Catalina Island’s Strategic Play for World War II

CATALINA ISLAND — Boaters and tourists know Catalina Island to be Southern California’s getaway destination, but there was a period of time when Avalon and its surroundings became victimized by conflict. Both the city and island transformed from a recreational hotspot to a hub of militaristic strategy shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor sucked the United States into World War II.

Catalina, of course, is just beyond the shores of Los Angeles – coincidentally one of the closest U.S. cities to Hawai’i. A story published by KCET in January 2013 stated, in light of the Pearl Harbor, there were worries opposing forces could subsequently use the island to stage an attack against the U.S. Mainland.

It did not take long for such worries to turn into fears. The fears then caused the island to devoid of tourists and visitors – opening the door for Avalon (and the island in general) to become a staging ground for the U.S.’s Pacific theater defense.

“Gripped by fear, Avalon promptly emptied of tourists,” the KCET story stated. “Many residents fled, too, and soon the Coast Guard had closed the San Pedro Channel to most vessels. Authorities declared the island a Federal Military Zone. Catalina’s tourism-dependent economy ground to a halt.”

Many of Avalon’s signature landmarks were used as a “training camp” by wings of the U.S. military.

“The island nimbly reinvented itself as a training camp for spies, commandos, merchant marines, Coast Guard recruits, and other uniformed service members [in response to Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s entry into World War II],” the KCET story stated. “Vacant hotels became barracks. Empty marinas, yacht clubs, and even the Chicago Cubs’ spring training ballpark were transformed into simulated warzones. Engineered by the Wrigley family, which controlled much of the island, the tactic saved Catalina from economic disaster.”

Even the Two Harbors area was used for training exercises.

Much of what happened on the island in the 1940s became the subject of an exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum (which ran in 2013).

 

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