The Navy at Cape Henlopen

A Century of Service


The Headquarters/Multi-Purpose Building of the Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) Naval Facility (NavFac) Lewes 



This page recounts the construction and command history of NavFac Lewes


































































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 had 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.

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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.

A Terminal Building to house the oceanographic operations of the  facility was built in front of the Fort Miles former six inch gun Battery Herring. The earthen cover was removed and the battery was used to house the generator for the Terminal Building.

In addition, the casemate of Fort Miles former Battery Smith,

which had housed 16 inch guns was renovated to become an

Auxiliary Building, housing offices, shops a fire station and athletic facilities.  A Transmitter Building was built for the extensive communications system.  A Service Building was built for the heating plant, as well as a navy exchange and service station. Finally, the former p;otting room for Battery Smith was turned into a Club Oasis.


The  Auxiliary  Building  had  formerly  been Battery Smith, the

casemate for the 16-inch guns at Fort Miles and,  although  it

was earth covered, it provided 19,311 squre feet of space

for NavFac support facilities.

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.



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.

Upon closing, some land was returned to the State of Delaware.

But, the Navy retained 16.8 acres and the Headquarters/Multi-

Purpose Building and the Auxiliary Building, which became a Naval Reserve Training Facility.   

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 read about the Terminal Equipment Building

and SOSUS technology, go here____

Photo Credits


-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.

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

-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: Fort Miles Historical Assn. archives.

-Lieutenant Commander Margaret A Frederick: From change of command brochure

 of LCDR Frederick. Courtesy of Hazel Brittingham.

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

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

-Senator Biden accepting the area for the State: The Cape Gazette.

-Location of the former Navy housing: Google Earth.

-Navy housing today: Author's photo.


To return to the home page, go here____