1954-1978 Military Ocean Terminal Kings Bay, U.S. Army
1978-1982 Naval Submarine Support Base Kings Bay
1982-Present Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay
THE EARLY YEARS
The Kings Bay region is a pleasant place to live, as shown by the fact people have populated the area for thousands of years. Archeological research conducted over the past 35 years has revealed a pre-Columbian Indian presence throughout the area.
Early in the 19th century, much of what is now a bustling, modern submarine base was the site of several plantations, including Cherry Point, Harmony Hall, New Canaan, Marianna and Kings Bay. Along the bay, Maj. Thomas King purchased property in 1791 and developed a small- to medium-sized plantation overlooking Cumberland Island. Investigations by University of Florida archaeologists revealed a broad spectrum of previously unknown information about the life of the plantation owner of the day.
Cherry Point is on the north end of the base originally granted by the governor of Georgia to John King in 1792. The King family (no relation to Thomas King) lived there from 1792 to 1823. His son James sold the plantation to John Houston McIntosh and moved west to present-day Kingsland.
McIntosh built several considerably larger plantations known as New Canaan, where he grew cotton and sugar cane, and Marianna Plantation, on the former Cherry Point property. Just west of the Stimson Gate, across Georgia Highway Spur 40, lays the two-story tabby ruin of McIntosh’s sugar mill.
Point Peter is the site of one of the last major military engagements of the War of 1812 in January 1815, when the British landed in force on Cumberland Island, then staged a two-pronged attack against the fort. The Americans retreated and made a last stand against the invaders along what is now Kamehameha Avenue on lower base. A peace treaty ending the War of 1812 was signed in Belgium in December 1814, but the soldiers, far removed from Europe, knew nothing of the treaty. The British then destroyed the fort, barracks and magazine. After occupying and looting Point Peter, Cumberland Island and St. Marys, the British left in early March 1815. An exhibit about the fort and battle is on display at the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum in downtown St. Marys.
THE ARMY YEARS
The Army began to acquire land at Kings Bay in 1954 to build a military ocean terminal to ship ammunition in case of a national emergency. Construction actively began in 1956 and was completed in 1958. Since there was no immediate operational need for the installation, it was placed in an inactive ready status.
The most prominent feature of the terminal was the 2,000-foot-long, 87-foot-wide concrete and steel wharf. In addition, three parallel railroad tracks would have enabled the simultaneous loading of several ammunition ships from rail cars and trucks.
Elsewhere aboard the base, the Army built 47 miles of railroad tracks. Spurs off the main line ran into temporary storage areas that were protected by earthen barricades. These mounds of dirt, still prominent features in many areas of the base, were designed to localize damage in case of explosive accidents.
Never activated to serve its primary purpose, the Army base was used for other missions. In 1964, as Hurricane Dora hammered the area, nearly 100 area residents were sheltered aboard the base. Also, during the Cuban missile crisis, an Army Transportation Battalion of 1,100 personnel and 70 small boats took up position at Kings Bay.
THE NAVY YEARS
The chain of events that led to today’s combination of high-tempo submarine operations at Kings Bay and the complex construction project that reshaped the face of thousands of acres of land began in 1975. At the time, treaty negotiations between Spain and the United States were in progress. A proposed change to our base agreement with Spain was the withdrawal of the fleet ballistic-missile submarine squadron, Submarine Squadron 16, from its operational base at Rota, Spain. Anticipating this would take place, the chief of naval operations ordered studies to select a new refit site on the East Coast.
In January 1976, negotiators initialed a draft treaty between Spain and the U.S.; it called for withdrawal of the squadron from Rota by July 1979. The U.S. Congress ratified the treaty in June 1976.
A site-selection steering group evaluated more than 60 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. By summer 1976, the number of sites was narrowed to five: Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island; Cheatham Annex, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; Kings Bay, Georgia; and Mosquito Lagoon, Florida.
A comprehensive study evaluated each site against a number of criteria, including costs, ability to meet required schedule, land availability to meet explosive safety requirements, operational capabilities and logistics consideration, environmental impact and growth potential for future requirements. After careful review, the Navy selected Kings Bay.
The first Navy personnel arrived in the Kings Bay area in January 1978 and started preparations for the orderly transfer of property from the Army to the Navy. Naval Submarine Support Base Kings Bay was established in a developmental status July 1, 1978. The base — now Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay — occupies the former Army terminal, as well as several thousand additional acres.
Preparations for the arrival of the submarine squadron went forward in haste throughout the remainder of 1978 and into 1979. Commander Submarine Squadron 16 greeted the submarine tender USS Simon Lake (AS 33) when it arrived at Kings Bay on July 2, 1979. Four days later, USS James Monroe (SSBN 622) entered Kings Bay and moored alongside USS Simon Lake to begin a routine refit in preparation for another deterrent patrol. Kings Bay has been an operating submarine base since that day.
In May 1979, the Navy selected Kings Bay as the preferred East Coast site for the Ohio-class submarine. On Oct. 23, 1980, after a one-year environmental impact study was completed and with congressional approval, the secretary of the Navy announced Kings Bay as the future home of the new Trident submarine. The building project included the construction of three major commands: Trident Training Facility (TTF), Trident Refit Facility (TRF) and Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT).
On Jan. 15, 1989, the first Trident submarine, USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), arrived at Kings Bay. The commissioning of USS Louisiana (SSBN 742) in September 1997 gave Kings Bay its full complement of 10 Trident submarines.
The enormous effort put forth by all the commands at Kings Bay reached fruition in late March 1990, when the Trident II (D-5) missile made its first deterrent patrol aboard USS Tennessee.
The end of the Cold War and the reorganization of military forces in the 1990s affected Kings Bay. A nuclear policy review recommended the Navy reduce the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarines from 18 to 14 by 2005.
To meet the review recommendation, the four oldest Ohio-class submarines were decommissioned and converted to conventional (SSGN) platforms. Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Nebraska, Maine and Louisiana shifted homeport to Naval Base Kitsap, Washington, as part of balancing the Trident fleet. USS Florida (SSGN 728) arrived at Kings Bay in May 2006 and USS Georgia (SSGN 729) arrived in 2007. In 2009, USS Alaska (SSBN 732) shifted homeport to Kings Bay.
In addition to being an integral part of our nation’s strategic deterrence program, Kings Bay has attained and sustained award-winning results unsurpassed in Navy Region Southeast or other submarine and shore commands in the U.S. Navy.
In 2007, Kings Bay was named the top naval installation in the DOD when it received the commander in chief’s installation excellence award for its ability to sustain its mission, increase productivity and enhance quality of life. In addition, the award recognized the base’s creative management, new ideas and leadership. Kings Bay also received the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s highest safety rating in the Voluntary Protection Program and the secretary of the Navy and chief of naval operations Safety Ashore Award for the third consecutive year.
Kings Bay continues to take great pride in its mission and dedication to service; a base recognized for total commitment to innovation, quality of life, environmental awareness and community relations.