Mare Island Naval Shipyard

Mare Island Naval Shipyard

Mare Island Naval Shipyard
USS Wadleigh (DD-689) at Mare Island Naval Yard, April 10, 1945.
Mare Island Naval Shipyard is located in California
Mare Island Naval Shipyard
Location Vallejo, California
Built 1854
Governing body private
NRHP Reference # 75002103[2]
CHISL # 751[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 15, 1975
Designated NHLD May 15, 1975[3]
Designated CHISL 1960

The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) was the first United States Navy base established on the Pacific Ocean.[4] It is located 25 miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, California. The Napa River goes through the Mare Island Strait and separates the peninsula shipyard (Mare Island, California) from the main portion of the city of Vallejo. MINSY made a name for itself as the premier US West Coast submarine port as well as serving as the controlling force in San Francisco Bay Area shipbuilding efforts during World War II.[5] The base closed in 1996 and has gone through several redevelopment phases. It was registered as a California Historical Landmark in 1960,[1] and parts of it were declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1975.[3]


  • Beginnings 1
  • World War I 2
  • World War II 3
    • War bonds 3.1
  • Shipbuilding 4
    • Riverine training 4.1
  • Base closure 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The Navy purchased the original 956 acres (387 ha) of MINSY in 1853 and commenced shipbuilding operations on September 16, 1854 under the command of then-Commander David Farragut, who later gained fame during the U.S. Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, when he gave the order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" MINSY served as a major Pacific Ocean repair station during the late 19th century, handling American as well as Japanese and Russian vessels in the course of duty.

In 1861, the longest lived of the clipper ships, Syren, was brought to Mare Island Navy Yard for $15,000 of repairs. Syren had struck Mile Rock two times while trying to sail out of the Golden Gate.[6]

Monitor Camanche at Mare Island, 1866.

Marines first arrived for duty in 1862 under the command of Maj. Addison Garland, who was the first officer to command the Marine barracks on the island.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard also took a commanding role in civil defense and emergency response on the West Coast, dispatching warships to the Pacific Northwest to subdue Native American violence. MINSY sent ships such as Wyoming south to Central America and the Panama Canal to protect US political and commercial interests. Some of the support, logistics and munition requirements for the Spanish–American War were filled by Mare Island. MINSY sent men, materiel and ships to San Francisco in response to the fires following the 1906 earthquake. Arctic rescue missions were mounted as necessary. Ordnance manufacturing and storage were two further key missions at MINSY for nearly all of its active service, including ordnance used prior to the American Civil War.[7]

In 1911, the Marine Corps established two West Coast recruit training depots first at Mare Island, the second at Puget Sound, Washington. Mare Island eventually became the West Coast's only recruit training facility when the Puget Sound operation consolidated to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1912. Instructors trained recruits there until August 10, 1923, when they relocated to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.[8]

World War I

Mare Island Naval Shipyard, in 1911.

In March 1917 MINSY was the site of a major explosion of barges loaded with munitions. The blast killed 6 people, wounded another 31, and destroyed some port facilities. Agents of U.S. Military Intelligence tied the blast to roving German saboteur Lothar Witzke,[9] who was caught and imprisoned in 1918.

MINSY saw major shipbuilding efforts during World War I. MINSY holds a shipbuilding speed record for a destroyer that still stands, launching the USS Ward in just 17½ days in May–June 1918.[10] Mare Island was selected by the Navy for construction of the only US West Coast-built dreadnought battleship, the USS California, launched in 1919. In 1904, the pre-dreadnought battleship USS Nebraska had been launched at Seattle, Washington. Noting the power of underwater warfare shown by German U-boats in World War I, the Navy doubled their Pacific-based submarine construction program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard by founding a submarine program at MINSY in the early 1920s.[11]

The AJC Band, from Hamilton Field, plays at a war bond rally held at Mare Island on June 26, 1945. Behind the band, caricatures of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler have been crossed out and a fanged Japanese figure is labeled "Tough One To Go"

World War II

Base facilities included a hospital, ammunition depot, paint and rubber testing laboratories, and schools for firefighters, opticians, and anti-submarine attack during World War II.[12] MINSY reached peak capacity for shipbuilding, repair, overhaul, and maintenance of many different kinds of seagoing vessels including both surface combatants and submarines. Up to 50,000 workers were employed.[13] Mare Island even received Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers and four Soviet Navy subs for service.[5] Following the War, MINSY was considered to be one of the primary stations for construction and maintenance of the Navy's Pacific fleet of submarines, having built seventeen submarines and four submarine tenders by the end of hostilities.

War bonds

Patriotism and esprit de corps among the workers ran very high. Mare Island's military and civilian workforce raised almost $76M in war bonds; enough to pay for every one of the submarines built at MINSY prior to VJ Day. More than 300 landing craft were built at Mare Island.[14][15]


Mare Island Naval Shipyard constructed at least eighty-nine seagoing vessels. Among the more important ships & boats built were:

The collier USS Jupiter was later converted to become the first United States aircraft carrier, USS Langley.

With the prelude to, and the outbreak of World War II, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard specialized in submarines, and other than a few submarine tenders, no more surface ships were built there. MINSY continued building non-nuclear subs through the Cold War including two of the three Barracuda-class submarines and the Grayback, an early guided missile launcher. In 1955, Mare Island was awarded the contract to build Sargo, the first nuclear submarine laid down at a Pacific base. The shipyard became one of the few that built and overhauled nuclear submarines, including several UGM-27 Polaris submarines. 1970 saw the launching of USS Drum (SSN-677), the last nuclear submarine built in California. In 1972, the Navy officially ceased building new nuclear submarines at Mare Island, though overhaul of existing vessels continued. The Nautilus was decommissioned at Mare Island in 1980, then rigged for towing back to Groton, Connecticut to serve as a museum of naval history.[20]

Five of the seven top-scoring United States submarines of World War II were built at Mare Island.
UGM-27 Polaris ballistic missile submarine USS Mariano G. Vallejo

Riverine training

Aerial photo of southern Mare Island and the shipyard facility

In 1969, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy transferred their Brown Water Navy Riverine Training Operations from Coronado, California to Mare Island. Motorists traveling along Highway 37 from the Vallejo/Fairfield areas to the Bay Area, which passes through Mare Island, could often see U.S. Navy Swift Boats (PCF-Patrol Craft Fast) and PBRs (Patrol Boat River), among other riverine type boats, maneuvering through the sloughs of what is now the Napa-Sonoma State Wildlife Area, which borders the north and west portions of Mare Island. U.S. Navy Reserve Units may still operate the slough portions of the State Wildlife Area for training purposes, as the navigable waters are considered public property. The U.S. Navy Brown Water Riverine Forces were inactivated after the Vietnam War, maintaining only the U.S. Naval Reserve PBRs and auxiliary craft at Mare Island, until the 1996 base closure.

Base closure

Mare Island Naval Shipyard expanded to over 5,200 acres (2,104 ha) in its service life and was responsible for construction of over 500 naval vessels and overhauling thousands of other vessels. Though it remained a strong contender for continued operations, MINSY was identified for closure during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process of 1993. Naval operations ceased and the facility was decommissioned on April 1, 1996.

Entrance to The Mare Island Naval Shipyard, April 2011
The Mare Island Naval Shipyard facility, April 2011

The California Conservation Corps, Touro University California, and numerous commercial and industrial businesses are currently leasing property aboard the former naval shipyard. In May 2000, the Navy completed the transfer of a former housing area called Roosevelt Terrace using an "economic development conveyance"; a method to accelerate the transfer of BRAC facilities back to civilian communities for their economic benefit. The Navy is also transferring property at the shipyard to other government agencies such as Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, a Forest Service office building, an Army Reserve Center, a Coast Guard communications facility, and a Department of Education school.

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Battleship Iowa: Mare Island
  6. ^
  7. ^ Lott, A Long Line of Ships, pp. 3–134.
  8. ^ Mare Island was first California boot camp
  9. ^ World War One By Priscilla Mary Roberts, page 1606
  10. ^ Mare Island History. Vallejo Convention & Visitors Bureau website. Accessed August 22, 2007
  11. ^ Lott, A Long Line of Ships, pp. 161-180.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Kern, James & Vallejo and Naval Historical Museum Images of America: Vallejo. Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  14. ^ FAS Military Analysis Network: Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY)
  15. ^ Lott, A Long Line of Ships, pp. 209-237.
  16. ^ Cutters, Craft & Coast Guard-Manned Army & Navy Vessels
  17. ^ a b Fahey, The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, p.17
  18. ^ a b Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.945
  19. ^ Tillman(2005)pp.301-306
  20. ^ Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare Division: Submarine Chronology
  21. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.907
  22. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.926
  23. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.939
  24. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.946
  25. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.919
  26. ^ a b c d Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.287
  27. ^ a b Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.195
  28. ^ a b Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.953υ
  29. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.945υ
  30. ^ a b c d e f Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.197
  31. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.913υ
  32. ^ a b c d Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.954
  33. ^ a b c Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.953
  34. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.918
  35. ^ a b c d Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.199
  36. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.956
  37. ^ Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.933υ
  38. ^ a b Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.957
  39. ^ a b c d e f Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.203
  40. ^ Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.473
  41. ^ Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.472
  42. ^ Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.470
  43. ^ Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.406
  44. ^ Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.469
  45. ^ a b Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.468
  46. ^ a b c d e f Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.403
  47. ^ a b c d e Blackman Jane's 1970–71, p.466
  • Blackman, Raymond V.B. Jane's Fighting Ships 1970-71. London: Jane's Yearbooks.
  • Lott, Arnold S., Lt. Comdr., U.S.N. A Long Line of Ships: Mare Island's Century of Naval Activity in California. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1954.
  • Silverstone, Paul H., U.S. Warships of World War II. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1968.
  • Steffes, James, ENC Retired. Swift Boat Down- The Real Story of the Sinking of PCF-19. (2006); ISBN 1-59926-612-1
  • Tillman, Barrett Clash of the Carriers. New York: New American Library, 2005. ISBN 978-0-451-21956-5
  • 1941 Society of Naval Architects Bulletin, Harold W. Linnehan, writing as a visitor from Design section, Mare Island, California.

External links

  • Brief history written in 1939
  • Recently written history with photos
  • Mare Island Navy Yard - 1928. Elbridge Ayer Burbank pencil sketch.
  • Mare Island Naval ShipyardWorld War II in the San Francisco Bay Area: National Park Service
  • Mare Island Historic Park Foundation
  • Library of Congress Americas Memory