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Aerial photograph of the base fitness center and swimming pool circa 1985.

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 three decades 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, Thomas King developed his Kings Bay plantation. Buying the land in the 1790s, King built a small-to-medium sized plantation. Investigations by University of Florida archaeologists revealed a broad spectrum of previously unknown information about the lifestyle of the plantation owner of the day.

Elsewhere on what is now base property, John Houston McIntosh built a considerably larger plantation known as New Canaan, where he grew cotton and sugar cane. Just west of the Stimson Gate, across Georgia Highway Spur 40, rests the two-story tabby ruin of McIntosh’s sugar mill. Point Peter was the site of the last major military engagement of the War of 1812 in January 1815, when the British landed in force on Cumberland Island and 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.

Military Presence at Kings Bay

  • 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 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 at 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 of 1976, the number of sites was narrowed to five: Narragansett Bay, RI; Cheatham Annex, VA; Charleston, SC; Kings Bay, GA; and, Mosquito Lagoon, FL.

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 entire 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 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 October 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 January 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 on board 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.

In order to meet the review recommendation, the four oldest Ohio-class submarines were decommissioned and converted to guided missile (SSGN) platforms. Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Nebraska, Maine, and Louisiana shifted homeport to Naval Base Kitsap, WA, as part of balancing the Trident fleet.

USS Florida (SSGN 728) arrived at Kings Bay in May 2006 and the USS Georgia (SSGN 729) in 2007.

Currently assigned to Kings Bay:

Ballistic Missile Submarines

  • USS Maryland (SSBN 738)
  • USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740)
  • USS Tennessee (SSBN 734)
  • USS West Virginia (SSBN 736)
  • USS Wyoming (SSBN 742)
  • USS Alaska (SSBN 732)

Guided Missile Submarines

  • USS Florida (SSGN 728)
  • USS Georgia (SSGN 729)

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.

If you are interested in Navy history, please visit the Naval Historical Center and Navy Museums Web sites.


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