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The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) was the first United States Navy base established on the Pacific Ocean.[1] 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.[2] The base closed in 1996 and has gone through several redevelopment phases. It was registered as a California Historical Landmark in 1960,[3] and parts of it were declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1975.[4]


The Navy purchased the original 956 acres (3.9 km²) of MINSY in 1853 and commenced shipbuilding operations on September 16, 1854 under the command of then-Commander David Farragut, who would later gain fame during the US 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 beating out of the Golden Gate.[5]

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.

By 1901, this shipyard, Union Iron Works, was contracted out by John Philip Holland's (Holland Torpedo Boat Company) to build two Adder-class (later A-class) submarines. They were known as USS Grampus / A-3 and USS Pike / A-5 and were the first United States Navy submarines built on the West Coast.

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 uprisings. 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.[6]

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 Aug. 10, 1923, when they relocated to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.[7]

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,[8] 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.[9] Mare Island was selected by the Navy for construction of the only US West Coast-built dreadnought battleship, the USS California, launched in 1919. Earlier, the USS Nebraska (BB-14) had been launched at Seattle Washington. Noting the power of underwater warfare shown by German U-boats in WWI, 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.[10]

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 Mussolini and 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.[11] 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.[12] Mare Island even received Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers and four Soviet Navy subs for service.[2] 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.[13][14]


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

Jupiter became the first United States aircraft carrier renamed USS Langley.

Battleship USS California.

Heavy cruiser USS San Francisco.

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 $3 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, 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.[19]

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 US 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 US 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. US 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 US Navy Brown Water Riverine Forces inactivated after the Vietnam War, maintaining only the US 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. Adams, George R. (December 1, 1974). "Mare Island Naval Shipyard" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Inventory Nomination Form. National Park Service. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Battleship Iowa: Mare Island
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named CHL
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named nhl_summary
  5. Howe, Octavius T; Matthews, Frederick C. (1927). American Clipper Ships 1833-1858. Volume 2, Malay-Young Mechanic. Salem, MA: Marine Research Society. pp. 653–656. 
  6. Lott, A Long Line of Ships, pp. 3-134.
  7. Mare Island was first California boot camp
  8. World War One By Priscilla Mary Roberts, page 1606
  9. Mare Island History. Vallejo Convention & Visitors Bureau website. Accessed August 22, 2007
  10. Lott, A Long Line of Ships, pp. 161-180.
  11. "U.S. Naval Activities World War II by State". Patrick Clancey. Retrieved 2012-03-19. 
  12. Kern, James & Vallejo and Naval Historical Museum Images of America: Vallejo. Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  13. FAS Military Analysis Network: Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY)
  14. Lott, A Long Line of Ships, pp. 209-237.
  15. Craft & Coast Guard-Manned Army & Navy Vessels
  16. 16.0 16.1 Fahey, The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, p.17
  17. 17.0 17.1 Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.945
  18. Tillman(2005)pp.301-306
  19. Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare Division: Submarine Chronology
  20. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.907
  21. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.926
  22. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.939
  23. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.946
  24. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.919
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.287
  26. 26.0 26.1 Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.195
  27. 27.0 27.1 Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.953&965
  28. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.945&965
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 29.5 Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.197
  30. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.913&965
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.954
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.953
  33. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.918
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.199
  35. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.956
  36. Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, pp.933&965
  37. 37.0 37.1 Blair, Silent Victory vol 2, p.957
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 38.5 Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War II, p.203
  39. Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.473
  40. Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.472
  41. Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.470
  42. Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.406
  43. Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.469
  44. 44.0 44.1 Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.468
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 Blackman Jane's 1970-71, p.403
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 46.4 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.

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