Photos from the Vault

Morro Bay trained island invaders during World War II

U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base at Morro Bay is pictured in a photo taken in November 1946, after the end of the war.
U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base at Morro Bay is pictured in a photo taken in November 1946, after the end of the war.

More than a decade before the power plant was built, the U.S. Navy had a training base in Morro Bay during World War II.

The Navy-Marines-Army regularly captured the Morro Beach Inn, or Cloisters, built by E.G. Lewis in 1925-27. The Great Depression brought legal and tax trouble to Lewis, though according to a State Parks website, the once luxury hotel stayed open till World War II. After the Navy was done invading the property, it was added to the State Parks system in 1948.

Roger Castle of the Morro Bay History Association recalls the inn fell into disrepair, was scavenged for materials and eventually burned down.

The Morro Bay History Association is holding a Veterans Program Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building at 209 Surf St. in Morro Bay. A spaghetti luncheon will be provided at no cost; donations for Veterans Helping Veterans In Need will be accepted.

The following is from a previously web-only blog post from June 2014:

Located in Morro Bay, where the power plant sits today, was a vital World War II training facility.

Lessons learned in the early island invasions in the Pacific at places like Guadalcanal were brought home and incorporated into training.

Those lessons were applied to the largest-ever sea-borne invasion in Normandy. In the Pacific many more islands would be targets of invasion, including the Philippines, ladder rungs to what was expected to be the most difficult amphibious invasion, the home islands of Japan.

Troops going ashore in the summer of 1944 on the Pacific island of Saipan could have spent time training at Camp Roberts, Camp San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay. From the June 10, 1944, edition of the Telegram-Tribune:

Activities of Morro Bay amphibious base described

Editor’s Note: Containing the first official details of the U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base at Morro Bay, the following article has been complied by Lt. Cmdr. James Bassett, Jr. USNR, public relations officer of the Twelfth Naval district, with headquarters in San Francisco.

“Morro Bay today; the Pacific tomorrow.”

That could well be the slogan at Morro Bay, 13 miles from San Luis Obispo, where the old Naval Section Base has become an active camp of Bluejackets, Marines, Coast Guard and Army troops whose daily amphibious training means one word: “Invasion.”

The Morro Bay station now is known as the U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base, Morro Bay, and is a unit operating under Amphibious Training Command, Pacific. Rear Admiral Ralph O. Davis, USN, is commander of the Amphibious Training Command, with headquarters at San Diego. Commander B.A. Hartt, USN, commands the Morro Bay Base.

Working toward a common objective of training men for amphibious warfare, peculiar to the Pacific war theater, the Morro Bay station is dotted with hundreds of uniforms of nearly every branch of the armed forces. Nearby is Camp San Luis Obispo, an army post and home for new divisions which are given training at the Morro Bay base in the role they will play against Japanese islands — amphibious landing, storming beaches, transporting men, machines and supplies from ship to shore.

The Army’s Camp San Luis Obispo, itself, is sprinkled with Navy and Marine Corps units, one group of 600 Bluejackets and naval officers being trained as a Beach Battalion for operating ashore once landing operations are under way. The Navy’s Beach Battalion is commanded by Captain J.C. Webb, USNR.

Every day columns of khaki-clad troops are taken in truck convoys from Camp San Luis Obispo to the Naval Amphibious Training Base at Morro Bay, where they are given instructions in embarkation methods, transfer to a simulated ship and disembarkation over the side of a large frame mockups and down rope ladders into landing craft.

Then the Navy’s Amphibious trainees — Landing Craft Units — demonstrate boat handling which they have been taught. Through the narrow channel of Morro Bay stream hundreds of landing craft toward the open sea for a rendezvous. At a given time and place they go into action, racing through the swells and surf of the Pacific to the nearby beaches of Estero Bay where “enemy” troops offer simulated resistance by blowing up the beach with land mines, sending a stream of machine gun fire over the heads of troops and throwing up barriers wherever possible to make the “invasion” approximate the real thing.

Hours in the open sea

Sometimes the landing craft spend hours in the open sea before starting to land troops. Many men get seasick but most of them become used to it in time. The troops, sometimes Army, Navy and Marine Corps alike swarm through the surf, waist-deep, hitting the beaches in a prone position to be ready with their rifles for the enemy. Small tanks are brought up by the landing craft ploughing through water and sand and blasting through “enemy” installations.

A large building which once was a vacation resort hotel in Estero Bay offers the troops a “fort” which is captured every day. From there the troops roll through the nearby villages and across the highways in mechanized invasion style. Green amphibious troops sometimes require all day to capture the objectives but those who have received the rigorous training for several weeks or months have “taken” the same objectives in a few hours.

Maneuvers are carried out in exacting detail, with the Army, Navy Marine Corps and Coast Guard working as a team. The Coast Guard’s main function at Morro Bay is Beach Patrol duty, working with horse-mounted patrol personnel and war-trained dogs.

It isn’t a picnic and it isn’t all fun merely because the amphibious training is mock warfare. Training, given the large numbers of Naval personnel, Army troops, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, is hard. The combat instructors are men who have had real experience in the South Pacific and are stern in teaching untrained troops who must be hardened to meet the Japs. As soon as one unit is trained and ready for real combat another takes its place.

Jetty protects bay

Morro Bay is an excellent location for amphibious training. The small bay is protected by a long jetty which leaves an entrance adjacent to a giant solid fortification known as Morro Rock. When the surf runs too high for the hundreds of small landing craft and the weather is too inclement, a protected beach inside the jetty is used for training. The Navy is spending $1,500,000 for improving the harbor, extending a breakwater and for building necessary pontoon docks, loading piers and mockups as well as for general improvement of the base itself.

At present the Morro Bay base is a village of Quonset huts, 62 of the semi-cylindrical metal structures being used for barracks, shops and utility buildings. The Quonset huts, incidentally, are the same type so familiar in South Pacific Islands which have been captured by similar amphibious trained troops, some of who may have been trained at Morro Bay.