- On the Cover
The Submarine Force Bids Farewell to NSA La Maddalena Board Basics from the Bureau of Personnel SSGN—Global Presence with Global Support The SSGN Success Story: Concept to Capability in 39 Months SSGN: From the Commanding Officers’ Perspectives The Challenges and Successes for the Crew of the new SSGN From USS Barb to the Ohio-class — The Use of Missiles on Submarines Regulus on Surface Ships
The Submarine Force Bids Farewell to
by Molly Little
After 36 years of U.S. Naval presence in La Maddalena, Italy, the naval base officially closed in January 2008. Capt. Gregory Billy, Commander, Submarine Squadron TWENTY TWO, closed the base with a few short words in a ceremony at the end of January. “NSA [Naval Support Activity] La Maddalena is disestablished,” he announced. Then, both the Italian and U.S. flags that flew above La Maddalena, prominent symbols of the relationship this port represented, were lowered.
U.S. Naval Support Activity (NSA) La Maddalena was established in January 1973. The United States had long desired a presence in La Maddalena because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea. La Maddalena is located in the Strait of Bonifacio, north-east of the Italian island of Sardinia and south-east of the French island of Corsica. It is the largest island of the Archipelago of La Maddalena, which consists of seven islands and several inlets but does not include Sardinia. In 1822, the United States sought to establish a port on La Maddalena to protect its shipping from the pirates active in the Mediterranean, but the local Sardinian government refused. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Italian government stepped in and granted the U.S. a port. During the Cold War, it provided the Navy a homeport with access to the Soviet Union. The Mediterranean has also long been considered a key to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
The U.S. Navy used La Maddalena and nearby Santo Stefano mainly as support for the Submarine Force, but also for occasionally maintenance assistance to surface ships. Beginning with the arrival of USS Howard W. Gilmore (AS-16) in 1973, the port was continually served by a submarine tender. In 1980, Gilmore departed La Maddalena for decommissioning and was replaced by USS Orion (AS-18) from 1980–1993, USS Simon Lake (AS-33) from 1993–1999, and finally, USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) from 1999–2007. The presence of these tenders was vital to deployed submarines by providing refueling, restocking, and minor maintenance.
Despite the tensions that occasionally arose surrounding the base and the Navy’s activities there, the Naval presence on La Maddalena was viewed as beneficial for both the Italians and the Americans. When NSA La Maddalena was first established, places to get supplies were limited and the island was mostly made up of small farms and fishing villages. Families had to take a “mike” boat ferry to Sardinia for school and most of their shopping needs. Ferry runs were scheduled throughout the day, but for families there was no convenient quick trip to the store. In the early 1980s, the community supporting NSA La Maddalena saw vast improvements to their way of living. New housing, a large exchange and commissary, and a large area for recreational activities were added. People could now do most of theirshopping on the island instead of taking a ferry. The local economy experienced huge growth with these additions as well. Restaurants and local markets already present on La Maddalena expanded and more were added. The addition of the Navy base also brought the area around La Maddalena into the focus of the tourist economy. A resort complex was also developed in the early 1980s on nearby Sardinia. Generally, the population on La Maddalena is estimated to be 15,000–17,000, but in the summer months, it can reach 75,000 due to the influx of tourists.
NSA La Maddalena has been a gem to the Submarine Force for the last 35 years. The beautiful scenery provided a respite and a distraction from the duties of deployment. It is a port call that will be missed.
Ms. Little is the managing editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.