A Century of Service: The U.S. Navy on Cape Henlopen 


Cold War: Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) Naval Facility (NavFac), Lewes 



This page recounts the establishment and construction of NavFac Lewes



The locations and details of the at-sea portions of the NavFac and the operations in the Terminal Building are on the next page.  Or go there now____.





























To read an account

and see pictures

of the ceremony placing

one of these plaques

in the


Multi-Purpose Building

to mark and

commemorate NavFac

Lewes, go here.
























To defend against the threat of Soviet submarine operations in

the eastern Atlantic or off the coast of the U.S., in the mid-to-late  1950s, the Navy established an underwater Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS).  Naval facilities (NavFacs) of the system were located along the coast of the U.S. and Carribean Islands.  From those facilities cables ran to the edge of the continental shelf with hydrophones that could detect the sound of submarines.

The first NavFacs:


Ramey AFB Puerto Rico

Grand Turk, Bahamas

San Salvador, Bahamas



Shelbourne, Nova Scotia

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Cape May, New Jersey


Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Antigua, Leeward Islands


Eleuthera, Bahamas

Barbados, Leeward Islands

The  mission  of  these NavFacs was "To  provide  world-wide

maritime surveillance  and  cueing  from  undersea  sensors 

to warfare commanders and intelligence partners in support

of  Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)."


But, since that mission statement was (then) classified, a cover story was provided explaining the role, purpose and operations of  the  stations  as an  extension of and adjunct to the acoustic and  oceanographic  surveys  conducted by the Navy's fleet of research ships.

Soon the Navy realized that NavFac Cape May was threatened by beach erosion, which would eventually undermine the station buildings.


Thus, in September 1960, Delaware Senator Allen J. Frear  announced that $1,500,000 had been allotted for the construction of a Navy oceanographic research facility at Fort Miles, which had been a WWII Army Coastal Defense Artillery fort and was still being utilized as an Army training facility and as a Department of Defense military receation center.


In October 1960, the Navy had obtained 626 acres at the southern end of Fort Miles.

Construction  at  NavFac  Lewes  began  in 1961.  The plan was to have the facility completed by January 1962.


By February 1962, the  18,628 square  foot 

Headquarters/Multi-Purpose building  was  completed.

On the first floor (Navy "deck") of the building, upon entering,

there was a lobby ("quarter deck").  To the left from the quarter deck there were the watch office, the Commanding Officer's office, other administrative offices and a large conference room. To the right of the quarter deck there were eight bunkrooms that were used as Bachelor Officer's Quarters (BOQ) or rooms for newly arrived officers or visitors. Straight ahead from the quarter deck was the dining hall ("mess decks") and behind that the kitchen ("galley")


On the second deck were 18 double bunk rooms, a small

lounge, a large shower  facility, two  toilet rooms ("heads") and a large recreation room with a door and ladder to the outside. This was the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQ) and it was configured so that sailors could come and go without entering the first deck  of  the building.  


Today the building is used as a conference center and looks much like it would have when built.

The  former casemate for the16 inch gun Battery Smith, located just to the rear of the newly-constructed Multi-Purpose Building, was renovated to serve as an Auxiliary Building.  Although  it was earth covered, it provided 19,311 squre feet of space for NavFac support facilities.

A Terminal Equipment (TE) Building was built in front of the bunker of former Fort Miles 6 inch gun Battery Herring.  This building was the terminus for the cable from the sea and the locus of the operations of the NavFac.


The earthen cover of the bunker was removed and the interior was used to house the generator for the TE Building specialized equipment.

A Transmitter building was built to support the communications facilities of the TE Building.  Utility buildings and other support facilities were build across the street from the Multi-Purpose Building.  A small club was established in a former gun plotting room.

Meanwhile, the at-sea portion of NavFac Lewes was being created. The cable ship USNS Neptune (ARC-2) picked up the cable that ran from NavFac Cape May to the hydrophones and spliced that cable to a new length of cable.  The USS Salvager (ARS-D-3), a utility landing craft and a shore party brought that section of cable ashore and connected it to the TE building of NavFac Lewes.

Then in March 1962,

the Ash Wednesday nor'easter inundated

NavFac Cape May.


But, NavFac Lewes

was ready to open

the gate.

Thus, by 1 May 1962 NavFac Lewes was commissioned

and operational.

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A 1962 aerial view of NavFac Lewes showed the facility in its

natural setting.

Commanding Officers: NavFac Lewes
1 May 1962 to 16 Nov. 1962:
     Lieutenant Commander Orville L. Tomlinson, USN
16 Nov. 1962 to 15 Feb. 1965:
     Lieutenant Commander Bruce L. Prickett, USN
15 Feb. 1965 to 20 Apr. 1967:
     Commander John M. Liston, USN
20 Apr. 1967 to 11 July 1969:
     Commander Robert H. Fall III, USN
11 July 1969 to 12 Dec. 1972:
     Commander George W. Stewart, USN
12 Dec. 1972 to 4 Sept. 1974:
     Commander William H. Maier, USN
4 Sept. 1974 to 16 Sept. 1977:
     Lieutenant Commander Robert J. Eastman, Jr., USN
16 Sept. 1977 to 30 Sept. 1979:
     Lieutenant Commander Margaret A. Frederick, USN
30 Sept. 1979 to 30 Sept. 1981:
     Commander William J. Zuberbuhler, USN
When Lieutenant Commander Frederick took command of NavFac Lewes, she became the first Commanding Officer of a SOSUS NavFac and one of the first woman Commanding Officers in the Navy.


The NavFac was disestablished in 1981.  In the closure ceremony, the Commanding Officer, Commander William J. Zuberbuhler,  USN proclaimed "We were the most successful Navy Base in the history of the Navy." He pointed out that NavFac Lewes had received every possible award the Navy issues.

An aerial view shows the Navy area as it was in 1996.

In addition to the Headquarters/Multi-Purpose Building which

housed the bachelor officers and enlisted personnel, the Navy

provided housing for married officers and enlisted in the city of Lewes.  That housing complex still exists today located north of Savannah Road behind the school buildings.

Today that housing is still in use by personnel attached to the

University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences. 

To learn about the locations and technology of the at sea portions of the NavFac and the operations of the Terminal Equipment Building, go here____

Photo Credits


-Title picture: Arm patch of NavFac Lewes from the 1970s.

-First SOSUS NavFacs: Edward Whitman, "SOSUS the Secret Weapon of Undersea Surveillance", Undersea Warfare Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter 2005).

-Headquarters/Multi-Purpose Building in 1962: Wilmington Morning News.

-Headquarters/Multi-Purpose Building in 2000.  Courtesy of Ron Scarborough.

-Plan of the Auxiliary building. Public Works, Naval Facility Lewes Delaware drawing PW-588 dated Sept. 1978. Courtesy of Michael Rogers, Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation, Historian, Cape Henlopen State Park. Annotated by author.

-Illustration of location of Terminal building in front of Battery Herring.  Developed by author.

-Site plan of NavFac Lewes. Developed by author.
-Shore Party bringing cable ashore. Department of the Navy publication  Installation Techniques for Sonar Set AN/FQQ-1 (V),  BuShips 92962. Courtesy of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (N87). Declassified 21 October 2009.
-NavFac Cape May: U.S. Navy, Commander Undersea Surveillance.

-Gate to NavFac Lewes: Lewes Historical Society, courtesy of Hazel Brittingham.

-NavFac Lewes plaque: Author's photo of plaque donated by Lieutenant Commander  Edward Dalrymple USN (Ret.).

-Aerial photo of NavFac Lewes 1962. U.S. Navy photo. Courtesy of Michael Rogers, Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation, Historian Cape Henlopen State Park..

-Closing the gate to the NavFac: Delaware Coast Press.

-Aerial photo 1996: From display at the Biden Center, Cape Henlopen State Park.

-Location of the former Navy housing: Google Earth.

-Navy housing today: Author's photo.


To return to the home page, go here____