Brooklyn Army Terminal: Nerve Center of World War II | Episode 131

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Celebrate the 101st birthday of the Brooklyn Army Terminal’s opening on this special program about the facility’s unique role in World War II. BAT served as the headquarters of the New York Port of Embarkation, the largest port operation in the country that oversaw the transportation of millions of troops and tons of supplies. We will listen to oral histories of workers and service members from the period, view archival images that highlight the incredible scale of activity, and share stories of some of the remarkable operations conducted from the Army Terminal across the globe.

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Americal Division: Brooklyn Army Terminal Sends First US Troops to Pacific

Black and white photo of two soldiers walking up a gangplank onto a ship at dusk.

Last week we looked at Operation Magnet, the scramble in the weeks after Pearl Harbor to move American forces into the European battle zone. Just one week after that, it was time to make a move in the Pacific, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal would again be key. 

Unlike Europe, America already had significant forces in the Pacific theater, and they were engaged in battle with the Japanese – but it was going very poorly. The Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and within a month, American forces were penned in on the Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor, and the American Asiatic Fleet, along with Dutch and Commonwealth allies, was being battered across the Southwest Pacific. By May, 87,000 American and Filipino troops would be forced to surrender, and half the Asiatic Fleet was sunk.>> Continue reading

Brooklyn to Belfast: Red Bull Division Were First US Overseas Troops of World War II

Black and white photo of a soldier waving from the gangplank of a ship with soldiers in the background.

On January 15, 1942, ships of convoy AT-10 left the Brooklyn Army Terminal to make the journey across the Atlantic. Aboard the transports USS Chateau Thierry and HMTS Strathaird were mostly soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division, aka “Red Bull,” 4,058 in all. Codenamed Operation Magnet, this was the first deployment of American combat troops to foreign soil after the US officially entered World War II.>> Continue reading

Italian Service Units in the New York Port of Embarkation

Solider wearing a uniform with "Italy" written on his left arm sings with three guitarists on a bandstand with a crowd in the background.

During World War II, nearly half a million Axis prisoners of war were held in the United States. The vast majority of these POWs were German, and a small number (less than 1%) were from Japan, but the remainder were Italian, and they fell into a special category. 34,000 Italian soldiers were allowed to work and live relatively freely at military installations across the country, including at the New York Port of Embarkation, and they provided vital labor and skills to the American war effort. So why were these Italians treated differently than their German and Japanese counterparts?>> Continue reading

The Pickabacks, Unsung Heroes of D-Day

Operation Neptune, the seaborne component of the Normandy invasion, required nearly 6,500 vessels to deliver the vast Allied armies and their supplies and equipment onto the continental beaches. This didn’t just include warships and landing craft, but also more mundane vessels, like barges.

Allied planners scoured the British Isles for craft of any kind to use in the invasion, and they encountered a major shortage of large barges, capable of carrying 1,000 tons or more, and with a draft of less than six feet. Enough simply could not be found or built. Barges of this size were too large to load onto the decks of even the largest transports, and too fragile to tow across the stormy North Atlantic. So in February 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent an urgent message to Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall asking for a solution.>> Continue reading

The Port Chicago Disaster: Race and the Navy in World War II

This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the tragic events of Port Chicago, California, the worst home front disaster of World War II. 320 people were killed, most of them US Navy sailors, in an explosion at a naval munitions loading station, but it was more than just a tragic accident – the events leading up to and following the explosion exposed the appalling racial discrimination and mistreatment faced by African-American sailors during the war.

Located on central California’s Suisun Bay, Port Chicago was one of the largest and busiest weapons stations in the country, loading explosives onto ships bound for the Pacific Theater. All of the enlisted sailors carrying out these dangerous operations were African-American; all of their commanding officers were white. While many of these men had received training to pursue a naval rating, or a specific skill, they, like most of their black counterparts across the Navy, were employed only for manual labor. And the conditions at the port were incredibly dangerous. Commanders utilized “speed contests” to push the men to load more quickly, and almost none of the men had received specific instructions in ammunition loading or proper safety training.>> Continue reading