Mayport Naval Station, Florida
Since its commissioning in December 1942, Naval Station Mayport has grown to become the third largest fleet concentration area in the United States. Mayport's operational composition is unique, with a busy harbor capable of accommodating 34 ships and an 8,000-foot runway capable of handling any aircraft in the Department of Defense inventory.
With more than 3,400 acres, NS Mayport is host to more than 80 tenant commands including 22 naval ships and six Light Airborne Multi-purpose System (LAMPS) Mark III helicopter squadrons. NS Mayport is also the operational and training headquarters for the SH-60B Seahawk LAMPS MKIII with a primary mission of anti-submarine warfare.
The Navy at Mayport covers 3,409 acres and is the third largest Naval Facility in the continental United States. As a major Surface and Air Warfare organization, Mayport remains dedicated to providing the "Finest Service to the Finest Fleet," as it grows into the 21st century.
Under the Hepburn Act of May 17, 1938 (Public Law 528 of the 75th Congress) the Honorable Claude Swanson appointed a board to be headed by Rear Adm. A. J. Helpburn to investigate "a southeastern naval air base." In communication to Congress on Dec. 27, 1938, "the board recommends the establishment of a major base at Jacksonville having the following characteristics:
- Facilities for two carrier groups (planned with a view to expansion to four carrier groups)
- Facilities for three patrol squadrons (planned with a view to accommodate six squadrons)
- Facilities for two utility squadrons
- Facilities for complete-plane and engine overhaul
- Berthing for carriers at inner end of entrance jetty
- A channel to permit tender berthing at piers at Camp Foster
- Development of an outlying patrol plane operating area in the lower "Banana River"
The citizens of Duval County (Jacksonville) promised the Navy Department they would buy the 1and for the main Naval Air Base and Carrier Berthing (Naval Station Mayport). Upon passage of H.R. 2880, 76th Congress, 1st Session, which authorized the projects contained in House Document 65, the citizens of Duval County on July 18, 1939 passed a $1,100,000 bond issue to purchase land for the two stations.
In April 1939, the Navy Department initiated plans for this area which included a site along the south jetties for the development of an aircraft carrier basin. In December of that year, on the basis of a report made by Commander Carl Cotter, officer-in-charge of construction, Ribault Bay was selected as the location for such a basin. The basin was dredged to 29 feet and used by patrol craft, target and rescue boats and jeep carriers during World War II. At war's end, $780,000 had been appropriated to build a carrier pier on the north side of the basin. This appropriation, with many others, was cancelled and no improvements were made. On the basis of a proposal submitted by Lieutenant Commander M. R. Sanders, commanding officer, Section Base One, Naval Reserve Armory, recommending establishment of a second section base at Mayport, the station was commissioned as a U.S. Naval Section Base in December 1942.
On April 1, 1944, the air facility at Mayport was commissioned a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS), commanded by Sanders. At the same time, the Sea Frontier Base was maintained in the bay area. The next year, the Naval Auxiliary Air Station took over the entire site including the pier and docking facilities. During World War II, the U.S. Naval Section Base and Naval Auxiliary Air Station provided vital support to the country's war effort in terms of personnel and logistics. Following the war, both the Naval Section Base and NAAS were de-commissioned and placed in a caretaker status. The Coast Guard took over the base and operated a small "Boot Camp" there for several years, but they vacated Mayport in late 1947 due to budget cuts.
Mayport was reactivated again in June, 1948 as a Naval Outlying Landing Field under the cognizance of the Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station, Jacksonville. Three years later the land area of Navy Mayport facilities was increased to 1,680 acres and work began on extending the runway. Through the late 1940's and mid-1950's, the Mayport base continued to grow to accommodate new classes of ships and extended runways for the increasing air traffic.
On Oct. 29, 1952, USS Tarawa (CVS-40), under command of Capt. J. H. Munroe entered Ribault Bay to become the first capital ship to utilize Mayport's new carrier basin. Operating as a Naval Auxiliary Landing Field under cognizance of the Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Mayport received much assistance in servicing Tarawa including tug boats from Naval Station, Green Cove Springs, Fla.
In 1953, the U.S. Corps of Engineers received $350,000 to re-dredge the basin to 40 plus two feet so Midway class carriers could enter the basin. The first of these ships was USS Coral Sea in 1954. By 1955, Mayport had grown considerably in land area, command importance, and activity, and represented an investment of nearly $10 million. A master jet runway 8,000 feet long and a 4,200 foot long runway were in use at the station and many new structures including an operations building had been built at Mayport. On July 1, 1955, in appropriate ceremonies, Mayport became once again a Naval Auxiliary Air Station. Vice Admiral Thomas Combs, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) delivered the main address at the commissioning ceremonies in the presence of an assemblage of military officials and civilian dignitaries. Captain John Thatch, commanding officer, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, read the commissioning directive and thereafter Commander William Hotrod, formerly officer-in-charge of the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, read orders designating him commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station Mayport. When commissioned in 1955, the station had an assigned allowance of eight officers, 230 enlisted personnel, and employed 101 civilians. In April of 1955, Rear Admiral Robert Goldwaite, Commander, Carrier Division Two, moved his headquarters to Mayport. This was the first time in Jacksonville's history that such headquarters were shore based here. The following year the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) arrived in Mayport, its new homeport, from Bremerton, Washington. This was also the first time Navy families moved here with the ship. An "ordnance clearance" of 462 acres in 1956 brought the total land area of Mayport to 1,888 acres; and in 1957 another 540 acres of land was acquired to bring the land area total to 2,428 acres.
For the remainder of the twentieth century, Naval Station Mayport continued to expand to accommodate more ships, Sailors and their families, and improvements in base facilities. In May 1959, for example, construction of the destroyer slip at the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Mayport, became a link in the nation's newest, fastest automatic teletypewriter communications system. At this time, the Navy put into operation a 48,000-mile network interconnecting 236 teletypewriter stations in 31 states; this resulted in an immediate 70 percent increase in communications efficiency at Mayport.
Shortly before noon on June 8, 1959, the first official dispatch of U.S. Mail was launched from the guided missile submarine USS Barbero (SSG 317), in international waters at sea. Twenty-two minutes later the Regulus I Missile, carrying about 3,000 pieces of mail, landed at the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station Mayport. Among those officials present for the event was Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield who stated, upon successful landing of the "Missile Mail" at Mayport, "This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation." On July 8, 1959, more than 6,000 special souvenir envelopes, commemorating the landing of the first official "Missile Mail" at Mayport, and containing an historical brochure concerning the station, were mailed to stamp collectors and Post Office Department officials throughout the world. Aside from being an item of collection value to those who received it, the souvenir envelope and its enclosure served historical purpose and brought credit to the naval service commensurate with its part in the project to develop swifter transmission of mail.
As helicopter aviation evolved during the Cold War, Mayport became the East Coast home for the Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) MK III community. As a reflection of growth, Mayport Naval Air Facility was re-designated as a naval air station in 1988.