Navy Bases

Newport Naval Station, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island is home to more than 35 naval and defense commands and activities. Newport is the Navy's premier training site for officers, officer candidates, senior enlisted personnel, midshipman candidates, as well undersea warfare and development systems. The Naval Station is located on the southern end of Aquidneck Island at the mouth of Narragansett Bay in New England.

The Navy’s economic impact in Rhode Island is legendary. For many years, it was the state’s largest single employer - both in terms of personnel and payroll. Today, it is still the largest single employer in Newport County, and third overall in the state. Approximately 5,000 employees work at the 42 various commands located on Naval Station with an additional 9,300 students annually passing through one of the many schools on base.

Naval Station Newport will be the future home of the Naval Supply Corps School and Center for Service Support currently in Athens, Ga. This command will be relocating to Newport sometime in FY10 as a result of 2005 Base Realignment and Closure recommendations and will have a big impact on the number of students passing through.

Newport was once regarded as the commercial hub of the American colonies. During the mid-eighteenth century, the city boasted a population of some twelve thousand people, and its busy harbor rivaled the ports of Boston and New York. Fortunes were made in what is often called the Triangular Trade, which can be described by examining Newport's major industries of that time. Twenty-one rum distilleries lead the list of commercial activities, followed by seventeen factories that processed sperm whale oil and manufactured candies. Newport also had five ropewalks, three sugar refineries, and one brewery.

The actual history of Navy development in Narragansett Bay did not begin until 1869, when the Secretary of War authorized the establishment of an experimental Torpedo Station on Goat Island. The forerunner of today's Naval Undersea Warfare Center, the Torpedo Station's mission was to develop torpedoes, torpedo equipment, explosives, and electrical equipment. Commander E.O. Matthews was the first commanding officer of this activity.

The success of the Torpedo Station over the next eighty years has been well documented. From 1869 to its disestablishment in 1951, the Station contributed greatly to the development of naval ordnance. Through experiments conducted there, the torpedo evolved from the immobile explosive mine of the Civil War period to the efficient and highly mobile weapon of today. The Station worked on other ordnance projects, including an impractical dynamite-throwing gun, projectile explosives such as dynamite and nitroglycerine, and gun cotton. The Navy's first smokeless gunpowder was also manufactured there.

In his book, Everyday Life in the Navy, the late Rear Admiral Albert S. Barker tells of his interesting experiences while assigned to the Torpedo Station in the 1870s.The first experiments in shipboard electricity were conducted at the Torpedo Station in the late 1880s. The machine shop was wired to conform with a plan for illuminating ships with electric lights in July, 1887. Wiring the shop in this manner provided light for the factory, and facilitated experiments and demonstrations in the application of electric power to warships. In 1902, a wireless antenna mast 180 feet high was erected at the Station to allow tests and evaluations of wireless radio communications.

Over the years, the physical size of the Torpedo Station grew. Rose Island was acquired for the storage of explosives and for experimental firings, and in 1919, Gould Island was purchased and placed under the Station's jurisdiction. During World War I, approximately 3,200 employees, including 300 women, were engaged in Torpedo Station work. As World War II approached and increased production of war materials was needed, the Station's advice was sought as other weapons factories were established. Approximately 13,000 people were employed at the Torpedo Station at the height of World War II, and they produced 80% of the submarine torpedoes made by the United States.

After the 1880s, the Navy continued to grow in size and importance. Steam power had replaced sail, and more coaling stations were now required. Just before the turn of the century, one of the Navy's largest coaling stations was established at Melville, just north of Newport. Some of Newport's older residents can recall battleships and cruisers anchored between Prudence Island and Melville, while coal barges scuttled between the ships and the station. On still days, the musicians on board could be heard playing as all hands turned to "coaling ship."

World War I brought a tremendous increase in naval activity to Newport as thousands of young men arrived for training. Coaster's Harbor Island was unable to accommodate this influx, and land at Coddington Point was added to the Navy's holdings. Almost overnight, the Point was turned into a city of tents and wooden buildings as more than 75,000 recruits passed through Newport. Residents of the city were encouraged to "Adopt a Sailor," opening their homes as temporary lodging for the trainees. As the Navy expanded, what had been the Second Naval District (the Naval Training Station) was combined with the First Naval District in 1919.

As Navy planners met in the years following the First World War, Newport and Narragansett Bay were not forgotten by those who understood the strategic importance of the region. Admirals William S. Sims, Mark Bristol, Austin Knight, and Ralph Earle, Sr., were all strong supporters of naval activities and programs in the Rhode Island area. A review board to evaluate Navy shore establishments was appointed in September 1922 by Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, and was led by Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman, Commandant of the Fifth Naval District. The board was authorized to recommend those bases, yards, and stations considered necessary to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of the fleet in both peace and wartime. The report of the Rodman board encouraged the expansion of the Navy's Narragansett Bay facilities for fleet use. The board also advised that recruit training activities on the Atlantic coast be centered at Newport's Naval Training Station, and the Torpedo Station and Naval War College be continued.

One of the strongest champions of Narragansett Bay was Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, Sr., former Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance and father of Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, Jr., commander of the Newport Navy Base from 1955 to 1957. A prolific writer and member of the Naval Academy Class of 1896, the senior Earle attended the Naval War College and later served as commanding officer of the Torpedo Station from 1923 to 1925. After his retirement, he became president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, where he continued to stress the importance of Narragansett Bay.

With the advent of World War II, Narragansett Bay and Newport once again became a strong center of naval activity. Quonset Point was selected by a naval board as the site of an air station in 1938, and $20 million was requested to build the project. Naval Air Station, Quonset Point was commissioned in July, 1941. The Naval Construction Battalion Center at Davisville, better known as the Seabees, was also begun in 1941. The Bureau of Yards and Docks established a project to "design, manufacture, and ship portable hut units suitable for barracks and other buildings for use in the construction of outlying bases." The project was called Temporary Advance Facilities, and was originally part of the Quonset Naval Air Station. In this way, the ubiquitous Quonset huts of this era received their name.

Newport also underwent a tremendous surge of activity during these years. The U.S. Naval Operating Base was established in 1941 with headquarters on Coaster's Harbor Island to coordinate the growing naval facilities in the area. Coddington Point was reactivated, Coddington Cove became a Supply Station, and shoreline property extending north to Melville was acquired. A Patrol Torpedo (PT) Boat Training Center, a Naval Net Depot, and additional fuel facilities were set up at Melville. Elsewhere on Aquidneck Island, properties such as the Anchorage Housing site, Fleet Landing, and Sachuest Point were obtained by the Navy. An anti-aircraft Gunnery Training Center was also operated at Prices Neck on Newport's Ocean Drive. To the west on Jamestown, (Conanicut Island), a Harbor Defense Unit, Communications Facility, and Fleet Landing were established. Almost overnight, Newport and Narragansett Bay had become one of the Navy's largest and most important bases of operation. By the war's end, more than 100 ships of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet were based in Newport.

With Germany's surrender in May 1945, and the subsequent concentration of armed forces in the Pacific Theater, naval activity in Rhode Island began to diminish. Japan's surrender on August 14, 1945, brought the Second World War to an end. The U.S. Naval Operating Base of World War II was disestablished in 1946, and the Newport Navy Base was established in its place. Peacetime operations were interrupted in 1951 when conflict erupted in Korea. Recruit training figures increased as approximately 25,000 men were processed by the Training Center during the Korean War.

The usual peacetime reduction of naval activities occurred in Newport after the Second World War, and included the closing of Goat Island's Naval Torpedo Station in 1951. The manufacture of torpedoes was moved elsewhere. However, this change was balanced by the organization of the Naval Underwater Weapons Research and Engineering Station, established to carry on torpedo development and experimentation. The Naval Underwater Systems Center, or NUSC, is the present name of this research and development arm of the Navy. Another reduction was the decommissioning of the Naval Training Station in October 1952, when recruit training was shifted to Bainbridge, Maryland. The establishment of the Officers Candidate School at Newport in 1951 helped offset the loss of the Training Station. OCS is the Navy's primary source of reserve officers.

The 1950s and 1960s saw some further reductions and consolidations of Navy activities in the Narragansett Bay area, most of which were offset by the strengthening of the schools and advanced training facilities located at Newport. The Commander of the Newport Navy Base in the late 1960s exercised command or area-coordination over facilities on both sides of Narragansett Bay. Each command had a role in the Base's overall mission to support the Fleet and its associated commands. Within the scope of this mission were: conducting research and development, providing medical and dental services, operating shore-based services for Navy and Marine Corps personnel and their families, maintaining stocks of ship and aviation materials, and developing advanced bases.

Figures from 1967 show the Navy continuing as the largest single employer in Rhode Island, with fully one-third of its salary budget--$70 million--paid to civilian employees. Modernization of equipment, facilities, and housing took place at a substantial rate during these years. At Newport, the Officer Candidate School gained two new dormitories, and two Bachelor Officer Quarters were constructed. In Middletown, over 100 acres of land were purchased for the construction of 600 family housing units, and at Quonset Point, 200 new family units were built. Additional housing for 200 families was started at three sites on the Navy Base in 1968: Cloyne Court (Melville), and two locations along Coddington Highway.

Pier One at Coddington Cove was extended 225 feet during 1968 and 1969 to accommodate the new longer ships, and new underground fuel lines were provided to the piers. Fifty-eight destroyer-type ships were homeported in Newport in the late-1960s, including, for the first time, several guided missile carrying ships. These ships were among the 200-ship Cruiser-Destroyer Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, which was headquartered at Newport. Other projects included a 600 foot low frequency radio antenna placed at Beavertail Point on Conanicut Island, WAVES Enlisted Quarters for 128 women, and the addition of anti-submarine warfare equipment to the Fleet Training Center at Coddington Point.

The ships based at Newport were relocated to southern ports in the Shore Establishment Realignment Program of April 1973. The Navy commands and activities in Newport changed their mission from fleet support to officer training and education.

The Naval Education Training Center (NETC) was created for the purpose of training and educating naval personnel and providing logistic support for the entire Newport naval complex. NETC combined the services of five former commands. In addition, Newport became the home of the Northeast Navy Band, the Navy's most active band.

Shortly after the last of the ships departed for their homeports, the Destroyer School was combined with NETC's Anti-Submarine Warfare Officers School and Surface Warfare Officers School. The consolidated command became the Surface Warfare Officers School Command. Through the training provided by (SWOSCOLCOM), Newport became the genesis of the surface Navy.

In 1979, Navy Newport welcomed four new frigates, followed two years later by two minesweepers. That same year, the Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity (SIMA) opened, providing a unique repair asset for the Navy. It delivered top quality repair work for the ships in the Northeast sector, and provided mobilization training for reserve personnel.

By the mid-1980's, the Naval Underwater Systems Center became the largest command in terms of personnel and payroll. At the end of the decade, another minesweeper became the newest addition to Newport's fleet, and NETC began a $6.48 million project to upgrade electrical service and capacity on the complex.

In the early 1990's, several Newport-based frigates were decommissioned or transferred to foreign navies. The remaining ships of Destroyer Squadron SIX (DESRON SIX) were transferred in 1994, which left NETC without a homeported ship for the first time since 1973. As a result of DESRON SIX departing from Newport, Mobile Technical Unit Four; Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Readiness Support Group; Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair, Portsmouth Detachment Boston; and the Newport Field Office were also disestablished. In addition, the Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity was decommissioned after servicing Newport-based ships and visiting fleet units since 1981.

In 1994, the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program was transferred to NETC from San Diego. The school took the place of the Officer Candidate School, which transferred to Pensacola, Florida after graduating over 100,000 officers during its 43 years in Newport. SWOSCOLCOM consolidated the Division Officers School in Newport during 1994 as well.

The mid-1990's saw the construction of several new laboratories at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (formerly NUSC), which continues to provide full spectrum research, development, test, and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines and underwater systems.

A ceremony was held on October 1, 1998 to establish Naval Station Newport as the primary host command, taking over base operating support responsibilities from NETC.

The year also saw the addition of the Navy Warfare Development Command to the Naval War College. Concurrently, the position of president at the Naval War College was reestablished as a three star position, while two new flag officer positions were added.

Throughout many milestones and changes, Naval Station Newport still maintains its prestigious position as Newport County's largest single employer in terms of both personnel and payroll, a position it has held since the mid 1970's.