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United States Military Base on the west coast of the Avalon Peninsula, in Placentia Bay. Throughout the spring and early summer of 1940 Germany threatened to conquer all of Europe. During that time Germany's army invaded and conquered the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France, and its Luftwaffe and Navy stepped up their attacks on Britain. The small number of ships in the Royal Navy at that time was not equal to the task facing Britain, and the construction of new British warships, begun at the outset of the war, had not yet been completed. Prime Minister Churchill, desperate for destroyers, turned to the United States for aid.
Following months of negotiations the United States Government agreed to give Britain fifty old destroyers in return for the right to lease land in various parts of the British Empire on which the U.S. could build military bases. Britain accepted the deal and offered to the United States, in addition, the right to lease land for a period of ninety-nine years in Newfoundland and Bermuda as a free gift, not contingent upon the delivery of the United States destroyers.
Although the official agreement between the two governments (commonly referred to as the ``destroyers-for-bases deal'') was not signed until March 27, 1941, Argentia qv, with its good, ice-free harbour and its strategic position, had already been chosen by an American military survey team in the fall of 1940 as a site for a military base, and by the end of December 1940 construction of the base there had begun. Because of its strategic position it was quickly realized that Argentia would be one of the key bases for the Allied Forces in the North Atlantic during World War II. The mammoth U.S. military base which was subsequently established at Argentia was the most expensive of the American overseas bases built during World War II, costing over $45,000,000. When completed it consisted of a Naval Operating Base and a Naval Air Station with three runways on the north side of the Argentia harbour and a U.S. Army Base known as Fort McAndrew on the south side of the harbour. The Naval Operating Base and Air Station at Argentia served throughout World War II as a base for both United States and Allied Forces anti-submarine air patrols and task force escorts. The largest single United States task force in the Atlantic, consisting of six escort carriers and fifty destroyer escorts, was based there. Fort McAndrew was used as the base for a seacoast artillery group, an anti-aircraft artillery company, an anti-motor torpedo boat battalion and an infantry company. There were also searchlight positions at Fox Island, Dunville and on the base itself. In addition Army personnel regularly patrolled the east side of Placentia Bay and in 1942 built a road from Argentia to Holyrood to improve war-time transportation and communication. In all, 12,403 military personnel were stationed at Argentia by 1943.
The establishment of the Argentia base affected those who lived on the site prior to 1941. In fact the whole community of Argentia was dismantled and its inhabitants moved to other com munitiesin the area. Nevertheless,the overall economic benefit which resulted from the base's activities compensated for this inconvenience to the Argentia area, which like the rest of the western world, had just come through a long and hard economic depression. Although detailed statistics do not exist on the subject, a few indications of the benefits resulting from the establishment ofthe base are available. Probably the most frequently recognized effect ofthe base's presence was the creation of a large number of jobs for civilians. Estimates have been made which place the number of Newfoundland civilians working on the base during construction at between 10,000 and 15,000. Certainly large numbers of men were employed there. Entire communities even as far away as the west side of Placentia Bay became dependent on the base for their livelihood. Following construction Newfoundlanders continued to be employed at the base, and as late as the mid-19SOs payroll for civilians working at Argentia amounted to approximately $400,000 a month.
The impact that Argentia and the other U.S. bases made on Newfoundland's economy may also be gauged by the increase in total imports for the civilian population of Newfoundland from 1940 to 1944. In the former year $28.4 million worth of commodities for civilians were imported into Newfoundland; by 1944 that figure had risen to $46.6 million. It has also been stated that certain businesses, such as dairies, soft drink factories and retail outlets near Argentia and other bases experienced significant increases in sales following the establishment of the U.S. bases in Newfoundland. (This may be partially true, but it should be noted that in the case of dairy farming in the Argentia area no increase in business was effected by the establishment of the U.S. base. Instead, a marked decrease in the number of cows and the volume of milk production in the area resulted, probably because a large number of part-time and full-time farmers began working at Argentia during the war.)
Since World War II a number of changes have occurred at the base. Fort McAndrew, which had become an Air Force Base in 1948, was given to the Navy in 1955 prior to the establishment of an Atlantic Barrier Force and an Airborne Early Warning Wing at the Naval Station that year. A Naval Facility was commissioned in 1959 to begin oceanographic studies for the U.S. Navy and by 1965, following the disestablishment of the Airborne Early Warning Wing at Argentia, the Facility was the largest tenant command on the base. In 1974 the Air Station was abandoned and in the following year the Naval Station was disestablished.
In 1980 the Naval Facility, manned by both Canadians and Americans, still conducted oceanographic studies. A Navy Commissary Store, a detachment of the United States Air Force and a radio station, the Navy Broadcasting Service Det One (AFRTS), were also operating on the base at that time. In 1980 there were approximately four hundred male and female personnel of the U. S. and Canadian Forces stationed at Argentia and approximately three hundred Newfoundland civilians employed at the base.
Besides use of the base by military personnel, commercial airlines, operating in Newfoundland, periodically used the Argentia airstrips after World War II when weather in St. John's was too poor to land there. This practice ended in 1974, when the Air Station was abandoned by the military.