Manchester Fuel Depot Celebrates 75 Years Of Service

By Lt. Cmdr. Scott M. McCarthy, SC, USN
Director, NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center
Puget Sound Fuels Department, Manchester Fuel Depot

NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound fuels operators respond to a simulated Oil Spi ll at Manchester Fuel Depot. Washington Department of Ecology evaluates the terminal’s capabilities and proficiency with semi-annual spill drills, and fuel depot personnel frequently participate in multi-agency training to assist with spills in the Puget Sound region. –photo by Brian J. Davis

Nearly 140 former employees, affectionately called “fuelies,” along with local dignitaries and guests from the surrounding community, joined the NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound Fuels Department staff to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the congressionally recognized Manchester Fuel Depot during a ceremony at Naval Base Kitsap – Manchester.

Manchester Fuel Depot is one of the nation’s most critical fuel war reserve sites. The 234-acre Defense Fuel Support Point is located six miles across Puget Sound from the city of Seattle, and has the largest bulk petroleum storage capacity of any single Department of Defense facility in the continental United States. It is a strategic fuel receipt, storage, and distribution hub with a reach that extends throughout the northern Pacific into the Arctic Circle, and beyond the Pacific Rim. Manchester Fuel Depot’s mission supports all branches of service, and the terminal is also an alternate source of supply for allied forces and a variety of state and federal agencies operating in the region.

The celebration included a presentation about the future of Manchester Fuel Depot from Deputy Fuels Director Glenn Schmitt, who discussed upcoming plans for the installation including the proposed new tank farm. Combined with existing above ground infrastructure, the military construction project for the replacement of much of Manchester’s storage will enable the terminal to store and treat several variants of military specification diesel fuel, lubricating oils, and additives, while adapting to customer demands, adhering to state and federal regulations, and reducing maintenance costs.

Tunnel framework is built and sections of concrete are being poured during the construction of Manchester Underground Pipe Tunnel D. –U. S. Navy file photo.

“If approved by Congress, the $200 million multi-phased project will remove 29 of the original underground concrete tanks from service and replace them with six aboveground steel tanks with capacities of 125,000 barrels each,” Schmitt explained.

An investment of this magnitude makes a trip down memory lane worthwhile. NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Commanding Officer, Capt. Philippe Grandjean, introduced the event’s keynote speaker, Bob Cairns, who served as the Deputy Fuels Director from 1985 until 2014. Cairns’ remarks engaged the audience and gave a touch of nostalgia through a history lesson with specific examples of the critical support provided by the terminal over the years.

The land where the fuel depot is located was purchased by the War Department in 1898. Cairns informed the audience that “the government paid a mere $98.55 an acre for a total of 386 acres,” and also noted that the investment was originally intended for an Army Coastal Artillery post. It took more than two decades for the The Navy Supply Corps Newsletter 29 installation to be transferred to the Navy, becoming Naval Station Manchester. The original parcel of land is currently occupied by Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Western Regional Center, and Naval Base Kitsap – Manchester, where Manchester Fuel Depot operates under the command of NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound.

Inside Manchester’s underground 47,000 barrel Concrete Tank; construction is nearly complete.

Recognizing that America’s involvement in World War II was imminent, President Roosevelt directed his senior military leaders to identify and develop strategic locations to grow America’s petroleum reserves. Topography, elevation, and access to a protected, deepwater harbor made Naval Station Manchester an ideal location. In 1939, top engineers and artisans from around the country descended on the tiny community near the base and joined with local skilled laborers to fill the order.

Construction of Manchester Boiler and Pump House Building 12 is nearing completion. –U.S. Navy file photo

“At the peak of construction, over 2,000 contracted workers toiled to meet aggressive completion deadlines,” Cairns stated.

Hillsides were blasted, and dozens of massive concrete tanks were installed into bedrock to ensure they could withstand the impact of the largest ordinance threatening them at the time, a 500-pound Japanese bomb. Tanks were connected with several miles of 2-foot diameter pipeline placed in blast-proof concrete tunnels far beneath the earth’s surface. An enormous two-story pump house was positioned to serve as a conduit that would allow fueling by gravity in the event of a prolonged electrical blackout.

One year after the attack on Pearl Harbor had fulfilled the President’s prediction and forced America to enter the conflict, a pair of Aleutian Islands were under Japanese control. These islands were quite significant. Though sparsely populated, Attu and Kiska held strategic value as they were needed to secure transport routes in the Northern Pacific. Enemy capture of American soil also momentarily demoralized American forces, and improved Japan’s sense of security.

As is still the case today, fuel was a top commodity in World War II. Rear Adm. Thomas Kinkaid was assigned as Commander of the North Pacific Task Force, and early in 1943 he was ordered to retake the Aleutians. The islands’ remote location and inhospitable conditions created a challenge for logisticians, and underway replenishments in the Pacific Northwest became a priority. Patoka Class Replenishment Oiler USS Tippecanoe (AO 21) was selected as a transport vessel for maritime fueling missions. Although the terminal would not be completed for almost a year, Manchester Fuel Depot served as the base of the petroleum logistics chain starting just prior to the Aleutian campaign.

Receipt and issue pipelines are located in blast proof tunnel systems at Manchester Fuel Depot. –U. S. Navy photo by Corinna O’Donnell

 

“In December 1942, hoses were run from the pump house and Tippecanoe’s cargo tanks were filled with all the Navy Standard Fuel Oil she could hold,” said Cairns.

Since its inception in support of the Aleutian campaign, Manchester has provided the nation with strategic support in nearly every major conflict. Three-quarters of a century after Tippecanoe was first fueled at Manchester, the terminal remains at the core of America’s petroleum logistics chain. Cairns described how the vast quantities and diversity of products stored have turned the depot into a “fuels insurance policy” for our nation’s armed forces.

Construction of Manchester Underground 50,000 barrel Concrete Tank 35 has begun. The tank floor is complete and construction is underway on the first of three layers of the tank wall. –U.S. Navy file photo

Manchester Fuels Operators connect hoses to begin fueling a tanker. –U. S. Navy file photo.

As an example, he explained that near the end of the Cold War, operational plans reflected the tense situation between the United States and the Soviet Union. During this period, the sole Alaskan refinery under contract with the Defense Logistics Agency experienced a catastrophic fire which halted fuel production. This created a threat to national security as Elmendorf Air force Base and Fort Richardson relied on the refinery as their source of supply. Manchester Fuel Depot immediately became the primary provider for both bases, and continued with regular deliveries for over a year without impacting their operations.

“We picked up supplying fuel to the two largest bases in Alaska without a hiccup,” Cairns noted.

He also discussed Manchester’s role in the first Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait, severely impacting America’s supply from the Middle East. Manchester was called to provide resupply after the fuel stored in Japan, the Philippines, and Guam had been mobilized for the fight.

“The U.S. could have been between a rock and a hard place without enough JP-5 to support the existing war plans and combat operations in Iraq,” he stated.

Quoting Winston Churchill, Cairns closed by asserting what makes the facility so impressive is that “we have done so much with so little.” He described how Manchester’s mission is more than petroleum logistics. As an integral part of the community, environmental stewardship is imperative.

Construction of Manchester Underground 27,000 barrel Concrete Tank 17 is nearing completion. –U.S. Navy file photo

“This facility has environmental treasures that are unequalled on any other installation of its size,” Cairns said. “These treasures have been cared for in such an outstanding manner, that Manchester has been recognized as the winner of the highest Navy Environmental Installation award three times. Very special people working at this very special place made that happen.”

Following the presentations, the event concluded with a cake cutting ceremony. Guests were reminded that some of Manchester’s staff could not be present, and attention was directed to the waterfront. It was there in Yukon Harbor that Tippecanoe had filled her tanks in support of the Aleutian campaign. Seventy five years later it was U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) that was moored to the industrial pier, as fuel operators worked tirelessly to provision the heavy icebreaker for an upcoming mission in the Antarctic.

Regardless of time or circumstance, Manchester Fuel Depot supports the mission above all else.

Spring 2018