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

When World War II started, the San Francisco Bay area was one of the most important seaport, commercial and manufacturing centers in the country. With a dozen or so major shipyards, scattered around the Bay, it was number one in America in shipbuilding. What Los Angeles was to airplanes, San Francisco was to ships.For over a decade before the war the Bay Area had been growing at a manageable rate of about 10% a year, but when the area's industry began to boom in 1942 many of the Bay communities had severe problems coping with the sudden changes.

In the months just before the war the area's shipyards were busy building ships. The government's twin programs of building a two-ocean Navy, while at the same time building
hundreds of cargo ships, called "Liberty" ships, had just gotten underway and the area's shipyards had numerous orders for new ships. This stimulated other local industries and thousands of workers flocked to the Bay Area seeking the available jobs. Thus, when the U.S. went to war in December 1941 the Bay Area's industries were already at, or near, their capacities and her cities were crowded with people.

When the U.S. went to war ship orders surged and more workers and military personnel flocked to the area. The Bay Area was in no position to absorb such a surge, but absorb
it must, and absorb it did, although the ordeal was painful.

Shortages of many goods and services soon developed. There was inflation, lack of housing, crowded highways, an increase in vice and crime, and the faltering and sometimes failing of basic city services. Everyone's quality of life diminished and before long the Bay Area was one of the worst areas in the nation in which to live and work. As housing became impossible to find people began living in tents, sheds, garages and their cars. Boarding houses and hotels rented beds by the hour. . "hot beds" they were called. Soldiers waiting to be shipped out to the Pacific had to put up tent camps in the city's parks while they awaited transportation. Schools in some communities went to two shifts, day-care for pre-schoolers became a major problem. Absenteeism, alcoholism, divorces and suicides rose. Many workers simply gave up and went home. And, to make matters worse, the powerful labor unions in the area ordered strikes and work stoppages with alarming regularity. One particularly bad strike in May 1942 idled 11 shipyards. Labor unrest was to plague the Bay Area throughout the war.

The Bay Area acquired a nation-wide reputation as being an area in trouble. Consequently, defense work, and workers, that might have come to Bay Area went elsewhere.

As the war progressed, living and economic conditions slowly improved, but many hard lessons had been learned. The end result was that San Francisco and the other Bay Area communities emerged from the war with some of the most experienced and powerful urban planning commissions in the country. After the war, these commissions were given power and money. Slums, worn-out factories, ugly waterfronts, dilapidated housing projects and the like were swept away or rebuilt. With time, the Bay Area became clean, attractive, coordinated and a fine place to live in the postwar years.

Contibutions to the War Effort by Communities in the San Francisco Area

San Francisco

Fort Funston on the Pacific side of San Francisco, was established in 1898 as Laguna Merced Military Reservation to be a part of the coastal defenses of the Bay area. At that time Battery Davis, a dual open-platform gun position, was built. In the late 1930s, Battery Davis was modernized by covering it over and mounting new 16" rifled coastal guns. Davis was one of the first such projects completed and it became a model for other defense batteries being modernized. In 1948 Fort Funston's guns were removed and in 1950 the fort was made into a park. In the postwar years Ft. Funston and Battery Davis were opened to the public.

Fort Mason: This old fort is at Buchanan St. and Marina Blvd., and is on the site of a Spanish gun battery built in 1797. The site was used as a military post until Fort Mason was closed in 1972. During both World Wars and the Korean War Fort Mason was a major embarkation center for Army troops going overseas. In World War II over 1.5 million troops and 23 million ton of cargo passed through Fort Mason. McDowell Hall was the headquarters of the Army's Western Department, and it was from here that General John DeWitt directed the defenses of the west coast and the evacuation of the ethnic Japanese during the early days of World War 11. At one time in early 1942 Gen. DeWitt considered moving his headquarters out of San Francisco because of its vulnerability to attack. Salt Lake City, Utah was considered for the new site, but this plan never materialized.

The Presidio of San Francisco: This was one of the most beautrtul military posts in the country situated on 1500 acres of San Francisco's prime real estate on the south shore of the Golden Gate waterway. It began as a Spanish fort in 1776 which makes it one of the oldest military sites in the country. At the time of World War II it was the headquarters of the 4th Army, which comprised the VII and IX Corps and the Army's Western Defense Command which covered 9 states and the Territory of Alaska. It was from here that the military operations were planned for the recapture of the Japanese-held islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

Also during the war the Presidio was home to several of the Army's most important commands. The small national cemetery on the post holds more Congressional Medal of Honor Winners than any other cemetery on the west coast.

The Presidio functioned as an Army post throughout the Cold War and in 1994 was transferred to the National Park System. The headquarters of the U.S. 6th Army remained at the Presidio but most of the post's facilities were converted to civilian uses.

Letterman General Hospital, which later became known as Letterman Army Medical Center, is on the grounds of the Presidio and is one of the Army's largest and most prestigious hospitals. The first buildings were built in 1898 and the hospital has served the Army and the people of San Francisco ever since. It has a nursing school for Army nurses which began in 1918. During World War II Letterman received and treated many wounded servicemen returning from the Pacific. In 1945 alone, 72,000 patients were treated. There was a branch prisoner of war camp at Letterman holding 175 POWs who worked at the hospital. Letterman was fully operative throughout the Cold War but closed when the Presidio closed.

San Francisco Airport: This is San Francisco International Airport. In 1927 the airport was built as San Francisco's municipal airport and named Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco. It was built almost entirely on land reclaimed from the bay. In 1931 it was renamed San Francisco Airport. This was the name it had when, in December 1941, the U.S. military took it over for the duration of the war. It operated as a military airport throughout the war with limited use being given to the needs of commercial airlines. The Air Transport Command operated here and had an air freight terminal. In 1944 the field was chosen to be an intransit field for Army Air Forces aircraft and crews transferring from Europe to the Pacific. The sudden end to the war in the Pacific, though, cut this activity short. Soon after the war, the airport was returned to civilian authority.

San Francisco Shipyard: This shipyard was on the Bay side of San Francisco just north of Candlestick Park. It began as a privately owner dry dock in 1868. It prospered and expanded through the years and in 1939 the government purchased the facility and contracted Bethlehem Steel Co. to operate it. Eleven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Navy took complete control of the ship yard to use as a repair facility exclusively for its own ships. During the war the San Francisco Shipyard repaired and/or overhauled some 600 ships with a workforce that peaked at 18,000.

The ship yard continued in operation after the war under Navy control. In 1970 the facility was renamed U.S. Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point and continued to function during most of the Cold War.

San Francisco War Memorial: A complex of several buildings at Van Ness and McAllister Sts. in San Francisco's Civic Center. In these buildings the United Nations came into being after World War II. Delegates from the victorious Allied nations met here from Apr. 25 to June 26, 1946 to draw up the U.N.'s new constitution. On June 26, 1945 a ceremony was held in the Herbst Theater and representative of 50 nations signed documents creating the United Nations Organization. A large mural in the theater depicts the event, and United Nations Plaza, across from the theater, commemorates the Organization.


Alameda is a city on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay consisting mostly of Alameda Island. During the war two of Alameda's ship yards built ships for the Navy. The General Engineering Company built mine sweepers and net tenders, and the Bethlehem Steel Company, Shipbuilding Division, built merchant ships. Alameda is also the home town of General Jimmy Doolittle. On June 30, 1942 a plane in which Admiral Chester Nimitz was riding crashed in the Alameda Estuary near Alameda and the Admiral narrowly escaped death.

Naval Air Station, Alameda: In 1934 the city of Alameda built an air strip called Benton Field on reclaimed land at the north end of the island. It was built for two reasons; for the immediate use of Pan American Airways, and as an incentive to attract the Navy to the community of Alameda. The Navy studied the site, accepted Alameda's offer, and in 1938 began building a large air station here that could support four aircraft carrier groups, five patrol squadrons, two utility squadrons, have facilities for complete plane and engine overhaul, piers to dock two aircraft carriers and several outlying air fields. The new naval station, named U.S. Naval Air Station, Alameda, became the Navy's "Aviation Gateway to the Pacific". Construction wasn't yet complete when the U.S. went to war in Dec. 1941, but the air station's personnel began performing wartime duties with what they had available. Offshore and inshore air patrols were begun, air cover for convoys was provided and the station became a ferry point for fleet air units going elsewhere.In late March 1942 the aircraft carrier "Hornet" arrived at NAS, Alameda and 16 Army B-25 bombers were hoisted aboard. The Hornet then departed under great secrecy on April 2. These were the planes of General Jimmy Doolittle's Raiders that bombed Tokyo and other cities in Japan on April 18, 1942.

During World War II, this was one of the Navy's busiest air stations with air units, carrier groups, supplies, numerous naval personnel and sometimes VIP's passing through on their way to the Pacific or to points east. Actually, construction never stopped at NAS, Alameda during the war and by 1945 it was a huge facility with 3600 officers and 29,000 enlisted personnel.

In late 1943-early 1944 the AAF established a large intransit air depot in Alameda to handle the logistics of moving large numbers of AAF personnel, planes and equipment from Europe to the Pacific in preparation for the final assault on Japan. It was the largest new construction project undertaken by the AAF at this time. The air depot included many warehouses, wharves, rail sidings and deep-water docks. With the sudden end to the war in the Pacific, though, this facility saw little use.

The naval air station continued in full operation after the war and became home to many Navy commands and service units. In 1967 the station's air field was named Nimitz Field in honor of Adm. Chester Nimitz. NAS, Alameda continued in full operation throughout the Cold War and was one of the Navy's most important facilities on the west coast. In the 1990s NAS, Alameda was closed. Outlying fields for NAS, Alameda during World War II were:


Angel Island

Fort McDowell was located on Angel Island, just north of San Francisco off the coast of Marin County, has been many things through the years; farm land, a quarry site, a Civil War camp, a quarantine station, a detention camp, an immigration station, a fort, a prison, a World War I Army camp, a prisoner of war camp, an enemy alien detention center, a port of embarkation and a missile base.

One interesting facet of its long history occurred in the early 1920s when some 19,000 Japanese "picture brides" were processed through Angle Island on their way to marry young Japanese men who had immigrated to the U.S. some years earlier. Many of these women would spend time in the Japanese Relocation Camps of World War II.

At the start of World War II there was a Civil War-era fort, Fort McDowell, on the island occupied by the U.S. Army and a number of unused immigration buildings. Immigration activities had ceased in 1940 when the administration building burned and immigration activities moved to San Francisco. In March 1941 the U.S. Government seized all German, Italian and Danish merchants ships in American waters and some of the merchant seamen were sent to Fort McDowell for internment under the terms of the Geneva Convention. They were housed in the old immigration buildings for a few months and then transferred to other Internment Camps. Later, though, the buildings were used again as a prisoner of war compound for German, Italian and Japanese PWs.

Fort McDowell served as one of several embarkation centers in the Bay area for troops going to the Pacific, and at the end of the war Fort McDowell became a processing center for troops returning from the Pacific. Post engineers built a huge sign on Mount Ida saying "WELCOME HOME" in 60' letters.

In the post-war years Angel Island was used as a Nike Missile Base. In 1962 the Nike base closed and in 1965 the Army ceded the island to the state of California to be used as a state park. The visitor's center on the island has several displays and some historical artifacts on the island's history including some items from its World War II days


Benicia is on the north shore of Carquines Strait at the north end of San Francisco Bay.

Benicia Arsenal: This facility began as an Army post named Benicia Barracks in 1849 and gradually evolved into an Army arsenal. In 1864 it became the site where the Army's camels, from the unsuccessful Camel Corps experiment, were sold at auction. Most of the camels went to zoos. The two "Camel Barns", in which the camels were kept, were preserved. One is a local history museum. In 1928 Benicia Arsenal was one of the first arsenals in the country to get remote steel and concrete storage igloos for ammunition. These igloos proved to be very successful and were widely used during World War II. When World War II started Benicia Arsenal was expanded and its ammunition supply moved inland to Utah The Arsenal then functioned as a supply and distribution depot and repair center. German prisoners of war worked at the arsenal and 8 of them who died here are buried in the arsenal's cemetery. The arsenal functioned until 1964 when it was closed by the Army.


Berkeley, north of, and adjacent to, Oakland, is the home of the University of California. Before and during the war much of the early scientific work on atomic energy was done here at the University of California, Berkeley.The Lawerence Hall of Science houses a general science museum on the campus of the University of California covering many subjects including the early discoveries in the field of atomic energy. The Hall is named in honor of Professor Ernest 0. Lawrence who, while at the University, conducted some of the early experiments in atomic energy that lead to the development of the atomic bombs of World War II. Specifically, Lawrence developed the principal of electromagnetic separation of uranium-235 used in the Hiroshima bomb and discovered the element, Plutonium, which made the Nagasaki bomb possible. Displays in the Hall of Science discuss Lawrence's work and show some of his methods and equipment.


Concord is 14 miles northeast of Oakland.

Concord Army Air Field: The town's local airport, 1.5 miles to the northwest, was taken over and used for a while by the Army Air Force's Air Technical Service Command. It was named Concord Army Air Field. After the war it became Buchanan Field, a civil airport.


Hayward is southeast of Oakland on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.

Hayward Army Air Field: This air field, two miles southwest of Hayward, was the community's local airport known as Russell City Airport. It was taken over by the 4th Air Force and served as a sub-base to Hammer Field, Fresno. After the war it became Hayward Air Terminal.


Livermore, 15 miles east of Hayward, is the home of the prestigious Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Naval Air Station, Livermore: This station was built in 1942 four miles east of Livermore to relieve overcrowding of the naval air facilities at Oakland Municipal Airport. The primary mission of the base was to train pilots. Up to Oct. 1944 some 4000 cadets trained here in N2S trainers known as "Yellow Perils". By late 1944 the Navy needed fewer pilots, so training operations ended and the station was given several new tasks; servicing fleet air units preparing for overseas operation, storing aircraft, repairing aircraft and the training of Navy and Marine air reservists.After the war the station closed down in stages and was decommissioned altogether in 1946. NAS, Livermore had the following outlying fields during the war:


Marin City

Marin City, just north of Sausalito, was a town built by the government during the war to house 6,000 workers at nearby ship yards. Construction of the town began in 1942. Schools, shopping centers, churches, parks, sewer systems, etc. were all built according to a master plan. Marin City was considered to be one of the best of the federal housing projects built in the Bay area during the war.

Marin Headlands

The Golden Gate National Recreation Park extends for some 35 miles along the Pacific coast both north and south of the Golden Gate. Over the years much of the land was used by the military for forts and coastal defenses, many of which have been preserved and became part of the Park. One of the largest concentration of coastal defenses in the country can be seen and explored along the southern shore of Marin County within the Park. To reach this area, take the first exit north of the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and proceeding west along the Park's coastal road. The road crosses lands once belonging to Forts Baker, Barry and Cronkite which were side-by-side along the southern tip of the Marin Peninsula. There are covered and open gun positions, mortar pits, command posts, base line stations and World War II buildings. Virtually all of these coastal defenses were used to some degree during World War II. All guns have been removed, but the massive earthworks and concrete structures are there to see.

Fort Baker, the easternmost fort, was built during the Civil War and covered most of the southern shore of the Marine Peninsula. In 1904 Fort Baker was divided in two and its western portion became Fort Barry. In 1937 Fort Cronkite was built west of, and adjacent to, Fort Barry. All three forts were active during World War II and consisted primarily of the coastal defenses.

After World War II, Forts Barry and Cronkite and a portion of Fort Baker west of Hwy. 101 were given to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The portion of Fort Baker east of US Highway 101 remained an active Army post until 2003. Most of the newer World War II gun emplacements will be found at Fort Cronkite. Some of them took. most of the war years to build only to be abandoned at the end of the war.

Menlo Park

Menlo Park is midway between San Francisco and San Jose.

Dibble General Hospital: This 1868-bed hospital Was built for the Army in Menlo Park in late 1943-early 1944 to treat war wounded. It specialized in.plastic surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, psychiatry and care for the blind. In June 1946 the hospital was transferred to the Federal Public Housing Authority.


Oakland, the "other" big city in the San Francisco Bay area on the eastern shore of the Bay, was a major seaport, manufacturing center and home to several shipyards and existing military facilities when World War II began. Because of its well-developed port facilities, Oakland became a major embarkation center for both troops and war materials going overseas. Like other cities in the Bay area, the residents of Oakland suffered from the sudden and overwhelming influx of people and war related activities.

Oakland Army Base: This huge Army terminal was on the Oakland waterfront just south of the eastern entrance to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Construction was begun in January of 1941 and the base was commissioned on December 8,1941 (one day after the Pearl Harbor attack). Its mission was to ship the Army's men and material into the Pacific areas of operation. During the war tens of thousands of soldiers and 25 million tons of supplies flowed through this terminal. In January 1944 it was renamed the Oakland Army Base. Also in 1944 Italian Service Units, comprised of former Italian prisoners of war, began to work here. At the end of the war, the base served as a reception center for service personnel returning from the Pacific. After that, it was a major distribution point for war surplus material. The Oakland Army Base functioned throughout the Cold War and was closed in the 1990s.

Oakland Municipal Airport: This is now the Oakland International Airport. It began in 1926-27 as a city airport designed to serve Oakland and the eastern Bay area. In 1928 the Navy established a reserve base at the airport and by the time the U.S. went to war, Oakland Municipal Airport was a large and busy airport. Nevertheless, the military took it over and the Air Corps based P-40 fighter planes here soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor as part of the Bay area's defenses. The Army Air Forces' Air Transport Command operated here as did the Army's Air Technical Service Command. The Navy built an air station at the northwest end of the airport known as U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Oakland, for the use of the Naval Air Transport Service. Various additions and expansions were made to the airport during the war, and in late 1945 it was returned to civilian authorities.

Naval Hospital, Oakland: This Navy Hospital began in 1942 as a temporary hospital to handle battle casualties returning from the Pacific. At first it consisted of 25 wooden barracks built on the site of the Oak Knoll Golf Course. Expansions were made during and after the war and the hospital evolved into a modern regional hospital handling naval personnel needing specialized care from a 10,000 square mile area of California and Nevada. In the 1990s NRMC, Oakland was closed.

Naval Supply Depot, Oakland: This depot began in 1940 when the city of Oakland sold 500 acres of marshlands to the Navy for $1.00. The Navy reclaimed the land and built several large warehouses to store war materials destined for overseas shipment. By December 15, 1941, 8 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Depot was opened for business. It expanded during and after the war and acquired several sub-posts. In the late 1940s it was renamed Naval Supply Center, Oakland and operated throughout the Cold War as one of the Navy's most important and most modern supply facilities.

Port Chicago

This little town on the south shore of Suisun Bay no longer exists, but its name will forever remain a part of World War II history because of a terrible disaster that occurred there in July 1944.

U.S. Naval Magazine, Port Chicago: This facility was established in 1942 on the south shore of Suisun Bay near the small town of Port Chicago. It was a subpost of the Naval Ammunition Depot, Mare Island and was used as a transshipment point for supplies and naval ammunition. In 1944 the Navy acquired more land and began storing large amounts of ammunition at the Magazine. On July 17,1944 a terrible accident occurred at Pier #1 where two cargo ships were being loaded with ammunition from a train parked on the pier. In rapid succession, three tremendous blasts vaporized the ships and train. Three hundred and twenty men were killed, 390 more injured and buildings in the area, including most of the
town of Port Chicago, were flattened. The cause of the blasts was never determined. It was the worst such accident in the U.S. during the war.

The Naval Magazine continued in operation after the blast and into the post war years. In 1957 the depot was renamed U.S. Naval Weapons Station, Concord. Pier #1 was never rebuilt and its broken pilings were left in place and can be seen protruding above the water. There is a redwood monument nearby listing all the names of those killed in the blasts. With prior permission visitors will be escorted to the site. Many of the station's WW II storage igloos can be seen along SR 4 which bisects the station.


Richmond, on the northeast shore of San Francisco Bay, was a port city and industrial town of 23,000 people before the war. Unfortunately it was to become so overwhelmed by war work and people that it became one of the most troubled communities in America. Its fine harbor attracted four major shipyards including Henry Kaiser's first and most famous yard. In addition, 55 old and new factories operated in this relatively small town. During 1941 and 1942 people flocked to Richmond in unprecedented numbers. By 1943, Richmond's population rose to 150,000 and the city simply couldn't cope with the problems. People were reduced to living in tents, cardboard shacks, greenhouses, theaters and even in the open under bushes and behind fences. Government agencies, the shipyards and many public and private organizations pitched in to build houses, dormitories, streets, schools, and everything else necessary for survival, but they never caught up. It was only at the end of the war when some of the industries began to shut down, that Richmond became a normal community again. The city slowly recovered in the post war years.

San Bruno

San Bruno is one of the small communities south of San Francisco.

Tanforan Assembly Center For Ethnic Japanese: This was the famous Tanforan Racetrack on the east side of San Bruno. The center operated from Apr. 28 to Oct. 13,1942 processing the Bay Area's ethnic Japanese being evacuated to the relocation camps. At its peak, 7816 people resided here. Most of those processed here went to the Central Utah Relocation Camp at Abraham, UT. The race track eventually became Tanforan Park Shopping Center.

San Jose

San Jose is at the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

San Jose Airport: This was the town's local airport 2.5 miles east of town. It was used by the Fourth Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol.

San Rafael

San Rafael is the county seat of Marin County on the northwest shore of San Francisco Bay.

Hamilton Field: This air field was north of San Rafael on San Pablo Bay. Hamilton Field was built in 1929 on donated land for the specific purpose of defending the Bay Area and was headquarters for the Fourth Air Force. It was also one of only a few fully operating Air Corps bases on the west coast when the U.S. went to war. Planes from Hamilton Field were active from the very first days of the war patrolling and protecting the U.S. west coast. Most of Hamilton's planes were fighters and patrol planes.

It was from this field, on the evening of December 6, 1941 that 12 B-17 bombers left for service in the Philippines. Their first stop was to be Hawaii. When they arrived over Hawaii on the morning of December 7 they found themselves caught up in the midst of the Japanese attack.

They were low on fuel, had no ammunition for their guns and were being shot at by both the Japanese planes and U.S. anti-aircraft guns. They scattered and set down wherever they could, but not before one plane was shot down and two others damaged. The Field had an Army Air Forces Regional Hospital and an Army Air Forces Debarkation Hospital. In June 1942 many of Hamilton's combat planes suddenly moved westward to Hickam Field in Hawaii to defend the Hawaiian Islands against the Japanese invasion fleet steaming for Midway. Other combat planes from eastern fields moved on to Hamilton Field to defend California.

When the Japanese were defeated at Midway, Hamilton's planes returned and the planes from the eastern bases returned to their respective bases. In 1943, Hamilton became a training center for replacement pilots and crews. In December 1944 the Fourth Air Force was charged with defending a large part of the west coast against the Japanese bombing balloons. In the next few months over 500 sorties were flown from Hamilton Field following up balloon sightings. Most of them were false alarms. Also in 1944 Hamilton Field became an intransit field for aircraft being transferred from Europe to the Pacific. The sudden end to the war in the Pacific cut short this activity. Hamilton Field became Hamilton Air Force
Base after the war and was closed in the 1990s.

Santa Rita

Santa Rita is located 13 miles east of Hayward, didn't exist during the war.

Camp Parks and Camp Shoemaker. In Nov. 1942 the Navy built Camp Parks side-by-side with Camp Shoemaker just north of what today is the community of Santa Rita. Camp Parks was used for tactical training of SeaBee units moving in from the east and destined for service in the Pacific area. Camp Shoemaker was used as a naval training base and a distribution center.

After the war the camps were put into care taker status and much of Camp Shoemaker was leased to the state of California which then built a prison called Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center. During the Korean War the remaining facilities were turned over to the US Air Force and Parks Air Force Base was created. When peace returned, the US Air Force gave the property to the Army, who again named it Camp Parks.

Camp Parks eventually became an Army Reserve facility. Location: In the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Interstate Highway 580 and Camino Tassajara,just north of Santa Rita and five miles west of Livermore.


Moffett Field: In 1931 the Navy accepted free land from Santa Clara County and began building a huge dirigile base which became known as U.S. Naval Air Station, Sunnyvale. The most impressive structure to go up was "Hanger One". It covered 8 acres, was 1133' long, 308' wide, 198' high with two 600 ton "orange peel" doors that moved on rails. It could house the Navy's biggest dirigibles and be seen from miles away. The military missions of dirigibles was to do patrol work, escort convoys and bomb enemy ships and territory. Later that year the landing field at the station was named Moffett Field in honor of Rear Adm. William A. Moffett who was lost in the crash of the dirigible "Akron". It was by this name that the station became best known. When the dirigible era ended Moffett Field was turned over to the Army Air Corps and became a basic training center. In 1939 Moffett Field received another tenant, the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, a research facility that specialized in high speed wind tunnel testing. When the U.S. went to war and Japanese submarines appeared off America's west coast, the need for anti-submarine defense became paramount and Moffett Field was given back to the Navy to be used as a blimp base. In Jannuary 1942 the first blimps began patrolling California's coastal waters. These were the first blimps in action anywhere in the U.S. Blimp activities increased at Moffett and two blimp hangers were built in late 1942 and the base had 8 mooring circles. Blimp crews also trained here.

In early 1945 a major overhaul facility was built here to service transport planes. In March 1945 a Japanese bombing balloon, recovered intact near Echo, OR, was tested here. That balloon is now one or two such balloons in the Smithsonian Museum. After the war the blimps were phased out, more air transport units moved in as did prop driven and jet fighter squadrons. During the Cold War Moffett remained an active air station.

The Ames Aeronautical Laboratory expanded and eventually became part of NASA and was renamed NASA Ames Research Center. "Hanger One" has been designated as naval historic site, but Moffett Field, after all its days of glory, was closed in the 1990s. TIBURON is on the bay side of Marin County's
Tiburon Peninsula.


U.S. Naval Net Depot, Tiburon: This naval depot began in 1904 as a coaling station but was phased out as the Navy converted to diesel powered ships. During the 1930s the old station was still Navy property but was being used by the California Nautical School (now the California Maritime Academy at Vallejo).

When war started in Europe the Navy canceled the School's lease and reactivated the old station as a facility to make, service and store naval nets and booms, and train men to handle them. In August 1940 the station was commissioned as U.S. Naval Net Depot, Tiburon. One of its first jobs was to make a 6000 ton, 7 mile-long net to protect the San Francisco Harbor entrance. On December 7, 1941 the net was 85% complete. It was rushed to completion and laid in the Bay's waters from Sausalito to the San Francisco Marina. In January 1943 another training facility opened at the Net Depot at Paradise Cove, the Floating Drydock Training Center, Tiburon. Here, naval personnel were trained in overseas ship repair which was usually done in floating drydocks. After the war the depot was used until the early 1970s when was closed down all except for a 3-acre site used to test instruments. The former drydock training area became Paradise Beach County Park.

Treasure Island

This island was "made" in 1937 for several reasons. First, by building the island some dangerous shoals were eliminated, and a dumping place was provided for materials then being dredged from various other places in the Bay; second, it served as the site of the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition; and third, after the Exposition, it was to become San Francisco's new airport, serving both land planes and seaplanes. Treasure Island is connected to the natural island of Yerba Buena by a causeway and thus to the mainland via the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The beginning of WW II in Europe, how ever, prevented the third part of the plan from being implemented. In early 1941 the Navy acquired Treasure Island, named it Naval Station, Treasure Island and converted it into a reception and embarkation center and headquarters for the 12th Naval District. During peak periods of WW E the center processed up to 12,000 men a day, and after the war, many a sailor received his discharge papers here. Also during the war four Army seaplanes, designated as C-98s, operated out of the sea plane base, which was the man-made cove between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island. These planes were pre-war Pan American "Clippers". The "Clippers" kept their peacetime colors and names as camouflage to make it appear that they were still is commercial service.

Treasure Island remained a naval reception and embarkation center throughout the Cold War and had as many as 10 other naval agencies on board. In the 1990s Naval Station, Treasure Island was closed.


Vallejo, at the northeast corner of the Bay and the entrance to Carquines Strait, was another Bay area town where urban growth went out of control during the war. The Navy's Mare Island naval base, with its huge ship yard and other naval operations, was the main culprit. Tens of thousands of workers flocked to Vallejo. They found jobs, but no place to live. By 1944 Vallejo's population, which had been 20,000 in 1940, had grown to 100,000. Conditions were eased only by the ending of the war and the departure of the war workers.

California Maritime Academy: This is a state college, founded in 1929, to train men and women for careers in supervisory positions on commercial ships in the maritime industry. It was first located near Tiburon, but in 1940 it moved to Morrow Cove south of Vallejo. During the war the Academy trained men at an accelerated pace and most of the Midshipmen entered the U.S. Navy as commissioned officer upon graduation. The Academy's training ship, the "Golden Bear", was built in 1940 as the cargo/ passenger ship, but in 1941 it was converted into a Navy attack transport and served throughout the war in the South Pacific. She was turned over to the Academy after the war and named the "Golden Bear".

U.S. Naval Shipyard, Mare Island: Mare Island has been a U.S. Navy base ever since the island was purchased by the U.S. Government in 1853. By the 1940s it had one of the Navy's largest ship yards, building and repairing a wide variety of warships. There was also a large ammunition depot on the Island, a large hospital, a naval prison, a radio station, a Marine barracks, a large naval security group activity which included the substation of Skaggs Island five miles NW of Mare Island and many smaller activities. During the war 391 new ships were built here and 1227 ships of all type were repaired including ships from Allied nations. The ammunition depot not only stored ammunition but also renovated all types of naval ammunition. After the war many inactive ships came to Mare Island for repair and maintenance and some of the Navy's submarines and submarine tenders were mothballed for a while in the Mare Island Strait. NS, Mare Island remained very active throughout the Cold War with more than two dozen commands and activities operating within its boundaries. In the 1990s the ship yard was closed.

Yerba Buena Island

Yerba Buena Island: This is a large rugged island in the San Francisco Bay about midway between San Francisco and Oakland and is connected to both cities by the San FranciscoOakland Bay Bridge. The island has been military property since the 1850s. During World War I it was a naval training center. During World War II the naval facilities on the island were placed under the command of the adjacent Naval Station, Treasure Island. In 1941 the Coast Guard built a depot on the island which remained in operation throughout the Cold War. In the postwar years Yerba Buena Island was used primarily as a residential area for Navy and Coast Guard families.

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



Search our Site!
Search the Web Search California Military History Online
Questions and comments concerning this site should be directed to the Webmaster
Updated 8 February 2016