Naval Station Norfolk


Naval Station Norfolk (NSN) is a United States Navy facility located near the mouth of the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads at Sewells Point in Norfolk. Covering more than 4,300 acres of land, NSN is one of the largest military facilities in the world. The base serves as the deepwater home port for seventy-five warships and submarines, including five of the U.S. Navy’s twelve aircraft carriers. It supports numerous naval air squadrons that operate E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft, C-2 Greyhound cargo planes, and CH-46 helicopters. The base is also home to many shore-based Naval and joint forces commands with particular emphasis on advance training activities.

NSN is one of several major military bases in the Hampton Roads region. Some of the other facilities include Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek also in Virginia Beach, Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Fort Eustis in Newport News, and Fort Monroe, a mid-nineteenth-century coast defense structure that is currently used by the Army as a headquarters for various commands. As the largest base in Hampton Roads, NSN provides the military community a focal point for coordination of joint operations between the different branches of the Armed Forces of the United States.

NSN has two primary functions: port operations and air operations. NSN controls more than 3,100 ships’ movements annually as they arrive and depart their berths. Port facilities extend more than four miles along the waterfront and include some seven miles of pier and wharf space. For air operations, NSN conducts more than 100,000 flight operations each year, an average of 275 flights per day, or one every six minutes. More than 150,000 passengers and 264,000 tons of mail and cargo depart annually on Air Mobility Command (AMC) aircraft and other chartered flights from our airfield. It is the hub for Navy logistics going to the European and Central Command theaters of operations, and to the Caribbean.

The Department of the Navy founded Naval Station Norfolk in 1917 on the grounds of the 1907 Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition. In 1908, the Norfolk-based Fidelity Land and Investment Company was given the task of finding a buyer for the grounds from the bankrupt Jamestown Exposition Company.

12th Cavalry at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition

After many rejections by the Navy and Congress, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson personally endorsed the idea of purchasing the Exposition grounds with the entry of the United States into World War I in 1917. The government was then able to take title to 474 acres, 367 coming from the former Jamestown Exposition site and 100.8 acres from the adjacent Pine Beach area of Norfolk. Some of the land, particularly in Pine Beach, was still owned by private citizens. Claiming the Navy was not paying enough for their property, many refused to move. Using eminent domain provisions, the Navy condemned the land and seized their property. The property owners sued the Navy. The ensuing court cases were not settled until the 1930s.

The Navy initially called the new base Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads, or NOB, a term that is still incorrectly used by sailors. The facility went through several changes to meet the growing and changing demands of the fleet. Air operations with lighter-than-air balloons and seaplanes began soon after the establishment of the base when an air training facility was built on the eastern side of the base.

By World War II (1939–1945), the base had established itself as the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet with one hundred ships and several naval air squadrons calling it home. During the war itself, the base supported Allied ships and aircraft engaged against German U-boats throughout the six-year-long Battle of the Atlantic. The base grew by several hundred acres to accommodate the pace of the war. Among the new facilities constructed was a major aircraft factory.

In 1943, a vehicle carrying depth charges mysteriously exploded. The explosion killed several sailors including Elizabeth Korensky, the only Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVE) to die in action during the war. The sound of the explosion was heard more than twenty miles away.

Naval Station Norfolk

The base continued to be a major facility throughout the Cold War and even had to expand again to accommodate larger ships and a rebuilt fleet in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, the Navy continued to expand the base with the purchase of 494.8 acres of land from the Norfolk and Western Railway at a cost of $17.4 million. The new $60 million construction program resulted in new piers along the waterfront, as well as beautification and improvements to Hampton Boulevard leading to the main gate.

At one time, the air station side of NSN was host to more than seventy tenant commands, including several carrier groups, carrier airborne early warning wings, helicopter sea control wings, and Naval Air Reserve units. In addition, the station rendered support in photography, meteorology, and electronics to the fleet commands of the Hampton Roads naval community.

As part of the Navy’s response to the post–Cold War drawdown of the 1990s, many new initiatives were implemented at Navy shore installations to reduce their operating cost, improve their efficiency, and match better their capacity to the reduced size of the Navy. In 1998, the Navy began a major realignment of shore command organizations and processes throughout Hampton Roads in a process known as “regionalization.” The separate Naval Station and Naval Air Station (which were directly adjacent to each other) merged into a single installation called Naval Station Norfolk. This consolidation became official on February 5, 1999.

Today NSN is rich with historic architecture. It is the site of the second-oldest brick baseball stadium in the United States, where major league baseball players competed during World War II. It is also the location of numerous structures from the 1907 Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition including thirteen models of the state capitols that the United States had constructed at Jamestown. Many of the commands located at NSN are also housed in historic buildings dating from the World War I through World War II eras.

The Norfolk-based Fidelity Land and Investment Company takes on the task of finding a buyer for the grounds of the recently bankrupt Jamestown Exposition Company. These grounds would later be purchased by the U.S. Navy and turned into Naval Station Norfolk.
The Department of the Navy founds the Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads, which would later become Naval Station Norfolk.
September 17, 1943
Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads (later renamed Naval Station Norfolk) is the site of a major accident when a vehicle carrying depth charges mysteriously explodes. Several sailors are killed including Elizabeth Korensky, the only member of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service to die in action during World War II.
February 5, 1999
The Naval Station and the Naval Air Station in Norfolk are merged into a single unit, which is renamed Naval Station Norfolk.
  • Foss, William O. The United States Navy in Hampton Roads. Norfolk: Donning Company, 1984.
  • Linder, Bruce. Tidewater’s Navy: An Illustrated History. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005.
  • Wheeler, William R. The Road to Victory: A History of the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in World War II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946.
APA Citation:
Taylor, Michael & Calhoun, Gordon. Naval Station Norfolk. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/naval-station-norfolk.
MLA Citation:
Taylor, Michael, and Gordon Calhoun. "Naval Station Norfolk" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 30 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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