Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Rapid Rise and Fall of Army Supply Base Norfolk, Part 2

Maryland Ave and Army Supply Base Norfolk, 1920.  This is now Hampton
Boulevard and Norfolk International Terminals
As part of the 1918 cease-fire, the Germans handed over hundreds of
artillery guns to the Allies.  While Congress debated how to partition
the American portion of the cache, the Army stashed the weapons at
Army Supply Base Norfolk.
When the war ended in November 1918, the Army Supply Base became surplus after only a few months of war use. Within a year, the Army made plans to unload the property to the City of Norfolk. The City was seeking to improve its standing with international shippers by creating a proper international terminal. Before the Army officially handed the base over, though, it hosted two major events.

The first was the arrival of USS Naiwa (ID #3512). This short-lived transport vessel arrived in Hampton Roads in 1919 with hundreds of artillery pieces that the Germans handed over to the Allies as part of the November 1918 cease-fire agreement. Upon hearing about the captured guns, several dozen American politicians demanded that their town, city, and/or Congressional district receive part of the loot as war trophies. You can read about that occurrence in a previous post on USS Naiwa. While the Secretary of War and Congress worked out the details, the Army unloaded Naiwa and placed the guns in an open field at the Army Supply Base. 

The Army prepares to ship the German guns out across
the  country. 
The second event brought the fallout of World War I to the shores of Hampton Roads. One of the dramatic stories of the Great War is the Czechoslovak Legion. Made up of Czech and Slovakian nationalists, this unit fought alongside the Russian Army and against the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the war. Their collective hope was an independent homeland in the Bohemia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Russians, however, surrendered in 1917, which was followed by a civil war between the "Red" and "White" factions of Russian society. Now trapped in Russia, the Western powers attempted to get the Legion out of the country. After a legendary fight across Siberia, the Legion made it to Vladivostok. There, the USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) picked up the Czech portion of the Legion, with the intention of taking them back to Western Europe.

Unfortunately, Mount Vernon broke down just off the coast of Virginia and made port in Norfolk. While pulling into Norfolk, the legionnaires got a good look at the Navy's new base and remarked to each other in awe about the number of warships. While workers repaired the ship, the U.S. Army made Supply Base Norfolk available to the legionnaires as a temporary home. The unit was very popular in the United States, as the soldiers symbolized the fight against both imperial oppression (i.e. the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Communist oppression (i.e. the fight against Bolshevik soldiers after the 1917 surrender). Thousands of Czech expatriates came to Norfolk to visit the Legion and provided them with food, money, and other comforts of home.

The mayor of Norfolk joins with Czech expatriates from New York City in welcoming the Czech soldiers
to Norfolk at Army Supply Base Norfolk.
A Czech soldier met up with his brother, who had already immigrated to America.

1 comment:

Will King said...

This is a great series. Driving to work every day past this site (and often stuck at those train tracks) it's good to reflect on its incredible history.
Well done, and thank you.