Mare Island Naval Shipyard During World War One

Published: 16 November 2023

By Mike Hanlon
via the Roads to the Great War web site

ship_launch Mare_Island

A Ship Launching at Mare Island during World War I

Northern San Francisco Bay Area; Mare Island ShownMare Island History

Mare Island History

Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, became the first United States naval base on the West Coast in 1854. The island, technically a peninsula, is in the northern San Francisco Bay off of a subsection, known as San Pablo Bay. The first U.S. warship (1859) and first dry dock (1872–91) constructed on the West Coast were built here.  The shipyard has been associated with military affairs, development of industrial design, and persons significant in U.S. maritime history beginning with David Farragut on through World War II leaders.

During World War II, it was to evolve into one of the busiest naval shipyards in the world. In its last 25 years of operation, it was the leading submarine port for the West Coast. More than 500 naval vessels were constructed and thousands more overhauled before the yard closed in 1996.

Less well known is the tremendous contribution of Mare Island to the nation’s effort in World War I. The first years of the 20th century brought new activity to Mare Island. Two of the Navy’s first fleet of six submarines, Grampus (SS-4) and Pike (SS-6), were delivered to Mare Island from Union Iron Works in San Francisco in 1903.  The submarine torpedo boats were only 60 feet long, with an 11-foot beam. Over a three-and-a-half-year period, they operated in a training and experimental capacity in the shallow waters of the San Pablo Bay. Underwater trips were usually no more than a couple hours long. Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur, Jr., brother of Army General Douglas MacArthur, was skipper of both submarines. In 1904, the first U.S. Navy radio station on the West Coast was established at Mare Island.

WWI Activities

Mare Island gained prominence as a shipbuilding facility during World War I and the years immediately following. The yard built its first destroyer, USS Shaw (Destroyer No. 68) [not to be confused with the USS Shaw (DD-373) that had its forward magazine explode during the Pear Harbor attack]. DD-68 was launched 9 December 1916 and commissioned on 9 April 1917.  Shaw escorted the fourth troop convoy of the AEF and would serve a similar role throughout the war and the post-Armistice period.

In 1918, Mare Island broke records by building USS Ward (Destroyer No. 139) in 17.5 days. At Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Shaw would gain lasting fame by sinking  a Japanese midget submarine attempting to enter the harbor by shadowing the Navy ship Antares.  It was later lost in a kamikaze attack off Leyte in 1944.

The yard set another milestone when it built and launched the first super-dreadnought on the West Coast—USS California (Battleship No. 44). The battleship was launched 21 November 1919 and commissioned two years later. From 1914 to 1918 the Mare Island Yards began construction on the battleship California, nine destroyers, 15 wooden sub-chasers, and two tankers. Not all of them were commissioned by the time of the Armistice, but almost all of the vessels would go on to see service during the Second World War.

Read the entire article on the Roads to the Great War web site here:

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