Tin fish in production. (photo by Art Forde/Seattle Times, 1943)
CHAPTER FIVE Wartime's Hardtimes Were the Best of Times
NTS looked more like a quiet neighborhood than an industrial Naval Station in this 1940 photo.
The house in the center, framed by the legs of the radio tower, is the Commanding Officer's
quarters. Most of the homes to the right of it would not be so visible from the lagoon causeway
today due to the shops and office buildings that have since filled in the open space surrounding
Captain Theodore D. Westfall
May 19, 1942-September 3, 1946
Captain Carl H. Bushnell
October 7, 1946-June 30, 1951
In the early 40's, employees were hired on at Keyport daily through the Puget Sound Naval
Shipyard. Civilian employment at Keyport increased to such an extent that a housing project of
approximately 300 units was built in Poulsbo to accommodate the new employees and their
families. That project is low-income housing today.
World War II turned Keyport into a hive of activity almost overnight. Along with this activity
came stringent security measures, and powerful search lights were mounted on concrete bases.
A strong link fence enclosing the entire station was built and constant patrols served as
deterrents to would-be trespassers.
As a result of the war, the President of the United States ordered torpedo production, overhaul,
The civilian workforce increased significantly during World War II The dramatic increase in
women is evident in this photo of Igniter Shop employees. (photo courtesy of Carman Lame)
NTS C.O. Captain Theodore Westfall and Captain Carl Bushnell of the Bureau of Ordnance, third
and fourth from left respectively, inspect the Station's first Mk 14 in 1943. The Mk 14 was World War II's most
successful torpedo having sunk four million tons of enemy shipping. Captain Bushnell was to
later relieve Captain Westfall as Commanding Officer.
A "tin fish" is lowered into a test rack at one stage of mass production. (photo by Art
Forde/Seattle Times, 1943)
and issue to be increased in speed. This resulted in a steady increase in civilian employment
constant pleas for more published in the paper in 1941. Employment reached an all time high of
2,035 civilian and 821 military.
Employees began working a seven day week with the eighth day off. Women began working in the
industrial shops to replace the men who went into the service. Forty-two percent of the civilian
workforce was represented by women.
Sometimes as many as 100 torpedoes were produced and tested in one single day. In 1944, the
workload reached a peak of 7,000 torpedoes produced in that year.
Torpedoes began changing in the 1940's, demanding newer and more refined methods of testing.
Thus, in January of 1944, studies were begun which eventually resulted in an acoustic range on
As early as 1944, the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of the University of Washington
became associated with Keyport. The most important phase of this association was the eventual
development and operation of the 3D Tracking Range on Dabob Bay not far from the Hood Canal
Keyport mechanics constructed this device, used to launch aircraft torpedoes, from salvaged
metal. Chief Torpedoman E.E. Blackwell decked out in his rain slicker, is prepared for the
shower of spray that is about to drench him. (photo by Art Forde/Seattle Times, 1943)
Entire families answered the call to support the war effort by working at the Naval Torpedo
Station. Shown here in the final assembly shop are members of the Robinson family, from left
Colleen, 16 years old Mrs. Robinson, Grant, and Gwendolyne, 20. Son and brother, Zane 19,
worked at the Station until joining the military. The Robinsons lived in the newly built housing
project in Poulsbo and took an eighteen-minute ferry ride to get to work each day. (photo by Art
Forde/Seattle Times, 1943)
Because torpedoes being issued to the Fleet in 1943 tended to behave erratically, the APL,
which was interested in the experiment and development of underwater weapons, components,
and tracking systems, was commissioned to create a more reliable exploder for these weapons.
In 1945, the Station received the Army-Navy E award for its contribution to the war effort and
soon after, drastic reductions in personnel and funds commenced as a result of the war's end.
The work force diminished in 1945 from an average of 1,800 to 416, and in 1946 to 275.
In 1946, Keyport received the Bureau of Ordnance
War in the Pacific in 1944 brought accelerated work to Keyport as the "Silent Service," armed
with torpedoes struck deep into Japanese territory.
Production and testing of torpedoes increased greatly at Keyport during World War II. In 1944,
a record 7,000 torpedoes went through NTS.
World War II ships steam past Port Townsend Bay near the Naval Net Depot Indian Island-an activity that was soon to become a detachment of Keyport.
Testing torpedoes was quite different in the 1940's from what it is today. As the diagram shows,
above, torpedo speed and depth measurements were made by a visual system at the Keyport
range. Barges were set up at each 1000-yard point on the range and buoys were set at specified
distances between those barges. Observers on the barge would time torpedoes as they passed
between buoys. Originally, a rough, visual estimate was used to determine the depth the 'tin
fish' swam. Later, depth was determined with the use of nets placed strategically to allow
torpedoes to pass through them. The location of the
hole made by a torpedo indicated how deep it had gone.
Naval Ordnance Development Award. In December, APL and 110 of its former and present staff
members were honored by the Navy with an E award for development of a new type torpedo
exploding mechanism. This proved highly successful and had been a definite asset in the war
effort. The development of the Torpedo Exploder Mark 9 was the beginning of a series of
coordinated efforts between the University of Washington and Keyport in the field of improving
weapons and systems.
The Radio Station was decommissioned in this year. The landmark towers were later dismantled
and were transferred to the Radio Station, Bainbridge Island.
In 1947, information was issued to the public of the efforts being made by the Navy to perfect a
"target seeking electric torpedo."
In 1948, the average number of civilians had jumped from 275 in 1946-47 to 351. Keyport
was cited by the Secretary of the Navy in a personal letter for its attainment of 100 percent
Savings Bond participation. Keyport was the first Naval activity in the United States to receive
this honor. It was an enviable record
Crane operators, left group, and riggers gather for this photo on August 21, 1945. The
operators are, row one, from left, O. Harsila, C. Hodge, P. Wahto; center, from left, S.
E. Hagen, E. Gardner, B. Parrach, J. Wells; top, C. Carison. The riggers are, row one, from
O. Wilson, S. Nelson, C. Fugleberg, H. Hellerud, J. Gaffey, J.F. Bond, row two, from left, N.
Holton, A. Holm, L. Lowry, H. Louis, E. Engh, J. Bone, K. Armstrong. (photo courtesy of Lucille
Marines in charge of guarding the Keyport main gate in 1945 were proud to pose for a photo.
From left, James Lane, George Emerick, John McGarey, Edwin Lehr, and Charlie Thompson. The
Bachelor Officer's Quarters, which looms in the background to the right, is now the Station's
Command Conference Center.
Public Works people gather for a dinner in 1945. Some familiar faces include, second from
left, Juanita Bloomquist, in the back at the end of the table, Herman Boldt, and sitting across
from Juanita, Agnes Carpinella. Next to her is Mr. Keyport himself, and head of Public Works,
All's quiet on the Keyport front in this 1947 photo. Production rolled to nearly a complete halt
and the civilian workforce was sliced to less than 15 percent of what it had been during the
height of the war.
With World War II over, the streets of the town of Keyport are quiet for the first time since
Pearl Harbor attack. During the war, the town was full to overflowing with people who answered
the calls for more workers. New employees came from everywhere-even other states-and
accommodations were not easy to find. Some people even resorted to renting oversized closets as
rooms from Keyport homeowners. (photo courtesy of Rosemay Olson)
and congratulations poured in from other Naval shore establishments and dignitaries.
For the first time in Keyport's history, an open house was celebrated on Navy Day. The Station
was open to the public for inspection. Navy Day activities also included a Marine attack
demonstration, diving exhibition, torpedo firing, parade, and a Navy Day Ball.
In 1948-49, it became apparent that our torpedo ranges in Port Orchard Inlet and Hood Canal
were much too shallow to test the deep running antisubmarine weapons which were then coming
off the drawing boards. A nationwide search revealed that the only protected body of salt water
that would lend itself to a torpedo testing range was Dabob Bay.
The site was selected for its favorable oceanographic features such as 600 foot water depths,
lack of tidal currents and man-made noises, and other characteristics.
Bennie George, center, is surrounded by Keyport "old timers" in this 1962 gathering. To the left
and right of Bennie are Herman Boldt and Louie Strom. These three played leading roles in the shaping and building of
Bennie George: Just a Stone's Row Away
In 1945, Keyport bade farewell to its 17th employee, Bennie George.
Bennie first came to Keyport in 1915, leaving his job as longshoreman at the Port Gamble Mill.
According to the writings of longtime employee, Herb Hindle, Bennie paddled his canoe to
Keyport "to smoke the peace pipe and bury his tomahawk for all time if they would let him come
to work on the (Pacific Coast Torpedo) Station."
He was promptly hired as a laborer and was issued badge number 17. Throughout his 32 year
career, he was fiercely proud of his "plank-owner" status.
His new job at Keyport was some distance from his home in Port Gamble and in those days, such
a commute would have been a major journey. So he packed up his belongings and, with his wife
Martha and their children, he moved to Suquamish where he built a cabin with a tent on each
side to house his growing family (Bennie and Martha had 10 children altogether: six boys, four
Bennie's new home was across the bay from Keyport near Suquamish; however, it was still a
major commute's distance by land, though not as the crow flies-or as the fish swims. So he went
by sea rather than by land.
For 27 years, Bennie rowed to work in his dugout canoe. Over those years he chocked-up more
30,000 miles on his oars. He rowed rain or shine, shortening the watery commute only during
rough weather; on those occasions he would go to Lemolo, directly across the bay, and walk home
from there. Only once did the weather make his trip impossible and that was because the cold
winter north wind caused ice to form on his oar lock, causing his oars to slip.
Bennie's canoe commute came to an end during World War II when security became so tight the
guards wouldn't let him land at the base dock.
Over the years, Bennie became a trusted employee and during the wartime years, the Station's
Commanding Officer confided in him to be on the lookout for subversive acts on base. Bennie
discreetly reported to the Captain every week and during one of those meetings another officer
asked, "can you speak any foreign languages?" Bennie looked at him and said, "Certainly,
English." Being a Native American (Indian), he knew what he was talking about.
Bennie retired in 1945 with 32 years of government service. The Station newspaper, the
WARHEAD, of May 4, 1945 reported that Bennie was planning to catch up on everything he'd
been wanting to do for the past 30 years. "When the Indian summer rolls around," said Bennie,
"and the Indian in me starts acting up, I'm going fishing."
Bennie George died in 1971.
Battery "E" hikes into Keyport after a 25 mile hike to Lofall Park in 1943. (photo courtesy of
Army Artillery: Protecting an Important Torpedo Station
The war brought many changes to the small Keyport community; perhaps most startling was the
presence of the United States Army in what had always been Navy territory.
The Army was not there to take over, but rather to provide protection in the event of enemy
Community homeowners witnessed the migration into Keyport as Army troops moved into their
backyards overnight, leasing land and fast becoming neighbors and friends.
By August 1942, the first Army unit was fully set up on Station and soon, troops were trained
as backups in the maintenance of torpedoes.
Huge blimp-like structures, known as barrage balloons, loomed overhead during alerts, circling
NTS, in a protective effort against enemy aircraft. Cables attached to the balloons, which
as high as 150 feet, were said to clip the wings of low flying enemy planes; Keyport would,
fortunately, never have firsthand knowledge of that fact.
Colonel Donald Munroe USA (Ret.), who was a platoon officer of one of three units inside Station
gates, remembers the scene: "There were 10 sections of 40-mm anti-aircraft weapons and the
same number of 50-caliber machine guns on anti-aircraft mounts."
Seven more units, he continued, formed a ring around the Station from Keyport to across the
bay in Lemolo. Troops constructed piers out of sand bags and cement.
As the war slowed down, the need for the anti-
aircraft units and balloon sites diminished. Army personnel made a gradual exodus, taking
equipment with them, to new assignments.
Today, just south of the Station in what is known as the "Old Forkey Place," evidence of the
Army's presence remains. A rundown structure, once the cookhouse and barracks, echoes with a
remembrance of the protectors of a very important torpedo station.
Two members of the Army protective force at Keyport Sergeant Hosty and Sergeant Axeleon,
strike a friendly pose next to a not-so-friendly anti-aircraft gun. The Station barracks are in
the background in this 1943 photo. (photo courtesy of Darlene Munroe)