The American Base in Chaguramas
During World War II, a large number of Nazi U-Boats prowled the Caribbean Sea, intent on disrupting British shipping lines and using Martinique as a possibly supply facility. To increase security for the British Empire, the British and the Americans made a wartime agreement on 2 September 1940. Under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, the British Government granted the United States Army and Navy base rights on British possessions in the Americas and the Americans gave the British 50 destroyers.
The Allied planners decided to build a navel and air base in Chaguaramas, Trinidad commissioned the construction of the Waller Army Airfield. The United States arrived in Trinidad on the 10 October 1940 on the USS St. Louis. Groundwork of the site for the naval base and air station commenced on 1 March 1941 and ceremonial possession took place on 31 March. The base was commissioned on Friday, 1 June 1941. By 1942, Trinidad became a naval in service base outfitted with a section base; net, supply and fuel depots; a hospital; a degaussing range; and ship restore facilities. It achieved full operation in 1943.
The base was met with some controversy. Trinidad’s Governor Young did not agree with the location because it would displace the villagers and close the area’s beaches. The Governor felt that the base should be built in the Caroni Swamp rather than in Chaguaramas. The British overruled him and eventually sent him home to England. The right to evict people off the peninsula was given to the Americans by the Lease Land Agreement, the Defence Regulations, and by the Trinidad Base Agreement. Chaguaramas became a full military area and the North/West peninsula became strictly prohibited to the public. Villagers were relocated Carenage, Diego Martin, Port of Spain, and St. James.
During the Second World War, United States’ bases were placed in strategic positions in an arc stretching from Argentina, up to Newfoundland and down to Trinidad. Trinidad commanded an exposed approach to Panama Canal and South American trade routes. The Chaguaramas base provided the British security against the Nazi threat and created an access point for the United States Army to the South American continent. The Waller Army Airfield along with bases on other Caribbean islands effectively eliminated the Nazi menace.
The strategic position of Chaguaramas came into global prominence as a result of the base, which became one of the famed “destroyer bases.” With the end of World War II, Waller Army Airfield was reduced in scope to a skeleton staff. It was re-designated Waller Air Force Base on 26 March 1948, by the Department of the Air Force General Order Number 10. Waller Air Force Base was closed on 28 May 1949 due to budgetary cutbacks and MATS operations were shifted to bases in the Panama Canal Zone. The last of the Americans left Chaguaramas in 1977.
Chaguaramas’ strategic importance was again brought to the fore following the construction in 1966 of one of the eight Omega navigation systems in the world. OMEGA was the first truly global-range radio navigation system, operated by the United States in cooperation with Trinidad and five other nations. OMEGA navigation enabled ships and aircraft to determine their position by receiving very low frequency (VLF) radio signals. The entire system was shut down in 1997 in favour of the Global Positioning Satellite system.
For More Reading:
Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.