Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Camp Rathke
(Orange County Park National Guard Rifle Range, Camp Irvine)
US Army Corps of Engineers History
The Army acquired a total of 225 acres, including 160 acres in lease from Orange County in November 1942, for the area known as Camp Irvine, and 65 acres in lease from James Irvine in April 1943, for the area known as Camp Rathke.

Santa Ana Army Air Base used the site for training troops in field exercises and command post exercises. Mock battles were conducted with Camp Commander, an army camp two miles south of the site. No permanent structures were constructed by the U.S. Army. For the Camp Irvine portion of the site, the Army made use of the existing Irvine Park soda fountain building which was converted into the Post Exchange (PX) and communications center. Living quarters consisted primarily of tents. For the Camp Rathke portion of the site, the Army constructed four barracks and some small wooden buildings, including a headquarters building. Combat training involved the use of small arms, including rifles, machine guns, Browning automatic rifles (BARs), rocket launchers, and mortars.

The Army disposed of all 225 acres. The 160-acre lease was terminated in 1943, returning control of Irvine Park to.Orange County, and the 65-acre lease with James Irvine (predecessor of
the Irvine. Company) was terminated in 1946. Records were neither complete, nor specific. The park building which was used as a PX still exists and is currently used for park offices. No
facilities constructed by the Army remain in the park. Most of the subject property is·owned by Orange County and is located within either Irvine Regional Park or Villa Park Dam Regional

Extracts from Local Histories

From Bears to Briquets: A History of Irvine Park 1887-1997 by Jim Sleeper on p.37:

"...Following the 1969 flood, foreman Charles Shipley encountered another oddity. While bucking up some downed oaks north of the creek, his saws kept running into bullet slugs. Guns have been banned in the park since 1897, so whence cometh the bullets?

History supplies the answer. It turns out that in April of 1920, the county's militia (then Co. F) staged a weekend maneuver at the park. Part of the drill consisted of rifle practice. The oaks in question became the targets. Still unexplained, however, was a 1938 finde by George Whitney. While cleaning out the hollow of a tree, Whitney discovered an 1899 model, lever-action Savage rifle. Only its former owner could supply the rest of that story, and obviously even he had forgotten which oak."

And on p.61:

"If Irvine Park avoided the war in Europe on film [reference to use as film location], late in '42 it could no longer avoid it in fact. Closed to the public in mid-November, the park's gates were soon guarded by armed sentries. Ideally cloaked by its camouflage of oaks, on November 23 the picnic grounds were commandeered for an army camp.

Within a month the park became a sea of khaki pup tents stretching from the ball diamond to the boat house as some 2,000 National Guardsmen arrived from the midwest for combat training....

The Boy Scout camp was dedicated as Camp Rathke April 25, 1943.(honoring Lt. George E. Rathke, son of a prominent Orange family killed four months earlier while on maneuvers)...."Between the two sites, the military popluation varied radically as troops shipped in and out. It peaked at 3,000, but generally held at around 400 men.

During the three years of Camp Rathke's existence, the canyon assumed a number of war-time trappings. An aircraft warning lookout manned by civilian volunteers was erected just out side the park. Obstacle courses were laid out in the canyons for trainees, and reconnaissance flights buzzed Orange Park Acres frequently as they swooped down to "survey" the camp and keep aerial spotters on their toes. .... Two miles away, another army unit, "Camp Commander," was established in the gum grove fronting Little Peters Lake. Sham battles were soon waged between the two posts. Fay Irwin distinctly remembers the first artillery exchange. Mortar shells were lobbed across from Peters Canyon to the old Sully-Miller gravel pit in the Villa Park flood basin...."

California Guardsman, November 1927, p. 13

160th Infantry Regiment News: Left armory in Exposition Park (Los Angeles) and headed for range in the Orange County Park near Santa Ana. Camp was made a short distance from the range on the banks of a beautiful running stream.

California Guardsman, January 1932, p. 21

3rd Battalion (185th Infantry Regiment) to have new range. It will be not be necessary for members of the 3rd Bn to make long trip of some 30 miles to Corona range in the future to do their outdoor firing. Permission has been granted by Mr. James Irvine to improve the old Orange County range, located 6 miles east of city of Orange. This range is located on the famous Irvine Ranch and for the past 15 years the one target at 200 yards has been used by the members of the Guard units of Orange County. As this range is leased by the state, the A.G. has given support for enlargement of the 200 yard pit to hold 6 targets. Work is underway the past few weeks. Members of Co.s I & K have completed digging the pit. Used tractor and scrapper from Co. I instead of pick and shovel. Rain delayed pouring of the concrete walls of the pit. With this improvement a and small combat range that will also be built, 3rd Bn will be able to complete its range before camp.

California Guardsman, October 1932, p. 19

Co. I, 185th Inf, firing at 3rd Bn rifle range at Irvine Ranch.

Source: US Army Corps of Engineers

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Updated 10 August 2017