California and the Second World War
San Diego Metropolitan Area during World War II

San Diego had, long before the war, become a "Navy town" because of the many naval and Cost Guard facilities here. Early in the war San Diego was chosen as the new headqarters of the Pacific Fleet after the headquarters left Honolulu. During the first weeks of the war fears of an invasion and/or air attacks were strong here as they were elsewhere in California. At that time the city's only air defenses were the guns on the ships in the harbor. This was soon corrected as the Army moved in as soon as it could to provide adequate air defenses. Arrangements were made between the U.S. Government and the Government of Mexico to allow joint teams of U.S. Army officers and Mexicans Army officers and soldiers to patrol the Mexican peninsula of Baja California. The teams were platoon-size units and patrolled all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula. There were persistent rumors early in the war that the Japanese might have secret air bases in Baja California, but no evidence of this was ever found. The American officers were required to wear civilian clothing and all U.S. markings had to be removed from U.S. Army vehicles and other equipment to accommodate Mexico's neutrality laws.


Contibutions to the War Effort in the San Diego Area

Amphibious Training Base was located on the Silver Strand between the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay just south of Coronado. It was acquired by the Navy in June
1943 as a training base for amphibious warfare and was used for that purpose throughout the war. It became known as the home of the "Alligator Navy". Several types of amphibious landing vehicles were called "alligators".The base was retained by the Navy after the war, and in 1946 was renamed U.S. Naval Amphibious Base. The facility was active throughout the Cold War.

Camp Callan was an Army camp, built in 1940, to train coast artillerymen and anti-aircraft gunners. It was three miles north of La Jolla on Torrey Pines Mesa. At its peak the camp housed 7500 people. In November1945 it was closed and declared surplus. The present day Torrey Pines Golf Course is built on a part of the camp's land.

Camp Gillespie was a county airport on the northern edge of El Cajon, an eastern suburb of San Diego. During the early part of WW II land were purchased by the government to build Camp Gillespie as a training camp for paratroopers. Three 256 foot high towers were built from which the paratroopers jumped. The camp was also an auxiliary air field to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro. After the war the camp was turned over to the county to use as a local airport known as Gillespie Field. In 1954-55 the towers were removed. The San Diego Aerospace Museum, in Balboa Park, occupies one of the hangers at the airport and has a restoration facility for vintage aircraft there. At times, vintage aircraft can be seen at the hanger and operating on the field.

Camp Kearney and Camp Elliott: Both of these camps became part of the Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar which was created after the war primarily from the Army's Camp Kearney, and the Marine Corps' Camp Elliott. Camp Kearney began during World War I as a training base forArmy infantry units. Between the World Wars it was used as a blimp base and a bombing range.

Camp Elliott was a large base of 26,034 acres, leased by the Marine Corps before the war from the city of San Diego, as a training base for large Marine units. It became a subpost of the U.S. Marine Corps Base, San Diego after that facility could no longer expand. Camp Elliott, directly east of Camp Kearney, was also limited in its ability to expand, so in 1942 the Marines acquired a much larger base further north near the community of Oceanside, Camp Joseph H. Pendleton.

At the beginning of World War II the Army's Camp Kearney was transferred to the Navy. On the northern half of the site the Marines built an air station named Marine Corps Air Depot, Miramar, and on the southern half the Navy built an auxiliary air station, calling it U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Camp Kearney, under the control of the U.S. NAS, San Diego. The Navy's Air Ferry Command also used the station. This arrangement existed throughout the war. In 1946-47 most of the land that had been Camps Kerney and Elliott was combined into one naval facility and in 1952 the entire complex was renamed U.S. Naval Air Station, Miramar. The station then served throughout the Cold War.

Camp Joseph H. Pendleton is a very large Marine base 15 miles north of San Diego. The base was acquired in 1942 by the Marine Corps as a tactical training area for large Marine units.

Camp Pendleton had a long stretch of ocean frontage suitable for amphibious training and open and varied terrain inland suitable for battalion-sized infantry maneuvers, tank maneuvers and artillery ranges. It was the largest Marine base on the west coast and in many respects was comparable to the huge Marine training base on the east coast, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Construction began at Camp Pendleton in May 1942 and the camp's facilities expanded rapidly. The first major Marine unit to train here was the 3rd Marine Division under General Lemuel Shepherd. The 5th Marine Division followed the 3rd Division as did other Marine units and some Allied forces. During the war virtually all types of training operations were conducted here; amphibious, ground, air and support services. In 1944 the camp's population peaked at 86,749 Marines, sailors, civilians and others.

When the war ended most Marine units returning from the Pacific passed through Pendleton to either separate or go on to other assignments. Activities at the Camp rapidly
declined after this, but some training continued and the nuclei of many units remained. Activity at the camp surged with the Korean War and again during the Viet Nam era.
Throughout the Cold War Camp Pendleton remained an active home of the Marines on the west coast.

Consolidated-Vultee Corp: San Diego's largest aircraft maker, made two of the war's most famous planes, the B-24 Liberator bomber and the PBY Catalina seaplane. At the beginning of the war the B-24 was America's longest-range bomber and it became an absolute necessity to America's war plans. Demand was so high for the bomber that Consolidated Vultee set up the world's first moving production line to product the planes on an assembly-line basis. But even this modern production method wasn't enough to meet demands, so other production facilities were set up around the country to produce B-24s. The B-24 remained America's premier long range bomber until Boeing's B-29 and Consolidated's own B-32 were introduced near the end of the war. Development of the B-32 was delayed by production and quality problems, and only 214 B-32s were produced. Of these, only 14 saw action during the last months of the war before production was canceled.

The PBY, like the B-24, was a long-range plane that could land on water or land. It was designed for patrol and rescue work, but it too could drop bombs when called upon to do so. It was very much in demand and used in large numbers by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and by several Allied nations.

Fort Emory: During most of the year 1941, the 155mm battery in the northwest part of Fort Rosecrans moved to Coronado Heights and was named Battery Imperial.

This movement extended the water area covered by Harbor Defense. At the same time a temporary base-end station was also established at Coronado Heights. In October 1942 the Army acquired ownership of the 412.14 acres at Coronado Heights through a Declaration of Taking action. On December 14, 1942 this site was offically designated Fort Emory in honor of Brigadier General William Helmsley Emory. Fort Emory was a sub-post of Fort Rosecrans. The 19th Coast Artillery had been moved to Fort Emory to man the new Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat armament and anti-aircraft machine guns.
In November 1943 Battery Grant proof fired at Fort Emory. Battery Grant superseded Battery Imperial. During December the plotting-switchboard room for the 16 inch battery at Fort Emory was completed and the fire control switchboard for that post installed. Communications had been maintained for two years with a field switchboard, field telephones, and originally all field wire. The wire had been progressively replaced with cables as construction continued.
In February 1944, the War Department ordered work on some parts of the moderization projects in the Harbor Defense of San Diego deferred, Affected were the mounting of the guns and carriages, installation of the director, and the power plant for the 16" battery at Fort Emory. The gun emplacements and all the base-end stations for the battery had been completed by this time. Also, deferred was the construction of the battalion command post tower.
Then on April 25, 1944 the 3d Battalion plus Battery E of the 19th Coast Artillery was sent to Texas to be used as field artillery replacements. During the year the fifth fire control radar was on the air at Fort Emory in July 1944 and assigned to Battery Grant.
On May 4, 1944, 100 acres of Fort Emory was declared standby and arrangements were made granting temporary use to the Navy. Then on July 19 a permit was issued to the Navy for its use of the 100 acres which became Naval Air Stationt-San Diego's Coronado Heights Annex. With the completion of World War 2, the fort was inactivated on January 31, 1947 and declared surplus on March 1, 1948. . From 1945 to 1950, the Army family of 1st Sgt. Frank C. Grissom were caretakers of the Army buildings and the guns at Fort Emory.
Finally in 1950 the Army transfered Fort Emory to the Navy and who incorporated it into their Imperial Beach Radio Station

Fort Rosecrans was a 19th century Army post at Ballast Point on the east side of the Point Loma Peninsula. It was built on the site of several earlier forts, the earliest of which dated back to the 1700s during the Spanish period. During World War II, Fort Rosecrans was the Army's headquarters for the coastal defenses in and around San Diego. In December 1949 the fort was declared surplus by the Army and turned over to the Navy and eventually became a part of the Navy's Submarine Support Facility which functioned throughout the Cold War. The site can be viewed at a distance from the heights of Point Loma.

Naval Air Station, San Diego was on the extreme northern end of the Silver Strand Peninsula on North Island. This very strategic piece of real estate has a long history associated with a v i a t i o n beginning in 1910 when aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss established an flying camp here.

In 1917 the U.S. Government acquired the land to be used as a joint Army and Navy air field for the training of pilots for World War I. During that war the Navy's role became dominant on the island because of its proximity to other naval installations in the area and the fact that the Navy declared its facilities here a permanent naval station. NAS, San Diego's main mission was to train pilots and aircraft mechanics. From 1919 to 1939 the air station was often in the news as the base from which famous aviators of the time flew to, or from, in their headline-making adventures.

As the Navy acquired aircraft carriers and dirigibles NAS, San Diego became even more important and underwent several expansions. It acquired deep water docking facilities ca
pable of berthing aircraft carriers.Within days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Army combat-ready fighter units were rushed to NAS, San Diego as part of the San Diego area defenses.

During World War II NAS, San Diego was the Navy's primary air station in the San Diego area. It was used both for training and as a support base for naval operations.

In 1955 the name of the facility was changed to U.S. Naval Air Station, North Island. In 1963 the early aviation sites on North Island were officially designated as the "Birthplace of Naval Aviation" by resolution of the House Armed Services Committee. NAS, North Island functioned throughout the Cold War.

NAS, San Diego had the following outlying fields during World War II:

Naval Auxiliary Air Facility (LTA), Del Mar: Located one mile NE of Del Mar, CA., was a small blimp base and an auxiliary field to NAS, Santa Ana (LTA). The station also had a landing field for small aircraft.

Naval Auxiliary Air Field, Brown Field: Located 5.5 miles southeast of Otay, CA, it was a local airport before the war. It was used by the Navy as an auxiliary air station to NAS, San Diego. The Navy departed after the war and the station became a civilian field called Brown Field.

Naval Auxiliary Air Field, Ream Field was just south of Imperial Beach and 35 miles from the Mexican border. It began operating before World War I as a bare-bones Army air field used for gunnery and landing practice. After World War I the Navy acquired the field and used it for training and for emergency landings.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Navy converted the field into an auxiliary air station under NAS, San Diego. Once completed in 1943 the station was used for the rest of the war by 22 different Navy air groups. In 1945 Ream Field was closed, but in 1950 the Navy reopened it as a helicopter base, although other units were stationed here too. The base, known then as U.S. Naval Air Station, Imperial Beach, operated throughout the Viet Nam war and in 1974 was disestablished.

Naval Hospital, San Diego was located in Balboa Park and was a huge Navy-run medical facility. In 1914 the Marines set up a field hospital in Balboa Park as part of the Panama-California Exposition and never left. In 1919, in an effort to draw more Navy installations to San Diego, the city fathers donated 17.35 acres of park land, which included the site of the Marine's field hospital, to the Navy for a 250-bed hospital.

During World War II, buildings were put up one after the other until the medical center consisted of 241 buildings with 10,499 beds on a total spread covering 247 acres. Over 172,000 patients were treated here during World War II with the peak load coming in December 1944 with 12,000 patients. The Korean War and the Cold War kept the hospital in active use for decades and it continued to expand in the postwar years.

Naval Training Center, San Diego at the north end of San Diego Bay, began in 1919 when the city donated land to the Navy to build the training center. From its earliest days the
Center trained raw recruits giving them 16 weeks of "Boot Camp". There were also four In 1939 the Navy expanded the Center by filling in 130 acres of the tideland and built
additional facilities. By the time the U.S. became involved in the war the Center could train 25,000 recruits at a time, plus give schooling to other personnel in a variety of subjects. Be cause so many new recruits went through the Center, it gained the nickname "Cradle of the Navy".

After the war, recruit training declined, but specialized training schools increased. The Korean War brought the Center back up to capacity as a "Boot Camp". During the Cold War
years the Center operated almost continually as a "Boot Camp".

Ryan Aeronautical Company: Ryan, who produced the PT-22 primary trainer used to train thousands of Army and Navy pilots. They also produced the SOR-1 Scout plane and had a highly respected flying school, the Ryan School of Aeronautics. The school was one of the first in the country to be selected by the Air Corps, in 1939, to train Army pilots.

San Diego Municipal Airport (Lindbergh Field) was used during the war by the Army, Navy and Coast Guard. It was s sub-base to San Bernardino Army Air Field and there was a Coast Guard air station here.


Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne



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Updated 8 February 2016