Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Military Ocean Terminal, Concord
(Port Chicago Naval Magazine;
Naval Ammunition Depot, Port Chicago; Naval Weapons Station Concord;
Detachment Concord, Naval Weapons Station, Seal Beach)
Ocean Terminal Concord
by Global Security.org
Naval Weapons Station (WPNSTA) Concord
is a 12,800-acre site located in the north-central portion of
Contra Costa County. WPNSTA Concord facility is comprised of
two geographically separate units, the Inland (5,170 acres) and
Tidal (7,630 acres) Areas, and a radiography facility in Pittsburgh,
California. Aside from typical administrative and support work
activities, this facility is the major ammunition transshipment
port of the West Coast for the Department of Navy.
Responsibility for port operations at
the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in California transferred
01 October 1999 from the Navy to the Army's Military Traffic
Management Command. The Department of Defense directed the action
in a December 1998 Program Budget Decision and approved transition
plans hammered out between the Army and Navy in July. Rationale
for the decision stems from the Navy's dwindling need for the
facility coupled with DoD's continuing need to retain it for
contingencies, officials said.
Concord Naval Weapons Station is located
on Suisun Bay in California and the base's history dates to December
1942 when Concord was formed as an annex to the Navy's Mare Island
facility. Concord remains important to America's national defense
even though the Navy no longer requires the facility in support
of its Pacific fleet.
With roots dating back to the mid-1800s,
Detachment Concord is one of the oldest naval ordnance support
bases on the Pacific coast. In 1857, the first ammunition magazine
was completed at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, located 35 miles
northeast of San Francisco, near the confluence of the San Joaquin
and Sacramento Rivers in Suisun Bay. In 1942, the Navy built
an annex to this magazine, located across the Sacramento River
from Mare Island. This Annex was later renamed Naval Ammunition
Depot, Port Chicago after a nearby town. By April of 1945 three
large piers had been constructed. Roughly 13,000 acres of land
were divided into a Tidal Area (7,600 acres) and an Inland Area
The Naval Magazine, Port Chicago was established
in 1942 at Suisun Bay, California, as an ammunition trans-shipment
facility. During the first part of World War II, it was rapidly
built up to support the heavy explosives demands of the Pacific
War. On 17 July 1944, Port Chicago was the scene of a massive
ammunition detonation, which took the lives of over 300 persons,
destroyed two cargo ships and wrecked or damaged structures at
a considerable distance from the blast. The blast destroyed both
the original pier and two munitions ships, the S.S. E.A. Bryan
and S.S. Quinault Victory, docked there. 320 people, many of
them African-Americans working to load the ships, were killed.
It was the largest stateside disaster of the war. Following this
tragedy, Port Chicago was rapidly returned to service. It is
now part of the US Naval Weapons Station, Concord.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine was dedicated
as a national memorial to honor the courage and commitment of
the 320 Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Mariners,
and workers killed and injured there during World War II. It
recognizes the critical role they and the survivors of the explosion
played in winning the war in the Pacific. Port Chicago was dedicated
in 1994 by the survivors of that tragic incident. The tragedy
and its aftermath was a catalyst -- one of many that helped persuade
the US Navy and military establishment to begin the long journey
on the road to racial justice and equality following WWII.
Without warning, in the morning of April
28, 1973, 18 boxcars loaded with bombs began detonating in the
Southern Pacific Railroad yard at Roseville, Calif., about 18
miles east of Sacramento. The yard at Roseville was a classifying
yard used to make up trains carrying ammunition. More than 6,000
Mk-81 bombs loaded with tritonal were involved in the explosion.
Their destination was the Naval Weapons Station, Concord, Calif.
for further shipment overseas to Southeast Asia. The train arrived
at the Roseville Yard entrance at 0605 and was staged in the
westward department yard by 0630. Since the train was too long
for the yard, the forward cars (which are the ones that exploded)
were placed on a track well separated from the remaining three
cars, which were loaded with more than 1,000 bombs. These three
cars were saved with only minor damage. The bombs were securely
blocked and braced and in perfect condition. At about 0740, two
people saw smoke rising in the vicinity of the ammunition cars.
One witness said the smoke was black at first, then turned white,
followed by flames rising from the end of a boxcar. Immediately
after seeing the flames, the witness heard a low-order detonation,
followed shortly by a massive high-order detonation at 0803.
Major explosions continued from that time to about 1030, with
smaller explosions continuing until 1605 the following day.
Approximately 350 people were injured-some
seriously by flying glass. About 5,500 buildings were damaged
in varying degrees. Heavy damage to buildings and residences
occurred as far away as 6,800 feet from the center of the explosions.
Even buildings as far away as three miles had slight damage.
One hundred sixty-nine freight cars were destroyed. A locomotive
and 98 others were damaged.
Although the Roseville disaster was spectacular
and caused millions of dollars of damage, no one was killed.
This was remarkable, since people have been killed in less spectacular
mishaps involving transporting explosives. The Navy can't even
say what caused the Roseville explosion, since most of the evidence
As a direct result of the Roseville explosion,
spark shields above railcar wheels and non-sparking brake shoes
were required. In 1974, Congress passed the Transportation Safety
Act, which brought together numerous regulations by various agencies
into one publication. Also, the law placed responsibility for
shipping hazardous materials on everyone, be it the shipper,
carrier or receiver. Another result was the increase in better
and more effective training to implement the provisions of these
new regulations. Rail, truck and air carriers conducted courses
and seminars, primarily to train their own employees. The trade
associations, such as the American Trucking Association and Manufacturers
Chemical Association, instituted training courses for all people
involved in the movement of hazardous materials. These courses
are still on-going.
The Detachment's primary purpose is the
loading and unloading of large quantities of weapons and equipment
from cargo and pre-positioning ships. This differs substantially
from most other naval weapons stations and detachments, where
weapons are loaded aboard combatants, amphibious vessels or replenishment
ships one at a time or in very small groups. Base infrastructure
is uniquely suited for bulk quantity operations with one floating
crane, seven shore cranes, 1 superstacker, one Rough Terrain
Container Handler, 342 forklifts, 101 miles of railroad track,
and 79 miles of roadway. During wartime conditions, Detachment
Concord has the capability to load 4,500 tons of munitions per
The Navy's concern for the surrounding
ecosystem has led to a large portion of the base being designated
as a wildlife preserve. Deer, Tule Elk, golden eagles, quail,
pheasants, and foxes are just some of the many birds and mammals
living at Detachment Concord. In addition, much of the acreage
has been leased to local farmers for cattle grazing.
Concord provides a vital capability to
support the movement of munitions off the west coast in support
of contingency requirements in the Pacific theater. Under the
plan, the Navy will retain ownership of the installation's approximately
13,000 acres and continue to provide operational support for
one year. MTMC assumed responsibility for operating and maintaining
the installation's 7,000-acre Tidal Area which will be renamed
Military Ocean Terminal Concord. The Military Ocean Terminal
Concord will be maintained in a reduced operating status and
be exercised on a limited basis to maintain readiness.
The command's 834th Transportation Battalion,
which is located at Concord, will provide operational and caretaker
oversight at the California terminal. The 834th moved its operation
to Concord in October 1997, as a result of the 1995 Base Realignment
and Closure Commission's decision to close Oakland Army Base.
The unit traces its organizational lineage to the San Francisco
Port of Embarkation and coordinated the movement of military
cargo through Oakland Army Base since the base's establishment
at the beginning of World War II. The 834th coordinates the movement
of Defense Transportation System surface cargo, excluding ammunition,
through Concord and four West Coast strategic expansion ports.
Since Concord will be placed in a reduced
operating status, routine use of the terminal for general cargo
movement will be discontinued. During exercises and contingencies,
the 834th will hand off responsibility for port operations to
its Army Reserve counterparts at the 1397th Transportation Terminal
Brigade, which has its headquarters in Oakland. Deployment Support
Teams drawn from other units throughout DSC will support the
1397th, officails said, as will the Army Reserve's 6632d Port
Security Company from Irvine, Calif.
As is the practice at all of the MTMC
terminal operations, officials said commercial contracts will
be used to provide stevedoring and rail services at Concord.
The Navy station's 45 W-80-0 Tomahawk
SLCMs for US Navy SSNs were in a storage facility at Concord
Naval Weapons Station (near the city of Concord, California,
25 km west of Oakland).
The station was established in 1942 as
an annex to Naval Ammunition Depot, Mare Island, which was the
first Naval ordnance facility on the West Coast. The history
of the station dates back to 1853 when a location at Mare Island
was established to provide storage for ships ammunition as the
Naval Magazine of the Yard. The first magazine was constructed
in January of 1857. On 28 January 1936, the facility became Naval
Ammunition Depot (NAD) Mare Island. To provide West Coast capability
for ammunition transhipment, the Naval Magazine, Port Chicago,
was established on 27 January 1942, as a subordinate command
to NAD Mare Island, and commissioned as a US Naval Magazine on
4 December 1942. By 1944, with the purchase of additional land
for an inland storage area, the Naval Magazine had grown from
an original 650 acres to an area encompassing nearly 7,000 acres,
and had become the principal Pacific Coast transhipment port
for Department of Defense ammunition and the storage point for
The US Naval Magazine, Port Chicago (inland
area) was established on 20 January 1944. On 17 July 1944, an
explosion destroyed the pier. Three new piers with six berths
were constructed and were in operation by 1 April 1945. On 18
January 1946, the US Naval Magazine, Port Chicago, became the
US Naval Ammunition Depot, Concord. NAD Mare Island was consolidated
with the Concord depot and became the Mare Island annex of the
Concord Depot. Acknowledging the change and expansion of the
Station's mission with the advent of space age weaponry, NAD
Concord was redesignated Naval Weapons Station, Concord. The
Mare Island annex was discontinued, and Naval Shipyard, Mare
Island assumed plant account responsibility, and became the activity
manager for the entire Mare Island Annex facility.
The station is located in north&SHY;central
California about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, and 70
miles southwest of Sacramento. The tidal area is on the south
shore of Suisun Bay about three miles north of the inland area.
It includes several offshore islands and the former town of Port
Chicago. This area provides the required safety buffer zone for
explosives during ship loading operations. The inland area is
located south of the tidal area adjacent to the city of Concord,
Contra Costa County. It is bound on the north by sandstone hills,
on the south by the city of Concord, on the east by agricultural
lands, and on the west by Port Chicago Highway.
The station occupies a total of 12,881
acres. The current plant value is $491.93M. Buildings include
210 permanent (944,390 sq ft), 88 semi&SHY;permanent (314,359
sq ft), and 36 temporary (20,300 sq ft).
As of 30 July 1994, the total civilian
work force was 1,072. The projected payroll for FY94 was $34.3M.
The total civilian work force population at NAVWPNSTA Concord
comes from the following areas: 55 percent from Contra Costa
County, 26.6 percent from Solano County, 4.6 percent from Alameda
County, 13.8 percent from Other surrounding areas and some detachments.
The station work force includes approximately 20.3 percent professional,
46.3 percent wage grade, 10.1 percent technical, and 23.3 percent
Modes of transportation include 3 commercial
air terminals, 3 military air terminals, 3 commercial class 1
railroads, 3 military port facilities, and 5 commercial port
facilities. The four major highways include I&SHY;680, I&SHY;80,
State Route 4, and State Route 24.
by Justin M. Ruhge
The Concord Naval Weapons Station is located
thirty-two miles northeast of San Francisco on the south side
of Suisun Bay. Originally established in 1942 as Naval Magazine
Port Chicago, it consisted of 640 acres of tideland. It was a
subordinate command of the Naval Ammunition Depot, Mare Island,
and was the outgrowth of a long-needed transshipment point on
the west coast. In 1944, the Navy, through condemnation, acquired
approximately 600 acres and an inland storage area was established.
Activity at the magazine was temporarily curtailed on July 17,
1944, when an explosion of unknown origin occurred at Pier #1,
destroying two ships and all buildings and equipment on the pier.
A total of 320 military personnel were killed and 390 military
and civilian personnel injured.
The Inland Area was commissioned in January 1945. By April the
Tidal area contained six deep-water berths. In July 1945 authority
was received from the Bureau of Ordnance to establish a quality
control laboratory. By 1946 the Naval Magazine had become the
principle loading and storage point for ammunition and high explosives
on the west coast. On January 11, 1946 it was established as
a separate command. On December 23, 1957 a consolidation with
the Naval Ammunition Depot, Mare Island was consummated. In 1958
Naval Net Depot, Tiburon was inactivated and operational control
placed under the Concord Naval Ammunition Depot.
The mission of this activity was to receive,
renovate, maintain, store and issue ammunition, explosives, and
technical ordnance material.
Chicago Naval Magazine Explosion, July 17, 1944
LTC Danny M. Johnson, (USA Ret), Military
The Port Chicago Naval Magazine explosion
became the worst home-front disaster of World War II. On July
17, 1944, the massive detonation of 3.5 million pounds of high
explosives killed 320, injured 390, and caused an estimated $12.5
million in property damage (in 1944 dollars).
Port Chicago, about 30 miles north of
San Francisco, was developed into a munitions facility when the
Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, Vallejo, California, could
not fully meet the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion
of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships simultaneously
around the clock. Unfortunately, safety requirements were overlooked
in the rush to keep up chaotic loading schedules. Nevertheless,
white naval officers and senior enlisted personnel assigned generally
segregated African-American units to the dangerous loading operations.
For the most part, these men had not been trained in handling
On the evening of July 17, the SS Quinault
Victory and S.S.E.A. Bryan, two merchant ships, were being loaded.
Their holds were packed with 4,600 tons of explosivesbombs, depth
charges and ammunition. Another 400 tons of explosives were nearby
on rail cars. Approximately 320 workers had been on or near the
pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a sequence of huge explosions over
several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity.
It was reported that blasts were felt as far away as Nevada and
the resulting damage extended as far as San Francisco. Most of
the buildings in Port Chicago were damaged and people were literally
knocked to the ground. Fire and smoke could be seen almost two
miles into the air. It was rumored that a pilot of a plane flying
at 9,000 feet in the area reported that metal chunks from the
explosion flew past him.
The massive explosions resulted in the
loss of a number of ships and a locomotive. The S.S. E.A. Bryan,
a 7,212-ton ammunition ship disappeared into the night. No single
large piece of it was ever found, and the 320 men working on
the ship and the pier disappeared up into a column of flame and
destruction. Docked on the opposite side of the pier was the
empty S.S. Quinault Victory, a 7,606-ton ship that disappeared
into small pieces scattered over a distance of four miles. In
addition, a U.S. Coast Guard fire barge No. 60014F and the U.S
YP (Patrol Craft) Miahelo II were destroyed. Furthermore, small
boats 1/2-mile distant from the pier were swept by a 30-foot
wall of water. Moreover, not a single piece of a 12-ton diesel
locomotive on the pier was ever identified. After the disaster,
Navy divers found a crater in the river bottom created by a force
exceeding that of 5,000 tons (five-kiloton) of high explosives.
The force of the explosion greatly exceeded the combined potential
explosive force of the 1,780 tons of TNT and torpex which were
loaded on the Bryan.
African-Americans made up nearly two-thirds
of the people killed at Port Chicago and represented 15% of all
African-Americans killed during World War II. The surviving sailors
in these units, who helped put out the fires and saw the horrors
firsthand, were quickly reassigned to Mare Island Naval Station.
Less than a month later, when ordered to load more munitions,
but still having received no training, 258 African-American sailors
refused to carry out these orders. Two hundred and eight of them
were then sentenced to bad conduct discharges and pay forfeiture.
The remaining 50 men were put on trial by a general court martial
and sentenced to between eight and 15 years at hard labor, though
two years later 47 of the 50 men were paroled to active duty
and later given general discharges. Then NAACP attorney Thurgood
Marshall sat in on most of the proceedings and declared to no
avail that he saw a prejudiced court. Nearly five decades later,
in 1994, a review of the trials revealed race played a large
factor in the harsh sentences, and in December 1999, President
Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of the only three convicted
sailors still known to be alive.
The Navy eventually bought out the town
of Port Chicago, and the depot itself was incorporated into the
Concord Naval Weapons Station. Concord was a major shipping point
for ammunition during the Vietnam War and the site of many anti-war
demonstrations. The Port Chicago disaster eventually led to the
implementation of far safer procedures for loading ammunition.
In addition, greater emphasis was put on proper training in explosives
handling and the munitions themselves were altered for greater
safety. The active military side of the facility, Concord Naval
Weapons Station was renamed again as the Military Ocean Terminal
Concord (MOTCO) and now operated by the Army. There is a 5-acre
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial Site, administered
by the National Park Service, and is located at MOTCO at the
site of the explosion.