By Megan Churchwell, Curator, Puget Sound Navy Museum
The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF) celebrates its 125th anniversary on September 16, 2016. On that date in 1891, the Navy formally established Naval Station Puget Sound, the precursor to PSNS & IMF. It was the Navy’s first dry dock and ship repair facility in the Northwest.
The Need for a Northwest Shipyard
In 1877, Navy Lieutenant Ambrose Wyckoff traveled through the Puget Sound with a survey party. At that time, the Navy had no repair or maintenance facilities north of San Francisco’s Mare Island Navy Yard. Wyckoff noted the Puget Sound region’s deep harbors, mild climate, and abundant natural resources. Convinced of its potential for a new naval shipyard, he began advocating to make it a reality. When approval and funding came in 1891, Wyckoff was appointed the first Commandant of the Shipyard.
Building the Shipyard
The Shipyard’s Dry Dock 1, the first dry dock in the Pacific Northwest, was completed in 1896. Dry Dock 2 followed in 1913. At 827 feet long and 145 feet wide, it was the U.S. Navy’s largest dry dock at the time.
During World War I, the Shipyard built a diverse array of vessels including submarine chasers, ammunition ships, seagoing tugs, and submarines. The Shipyard’s workforce increased from 1,500 in early 1916 to more than 6,500 by the end of the war.
World War II
Though work slowed during the peacetime of the 1920s, by the late 1930s the Shipyard was again preparing for the possibility of war. The Puget Sound Navy Yard was now the main West Coast naval shipyard, and the only one able to handle the Navy’s newest and largest ships. New construction included Dry Docks 4 and 5. When the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, the Shipyard began around-the-clock operations. During the war, more than 32,000 employees were responsible for the fitting out, repair, or modernization of nearly 400 ships.
Pearl Harbor’s Ghosts
During World War II, the Shipyard’s primary mission was the repair of Pacific Fleet warships damaged in battle. It served as the main repair facility for five U.S. battleships damaged at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. They were called the “Ghost Fleet” because, although Japan had declared them sunk in the surprise attack, they were repaired and returned to haunt the Japanese fleet for the rest of the war.
Postwar: Peace, Conflict, and Conversions
On November 30, 1945, the Puget Sound Navy Yard was renamed the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS). Its mission changed from repair work to the deactivation of Pacific Fleet vessels. During and after the Korean Conflict, the Shipyard activated many of the ships in the reserve “mothball” fleet, deactivating them again in 1954. PSNS also modernized aircraft carriers, including converting conventional flight decks to the angled decks used by newer aircraft and installing steam catapults for aircraft launching.
The Nuclear Age
The arrival of the Nuclear Era brought great change and new challenges to the Shipyard. With the 1954 launching of the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), the Shipyard’s primary mission shifted yet again. In 1961, the Shipyard was designated a submarine repair facility. By 1965, the Shipyard was capable of repairing nuclear-powered vessels. The same year, USS Sculpin (SSN 590) became the first nuclear-powered submarine worked on at the Shipyard. Since then, the Shipyard’s primary workload has been the maintenance, refueling, repair, and recycling of nuclear-powered submarines and surface ships.
In the 1980s, the Shipyard pioneered a program to safely and efficiently recycle decommissioned nuclear-powered ships. It is currently the only U.S. Navy facility offering these services.
Dry Dock 6
A major addition to PSNS in the postwar era was Dry Dock 6. Dedicated on April 23, 1962, it is 1,180 feet long, 180 feet wide, and 60 feet deep, large enough to hold the latest aircraft carriers. The Navy’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN 65), was overhauled there in 1974-1974.
From 1987 to 1997, the shipyard was the homeport of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). She was later replaced by the carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Today, USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) are currently homeported at Naval Base Kitsap, and PSNS & IMF has the only West Coast dry dock capable of handling Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.
PSNS & IMF in the 21st Century
In 2003, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard consolidated with the Naval Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Pacific Northwest (located at Bangor, Bremerton, and Everett, Washington), becoming known as PSNS & IMF.
Today, PSNS & IMF is the largest Shipyard on the West Coast and one of Washington State’s largest industrial facilities. It employs the latest maintenance and modernization techniques for ships and submarines in the Navy’s fleet, carrying on its heritage of excellence.
Watch their anniversary video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQYdswE2OnE