YORKTOWN, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Weapons Station (WPNSTA) Yorktown celebrated 96 years of service to the fleet, providing ordnance and technical support to the U.S. Navy, Aug. 7.
Since 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a presidential proclamation establishing the Navy Mine Depot at Yorktown, the installation has been the hallmark of excellence for ordnance handling operations. More than 90,000 tons of ordnance is moved annually on and off U.S. Navy ships, U.S. Coast Guard ships and ships of U.S. allies.
Given the country's ordnance needs once the U.S. entered 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 Nov. 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, WPNSTA Yorktown and its tenant commands continue to provide critical fleet ordnance support for the Navy.
"Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and its predecessor, Navy Mine Depot Yorktown, have a rich and storied history on the peninsula," said Capt. Paul Haebler, commanding officer, WPNSTA Yorktown. "The work we do here today, from ordnance handling to expeditionary combat training, carries on that tradition and will continue to do so for the next 96 years and beyond."
For construction of the Navy Mine Depot, about 13,000 acres, which straddled York, Warwick, 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.
Originally home to Native Americans of the Kiskiak tribe, part of the Powhatan nation, the acquired property had subsequently provided homes to colonists, farmers and watermen of the area. To this day, much of the land on WPNSTA Yorktown is forest and wetlands, which provides 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, other administrative buildings, a railroad connection to the C&O Railroad, a telephone system and a pier for $3 million.
"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 one-hundred-twenty days," said Leo Forrest, a retired civilian employee and WPNSTA Yorktown historian. "The pier was a high priority item due to the numerous complaints from the ships that were bringing war materials to Yorktown."
"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. "It wasn't easy work, by no means."
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 the Navy's outstanding ammunition terminals.
Originally, a compliment of U.S. Marines were stationed at the Navy Mine Depot to provide base security. Due to the immense size of the installation, the Marines patrolled the perimeter on horseback. The horses were eventually replaced by motor vehicles in 1960, making WPNSTA Yorktown the last naval activity to use horse-mounted Marines.
During much of its history, WPNSTA Yorktown hosted various tenant commands in support of their mission. One of the more unique was Aviation Field Yorktown. In July 1919, an aviation training camp was established. 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 at the time.
"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," Forrest explained.
On May 8, 1925, the first overland commercial flight from New York City to Hampton Roads landed at Aviation Field Yorktown. The field also played a part in the first aircraft launch/recovery operations from sea conducted by USS Langley (CV 1) in 1922.
Today, WPNSTA Yorktown hosts 37 tenant commands and activities which include Navy Munitions Command (NMC), NMC CONUS East Division, NMC Detachment Yorktown, Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity, the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, Fleet Industrial Supply Center Detachment, Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, Naval Expeditionary Medical Support Command, Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 and various other departments.
In 1932, the Navy Mine Depot became the Naval Mine Depot in recognition of expanded ordnance support. Then, on Aug. 7, 1958, on the station's 40th anniversary, the name was changed to Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, again in recognition of a much expanded mission for naval ordnance. As part of the Navy's Mid-Atlantic installation claimant consolidation, Cheatham Annex, formerly an annex of the Fleet Industrial Supply Center, Norfolk, was incorporated with the station Oct. 1, 1998.
As WPNSTA Yorktown approaches its 100th anniversary in 2018, the installation not only does the job for which it was originally intended but has continuously evolved over the past 96 years. The history of the installation is not only part Navy heritage, but also part of the nation's history from its founding here in Virginia.
For more news from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, visit www.navy.mil/local/nwsyorktown/.