Florida’s East Coast in WWII

Navy bombers fly over Miami

Navy bombers fly over Miami

When WWII came to the east coast of Florida, it wasn’t in the form of grainy newsreel footage – instead, smoke and flames polluted the sea and filled the horizon.  Beaches were strewn with oil, boat parts and drowned and charred bodies.  The residents watched and wondered if the German U-boats would turn toward them.  And then later in the war, see the German POWs working in the sugar fields not far from unnerved homemakers.

rc10679.jpgUSS Gulfland off Hobe Sound

In the first weeks after Pearl, the enemy subs began their deadly missions.  A US Navy report read: “Nowhere else in the world could Germany find such a concentration of ships in such a small area.”  Within 4 months, 24 ships, 16 from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton, were sunk, sometimes hours apart.

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The number of military bases jumped from 8 to 172, seemingly overnight.  Hotels and other facilities were turned into hospitals, training centers and barracks where waves of men and women were sent to prepare for war.  Anyone who crossed the bridges between West Palm Beach and the island of Palm Beach were met by an armed sentry who demanded identification.

US Navy honored in Lake Worth, FL

US Navy honored in Lake Worth, FL

The Gulf Stream Polo Grounds held barracks for 280 armed Coast Guard beach watchers.  Observation towers had been set up every 3 miles and the men rode the horses that had been shipped in from Riley, Kansas.  Since horses were unable to maneuver the treacherous rocks near Briny Breezes, 30 dogs were brought in to patrol.  Local teenagers were drafted to ride 10 hours a night being as they were familiar with the area.

Boca Raton Army Airfield, 1942

Boca Raton Army Airfield, 1942

In Palm Beach County, the ‘Coastal Picket Patrol’, the nation’s 3rd Civil Air Patrol, was formed at Morrison Field (now known as Palm Beach International Airport).  ‘The Mosquito Fleet’, a flotilla of pleasure and charter boats looked for subs and survivors of torpedoed ships.  The worse stretch was in May, when 10 ships sank in 10 days between Fort Pierce and Boca Raton.  Morrison Field became a center of takeoff point for planes destined for battle lines throughout the world.

Aerial of Breakers' west facade out to County Road ca late 1940s

Aerial of Breakers’ west facade out to County Road.

At the beginning of WWII, Boca Raton Mayor, JC Mitchell convinced officers of the Army Air Corps to move its technical school for radar training from Scott Field, IL to Boca.  [“Radar” was a top secret technology.]  The land was relatively high and dry, yet close to the ocean and shipping lanes with an excellent climate for flying.  BRAAF began classes for electronics and radar officers among other specializations for enlisted men.  [Singer, Tony Martin, some of the Tuskegee Airmen, the crew of the Enola Gay and future astronaut Gus Grissom all served for a time at Boca Raton.]

part of the Morikami farm before the war

part of the Morikami farm before the war

Local Japanese-Americans suffered.  George Morikami had the assets of his farm frozen and servicemen lodged in his home. (Today it is the Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens of Delray Beach).  The Yamato colony family of Hideo Kobayashi’s land was confiscated for the Boca Raton Army Airfield; part of which eventually went to Florida Atlantic University where the wide parking lots were former runways.

Biltmore Hotel, SPAR training

Biltmore Hotel, SPAR training

In Martin County, the Southern Signal Corps received their radar training at Camp Murphy; today is known as Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  Further north, both Stuart and Fort Pierce airports went military and Hutchinson Island – a Naval and Amphibious Training base.  The Biltmore Hotel turned into the first school for the Women’s Coast Guard SPARS and the Breakers Hotel became Ream General Hospital.

Soldiers exercise in Miami

Soldiers exercise in Miami

The isolated airstrip of Biscayne Bay became Homestead Air Force Base; the stopover for the route bringing matériel to the Caribbean and North Africa.  The 2nd Operational Training Unit which was advanced training for future crews of C-54s, C-87s and C-46s.

I’m sure your area did its part – let’s hear about it!!

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

Ya think he needs more training?

Ya think he needs more training? – Check the sign!!

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Farewell Salutes – 

Julius Bacote – New haven, CT; US Army, WWII

Raymond Boothe Jr. – Hebron, KY; US Navy, WWIIKXAC000A

Kee Etsicitty – Chichiltah, AZ; USMC, WWII, PTO, 3rd Marines/7th Division, Navajo Codetalker

Harry Fink – Plentywood, MY; US Army, Korea

Louis Galloway – Auckland, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 454799, WWII, gunner

Bruce Mahan – NJ; US Army, Korea, Captain

John McQuaide – Hendersonville, NC; US Navy, Korea, Vietnam, Chief Petty Officer

Werner ‘Wes’ Seidel – b. Berlin; d. Greensboro, NC; US Army, WWII, PTO

Robert Smyth – Ottawa, CAN;  RC Horse Artillery, 1st Regiment (Ret.), Korea

Mel Weitz – Brooklyn, NY & FL; US Navy, WWII, USS Quincy, Purple Heart

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 23, 2015, in Home Front, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 99 Comments.

  1. 24 ships is surprising. They must have had fuel tanker subs of some sort. 60,000 Germans served in their sub service. 3,000 survived the war.

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  2. GP, thank you for this post. I’m still trying to pick my jaw up from the floor. Why? Even though I grew up in Georgia, and often visited Florida, I never knew about Florida’s heavy involvement in WWII. This was fascinating. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. You never know what you’ll discover about your home area until you search for it sometimes. Now, I haven’t done much on Georgia, but I do believe some of the Canadian flight teams, RCAF, trained in Americus, GA and Pierre Lagace would have a post on that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting. My father was an Army officer in WWII. In China and then the Aleutian Island. After the War he was stationed in Germany where my mother and myself (age 4) joined him for 6 months. Because of this experience, I’ve retained an interest in the War years. Nice to find your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. worldwarzoogardener1939

    Dear GP Cox

    Thanks for the http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com blogpost comment / like.

    I noticed on your blog that you mention the interning of Japanese Americans.

    There is a very interesting chapter on the Japanese American internees making temporary internment camp gardens for food and cultural focus often in quite hostile and extreme distant ‘safe’ places in Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime (and freely on his website defiantgardens.com) by Kenneth Helphand (published USA)

    Best wishes

    Mark Norris,
    World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo UK

    Like

  5. Great piece of history that I was unaware of. Thanks for sharing this.

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    • I was trying to urge people to investigate the history of their hometowns – it worked for some and a lot of unknown data emerged. Glad you enjoyed the article, Tony.

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  6. I was fascinated by this blog about Florida – I had no idea that the coast was hit so hard. My husband’s grandparents lived in Fraserburgh in the far north of Scotland. Very few people know that it was bombed so heavily because of the fish canning factories. Wonderful shot of the bombers over Miami.

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  7. How is it I don’t know any of this and it is practically in my backyard!!? I just love the information you impart and this one will have me doing a little more research of my own! I know there are a lot of “shipwrecks” off the coast that divers frequent…funny I never really thought about HOW they wrecked!! And as soon as I saw the name “Morikami” I immediately thought of the botanical gardens that I have yet to visit!!! Yes…this upcoming season you can bet I will go there!! Thank you for your wonderful blog…and thank you for your beautiful support of mine!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Supporting your site is easy, Lorrie. Keeping people interested in history here is another. I decided to do this article after a conversation about how people always go away on vacation to see other history, yet never visit or know about the history of their own home town. I’m thrilled you plan on seeing Morikami – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The more I read of your posts gp, the more I am amazed at the amount of history that is recorded, yet I think that recorded history is only the tip of the iceberg, what is underneath is the unpublished history, and those with voices are now passing.
    Great informative post mate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, Ian. I am always asking people to tell us whatever stories or remarks their friends, relatives and neighbors have said. Most governments have veteran’s projects and many other websites do the same – but still – there will be history that passes unspoken.
      With this post I was attempting to get people to research their own locales. I’ve made the comparison of how so many New Yorkers never went to the top of the Empire State Building… we always seem to travel to investigate – why not investigate your own home and tell us about it… The site San Diego Sights is a good example of knowing your hometown!!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. After Pearl Harbor many thought San Diego might be the next target for the Japanese fleet. Observation bunkers and gun emplacements were rapidly “beefed up” on the Point Loma peninsula to protect the bay, and a powerful searchlight on tracks could be wheeled out of a concrete shelter just inside the entrance to San Diego Bay. Many of these things can be viewed today by visitors to Cabrillo National Monument. San Diego became a hub of military airplane production and from here many embarked into the Pacific theater.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. GP, I picked a good one to drop in to say hello….but all your posts are “good ones”!!! You portrait of Florida in WWII is mind boggling! That’s where my father started training as a medic in the US Army Air Corps in northern Florida in 1941, northern Florida right near Leesberg (spelling?). You sure covered a lot of ground here! Glad you are keeping up your mission! Phil

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    • Ah, Leesburg, Lake County in central FL – beautiful area. I only skimmed on the Gold and Treasure Coast for Florida; I found so much material, I had to cut it off somewhere. Maybe someone will pick up on the idea and do the rest [ or their own state] or I’ll have to get into it later on. Thank you for sharing your father’s involvement here in the Sunshine State, Phil!
      I know it’s been about 2 months since we’ve had a post from you, are up for doing one soon?

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  11. The photo of the bombers flying over Miami is incredible. It’s hard now to imagine what it must have been like in those days, as it’s so beautifully peaceful here in West Palm. 🙂

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  12. This post was particularly interesting to me as a Florida implant. Thank you.

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    • We always look into other places for signs of history but neglect our own, so I thought I’d look into it. I found more than I could ever put into one post!! Thanks for reading it, Tiny.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This is very important historical information that deserves to be more widely known. I had no idea that there was so much U-boat activity off the Florida coast. The photos were excellent. Keep up the great work!

    Like

  14. Hi,
    I know Kenn Dowell and Jacqui. It’s beautiful you are keeping the memories of the fallen alive. I was at Ernie Howard’s site and saw you liked my post about the Blogosphere. I wanted to come by and say thank you! My dad fought in WWII and my husband in Viet Nam. I also lost a student in the war. Thank you again for your efforts.
    Janice Wald

    Like

    • I appreciate you checking in, Janice – we do have a great bunch around here. I’ve mentioned a number of times for people to help make this site their own – it is the history for most of us – and they have done just that!! They talk to each other, have discussions and share memories. They also help those trying to research their own family. So… if you have the time – join us again, comment or not – you’re always welcome!!

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  15. People tend to forget about the folks at home who were ‘at war’ too.

    That shot of the guy parked up in the tree … love it~! (Perhaps the sign might be changed to “Learn to land here” (then again, I’d walk on by whistling nonchalantly, and find some other school …) 🙂

    Like

  16. Have re blogged this, as an ‘American Trail’. 🙂

    Like

  17. Reblogged this on Aviation Trails and commented:
    An “American Trail” Florida’s war.

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  18. An interesting post as always. I have come across a few of these places during my own research and some of these now have a little more meaning to them. In our recent memorial Garden opening, a friend brought an original Mosquito Patrol jacket, (34 Sqn) until then I had never heard of them. This adds another piece to the jigsaw.
    Andy.

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  19. i really like the top photo.

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  20. Omigosh, I had no idea the states, and Florida in particular, were so directly involved. I learn something new all the time from your posts. This was fascinating!

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  21. Growing up in Florida I remember hearing casual comments about the war. Teens on dates used to say they were going submarine watching. LOL

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    • They used to say that phrase in NY as well back in the 50’s and 60’s but it didn’t mean actual submarines – Cousin Brucie, Wolfman Jack and so many others!! But for the WWII group here – it was real. Thanks for your memory!!

      Like

  22. I never think of Florida when I think of WWII–very enlightening, GP. Thanks!

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    • Since we stick out into the Gulf and the Atlantic – I think the activity was thrust upon the residents, AND, we DO have the weather for training pilots. 😉 Thanks for coming by, Dadicus.

      Like

  23. Your research is amazing! WWII as we were taught was fought on the other side of the world. I’ve heard about prisoner camps here, but had no idea the German troops were at our shores – on both coasts! Thanks for enlightenment.

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    • I suppose our schools were unable to include details about everything – I know as much as I try, just how much I miss too – but they really should include a course on local pride. I’m very happy you enjoyed this so much, Bev!!

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      • Our schools used to teach an Ohio history course that at least gave students a touch of knowing about their state and perhaps a little of their area. But, alas, that is no longer as they have to teach for the standardized tests. It amazes me that when I have one of my Gypsy Road Trips in the paper about area history or events, people are usually surprised by places that are within fifty miles of our small town.

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        • Just as I’ve said – we always go somewhere else, never close to home. Very few New Yorkers have ever been to the top of the Empire State Building or out to the Statue of Liberty, for an example. Keep up those newspaper articles, people ought to learn their own history!

          Liked by 1 person

  24. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    My father fought in WWII. I still have the photos of his tent campsite and when he was color-guard in a parade. The war changed him according to my mother, but he was still a good dad.

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    • First – thank you for the reblog, I now understand your interest. Second – I think it is inevitable that they all change somewhat. It then depends on what they do with that change. You and I were lucky and still had good fathers. For that we can be both honored and grateful.

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  25. I din’t know this. Thanks, GP

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  26. Another eye-opener, GP. Of course, it makes sense. I’d simply never considered it.

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    • Don’t feel bad, Jacqui, most people who live here don’t know about any of these things. That tip you gave about the copyright symbol is something I’ll have to keep in mind, pretty neat!

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  27. Another aspect of WWII that I knew absolutely nothing about. Interesting post.

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  28. Been reading WWII books since grade school and never stumbled anything about war in that part of the states. Very interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  29. A really interesting post. Those rather aging Navy bombers over Miami were, hopefully, not the only ones they had?

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    • No, just the best picture I could find. Homestead Air Force Base was just south of Miami. Thanks for your interest, John, always a pleasure to hear from you!

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  30. This is a great article! I call Florida home – I’m an Air Force Brat. We were stationed at Homestead AFB, then dad retired at MacDill AFB in Tampa. Our house in northeast Tampa was a couple blocks from the former WWII bomber training field, Hillsborough Army Airfield, I think it was called. My buddies and I used to play around the old airfield; I remember thinking it strange that there was so much concrete half-buried in the sand. I learned later that the concrete was leftover from the old flightline. Part of the flightline still exists and is visible on Google Earth. It lays just south of where the Schlitz Brewery used to be and north of Busch Gardens; to the west (less than half a mile) of 30th street (or Bruce B. Downs Parkway nowadays). I doubt if anyone but old-timers in the area know about this. I wish they taught it in local schools.

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  31. Somehow, I always had the impression that the war had never actually reached the American coastline so intimately – enlightening! What a story could be made out of those teenage patrols – the stuff of high adventure. I wonder if girls were involved?
    Love the object lesson in piloting aircraft!

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  32. Wow! I didn’t realize this happened. I live on the Gulf coast of Texas. We have bunkers from WW11. Also, Kobiyashi must be a common name. We have a road with that name here. Thanks for the diary.

    Marcey

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  33. I never realized that there was so much activity on our shoreline. Great post.

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  34. Pierre Lagacé

    I know Page Field is on Florida’s West Coast, but this could be of interest to your readers.

    https://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/the-silent-secretary-november-17-1942/

    Pierre

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, of course. I did not include the west coast because of the length of the article. There are things I even omitted about the east coast. But this sad story needs to be remembered as well. Thanks, Pierre.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pierre Lagacé

        I’m sure Lawrence Walton Montague reflected about his military service when he was old, especially this episode when these men were lost in a B-26, and why he was so aggravated about…

        Like

  35. Very interesting GP. I knew little about Florida during WW2, and the photos were very good too, especially the main shot of warplanes flying over Miami.
    Best wishes from England. Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. The war came very close to home, didn’t it!

    Like

  1. Pingback: My Article Read (7-24-2015) | My Daily Musing

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