U.S. NAVAL AMMUNITION DEPOT
Construction Dominates Early Years of Largest Depot
On a Saturday afternoon in 1926, during a raging electrical storm, a fire broke out in a magazine at an ammunition depot in Lake Denmark, New Jersey. It set off a series of explosions which destroyed or badly damaged all buildings on the station. The explosions were followed by fires which raged for a week through smokeless powder magazines, shell houses, service buildings and woods.
A Court of Inquiry was appointed on July 14, 1926 to investigate this, the Lake Denmark disaster. The efforts of their painstaking investigation led to the drastic revisions in the practices of ammunition storage, and led to the selection of Hawthorne as the site for a new, modern, inland ammunition depot. The Court of Inquiry recommended that this new ammunition Depot be established to serve the Pacific coast, be located within 1,000 miles of that coast, have a climate conducive to the storage of ammunition, and have capabilities to expand.
The Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks took these recommendations into consideration. A number of points in Nevada, Utah and California were originally considered.
Admirals C. C. Bloch and L. E. Gregory made a personal inspection of the prospective sites in each state. It was finally limited down to three possibilities:
Hawthorneor Flannigan Nevada(60 miles north of Reno), and Secret Valleyin Eastern California.
The Admirals made their joint recommendation to the Secretary of the Navy on Dec. 13, 1926 that
be selected as the location for the Naval Ammunition Depot. The aggregated cost of such a project was estimated at $3,500,000. Hawthorne
Senator John Miller of
Mineral County, part owner of the Lucky Boy Mining Company, was instrumental in encouraging the Department of the Navy to select as the future site for such an ammunition depot. Hawthorne
The new Depot was ideally located 320 miles from the Naval Weapons Station,
Concord, a major out loading port, and 450 miles from the Naval Weapons Station, . The climate in Seal Beach Western Nevadawas ideal for ammunition storage. The average humidity is about 27 percent, and there is less than 6 inches of rainfall per year.
Under the first contract for construction work at
only 17 buildings were erected in the magazine area. Twelve of these were magazines. There was one filing house, one final assembly building and one empty mine storage building. There were also two buildings for the storage of detonators. Hawthorne
Construction was formally launched on July 24, 1928 when Governor Fred Balzar, and many other prominent Nevadans, assembled in Hawthorne with representatives of the Navy Department, Admirals Gregory and Leahy, and LCDR Cotter (the Public Works Officer-in-Charge of Construction). Ground was broken at a point on the northern edge of the town of
, for the exact plans on the location of the new buildings were not yet ready. Hawthorne
The Depot was formally commissioned on Sept. 15, 1930, and 72 officers and enlisted personnel reported for duty on October 1 of that year. When the main gates opened for business 90 civilian employees joined the military personnel making a total work force of 162. The first shipment of high explosives arrived on Oct. 19, 1930.
In December 1930, bids were received for the proposed Mine Filling Plant, with the exception of two buildings constructed under the original contract. Shortly after this, contracts were let totaling $333,000.
In March 1931 the bids were received for Cat Creek Dam, a 50-million gallon capacity reservoir. The total cost of the original work at Cat Creek was $100,000. Water started collecting in the dam in March of 1932, and work was completed in April of that year.
During 1934-35 there was a great deal of work done on the reservation by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This group of individuals' chief purpose at the Depot was to aid in the reforestation of
. But, they engaged in several other projects for the Depot. They completed most of the mountain roads on the Depot's property and built a second 50-million gallon reservoir, Mt. Grant . Rose Creek
_Gradual expansion during the 1930's in terms of facilities and personnel was followed by a tremendous increase during World War II. In October 1940 the facilities at
, where space was practically unlimited, were increased by the construction of 23 high explosive, 22 smokeless powder, 7 fixed-ammunition and 26 projectile storage magazines. Hawthorne
At the same time the station was further improved by the building of 15 miles of railroad tracks within its boundaries. (The Depot now has over 200 miles of railroad tracks.) Nearly all of
's wartime buildings were erected as permanent structures. Hawthorne
During this time frame, the Depot's mission was expanded beyond various types of ammunition, such as rockets, mines, depth charges, torpedoes, to include cast loading facilities. At the end of wartime expansion, magazines, storehouses, production and other buildings covered over 80 square miles.
's semi-isolation location caused numerous obstacles during the early construction years of the Depot. Efficient construction labor was scarce, and material deliveries were uncertain. Hawthorne
The one branch-line railroad serving the station was overtaxed by the freighting of both construction and ammunition materials. Moreover, long-distance truck hauling was handicapped by the conditions of mountain driving.
As practically no accommodations for construction laborers were available in the territory, except the limited facilities of an old CCCCamp, seven 100-man barracks had to be built to augment those facilities. A housing program for civilian personnel was also untaken, which ultimately provided 1225 permanent units and 300 trailers in a community called Babbitt.
The Depot's operations have since been expanded to include extensive ammunition renovation and demilitarization. The proof and testing of rockets and other types of ammunition have also been added.
On 1 October 1977, the Ammunition Depot in
ended its 47 year allegiance to the U.S. Navy officially and became the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant. Along with NAD Hawthorne the Navy's Ammunition Depot in Hawthorne, Nevada , also became an Army installation. This changeover was the result of a Secretary of Defense directive that ordered the consolidation of all conventional ammunition under the direct control of a Single Manager - which the Army was designated. McAlester, Okla.
Since December 1, 1980 the Army Ammunition Plant has been operated by civilian company Government Owned-Contract Operated (GOCO) facility with a much smaller work force under Army supervision. Bombs are no longer are built on the base. The only military presence at the base is an Army lieutenant colonel, along with Marine, Army, and Navy that periodically train in the desert.
[DD-01] NAD Hawthorne - The date is unknown, however, part of
the Navy Complex is shown in the lower left of the picture.
All of the Navy complex that was constructed during the WWII period has been completely removed. The only remaining evidence that there was such a complex is some of the concrete foundations. This complex had included messing facilities, theater, laundry, office spaces, etc. The inside gym and swimming pool was located on the main base where it still remains. As the first sailors to report to Hawthorne in December 1950, they lived and messed with the Marines. About April or May the Navy crew of MN and TM started refurbishing one of the old barracks and the grounds. After the first barracks was suitable for living we moved to "Navy Side" but always used the Marine Mess. For the breakfast and dinner meals we were required to form up and march to the mess. This was because we had to pass through the Main Gate. I remember that the Marine CO had a lot to do with the way we went through the Main Gate. Later, other structures were refurbished to accommodate personnel office, training and another barracks. The dispensary located on Main Side had always been manned by doctors, nurses and corpsman for support of the depot. These pictures depict the type of structures and approximate size of the complex.
Officer's Quarters ca late 1930's-early 1940's
[DD-02] Row upon row of storage buildings, which add up to more than two million square feet of space, make up the majority of the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant's 250 square miles of land, upon which NUWES' Detachment is a tenant. These particular buildings, which are maintained by NUWES, are framed by Nevada's Wassuc Mountains.
[DD-03] Mk 6 mines fill Mine Assembly Building 104-6
[DD-04] Mk 16 mines are also worked on in Mine Assembly Building 104-6
[DD-05] In the 104 area Mine shop, Supervisor Ben Busby, holds a K-4 Firing Mechanism.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Usnick <email@example.com>
Hawthorne Ammunition Depot celebrates 82nd birthday
U.S. Navy archives This was the mine assembly building at the Navy Ammunition Depot (now Hawthorne Army Depot).
Thanks to Phil Beckwith for this article.
[Photos courtesy of Don DeCrona except as noted]
Derick S. Hartshorn -