USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

July 27, 2012

Military History of Catalina Island

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — dtellez @ 7:15 am

Today, most people would classify Catalina Island as a vacation destination, a unique blend of adventure, sport, romance, and history. But beneath the aura of the sleepy beach community lies a rich military history, filled with top-secret operations, strategic surveillance posts, and intensive, elite training. Dating as far back as the Civil War, Catalina is no stranger to military involvement. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Cost Guard operations were all carried out across most of the Island.  Some structures still exist today as a glimpse into Catalina’s military history.

Behind the boating, fishing, and other water related activities that attract so many visitors to Two Harbors, persists a piece of Civil War history, Union Army barracks once occupied by the 4th California Infantry. As the westernmost site of the war erected in 1863, the Santa Catalina Island barracks were strategic in the Union’s guard of the harbor from Confederate privateers and pirates. Additionally, the volunteer infantry helped maintain the safety and integrity of the mining industry that flourished on the Island. In 1864, eighty-three soldiers were stationed in the area. Some speculate that these men were sent by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the ulterior motive of surveying the Island as a potential reservation for combative Native Americans captured during the war. Upon the soldiers’ arrival, the Army ordered all civilian inhabitants to evacuate from the Island, but soon after they rescinded the order. Prior to the Army’s establishment, during the 1860’s mainly miners and ranchers inhabited the Island, some of who had lived on Catalina for over a decade. After the Army’s abandonment of the barracks, they served as the housing for film crews during the making of movies in the 1920’s and 30’s. Finally, in 1951, the barracks fell into the hands of Isthmus Yacht Club.

The present day Civil War barracks in Two Harbors, which now serves as the Isthmus Yacht Club. Photo: Dawnielle Tellez

It was not until the second World War that the Island was heavily utilized by the military. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, security, military presence, and heightened fear of attack were felt across Catalina. The Coast Guard issued identification cards to all residents, the San Pedro Channel became a designated control region for military purposes, and steamer service ceased preventing tourists from visiting the following summer. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, precursors to the Navy Seals, trained on the island. UDT squads served mostly in the Pacific Theater; notably in the epic Battle of Peleliu, where despite the war’s greatest bloodshed, not a single member was lost. In addition, the US Maritime Service based its training camp in Avalon. Some merchantmen were lucky enough to rub elbows with Norma Jean Doughtery, a model later known as Marilyn Monroe, who was married to a USMS member. Also stationed on the Island were the Coast Guard training camps. Dominating the Isthmus and West End of Catalina, the US Coast Guard established multiple sentry and surveillance posts, ceased yachting, and underwent two months of intensive training.

Navy UDT crew training on Catalina Island in 1944. Photo from http://ikidyounotvc.blogspot.com/2011/01/hank-weldons-wwii-navy-udt-crew-helped.html

Hidden among steep valleys and within the interior of the island were top secret military camps. The Army Signal Corp was based at Camp Cactus, where up to 60 men operated newly developed radar to detect Japanese warplanes. Additionally, the Office of Strategic Services, that laid the groundwork for the Central Intelligence Agency, operated on Catalina for several years, performing training raids on other parts of the Island. They specialized in surveillance, sabotage, and covert warfare, later serving behind enemy lines in Burma and China gaining intelligence for the Indian and British armies.

Despite the upheaval of military activity, civilian life did not differ drastically from that on the mainland. Catalina residents took part in wartime, gas, and food rations. Distinct differences, however, were evident at times. Some recall the tense moments during mandatory blackouts to help prevent night attacks and the trailing of US Air Force avengers, mine sweepers, and submarine chasers after each passenger voyage across the channel. Even with the strong precautions taken, the enemy crept ever closer to Catalina’s shores. Japanese submarines were spotted as close as 5 miles from the Island.

 

Works Cited

http://www.ecatalina.com/history-catalina-ww2.html

http://www.laalmanac.com/history/hi06b.htm

http://www.visitcatalinaIsland.com/twoHarbors/poin_civilWarBarracks.php

Editor’s note: The ENST Catalina Island Internship at USC Dornsife is offered as part of a summer internship program offered to undergraduate students in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecological restoration, protected-area planning and assessment, and invasive species management. During the course of the internship, students will work closely with USC faculty and staff scientists from the Catalina Island Conservancy to support ongoing conservation and management programs being implemented on the island. Instructors for the course include David Ginsburg, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Lisa Collins, Lecturer in Environmental Studies, and Tony Summers, Invasive Plant Program Supervisor from the Catalina Island Conservancy.

July 5, 2012

Catalina Internship Program 2012: Let the Summer Begin!

When we left San Pedro on the Miss Christi headed to Santa Catalina Island for the summer, we had no idea what we were about to experience.  Once we arrived on the island, Tony Summers, program supervisor of the invasive plant program for the Catalina Island Conservancy showed us the beautiful and diverse ecosystems of the area.  He focused our attention on plants that we had never noticed during our previous visits to the island and also described the islands rich flora history built around endemic, native and invasive species. Through his introduction to the island, we began to visualize what the rest of the summer would entail.

Invasive plant removal along one of Catalina’s watersheds. Photo: Stephen Holle

Our first week of the internship consisted of learning how to mitigate the degradation of the Island’s natural ecosystems through the removal of invasive species. In particular, we focused on minimizing the impact of Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).  In addition to invasive plant removals, we also began our work with Peter Dixon in the Conservancy’s nursery, where native plants are raised to be introduced onto the Island and help repopulate areas where native plants struggle to thrive.  We all look forward to provide to Catalina’s ecosystem management through this fieldwork.

In the coming weeks we will continue our work with the conservancy as well as several side projects. All of us have very diverse and at the same time interrelated backgrounds. All four of us have achieved AAUS scientific scuba certification through USC Dornsife Environmental Studies program. The course allowed us to travel to Guam and Palau where we were able to collect data for actual research while also experiencing some of the top dive spots in the world. We plan to use our experience scientific diving to expand our opportunities on this internship.  In big fisherman’s cove, we hope to create a detailed map of the different habitats.  In addition, our professor, David Ginsburg, will guide us through monitoring of sea grass in Big Fisherman’s Cove, and we plan to begin monitoring sea grass in new locations outside of the cove as well.

In addition to working with Tony and the conservancy, we will continue to expand on the trail last year’s interns established on the USC Wrigley campus. We plan to finalize the informative signs that were developed last summer and manage fennel growth and basic maintenance. We would also like to develop an interactive field map to enhance hikers’ experience with our trail.  We also will begin several terrestrial research initiatives to aid the conservancy in its work and provide new information about how invasive species both spread and flourish.  In the coming weeks, we will continue blogs detailing our continued work with the conservancy, as well as our individual research projects, as they continue to develop and give insight into the ecosystems of Catalina, and what we can do to conserve them.

USC ENST Interns after a day of Fennel removal on Catalina’s west end.  Photo: Tony Summers.  Judy Fong (far left) is a Sophomore Environmental Studies major and hopes to use this internship to gain experience in conservation work and learn about ecosystem management strategies.  Dawnielle Tellez (center left) is a Junior Environmental Studies major interested in conservation of endangered species and marine ecology.  Justin Bogda (center right) is a Junior Environmental Studies and International Relations major interested in International environmental policies, and hopes to work in environmental law and policy.  Stephen Holle (far right) is a Senior Environmental Studies major and is interested in natural resource management and finding ways to bridge the growing gap between science and policy.

Editor’s note: The ENST Catalina Island Internship at USC Dornsife is offered as part of a summer internship program offered to undergraduate students in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecological restoration, protected-area planning and assessment, and invasive species management. During the course of the internship, students will work closely with USC faculty and staff scientists from the Catalina Island Conservancy to support ongoing conservation and management programs being implemented on the island. Instructors for the course include David Ginsburg, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Lisa Collins, Lecturer in Environmental Studies, and Tony Summers, Invasive Plant Program Supervisor from the Catalina Island Conservancy.