Sometime after 1945 and before 1955, U.S. Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA), Richmond, FL was commissioned.
NSGA Richmond was located at the Coast Guard Radio Station on the Richmond site. NSGA Richmond was decommissioned and in July, 1957 and the mission transferred to the newly commissioned NSGA Homestead.
History of NAS Richmond
In 1942, as World War II heated up and the U.S. became move involved, the U.S. government ordered a massive buildup in military facilities. One of these facilities was Naval Air Station, Richmond. Richmond is located on about 2,500 acres of land in the then near wilderness, 20 miles south of the city of Miami, FL and 19 miles southwest of Miami’s central business district. The Navy started construction of a major airship or LTA (Lighter Than Air) Air Station to patrol Florida waters for German U-boats, which threatened Allied merchant marine shipping. To provide anti-submarine patrol, rescue, escort and utility services in this area, Blimp Patrol Squadron ZP-21 arrived in October, 1942.
Naval Air Station, Richmond, takes its name from the “Richmond Lumber Company” which had built a saw mill on the property around the turn of the century, to harvest and process the large stands of “Dade county pine.”
The base grew quickly, using native timber and millions of board-feet of lumber shipped in from the Pacific-Northwest. Over $13,000,000 was expended in the creation of the fully independent base which boasted three 16.5 story hangars over 1,000 feet in length. Each hangar was 1088 feet long and covered an area of about 7 acres. The doors at each end of the hangar were composed of 6 panels, rolling on steel railroad tracks imbedded in the concrete apron. Each door panel was 120 feet high and 3.5 feet thick, and is considered the largest single door panels ever designed and built. Each hangar cost approximately $2,500,000.00 in 1942 dollars.
NAS Richmond was commissioned on September 15, 1942. NAS Richmond was the home of the 25 airships (blimps) of Patrol Airship Squadron 21 (ZP-21) and Airship Wing 2. As Fleet Airship Wing Two, NAS Richmond-based ZP-21 combined with ZP-22 patrolling Texas and Louisiana, and ZP-23 covering Jamaica and Panama. ZP-21 Detachments flew from Key West and Banana River (Daytona Beach) on the Florida coast, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and four NAF’s in Cuba. ZP-51, ZP-41 and ZP-42, stationed from Trinidad to Rio all looked to NAS Richmond for support. Its 16 story-high hangers looked down on acres of tarmac launch pads. Nestled in the pine forest left standing for camouflage were barracks, warehouses, BOQ, fire station, hospital, and even a bowling alley for the thousands of airdales assigned to NAS or passing through. PBY’s, fighters, and other fixed wing aircraft routinely landed at NAS Richmond’s airstrip. During WWII, Airship Wing Two alone logged 114,649 hours flying in 7750 missions, suffering six blimps lost during operations and one blimp lost in combat.
The only recorded contact between a blimp and a submarine occurred on July 18, 1943, when Navy airship K-74 encountered Nazi U-134 in the Florida Straits. K-74 made a depth charge run on the sub, but was shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the U-boat, and crashed into the sea. The blimp sank with the loss of one life, the pilot.
At its wartime peak, Richmond was home to 25 K-series blimps, a 2,000 foot diameter landing mat, eight circular concrete mooring pads, two runways, three huge blimp hangars, a helium plant, and 3,000 men. The station eventually became the largest blimp base on the east coast. As a result of blimp coastal unrelenting patrols, the number of successful enemy torpedo attacks in the South Florida area was reduced from 1942’s total of 114 to only 4 sinkings in 1943.
A major hurricane on September 14 and 15, 1945, resulted in the destruction of the three “hurricane proof” blimp hangars and the resultant loss of twenty-five blimps, 365 fixed wing aircraft parked in the hangars and 150 cars. NAS Richmond was devastated by a direct hit from a hurricane with 123 mph winds striking the massive blimp hangars. The only buildings that survived the hurricane were the headquarters building 2 and a few warehouses. With daybreak the hurricane was gone and so was NAS Richmond. The smoldering hangers and their contents were a total loss. It was the largest fire of 1945, assessed at 30 million (in 1945 dollars). The damage constituted the biggest peacetime loss of federal property, in the shortest time, on record. ZP-21 was decommissioned soon after.
NAS Richmond ceased operations in November, 1945 with portions of the facility becoming a University of Miami South Campus and the Miami Metrozoo. Other areas of the base were utilized by the Army, Navy and Coast Guard as communications facilities.
A few years after the war, the Navy left the base and the land was leased to the University of Miami from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) for non-profit educational and research purposes. The University used the base as a remote campus for returning GI’s and for botanical research. Being a male only campus, the students could use the same barracks that the Navy had abandoned.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The GSA determined that some of the land leased to the University of Miami would be needed for a large listening post for the CIA. The University, under pressure from the GSA, informed the MRHS that the museum would no longer be able to operate the “Gold Coast Railroad” on the South Campus and would have to look elsewhere to find a new home for its activities. As a result, on November 13, 1966, the Gold Coast Railroad (MRHS) chugged off the South Campus property heading for a new found home in Ft. Lauderdale, Broward County. In 1983, the Florida Department of Transportation notified the museum that plans were being finalized to build an east-west expressway to be known as I-595. The elevated route would run through the museum’s location. Once again the museum had to look for a new home. In Dade County, the National Park Service (NPS) was looking to acquire land on the bottom of Biscayne Bay for a National Monument. It was learned that the federal prison adjacent to the new MetroZoo had surplus property it did not need. A land “swap” was arranged. The NPS got the bay bottom it wanted and Dade County got 56+ acres of park land, to be leased to the Gold Coast Railroad. It was a portion of the same property that the museum had occupied in the 1960’s at former Naval Air Station Richmond. In 1984, the new home for the museum was the areas of hangars #1 and #2 of the former airship base. In April 1998, the museum changed its name to “Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Inc.” to more accurately reflect its educational goals. In April 2003, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum reached its 45 year anniversary.
In 1962, the Richmond Air Force Station (Z-210), a radar facility, was constructed to the northwest of the former blimp airfield. It consisted of three radar towers. The Richmond Air Force Station radar facility was operated by the FAA, until destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
During the period 1962-1968, the CIA leased a few buildings from the University of Miami under the “front” name of Zenith Technological Services. This “front” company was in fact the intelligence gathering headquarters for the war on Cuba, known as JM/WAVE, aka JM WAVE aka WAVE Station. Over 400 CIA operatives operated out of this facility. The CIA facility later moved from its Richmond site to North Dade County.
In the early 1970’s, Building 25 (the old NAS Richmond Headquarters building) was occupied by the Marine Reserve. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew roared through the old wooden buildings causing major damage to the termite infested structures. In 1994, GSA began clearing the majority of the old wooden buildings leaving Building 25, in a state of deterioration. In 1994, the Perrine Primate Institute built a concrete structure as a permanent residence for Miami Metrozoo animals. Also in 1994, the Richmond base was considered as a new site for U.S. Southern Command, which was forced to move from Quarry Heights, Panama Canal Zone.
In late 1995, the decision was made to create an exhibit detailing the history and important role the base played during World War II. On September, 16, 1995 over 200 people assembled on the apron of what was Hangar 1, Naval Air Station, Richmond, to honor and commemorate the 50th anniversary of World War II. The groundbreaking was held at the NAS boiler room. The Grand Opening of the Naval Air Station Richmond Exhibit occurred on September 14, 1996.
25 July 2020 at 11:35
I really enjoyed reading this since I spent 36 years in Miami and had no idea about this history, I was there in 1995 but do not recall any headlines in the paper related to that facility. Very interesting.
25 July 2020 at 16:01
In 1977 while Chief in Charge of the SPINTCOMM center on NAS Jacksonville (in support of Commander ASW Wings LANT) we were told we would become a trib off NSGA Homestead STREAMLINER and drop our link to ASC Albany,
GA. My other ‘O’ brancher, my ‘M’ brancher and the ‘O’ brancher from NSGD Mayport flew from Jax to Miami, got a
rental car and drove to Homestead to find out what – if anything – we might have to do to get our link set-up. To make a long story short, the transition from Albany to Homestead never occurred (at least not while I was at Jax) although
we waited and waited for the authorization to do it. I’ve now lived in Florida since retiring in 1986 and this is the first
i have ever heard of NSGA Richmond (and its history) and that includes my 3 years at NSGA Key West before my
retirement. Thank you Mario for still another story from our NSG history.
25 July 2020 at 21:55
Thanks for such an interesting story, Mario! I well remember “NAVY” blimps flying along the length of Long Beach Island, New Jersey in the mid-1950’s when my family visited my mothers parents. I loved seeing those NAVY blimps flying off the beach of Long Beach Island. As an aside, on 4 April 1933, Rear Admiral William A. Moffett and 72 others died when lighter-than-air derigible AKRON crashed into the Atlantic off Barnegat Lighthouse, Long Beach Island. Three members of AKRON’s crew survived the crash.
I always enjoyed watching NAVY blimps in flight in early childhood.
26 July 2020 at 19:03
I got orders to Richmond,Fl back in 1955, not knowing anything about it, took my journey south, was greeted at NARTU out of Miami by a fellow shipmate an went sout to Richmond, however the checkin pont back then was a lounge by the name of The Tropocopa (ha)right accross from Tropical Race Track where the horses raced. Richmond had no barracks or anything other than the working spaces along with Coast Guard Radio Station. There was only about 16 of us, navy ct’s with a chief in charge. We all lived on the economy.My tour lasted until mid July of ’57 where i was transferred to the Azores. When i left the OIC was a WO by the name of Edgar Posey, who I believe was the first CO of Homestead. I can believe all the comments about not knowing of Richmond, neither did most of the civilians around us know of our being there an for what (ha). Good duty, shame they aren’t more like that. I got there as a seaman an left as a 2nd class. Later retired as a ctrc in 73 with 22 years.
31 August 2020 at 15:10
I am sharing.