The Mare Island Story

The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) was the first United States Navy base established on the Pacific Ocean.  It is located 25 miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, CA. The Napa River goes through the Mare Island Strait and separates the peninsula shipyard (Mare Island, CA) from the main portion of the city of Vallejo. MINSY made a name for itself as the premier U.S. 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 were declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1975.

The Navy purchased the original 956 acres of MINSY 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!” MINSY served as a major Pacific Ocean repair station during the late 19th century, handling American as well as Japanese and Russian vessels in the course of duty.

In 1861, the longest lived of the clipper ships, Syren, was brought to Mare Island Navy Yard for $15,000 of repairs. Syren had struck Mile Rock two times while beating out of the Golden Gate.

By 1901, this shipyard, Union Iron Works, was contracted out by John Philip Holland’s (Holland Torpedo Boat Company) to build two Adler-class (later A-class) submarines.

They were known as USS Grampus/A-4 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. MINSY sent ships such as Wyoming south to Central America and the Panama Canal to protect U.S. political and commercial interests. Some of the support, logistics and munition requirements for the Spanish-American War were filled by Mare Island. MINSY 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 MINSY for nearly all of its active service, including ordnance used prior to the American Civil War.

In March 1917 MINSY was the site of a major explosion of barges loaded with munitions killing 6 people, wounding 31, and destroying some port facilities. U.S. Military Intelligence agents tied the blast to roving German saboteur Lothar Witzke, who was caught and imprisoned in 1918.

MINSY saw major shipbuilding efforts during World War I. MINSY 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 U.S. 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 MINSY 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 Jim Conzelman.

The *AJC Band, from Hamilton Field, played at a war bond rally held at Mare Island on June 26, 1945. Behind the band, caricatures of Mussolini and Hitler have been crossed out and a fanged Japanese figure is labeled “Tough One To Go

Base facilities included a hospital, ammo depot, paint/rubber testing labs, schools for firefighters, opticians, and anti-submarine attack training during WWII. MINSY reached peak capacity for shipbuilding, repair, overhaul, and maintenance of many different kinds of seagoing vessels including both surface combatants and submarines. Up to 50,000 workers were employed. Mare Island even received Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers and four Soviet Navy subs for service.

Following the War, MINSY 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.

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 MINSY prior to VJ Day. More than 300 landing craft were built at Mare Island.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard constructed at least eighty-nine sea-going vessels. Among the more important ships & boats built were:

5 of the 7 top-scoring U.S. submarines of WWII were built at Mare Island.

*This editor searched and searched for information on the internet regarding the referenced 1945 AJC Band and found nothing. So, I just typed in ‘The AJC Band’ and found that there still is a ‘AJC Band’.

I emailed the leader of the current AJC Band asking for ‘the meaning of the AJC Band in 1945’ and received the following response:

Hey John…Hmm..I was born nearly 2 decades later. From what can be found on the Internet…it may be the American Jewish Committee (AJC) formed in 1906. 

AJC happens to be my initials…thus the ‘Anthony John Cifaretto Band’. 

I have performed for many WWII Veterans and do a lot of charity work at Lions veterans hospitals in NJ…I will ask around and see if anyone recalls the 1945 band. They seem to have done many War Bond concerts. 



Intrepid Educational Venue readers will be updated with any further responses to the original AJC Band.

UPDATE: An argument could be made that the AJC Band was from Alameda Junior College (now a community college called College of Alameda), which lay about 40 miles to the south of Mare Island.

Submitted by: William Jeanes




This Educational Venue is for former Intrepid Crewmembers

who served …’with pride and dedication’

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