On This Day In Newport History – June 9, 1869: Construction of First Torpedo Station on Goat Island Ordered

Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie, ordered the construction of the first torpedo station on Goat Island on June 9, 1869.

Cmdr. Edmund O. Matthews would become the first Commanding Officer, during the establishment, the station experimented with torpedoes and trained sailors in the use of the weapons.

An Excerpt from The Navy and The Narragansett Bay

During the Civil War, the Navy came back to life in Newport. To avoid capture by the Confederates, the government transferred the faculty and students of the U.S. Naval Academy from Annapolis to Newport, where it operated for about four years. When it moved back to Annapolis, the Navy had become more organized and had acquired a degree of permanence.

The year 1869 marked the beginning of one of the most significant and best-known Navy landmarks in Narragansett Bay. In that year, the Secretary of the Navy authorized establishment of an experimental torpedo station at Goat Island. The station was responsible for developing torpedoes and conducting experimental work on other forms of naval ordnance. Its fame, importance and contributions made during its 83 years are legendary in the Rhode Island area. A major economic and military installation in Rhode Island from the day of its establishment, the Torpedo Station reached its peak importance in World War II when more than 13,000 employees worked around the clock to manufacture 80 percent of the torpedoes used by the United States during the war. The station was the largest single industry ever operated in Rhode Island. In 1951, it was replaced by the Naval Underwater Ordnance Station on the base, and Goat Island was transferred to the city of Newport. Redevelopment of the island included a causeway, luxury hotel and restaurant, marina, shopping facilities and apartments.

A Sailor learned most of his trade on the job until the last two decades of the 19th century. In the 1880s a new concept of shore-based training for officers and men was developed, and again the Navy turned to Narragansett Bay.

In 1881, the Navy acquired Coasters Harbor Island from the state, and on June 4, 1883, the island became home to the Navy’s first recruit training station. On Oct. 6, 1884, the Naval War College was established on the island. By the turn of the century, classroom lecture notes of the college’s second president, Alfred Thayer Mahan, had been published in book form, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History,” and the Naval War College had taken its place at the forefront of maritime strategic thought.

 

In 1951, the Torpedo Station was permanently disestablished and the manufacture of torpedoes was awarded to private industry. A new research and development facility, the Naval Underwater Ordnance Station, replaced the Torpedo Station. In February 1966, the Ordnance Station and the Naval Underwater Weapons Systems Engineering Center were combined to better coordinate all underwater programs pursued at the naval base. A merger in 1970 with another naval activity in New London, Connecticut, created what is now the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC).

In 1952, the Naval Training Station at Newport was disestablished by the transfer of recruit training to Bainbridge, Maryland. However, the Fleet Training Center and Naval School Command, established several years earlier at Newport, continued to provide specialized training to fleet personnel. The Officer Candidate School, which opened in 1951, became the Navy’s primary source for junior Naval Reserve officers.

Piers 1 and 2 were built in 1955 and 1958, respectively, to accommodate ships of the Cruiser-Destroyer Force and Service Force. Naval supply and public works facilities were expanded at this time to support the fleet, and Headquarters, Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force, Atlantic, was established at Newport in 1962. This command moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in July 1973.

 

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