Did you know that during World War II German U Boats
(submarines) would surface at night right off the beach between Miami and
Link to the
Teacher Resource Page.
World War II
growing tourism, it was still the least-populated southern state in 1940,
and ranked only 27th nationally. World War II changed this statistic.
Florida played an important role in the events leading up to and during
World War II.
attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On December 8th, America
entered World War II. Many men and women came to Florida to help prepare
soldiers for the war. Among the large number of soldiers from all over the
U.S. who fought in this war were over 250,000 soldiers from Florida.
Installations in Florida
Because Florida had
a warm climate and a lot of vacant land available, it was ideal for the
building of military bases and training soldiers. In the 1930s, there was
a tremendous growth of military establishments throughout Florida.
Florida soon had 172 military installations, ranging from both extremely
large to relatively small camps. Two of the larger complexes were Camp
Blanding, established near Starke, and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
became Florida's fourth largest city during World War II. It grew to
180,000 acres and housed 55,000 soldiers at a time. Additional naval
stations were reactivated at Key West, Drew and MacDill Air Fields in
Tampa, Elgin Field at Valparaiso, and the Pensacola Naval Air Base. Two of
the smaller camps were Sopchoppy Bombing Range and Immokalee Army Air
Field. By the mid 1940s, there were forty airfields actively training
military personnel throughout the state. Florida's weather conditions and
flat land made it the perfect place for training, especially pilots.
By 1942, America's
training facilities in Florida were heavily overcrowded. This led to the
military taking over many hotel facilities. Among the hotels used were the
Don Cesar in St. Petersburg, the Hollywood Beach Hotel, The Breakers in
Fort Lauderdale, the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and several hundred
other hotels and motels throughout Florida. Some of the places were used
for barracks and others were taken over as makeshift hospitals for injured
military personnel sent home from overseas.
Events in Florida
World War II took
place closer to the United States than many people ever realized. German
U-Boats took advantage of mistakes made by the United States Intelligence
Department. German U-Boats sank over twenty-four ships off of Florida's
Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Many ships could be seen burning from areas
along the coast by Floridians and tourists. In late February 1942, German
submarines attacked four merchant ships right off the east coast of
Florida near Cape Canaveral. German spies were able to come on shore at
Ponte Vedra (near Jacksonville). They were captured before they could blow
up Florida's railroad lines and stop the shipment of war supplies.
The Civil Air Patrol
was organized in March 1942, to protect the coasts of Florida. The
"Mosquito Fleet" also helped to protect the coastlines of Florida. These
convoys helped to eliminate the threat of submarines. Thousands of
volunteers, called spotters, were trained to keep track of air activity up
and down both shores.
World War II
provided the greatest economic growth in American history. The war effort
sent large amounts of money into Florida, leading to rebuilding and even
growth after the Great Depression. War contracts helped to
Florida's manufacturing, agricultural, and tourism businesses. Defense
contracts revitalized Tampa after the city suffered severe economic
cutbacks during the Great Depression. The local cigar industry had been
wiped out by the depression and many workers were unemployed, but the
construction of MacDill Air Field and two large shipbuilding companies
employed those workers with premium wages. War contracts also help other
cities recover, including Pensacola, Jacksonville, Miami, and Orlando.
Florida's nickname almost changed from the Sunshine State to the Steel
With the rebuilding
of industry, many jobs were available, but most men were off fighting in
the war. Because of this, World War II provided an opportunity for
American women. It helped show that women could handle a man's job. In
Florida, women worked in shipyards, welding shops, and military bases.
Women also helped run the agriculture industry, where one fourth of all
farm workers were women. They were able to take over jobs left behind by
the men and keep America stable. In addition to providing the necessary
work force needed during the war, women bought war bonds and volunteered
as nurses, fire fighters, and even police officers.
industry thrived and Florida became the top state in the country for the
first time in 1942-43, surpassing California. In 1942, Florida citrus
growers patented a process to make frozen concentrated orange juice. The
cotton industry also increased its profits. In 1945, researchers in
Orlando discovered an insecticide, DDT, which became available for
commercial use and changed Florida's agricultural industry. The drawback
was that the chemical's long-term effects had not yet been tested, and it
would later have a negative impact on Florida's wildlife and agricultural
The war also changed
the appearance of Florida cities. Key West and Miami populations surged
during the war. In 1940, Key West was a small, quaint community of 13,000
but within five years 45,000 people lived in that small city. Miami's
population of 173,000 increased to over 325,000 during the winter months
of the war years. Between military personnel and winter tourists, the
Miami area expanded tremendously. Many communities along the east coast,
now nicknamed the Gold Coast, increased in population. Florida was no
longer that small southern state. Thousands of people came to Florida
because of the war and decided to live here. The state's population grew
to about 2-3/4 million by 1950. The country's population grew 15% after
the war, but Florida's rose a startling 46%!
During the War,
people had to cut back on food and all supplies that they bought.
Everything was in short supply. Metal drives were held in cities all over
the country. People brought anything metal they had at home, such as tin
cans, pots, and car parts, to be melted down to make steel for the war
machines. Florida cities also held money drives to build airplanes and
ships. Another tactic that many families used to get through the war was
growing their own food. People planted all kinds of gardens, which were
called "victory gardens." Tampa officials estimated that there were over
10,000 victory gardens just in Tampa.
America and its
allies eventually won the war in 1945, but at a tragic cost to the
country. Over 400,000 Americans, (3,000 of which were Floridians) were
killed during the war. These men and women are remembered each year on
Veteran's Day, November 11. Special ceremonies, including parades, are
held around Florida and the United States honoring the veterans' service
and sacrifice for our country.
After World War II
After the war ended
and the soldiers came home, America began to recover. It was a great time
to celebrate; the economy was back on its feet, jobs were plentiful, and
families were reunited. The 1940s ended with America, particularly
Florida, moving into prosperous times.