Building of the Top-Secret Base at Baltra
December 20, 2011 § 2 Comments
Part II of our series on the World War II base at Baltra with assistance from John H Peck
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s as tensions grew around the world, interest in a military base on Baltra Island grew. The Marshall Documents shows that negotiations between the US and Ecuador for the construction of a military base in the Galapagos were well in place during 1939. United States interests made a base in the Galapagos Islands a priority and Baltra was the ideal island due to its clear skies and lack of rain.
In March 1940, local Galapagos residents reported seeing of German U-Boats in the Galapagos Islands. In August the same year Germany admitted loosing an aircraft to the Panama Canal defenses. By the end of 1940 it was publically known the US was in negotiations with both Costa Rica for the use of Cocos Islands and with Ecuador for the use of the Galapagos as military bases to protect the Panama Canal.
In September of 1941 a Dutch boat was sank near the Galapagos as did an Australian ship in early December and there were extensive reports of a Nazi Raiders in the region and these Raiders were thought to have been responsible for the sinking of both boats.
On the South America Continent tensions had been growing between Ecuador and Peru over land dispute in the Amazon Region. During 1939 and 1940 there were a number of skirmishes between along the boarder and finally in July 1941 Peru invaded Ecuador. The 13,000 men who made up the Peruvian forces quickly over took Ecuador’s meager 1,800 men. Peru began bombing the towns of Huaquillas, Arenillas, Santa Rosa and Machala along the southern coast of Ecuador. The Peruvians sent paratroopers into the Puerto Bolivar. Quickly Peru occupied almost the entire province of El Oro and some towns in the province of Loja. A blockade around the port of Guayaquil shut off the supply line into the country.
As the US continued negotiations with Ecuador to obtain a military base in the Galapagos continued, Ecuador wanted part of the negotiation to include the sanctions against Peru and the return land in the Amazon region which amounted to over half of the size of their country.
However when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor things quickly changed. Within 5 days US troops were sent to the Galapagos to begin a modest refueling station for naval aircraft. In January 1942 an agreement was signed between the US and Ecuador for the use of the Galapagos Islands by the US Military. In March Ecuadorian Contractors began construction of a military base on the island of Baltra and in September the same year the SeaBees arrived to complete the job.
Known as Base Beta, Baltra was top-secret military base. According to John Peck who was stationed there “On arrival in CZ (Canal Zone), I was asked to volunteer for duty on an island in the Pacific, I did not know or was told what island. I was told it was for only six months, and when it was up I could return to the CZ.” “We left the first week of January 1944 via seaplane to arrive at our new base. On the flight we were told we were going to Galapagos, which was 600 miles off of South America. All messages were censored and all mail would be censored. On arrival on Baltra we were assigned to our departments and were told the Sea Bees were still in process of building we could only stay on the Navy side of Baltra, as the US Army Air Corps occupied the other side.”
Those stationed there were treated very well. Other than a hospital shared by the both the Army and Navy the two bases were separate. A small city was created for those who lived there including a church with services on Sundays, a movie theatre with current releases, a beer garden and bowling alley. Those stationed there enjoyed the beaches, and deep-sea fishing as well as made pets of some of the Land Iguanas and feral goats found on the islands. Mail arrived daily via seaplanes from the CZ and those stationed on Baltra were given the option to take college courses, which could be transferred to universities in the US.
To read Part I see The Role of Baltra in WWII