Bases, Military: Development of

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Bases, Military: Development of. Providing a secure site from which to operate, military bases can be temporary wartime installations or long‐term facilities. Strategic planning drives their necessity, but other considerations often determine their location, particularly in peacetime.

With the creation of a permanent U.S. Army after the Revolutionary War, the primary bases for the standing army and its supplies were established at West Point, New York, and at Fort Pitt (later Fort Fayette), at what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an indication of the regular army's missions of coastal and frontier defense. Bases served as military headquarters, barracks, training fields, and storage depots. Later bases would be created in a number of the seacoast fortifications such as Fort Jay (1794) on Governors Island in New York Harbor and Fortress Monroe (1823) at Point Comfort on Hampton Roads, Virginia, where the Coastal Artillery School was situated.

U.S. expansion in the first half of the nineteenth century saw the establishment of a string of army outposts across the country, including Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri (1826), where the Infantry School was established, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (1827), which later became the site for both the military prison and the Command and General Staff College; and Carlisle Barracks, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (1842), site of the Army War College in the twentieth century.

When the U.S. Navy was established in 1794, permanent navy yards were soon created in Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington, and Norfolk, for the construction, repair, and berthing of ships and their preparation for sea duty. Mindful of the political and economic benefits of these bases, Congress made sure that the navy yards were dispersed among New England, the Mid‐Atlantic, and the South.

When not serving afloat, members of the U.S. Marine Corps, created in 1798, guarded navy yards, drilled, and maintained discipline. In 1800, the Marine Corps commandant was relocated from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Consequently, Marine barracks were established there and at the other navy yards.

Acquisition of Florida, Texas, Oregon, and the Mexican territories led to the construction of new army posts, naval bases, and Marine barracks on the Gulf and West Coasts. Among these new bases were navy yards created at Pensacola, Florida, in 1825, and Mare Island, San Francisco Bay, in 1853 (the Marine barracks founded on Mare Island in 1862 is the oldest permanent Marine Corps installation on the West Coast).

In the Plains Indians Wars, infantry and mounted troops were quartered in wooden and adobe forts dotting the West and Southwest. Among the most famous were Fort Bliss, Texas (established 1849); Fort Bridger, Wyoming (1857); Fort Riley, Kansas (1852); Fort Laramie, Wyoming (1849); Fort Sam Houston, Texas (1876); and Fort Sill, Oklahoma (1869). Long after the Indians had been conquered, however, the economic benefit to rural congressional districts of scores of small posts prevented the army from abandoning them until just before World War I.

America's outward thrust and acquisition of an island empire after the Spanish‐American War led to the establishment of the first permanent U.S. military bases overseas. Congress was reluctant to spend outside its constituencies, and the army and navy often disagreed over the best location (for example, in the Philippines), so the major expansion of naval bases took place within the continental United States. Nevertheless, naval installations were created in Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii (Pearl Harbor, Oahu, was designated the navy's major forward base in the Pacific in 1911), and, after 1914, in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone. By 1916, the navy had ten major continental bases (with particularly significant facilities at Newport, Rhode Island, and Norfolk, Virginia), including two new navy yards, created largely through congressional influence, at Charleston, South Carolina, and Bremerton, Washington. After 1920, the main part of the fleet was moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific; consequently, the navy bases at San Diego, Los Angeles, and Pearl Harbor grew in importance.

World War I and the creation of massive wartime armies led to the proliferation of military training camps. Although the majority of Americans lived in the North of the country, climate and congressional influence meant that a majority of training cantonments were erected in the South. Among the most important training facilities of 1917–18 were Fort Benning, Georgia (1918), which later became the nation's largest infantry training center and home of the army's Infantry School; Fort Bragg, North Carolina (1918), later the army's main airborne training center and site of the Special Warfare School; Fort Dix, New Jersey (1917), later, in World War II, to become the largest army training center in the United States; Fort George G. Meade, Maryland (1917); and Fort Knox, Kentucky (1917), which later also served as the U.S. gold depository. The Marines established a basic training camp at Parris Island, South Carolina (1917), and an officers' training camp at Quantico, Virginia (1917).

Many of these bases remained in operation or were reactivated and modernized in World War II, but new training centers were also created for that. Among the new facilities, the largest were the army's Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (1940), and Fort Hood, Texas (1942); and the Marines' training center at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina (1942), subsequently the largest Marine base in the eastern United States.

The Army Air Service had established Langley Field, Virginia, in 1916; today, as headquarters of the Air Combat Command, it remains the oldest continuously active air force base in the United States. Other early air bases (initially called fields) for the Army Air Corps, 1926–41, included Wright‐Patterson Field, Ohio (1917); Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. (1918); and Maxwell Field, Alabama (1918). Maxwell housed the Air Corps Tactical School, a major flight training center in World War II and the Air University after the war. In the 1930s, Wheeler and Hickam Fields, Hawaii, and Clark Field, in the Philippines, were created.

The Army Air Forces, 1941–47, established a number of air bases in the United States, including Andrews Army Air Base, Maryland (1942); Dover Army Air Base, Delaware (1941); and Muroc Army Base, California (1942), a combat training and experimental test site renamed Edwards Air Force Base in 1949.

It was only during World War II and the Cold War that the United States established a network of long‐term overseas bases in foreign countries. Since sovereignty resided with the host nation, major diplomatic negotiations were required for U.S. forces to be stationed there permanently or on long‐term leases. Negotiations also involved issues of military necessity and use, economic compensation, legal jurisdiction, and even social fraternization. One of the first of these was the Destroyers‐for‐Bases Agreement (1940), which provided for ninety‐nine‐year leases for U.S. naval and air bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and five British islands in the Caribbean.

During the war, the United States obtained other basing rights in Iceland, the Azores, Brazil, Morocco, and Great Britain. These bases supported the antisubmarine war, the ferrying of aircraft and other supplies to Britain and the Soviet Union, and ultimately the Allied invasions of North Africa, Italy, and France. In the Pacific, after the loss of Guam and the Philippines, the U.S. military established advanced bases in Australia and New Zealand for the war against Japan. The Army Air Forces created major bomber bases in Britain, North Africa, and Italy, as well as in China and in Pacific islands like Tinian. The logistics of training and supplying an army of more than 11 million were enormous and involved scores of bases throughout the world.

Cold War containment of communism and global defense of U.S. interests during the Korean War and the Vietnam War led to a proliferation of major American bases overseas in the 1950s and 1960s. With its air‐atomic offensive capability, the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC), headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (1948), was America's principal instrument of deterrence and potential offensive operations against the Soviet Union. As part of the containment of the Soviet Union, Congress authorized an extensive system of overseas bases after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. SAC increased the deployment of its bombers from nineteen to thirty bases in the United States and from one to eleven bases overseas, including forward bases in England, Morocco, Spain, Libya, Greenland, Korea, and the Philippines. But when the Soviets developed missiles in the late 1950s, and domestic dissent arose in many of the host countries, the overseas SAC bases became increasingly vulnerable both militarily and politically. Consequently, the SAC strike force was withdrawn, primarily to air bases and intercontinental ballistic missile bases in the western hemisphere.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had been expanded in 1951 to include rearmament and ground defense of West Germany; as a result, the United States stationed army divisions at bases in Heidelberg, Würzburg, and Bad Kreuznach, and aircraft at air bases at Ramstein and Rhein‐Main Air Force Base near Frankfurt. The U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet operated in the Mediterranean from a forward Italian base at Gaeta, north of Naples. In the Pacific, the navy took over the old Imperial Japanese naval yard at Yokosuka on Tokyo Bay as the forward base for the Seventh Fleet. The Third Fleet remained based at San Diego and the Second Fleet at Norfolk. The army and air force also retained major facilities in South Korea and in Japan, and particularly on the southernmost Japanese island of Okinawa, as well as Hickam Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks on Hawaii. The Marine Expeditionary Forces were based at Camps Lejeune, North Carolina; Pendleton, California; and Butler, Okinawa.

During the Vietnam War, Okinawa, Guam, and Subic Bay on Luzon in the Philippines became major advanced bases for supplying the U.S. military effort. In 1965, the United States established one of the largest military facilities in South Vietnam at Cam Ranh Bay.

As major U.S. military concerns shifted to the unstable, oil‐rich Persian Gulf, an advanced U.S. naval base was established at Diego Garcia, a British atoll in the Indian Ocean. This was augmented by a new system of prepositioned, commercially leased supply ships loaded with heavy equipment and supplies, stationed in various regions. In the Persian Gulf War of 1991, unlike the previous overseas buildups, adequate port and air facilities for the allied Coalition forces already existed.

At the end of the Cold War, downsizing of the armed forces was accompanied by major closing of bases and installations. Domestically, this politically difficult task was accomplished through a bipartisan commission, headed by former member of Congress James Courter. Its recommendations were presented to Congress on an all‐or‐nothing basis. Overseas, often under local pressure to withdraw or renegotiate existing treaties, the United States closed some of its oldest and largest bases, including, in the Philippines, Clark Air Force Base in 1991 after it was extensively damaged by a volcanic eruption, and Subic Bay Naval Base in 1992.

In the late 1990s, the United States came under increasing pressure to withdraw from Okinawa, which had succeeded the Philippines as the largest U.S. military base in the western Pacific. At the end of the twentieth century, it remained an open question how much further the U.S. overseas and domestic base system would be reduced.
[See also Bases, Military: Life on; Canada, U.S. Military Involvement in; Germany, U.S. Military Involvement in; Japan, U.S. Military Involvement in; Korea, U.S. Military Involvement in; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in; United Kingdom, U.S. Military Involvement in.]


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John Whiteclay Chambers II