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Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Celebrates 90 Years of Ordnance Support

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS080801-07
Release Date: 8/7/2008 9:00:00 AM

By Mark O. Piggott, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Public Affairs

YORKTOWN (NNS) -- Naval Weapons Station Yorktown celebrates 90 years of providing ordnance and technical support to the U.S. Navy Aug. 7.

On Aug. 7, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Presidential Proclamation establishing the Navy Mine Depot at Yorktown, Va.

Given the country's ordnance needs for World War I, the initial mission of the depot was to support the Allied underwater mine barrage in the North Sea. However, when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the station's mission quickly evolved to receipt and storage of returned mines and provision of ordnance support for the peacetime Navy. Today, NWS Yorktown and its tenant commands continue to provide critical fleet ordnance support for the Navy.

"Naval Weapons Station Yorktown has a rich and storied history in support of our Navy and our nation," said Capt. Bette Bolivar, commanding officer, NWS Yorktown. "Team Yorktown carries on that tradition today and will continue for the next 90 years and beyond."

For construction of the Navy Mine Depot, about 13,000 acres, which straddled York, Warwick, and James City Counties and bordered the York River, were appropriated.

At the time of the proclamation, the Navy Mine Depot was the largest naval activity in the world.
Much of the land on NWS Yorktown is forest and wetlands, which provide ample protected locations for ordnance operations.

Initial construction of the Naval Mine Depot included 15 storage magazines for mines, depth charges and other explosives; an explosives loading plant; a public works building; a power plant; barracks, mess hall and other administrative buildings; a railroad connection to the C&O Railroad; a telephone system and a pier … all of for $3 million dollars.

"A pier construction bid was opened on March 17, 1919 and was awarded by March 20, 1919 for a pier that was to be completed within 120 days," said Leo Forrest, an employee of the Navy Munitions Command, CONUS East Division.

"The pier was a high priority item because there had been complaints from the captain's of the ships that were bringing war materials to Yorktown.

"For example, the ships had to anchor in the York River and the underwater mines and other material would have to be moved onto barges that would be brought up to an old dock and off loaded, all by hand," he added.

The original wooden pier was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1933 and a fire in 1954. In 1962, a modern concrete pier was built. Subsequent improvements to this pier have made it one of Navy's outstanding ammunition terminals.

A compliment of U.S. Marines was stationed at the Navy Mine Depot in 1918 to provide security. The Marines patrolled the station and its perimeter on horseback. The horses were replaced by motor vehicles in 1960, making NWS Yorktown the last naval activity to use horse-mounted Marines.

During much of its history, NWS Yorktown has hosted various tenant commands in support of their mission. In July 1919, an aviation training camp was established complete with an aircraft hangar. Its landing field, located in the area adjacent to the Colonial Parkway and Felgate's Creek, was considered one of the best landing fields in the country.

"Aviation Field Yorktown continues to be an area that attracts a great deal of interest," Forrest said.

"Following the first World War, an aviation training school was established there to provide the first advanced aviation training for naval pilots in bombing, torpedo and gunnery operations. The aviation field was considered one of the best landing fields in the country."

"Then, on May 8, 1925, the first overland commercial flight from New York City to this region landed at Aviation Field Yorktown," he continued. Today, a Virginia Historical Highway Marker – on VA Route 238 near the station – commemorates Aviation Field Yorktown.

In 1932, the Navy Mine Depot became the Naval Mine Depot in recognition of expanded ordnance support. Then, on August 7, 1958, on the Station's 40th anniversary, the name was changed from Naval Mine Depot Yorktown to Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, again in recognition of a much expanded mission for naval ordnance.

Today, the station is home to the Navy Munitions Command Headquarters, an organization established on June 8, 2006, to manage ordnance support worldwide for the Navy. The CONUS East Division of the Navy Munitions Command is also located on the station. This division is responsible for providing firepower to the Atlantic Fleet.

Established 90 years ago, the military, civilian and contractor personnel of the station continue to provide the Navy with outstanding Fleet ordnance support and sustain the station's reputation as a premier ordnance facility.

"We have the challenge of maintaining the standards set forth by 90 years of naval heritage," Bolivar said. "Team Yorktown is working hard each and everyday to reach that bar and then set it one notch higher."

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