6, 1943, concurrent with the Argus unit, the ACORN detachment
operated under the jurisdiction of Training Command, Amphibious
Forces, Pacific Fleet. At Camp Bedilion, named in honor of the
late Cmdr. Robert Bedilion, a man instrumental in the development
of the ACORN program, the detachment also administered two additional
training sites: Camp Oak, 21 miles east of Ventura and 32 miles
northeast of ABD Port Hueneme; and Camp Mugu, which featured
a 150-foot wide, 5,450-foot long airstrip of Marston matting
built by the Seabees.
On Dec. 15, 1942, Capt. Henry P. Needham,
CEC, assumed command of ABD Port Hueneme from Thibault, beginning
a period of CEC command of the depot for the remainder of the
war. Needham oversaw the massive transformation of the port facilities
and the growth of the base, the construction of which the Atkinson
and Pollock companies declared complete on June 28, 1943. For
the efficient work on constructing the facilities, the companies
earned the Army-Navy E Award. Needham oversaw further
additions to the base at Camp Rousseau, all culminating with
the establishment of U.S. Naval Base Port Hueneme, CA on Jan.
12, 1944, placed under the command of Capt. Hubert E. Paddock,
USN. During the late 1944-45 period, the commanding personnel
of the base changed considerably. On Aug. 1, 1944, Needham was
relieved by Capt. Algert D. Alexis, CEC, USN, himself relieved
in July 1945 by Capt. Horace P. Jones, CEC, USN. The overall
naval base command changed hands in February 1945, when Commodore
William M. Quigley, USN, relieved Paddock.
Most Efficient Harbor
From July 1942 until November 1945, ADB
Port Hueneme earned the moniker as probably the most efficient
harbor in the world, shipping more Navy cargo overseas
than any other port in the entire United States. By February
1944, the Navy completed its enlargement of the harbor, which
grew from two to nine deep water berths able to service Liberty-type
cargo ships, two slips for Landing Ship, Tank (LST) and others
areas for small watercraft. On a wharf near the harbor, a specially
constructed mock-up of a Liberty Ship trained Seabees in stevedore
work, personnel later organized into Special construction
battalions specifically organized to handle cargo at advance
bases. The pace of work at the harbor often provided hands-on
training opportunities. A total of 1,018 ships made port at the
harbor, lifting 6,965,400 Measurement Tons and embarking 176,476
officers and men. From January to November 1945 alone, the port
handled 406 ships lifting 2,911,000 Measurement Tons and embarked
55,648 Seabees and other military personnel.
Most efficient harbor
in the world
The depot portion of the base comprised
the majority of the land acreage of the installation. Statistically
speaking, it consisted of 19,025,000 square feet of uncovered
storage area, 719,000 square feet of covered storage, 117 acres
of industrial and waterfront shipping area, 413 buildings with
2,165,000 square feet of floor area, a 90,000 barrel oil storage
tank, 65 miles of paved and unpaved roads, and 33 miles of railroad
spur lines and sidings with a capacity of 1,997 boxcars. Overall,
the bases barracks and messing facilities could accommodate
21,000 military personnel. At its peak, the base employed 10,740
civilian personnel plus 1,000 longshoremen and associated waterfront
And the base continued to grow. In 1944,
the Anti-Aircraft Training Center set up shop 7 miles south of
Oxnard under the jurisdiction of the Commander, Fleet Operational
Training Command, Pacific Fleet, to train Seabee advance base
personnel and officers, and men from fleet units in anti-aircraft
gunnery. Men fired .30 caliber, .50 caliber, 20mm, and 40mm antiaircraft
machine guns and cannons out over the ocean or at specially constructed
target ranges. That same year, the Naval Training School (Port
Director Organization) moved into ABD Port Huenemes Maritime
Building to provide officers with 12 weeks of instruction for
duty as port directors for advance bases. On May 23, 1944, the
Navy leased Berylwood, the 62.45-acre estate of the Bard family,
and turned Thomas R. Bards mansion into the base officers
club and bachelor officer quarters. The Navy later purchased
the estate outright on Feb. 28, 1951.
Ventura County Population
The constant influx in visitors to Ventura
County had dramatic impact on the infrastructure and demographics.
Housing more than anything became the first headache for residents,
with every spare room soon occupied by naval personnel or their
families, first in Port Hueneme, and next in Oxnard. By the late
summer of 1942, both communities held surveys to locate every
spare room and bed in the area to shelter the hundreds and thousands
of newcomers to Ventura County. To alleviate the housing shortages,
the Federal Public Housing Authority in 1944 alone constructed
almost 1,000 new housing units, while private builders erected
another 215 units. The San Miguel Homes project, another federal
housing initiative, provided room for 2,100 persons by September
1944. Private construction filled other gaps in the housing shortages,
and in 1943 Oxnard for the first time in its history issued over
half a million dollars in building permits. The towns population
by late 1943 had grown to an estimated 15,000 residents, and
Port Hueneme also grew to almost 2,800. To place the impact of
the war on the county in perspective, by the 1950 U.S. Census,
the county had added 44,962 new residents, an increase of 64.5
Outside the base perimeter, relations
between the Navy and the local communities began to take shape.
With thousands of men in uniform constantly arriving and embarking
from Port Hueneme, one might think that the Seabees would remain
enigmatic, but this never came to pass. The Seabees recruited
locally within months of arriving at Port Hueneme, and repeatedly
answered calls for help in the communities, either helping with
scrap metal drives, rescuing sacks of lima beans from storm-damaged
warehouses, rescuing swimmers off the beaches, or holding musical
performances in Port Hueneme, Oxnard and Ventura. Oxnard earned
the reputation as a darn good liberty town for its
hospitality to the Seabees, and soon romance bloomed between
those uniformed bachelors and the young ladies of the county.
The USO Club in Oxnard opened on Dec. 12, 1942, and welcomed
over 2 million servicemen by the end of 1944. Located on 125
West Fifth St., it served over 36,000 dozen cookies and 180,000
cups of coffee from its small canteen. Seabee parades and annual
county Navy Day celebrations further cemented the bonds of affection
between the Seabees and Ventura County.
Naval Base Ventura County
After the Japanese surrender on Sept.
2, 1945, BuDocks began to decommission and consolidate Seabee-oriented
bases. Moreell changed his earlier stance on disposing of the
Port Hueneme base and instead requested and received approval
to establish a Naval Construction Battalion Center (CBC) at Port
Hueneme which would include ADB Port Hueneme and Camp Rousseau,
the transfer of the Advance Base Proving Grounds from Davisville,
R.I., and the inactivation of the Construction Battalion Replacement
Depot, Camp Parks, Shoemaker, CA. Its functions would instead
be handled by a new Naval Training and Distribution Center at
CBC Port Hueneme. ACORNs Camp Bedilion itself disestablished
on Nov. 30, 1945, and its facilities transferred to the CBC.
Finally, on Dec. 14, 1945, Secretary of the Navy Forrestal re-designated
the U.S. Naval Base, Port Hueneme, CA, as U.S. Naval Station,
Port Hueneme, CA, with the subordinate unit of CBC, Port Hueneme
comprised of the Advance Base Depot and a Naval Training and
Distribution Center. The base now found itself as the main location
for all Seabee support activities in the entire United States.
CBC Port Hueneme continued to operate under this title until
Oct. 11, 2000, when it merged with Naval Air Station Point Mugu
to create Naval Base Ventura County.
With the changes in the base, the end
of the war witnessed one last feat of port efficiency. Beginning
in October 1945, military personnel overseas began to flood back
home in a concerted effort by the federal government to return
as many men to their families as possible by Christmas. Operation
Magic Carpet, from October to December, witnessed over 22,000
personnel pass through the port. At one point, 28 ships called
at the port within an 18-hour period. Many of these men, notably
Seabees, in the race to out process and return home, opted to
leave their assorted souvenirs at the base. Much of the U.S.
Navy Seabee Museums collection owes it origins to these
discarded spoils of war.
Can Do Always
But what of the community who invested
its money to build a harbor only to see the government seize
it for the war? After negotiations with the Navy, the Oxnard
Harbor District in October 1947 secured a lease on 17 acres of
Wharf No. 1 and Wharf F to enable county farmers to once more
ship their produce to markets worldwide. Successive leases and
purchases of land at the port accompanied expansions in imports
and exports. In the 1970s, the influx of Asian automakers saw
Port Hueneme secure a niche in auto imports. Today, thousands
of vehicles can be seen either stored on acres of the port area,
or being loaded and shipped out to dealers across the country.
Bards vision for economic opportunity continues to flourish,
to the mutual benefit of the residents of Ventura County and
to the defense of the American people at home and abroad.
Today, the Seabees remain a fixture in
the county, both those in uniform and those who have returned
to civilian life. The unofficial Seabee motto is Can Do,
but perhaps it might also include a touch of thank you.
Every state in the county and naturalized Americans from countless
nations have passed through Port Hueneme, and many decided to
finish their military career and remain in Ventura County. Throughout
city and county government, private industry and service organizations
can be found veterans of the Naval Construction Force, men and
women who continue to give back to the community for the betterment
of all residents.
Every day of the week, visitors at the
U.S. Navy Seabee Museum can find retired Seabees or CEC officers
manning the visitors desk, sharing sea stories, answering
questions and educating museum patrons on the legacy of the Seabees.
But the next time you greet your neighbors or wait in a queue
at a restaurant, theater or checkout line, stop and take a gander
at those around you. Odds are there is a Seabee or military veteran
nearby, the unsung assets of this community and a source of its
immense vitality and future.
Camp Bedilion was the home of the ACORN
(Aviation, Construction, Ordnance, Repair, Navy) Assembly and
Training Detachment. These were "SeaBee" units specializing
in airfield construction and repair.