Atlantic Fleet. Guantanamo Bay from Radio Tower – U.S. Naval Station
An evocative WW1 panoramic photograph of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet stationed at their new base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
This panoramic gelatine silver print of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was taken around 1916-17 by an unknown military photographer in the middle of the First World War. It depicts Guantanamo Bay as seen from the radio tower on one of the small promontories along the bay’s eastern side.
On the far left of the panorama, we see the northernmost point of the bay’s first large promontory, behind which the bay opens onto the Caribbean Sea. This location was known as Fisherman Point and constitutes the heart of the Naval Base today. However, when this photograph was taken, most of this land remained vacant. Despite this, the importance of this particular site is reflected in the presence of a moored vessel, USS Petrel, which at the time constituted the ‘Station Ship’ at Guantanamo Bay and thus a kind of mobile central command.
Most of the image depicts the bay itself. Anchored in place are numerous ships, including large and small battleships, destroyers, steamships, minesweepers, and smaller service craft. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, a significant number of the vessels shown in the image can be fully identified. These include the destroyers Drayton, Aylwin, Nicholson, and Cushing; the battleships South Carolina, Michigan, Louisiana; and either the Wyoming or Arkansas; as well as the minelayers Baltimore and San Francisco (see https://www.history.navy.mil).
Behind the open water is a large open expanse flanking Mahomilla Bay. Today, this has become the Socarrás and McKinley neighborhoods on the base. In the far right of the image, we see another large promontory jutting out from the bay’s eastern side. This is known as Deer Point and is the location for the earliest built naval facilities (i.e. Deer Point Camp). The Radio Tower promontory and Deer Point have since been incorporated into the modern naval base currently occupying Guantanamo Bay.
Context is everything
Guantánamo Naval Base is a United States military base located on the southeastern end of Cuba. It covers an area of roughly 45 square miles (117 km2) along the shore of Guantánamo Bay. Historically, Cuba had been part of New Spain since the time of Columbus. Still, following the Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris signed in 1898, Spain agreed to relinquish control of the island, which subsequently became an independent nation in 1901.
Since part of the Spanish-American war had played out in the Caribbean, the United States built up a significant military presence on the island, which the US government now wished to maintain. In 1903, the new Cuban leadership signed an open-ended lease for the land surrounding Guantanamo Bay- partly due to the pressures exercised through the Platt Amendment.
The lease allowed the United States to use the land as a coaling station and naval base in perpetuity. After the Cuban revolution and Castro’s rise to power in 1959, the communist government repeatedly protested the arrangement, arguing that it was both illegal under international law and was imposed by force. In more recent years, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base has become infamous as a military prison for those arrested by the United States in their global war on terror.
A negative of this photograph is held in the Library of Congress (no. 2007664347). A gelatine silver print like ours is also held in the Naval History and Heritage Command collection, formerly The Naval Historical Foundation (Catalog nos. NH76417- NH76422).
Large panoramic gelatin silver print, captioned in the negative. Some uneven toning/fading.