Naval Air Station
Port Lyautey, Morocco
Port Lyautey lies on the Sebou River near the Atlantic Ocean on the route between the capital city of Rabat and the northern coastal city of Tangier. It was established in 1912 by Louis Hubert Lyautey , Morocco's first French resident general, as a military fort to replace Larache which had been incorporated into the Spanish zone. At the beginning of the 20th century, Morocco was recognized as a French sphere of influence having been divided between France and Spain, in 1904, with France receiving the larger share.
PORT LYAUTEY, French Morocco - One of the silliest experiences any correspondent can have is to stand here in this French Moroccan town, and look, only yards away, smack at one of the most important tactical bases the United States armed forces have anywhere on the globe. The silly feeling arises because the joint is top-secret, hush-hush-hush, its existence officially denied by the U.S. Navy. The Port Lyautey Naval Air Facility is the aorta of supply to the U.S. Sixth Fleet air arm, the sharpest cutting blade of American strength in Europe, but Naval brass hats in the Pentagon still pretend no one knows about this key base "which does not exist" except in the knowledge of a few million Moroccans, Frenchmen, and sundry. In any event, here are the facts the major lifeline on the crucial Mediterranean flank of Western Europe.
The U.S. Navy captured the Port Lyautey fighter base from the Vichy French in November 1942, at the time of the American invasion of North Africa. The Navy ran the base without asking the French a single "S'il vous plait" until 1947, when the State Department negotiated reversion of control to France. In 1950, before Korea, under the "economy" regime of former Defense Secretary Louis Johnson, a $23,000,000 expansion was authorized, but then Korea exploded. The sixth fleet tripled. Likewise, base personnel. Now there are nearly 10,000 persons on the base, including the largest aggregration of Americans in any one overseas base outside Japan.
Conditions are so crowded that many enlisted men still sleep in tents with their feet literally in each other's faces. Morale, despite high elan, suffers because of almost complete lack of recreational facilities. Men molder nightly at such dives as Mama's and Jack's in Port Lyautey, or the vine-covered cottage in Rabat. The only real sport is golf, on a tiny course among the runways, midst jets roaring off to replace planes lost at sea.
When today it is an axiom of next-war strategy that tactical atomic bombs can be delivered to targets by fighters and that one of the obvious instruments for such infiltration into Southern Russia is the U.S. Sixth Fleet, under Admiral Robert B. Carney, it seems baffling to laymen why Port Lyautey is thus neglected. One top source's comment: "penny wise and pound foolish." Defense officials, in fact, reveal a hot dispute in high echelons as to whether U.S. naval bases in the Mediterranean should be concentrated in Spain, and all others, including Port Lyautey, let go. ["SECRET PORT LYAUTEY BASE KEY TO MEDITERRANEAN AREA" by John P. Leacacos of the North American Newspaper Alliance, 1950]
Map of Port Lyautey
Air view of Port Lyautey
Mine Shop crew
Left to Right: J.H.Rocheleleau, Leonard Warner ("Hungry Harry") H.D. Streight, H.Turner, AV Edwards, chief (back in shop).
R.A. Goodwin, H.A.Thanscheidt, C.W. Martin, R.E. Davis, E.F. Rassman, R.C. Thole, H.A. Wallace, Lundburg, Walsh.
[photo courtesy of Leonard Walker]
Derick S. Hartshorn -