Updated 04/16/12

History of Port Lyautey

Port Lyautey lies on the Sebou River near the Atlantic Ocean on the route between the capital city of Rabat and the northern coastal city of Tangier. It was established in 1912 by Louis Hubert Lyautey , Morocco's first French resident general, as a military fort to replace Larache which had been incorporated into the Spanish zone. At the beginning of the 20th century, Morocco was recognized as a French sphere of influence having been divided between France and Spain, in 1904, with France receiving the larger share.

Marshall Louis Hubert Lyautey

The French built a new town and artificial harbor and in 1933 the town was re-named Port Lyautey after the Marshall. When Morocco achieved independence in 1956, the town was renamed Kenitra.

The French Navy on maneuvers in 1934 on the Sebou River

......submitted by Jerry Zimmerman

The French military base at Port Lyautey was used by United States military forces during World War 2 and was expanded to a major US Naval Air Station in 1951. The original airbase was captured by one American Destroyer and an Army Raider team in WW2. The Destroyer Dallas, DD199 came up the Sebou River, silenced the shore batteries with it's guns and landed the Raider team which in turn captured the airfield. For a full account of the invasion, naval action and personnel action, please click on the below links:

USS Dallas ~ destroyerhistory Invasion ~ click here CDR Boyd ~ Click here 36th Division ~ Click here

 

USS Dallas DD-199

After the invasion and capture of Port Lyautey, an American aircraft photographed the base which showed the French gun emplacements, sunken ships in the Sebou and the beaches where the invasion forces came ashore. That photograph is shown below.

The above photograph of the Vichy French Port Lyautey Naval Air Station and Captain Robert Brodie were taken on Nov. 8, 1942. Our thanks to Jim Touhey, a former medic at Port Lyautey, who contributed the above and below photographs. Following is an aerial view of the Casbah Fort that Army Raider forces assaulted.

And a special thank you to Jerry Zimmerman, a former Navy aerial photographer who served at Port Lyautey for his re-touching skills of the two photographs above and below as well as the color photograph of the view going down the hill to the airstrip and hangers following. Jerry has brought his skill to many of the photographs on this website and this web-editor is always grateful for his efforts. There are also two links off the Newsletter page referencing Jerry's tour of duty at Port Lyautey.

 

THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
WASHINGTON

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION to the

UNITED STATES SHIP DALLAS

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

“For outstanding participation in the capture of Port Lyautey Airfield, French Morocco, November 10, 1942. With a U. S. Army raider detachment embarked, the DALLAS, crossing a treacherous bar against heavy surf in order to reach the mouth of the Sebou River, broke through a steel cable boom obstructing the channel, forced the course ten miles upstream under hostile fire, and successfully landed troops without material damage or loss of life. Her distinctive fulfillment of a difficult and hazardous mission contributed materially to the victorious achievement of the Northern Attack Group.”

For the President

/s/ Frank Knox
Secretary of the Navy

The below photograph from YouTube shows crowds of French citizens in the streets of Port Lyautey and in front of the Rotonde Hotel and Cafe watching German and French collaborators being escorted from Port Lyautey by American troops after Operation Torch secured the city and old French Naval base.

The airfield was established as an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) shortly after the Operation Torch landing at the former Vichy France airfield at Mehdia-Port Lyautey. The facility was captured by one American destroyer and an U.S. Army Raider team. The destroyer USS Dallas (DD-199) came up the Sebou River, silenced the shore batteries with its guns and landed the Raider team which in turn captured the airfield.

After being secured, the airfield was used by the United States Army Air Force Twelfth Air Force 33d Fighter Group, Flying in P-40 Warhawks. The group took part in initial landings in French Morocco, arriving with the invasion force on 8 November. Remaining aircraft and ground echelon arrived shortly afterward. Moved to: Casablanca Airfield on 13 November. Other Air Force units stationed at the airfield were:

1st Troop Carrier Squadron (10th Troop Carrier Group), 11 March-25 November 1943.

2037th Antisubmarine Wing (Provisional), later designated as the 480th Antisubmarine Group of Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command, B-24 Flying Fortress.

In addition, the airfield was used by Air Transport Command. It functioned as a stopover en-route to Tafarquay Airport, near Oran, Algeria or to Casablanca Airfield, on the North African Cairo-Dakar transport route for cargo, transiting aircraft and personnel.[1] After the end of the war in Europe, Air Transport Command was assigned several heavy bombardment squadrons by HQ USAFE XII Tactical Air Command to transport key personnel back to the United States. Known units assigned were:

327th Bombardment Squadron (92d Bombardment Group), 13 May-9 September 1945, B-17 Flying Fortress
365th Bombardment Squadron (305th Bombardment Group), October-December 1946, B-17 Flying Fortress
366th Bombardment Squadron (305th Bombardment Group), September-October 1946, B-17 Flying Fortress
368th Bombardment Squadron (306th Bombardment Group), February-15 July 1946, B-17 Flying Fortress
423d Bombardment Squadron (306th Bombardment Group), 16 July-September 1946, B-17 Flying Fortress
773d Bombardment Squadron (463d Bombardment Group), 15 May-2 September 1945, B-17 Flying Fortress


 

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Source: NARA

An interesting newspaper article below, was written about the base in 1951 entitled "SECRET PORT LYAUTEY BASE KEY TO MEDITERRANEAN AREA" by John P. Leacacos of the North American Newspaper Alliance. (Our thanks to Larry St. Onge who served with VC-5 during the first ever deployment of carrier-based atom bombers to Port Lyautey from, February to September 1951 for its submission.

PORT LYAUTEY, French Morocco - One of the silliest experiences any correspondent can have is to stand here in this French Moroccan town, and look, only yards away, smack at one of the most important tactical bases the United States armed forces have anywhere on the globe. The silly feeling arises because the joint is top-secret, hush-hush-hush, its existence officially denied by the U.S. Navy. The Port Lyautey Naval Air Facility is the aorta of supply to the U.S. Sixth Fleet air arm, the sharpest cutting blade of American strength in Europe, but Naval brass hats in the Pentagon still pretend no one knows about this key base "which does not exist" except in the knowledge of a few million Moroccans, Frenchmen, and sundry. In any event, here are the facts the major lifeline on the crucial Mediterranean flank of Western Europe.

The U.S. Navy captured the Port Lyautey fighter base from the Vichy French in November 1942, at the time of the American invasion of North Africa. The Navy ran the base without asking the French a single "S'il vous plait" until 1947, when the State Department negotiated reversion of control to France. In 1950, before Korea, under the "economy" regime of former Defense Secretary Louis Johnson, a $23,000,000 expansion was authorized, but then Korea exploded. The sixth fleet tripled. Likewise, base personnel. Now there are nearly 10,000 persons on the base, including the largest aggregration of Americans in any one overseas base outside Japan.

Conditions are so crowded that many enlisted men still sleep in tents with their feet literally in each other's faces. Morale, despite high elan, suffers because of almost complete lack of recreational facilities. Men molder nightly at such dives as Mama's and Jack's in Port Lyautey, or the vine-covered cottage in Rabat. The only real sport is golf, on a tiny course among the runways, midst jets roaring off to replace planes lost at sea.

When today it is an axiom of next-war strategy that tactical atomic bombs can be delivered to targets by fighters and that one of the obvious instruments for such infiltration into Southern Russia is the U.S. Sixth Fleet, under Admiral Robert B. Carney, it seems baffling to laymen why Port Lyautey is thus neglected. One top source's comment: "penny wise and pound foolish." Defense officials, in fact, reveal a hot dispute in high echelons as to whether U.S. naval bases in the Mediterranean should be concentrated in Spain, and all others, including Port Lyautey, let go
.

John P. Leacacos has continued to be a foreign policy writer, and is still active in the Washington press corps.

Main road leading down to the Naval Air Station airstrip, hangers, terminal and base supply depot.

During the 1950's, the base served as a major platform for U.S. Navy anti-submarine, electronic countermeasure and transport squadrons in support of 6th Fleet Operations. It was supported by a Marine Detachment, rotating Seabee Battalions and two Naval Communication Stations at Sidi Bouknadel and Sidi Yahia. The base was a major hub in the transfer of U.S. Marines to Lebanon when President Eisenhower ordered troops into that country in support of the government of Lebanese President Chamoun.

When american servicemen arrived in the early 1950's, the popular mode of transportation in Kenitra were the "one-horse cusheys". By the mid-1950's, the cushey's were replaced by the "petite taxis"

 

Our thanks to Bill Johnson of Albia, IA who contributed the above 1952 "Cushey" photo. Our thanks to Walt Owsiany of Numidia, PA who contributed the above 1957 "Petite Taxi" photo.

Base Administration Building

Headquarters for COMNAVACTS and COMNAVAIRSTA

The French maintained a presence on the base which included an air squadron, army detachment, navy detachment and until Moroccan independence, a unit of the French Foreign legion. It is not known where or when the following photograph of the French Foreign Legion encampment was taken.

Main Gate, US Marines and French Navy on Duty

The base began it's operational decline during the 1960's when the King of Morocco refused to extend the lease of the base and ordered all American forces, including the US Air Force bases at Ben Guerir, Nouasser and Sidi Slimane, out of the country. The Naval Air Station was turned over to the Royal Air Force of Morocco and the last of US military personnel departed the base in 1977.

Naval Air Squadrons That Served Tours of Duty at Port Lyautey

(A special thanks to all those who contributed additional information on Navy squadrons attached to Port Lyautey. If you do not see your squadron listed, please e-mail me and I will include it (ASAP)

APA-27, ECM-2*, FASRON-103, FASRON-104, HEDRON 9-1 (1944), HEDRON-15, SQD-14, VB-111, VB-112, VB-114, VC-5**, VC-6**, VC-7**, VC-8**, VFA-86, VP-3, VP-5, VP-7, VP-10, VP-18, VP-21, VP-23, VP-26, VP-73, VP-92, VP 861, VFB-1, VPB-63, VPB-117, VPB-127, VPB-132, VR-2 ,VR-6, VR-22, VR-24, VR-26, VW-2, ZP-14

*ECM-2 later became VQ-2. Both VQ-1 (Pacific) and VQ-2 , commissioned in the mid 1950s, were preceded by specially equipped aircraft and trained crews in small detachments with an Officer in Charge (OIC) administratively attached to other squadrons and units under operational control of the local theater commanders, CINCNELM and CINCPAC, and responsible to the Special Project Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Some of these squadrons were VC-11, VP-26, VW-1 Detachment. A, VW-2 Detachment A, NCU-32G, and NCU-38N. Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadrons One and Two (FAIRECONRON) are VQ-1 and VQ-2, initially designated Electronic Countermeasures Squadrons (ECMRON) until re-designated in 1960. Our thanks to Chuck Huber, former AQ1, for this information.

**First Navy squadrons to fly modified P2V's carrying atomic weapons

12th Air Force - 5th Bombardment Wing and HQ 7th Fighter Wing arrive at Casablanca from the US. 33d Fighter Group, catapulted from the US auxiliary aircraft carrier USS Chenango (ACV-28), land in Port Lyautey; the 91st and 93d Fighter Squadrons, 81st Fighter Group, arrive at Port Lyautey from the US with P-39s. The 92d Fighter Squadron, 81st Fighter Group, arrives at Port Lyautey, French Morocco from the US with P-39s. HQ 47th Bombardment Group (Light)and the 84th Bombardment Squadron (Light) arrive at Mediouna from the US with A-20s; HQ 310th Bombardment Group (Medium) and the 381st Bombardment Squadron (Medium) arrive at Mediouna from the US with B-25s. 12th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, 3d Photographic Group.

 

An A3D from ECM-2 landing with chute deployed

Naval Support Groups at Port Lyautey

COMNAVACT ELECENG FICELM FLTINTELCEN NAF

NASOPS, NCF NASWEATHER, NOF MARINE BARRACKS

Naval Communication Stations (NCS) located in Morocco

NCS BOUKNADEL & NCS SIDI YAHIA

These stations provided operational radio transmission communications relaying them between Fleet elements and the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy and other U.S. Governmental organizations.

Mobile Construction Battalions (Seabees) That Served Tours of Duty at Port Lyautey

MCB-1, MCB-4, MCB-6, MCB-7, MCB-8, MCB-120(WW2)

In addition to the battalions that served tours of duties, a company size detachment of Seabees were part of the Base Public Works Department providing minor construction, transportation and maintenance of the power plant.

Aerial Photographs of the Naval Air Station

Click here to see one WW2 aerial photograph of the air station,one aerial photograph taken in 1952 and two aerial photographs of the Naval Air Station taken in 1958.

Non Military Port Lyautey Website

An interesting website with includes many older photographs and a lot of information regarding the history of Port Lyautey can be found at the French website "Carphaz.com". Clicking here will bring you to that site. Once into the site, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click "Entree". Scrolling down the main page will bring you to a list of entries (on the left side of the page) for Kenitra/Port Lyautey. Clicking on any of these links will bring you to the photographs and information.

French Naval Air Station

Port Lyautey, Kenitra, Morocco

The following information was contributed by Robert Feuilloy, a retired French Navy (FN) Captain who flew as a naval aviator from 1969 to 1982 on F8E (FN) Crusaders, A7B Corsair II's (as an exchange pilot on the John F. Kennedy) and the Super-Etendard.

He is an amateur historian on French Naval Aviation and a member of Association ARDHAN, i.e., History of French Naval Aviation. He has provided the following preliminary information regarding French Naval Aviation activities at Port Lyautey. It is hoped that Mr. Feuilloy will be able to provide additional information and photographs of Port Lyautey aircraft in the future.

Some of the revelant dates for French Naval Aviation on the base were:

1919: A French Navy Aviation Center was established at Port Lyautey under the command of EV1 Robert Montagne on June 28. 1919. His command lasted until January 8, 1921. The EV1 rank is Enseigne de Vaisseau de 1ère classe. i.e., LTJG.

August 08, 1939: the base, now a full fledged Naval Air Station, came under the command of CC Louis Pelletier-Doisy. His command lasted until September 30, 1941. The CC rank is Capitaine de Corvette, i.e., LCDR.

September 30, 1941: the base came inder the command of CF Henry Nomy. His command lasted until August 10, 1942. The CF rank is Capitaine de Frégate. i.e., CDR.

November 8, 1942 saw the beginning of Operation Torch leading to the change of the status in North Africa of French Forces from Vichy French to Free French Forces. Fierce combat took place in Casablanca and Port Lyautey was bombed and straffed by US Navy Hellcats from several US Carriers. The Vichy aviation forces fought with Martin 167F's, Dewoitine 520's and MS 406's. The fighting ended on November 10, 1942. The French Naval Base was decommissioned in November 1942. A small french navy squad stayed stationed there, under US authority until January 1, 1948 when the French Naval Air Station was fully recommissioned.

November 8, 1942: the base came under the command of CC (LCDR) Pierre Calmon. His command lasted until January 1, 1943.

June 29, 1943: the base came under command of CC (LCDR) Andre Kervella. His command lasted until October 31, 1943. In 1944-45 there was a Free French squadron named Flottille 6FE with PBY Catalina's. In October 1944, these aircraft were transitioned to PV1 Ventura's. The squadron moved to Agadir in March 1945.

January 1, 1948: the base came under the command of CF (CDR) Gerald Mesny.

April 28, 1949: the base came under the command of CF (CDR) Paul Marraud.

January 1951: the base came under the command of CV Phillippe de Scitivaux de Greische. The CV rank is Capitaine de Vaisseau, i.e., Captain.

June 2, 1954: the base came under the command of CV (Captain) Andre Menvielle.

October 19, 1954: the base came under the command of CV (Captain) Pierre Dartigues.

October 15,1955: the base came under the command of CV (Captain) Etienne d'Arbois de Jubainville.

Looking towards the French Naval Air Station and their P2V's in 1955

(Photo courtesy of Pete Owen, Mission Viejo, CA)

September 27, 1957: the base came under the command of CV (Captain) Jean Nielly.

October 2, 1959: the base came under the command of CF (CDR) Pierre Rouliot.

July 14, 1961: the base came under the command of CF (CDR) Jean Durival. Under his command, the French Naval Air Station at Port Lyautey was decommissioned.

Captain Feuilloy also provided a listing of all French Naval Aviation squadrons and their deployments in North Africa. That listing, provided in the French language, has been translated to English. However I apologize for any errors or omissions in that translation. While I am comfortable in two languages, French, unfortunately, is not one of them. The listing of those squadrons may be accessed by clicking here.