mare island

Mare Island Naval Shipyard

The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINS) was the first United States Navy shipyard established on the Pacific Coast. It is located 25 miles northeast of San Francisco in Solano County, California. The Napa River goes through the Mare Island Strait and separates the peninsula shipyard (Mare Island, California) from the city of Vallejo, California. MINS made a name for itself as the premier US West Coast submarine port as well as serving as the controlling force in San Francisco Bay Area shipbuilding efforts during World War II. The base closed in 1996 and has gone through several redevelopment phases. Parts of it including 52 buildings were declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1975.


The Navy purchased the original 956 acres (3.9 km²) of MINS in 1853 and commenced shipbuilding operations on September 16, 1854 under the command of then-Commander David Farragut, who would later gain fame during the US Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, when he gave the order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" MINS served as a major Pacific Ocean repair station during the late 1800s, handling American as well as Japanese and Russian vessels in the course of duty. By 1901, this shipyard, Union Iron Works, was contracted out by John Philip Holland's (Holland Torpedo Boat Company) to build two A-Class/Adder-class submarines. They were known as USS Grampus A-3 and USS Pike A-5 and were the first United States Navy submarines built on the West Coast.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard also took a commanding role in civil defense and emergency response on the West Coast, dispatching warships to the Pacific Northwest to subdue Native American uprisings. MINS sent ships such as USS Wyoming south to Central America and the Panama Canal to protect US political and commercial interests. Some of the support, logistics and munition requirements for the Spanish-American War were filled by Mare Island. MINS sent men, materiel and ships to San Francisco in response to the fires following the 1906 earthquake. Arctic rescue missions were mounted as necessary. Ordnance manufacturing and storage were two further key missions at MINS for nearly all of its active service, including ordnance used prior to the American Civil War.

World War I

MINS made big waves with a major shipbuilding effort during World War I. MINS holds a shipbuilding speed record for a destroyer that still stands, launching the USS Ward in just 17½ days in May-June 1918. Mare Island was selected by the Navy for construction of the only US West Coast-built battleship, the USS California, launched in 1919. Noting the power of underwater warfare shown by German U-boats in WWI, the Navy doubled their Pacific-based submarine construction program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard by founding a submarine program at MINS in the early 1920s.

On January 1, 1918, the Marine Detachment of Mare Island won the Rose Bowl, defeating the US Army team fielded by Camp Lewis by a score of 19-7. One year later they appeared in the Rose Bowl again, this time losing by a 17-0 score to a Great Lakes Naval Station team that included future football legends George Halas, Paddy Driscoll and Jimmy Conzelman.

World War II

During World War II, MINS reached peak capacity for shipbuilding, repair, overhaul, and maintenance of many different kinds of sea-going vessels including both surface combatants and submarines. Mare Island even received Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers and four Soviet Navy subs for service. Following the War, MINS was considered to be one of the primary stations for construction and maintenance of the Navy’s Pacific fleet of submarines, having built seventeen submarines and four submarine tenders by the end of hostilities.

War bonds

Patriotism and esprit de corps among the workers ran very high. Mare Island's military and civilian workforce raised almost $76M in war bonds; enough to pay for every one of the submarines built at MINS prior to VJ Day. More than 300 landing craft were built at Mare Island.

1950s to 1990s

Nuclear submarines

In 1955, Mare Island was awarded the contract to build USS Sargo, the first nuclear submarine laid down at a Pacific base. The Sargo was commissioned in 1958. After the Sargo, MINS built seven more nuclear submarines: USS Scamp, USS Halibut, USS Permit, USS Plunger, USS Guitarro, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Drum. During this time, MINS was also building non-nuclear subs such as two of the three Barracuda-class submarines and the USS Grayback, an early guided missile launcher. MINS was often assigned the task of overhaul and/or redesign of submarines built at other shipyards.

Riverine training

In 1969, during the Vietnam War, the US Navy transferred their Brown Water Navy Riverine Training Operations from Coronado, California to Mare Island. Motorists travelling along Highway 37 from the Vallejo/Fairfield areas to the Bay Area, which passes through Mare Island, could often view US Navy Swift Boats (PCF-Patrol Craft Fast) and PBRs (Patrol Boat River), among other riverine type boats, maneuvering through the sloughs of the currently named Napa-Sonoma State Wildlife Area; which borders the north and west portions of Mare Island. US Navy Reserve Units may still operate the slough portions of the State Wildlife Area for training purposes, as the navigable waters are considered public property. The US Navy Brown Water Riverine Forces deactivated after the Vietnam War, maintaining only the US Naval Reserve PBRs and auxiliary craft at Mare Island, until the 1996 base closure; at which time the Reserve units moved to new facilities in Sacramento, California.

Final nuclear service

1970 saw the launching of USS Drum, the last nuclear submarine built in California. In 1972, the Navy officially ceased building new nuclear submarines at Mare Island, though overhaul of existing vessels continued. The USS Nautilus was decommissioned at Mare Island in 1980, then rigged for towing back to Groton, Connecticut to serve as a museum of naval history.

Base closure

Mare Island Naval Shipyard expanded to over 5,200 acres (21 km²) in its service life and was responsible for construction of over 500 naval vessels and overhauling thousands of other vessels. Though it remained a strong contender for continued operations, MINS was identified for closure during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process of 1993. Naval operations ceased and the facility was decommissioned on April 1, 1996. The California Conservation Corps, Touro University, and numerous commercial and industrial businesses are currently leasing property aboard the former naval shipyard. Many of these businesses are still served via the California Northern Railroad (CFNR) which maintains rights to operate what was once over 100 miles of track used for transporting ship building supplies on the island. In May 2000, the Navy completed the transfer of a former housing area called Roosevelt Terrace using an "economic development conveyance"; a method to accelerate the transfer of BRAC facilities back to civilian communities for their economic benefit. The Navy is also transferring property at the shipyard to other government agencies such as Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, a Forest Service office building, an Army Reserve Center, a Coast Guard communications facility, and a Department of Education school.



  • Lott, Arnold S., Lt. Comdr., U.S.N. A Long Line of Ships: Mare Island's Century of Naval Activity in California. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1954.
  • Steffes, James, ENC Retired. Swift Boat Down- The Real Story of the Sinking of PCF-19. (2006); ISBN 1-59926-612-1

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