The Hawthorne Army Depot offers support to the Joint Forces by receiving, storing, issuing and demilitarizing ammunitions. Typically the depot receives more ammunition during times of conflict. The ammunition is then issued to the right department, or it’s demilitarized or stored. The depot is run by independent contractors even though the property is still government-owned. The capabilities of the Hawthorne Army Depot include desert training for military units, demilitarization of equipment, weapons and ammunition, renovation, quality assurance, ISO intermodal container maintenance and repair, range scrap processing. The Hawthorne Army Depot has a long history with several different units and frequently has been redesignated throughout the years.
Since it is run by contractors, much of the land surrounding the depot is now deserted as the civilians and military personnel who once lived beside the post now have moved. Established in 1930, the Hawthorne Army Depot continues to be a vital element to the storage, renovation and issuing of weapons, equipment and ammunition for all branches of the military.
The depot comprises 147,236 acres and has over 400 different buildings for storage and administration. There are also over 2,000 magazines that provide explosive storage up to a capacity of 7,685,000 square feet. The depot has a government staff that includes one soldier and 29 Department of Army civilians to provide oversight for the contractors who work the depot.
As a US Army ammunition storage depot, Hawthorne Army Depot receives, stores and issues munitions that are conventional. It’s also responsible for the demilitarization of obsolete, surplus and unserviceable equipment and munitions. These are inspected and renovated to ensure that they are ready to support the Joint Forces.
Located near the town of Hawthorne in West Nevada, Hawthorne Army Depot is also south of Walker Lake and spans across 147,000 acres, approximately 230 square miles. There’s an additional 600,000 square feet dedicated to storage bunkers. This is why Hawthorne claims the title of being the “World Largest Depot.”
The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) was created after the Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Depot disaster in New Jersey in 1926. The accident at the depot caused severe damage to the Picatinny Arsenal and killed 21 people while seriously injuring another 53 persons. The Navy lost $84 million because of the accident, and it resulted in a full Congressional investigation into how the tragedy occurred and how it could have been prevented.
Construction began on Hawthorne in July 1928 and NAD received the first shipment of high explosives in October 1930. As the US entered the Second World War, Hawthorne became a maneuvering area for rockets, bombs and ammunition needed for the war. Nearly 6,000 people worked at Hawthorne in 1945, and it occupied 104 square miles under the Navy. Much of the land was declared excess and turned over to the Bureau of Land Management after the war.
Security was also needed for 3,000 bunkers in NAD that was provided by the US Marine Corps. Through the 1930s and World War II, there were Marines stationed at the Naval Depot. They only numbered about 600, but they were assigned to maintain and work the facility during the war effort. That number eventually decreased to only 117 after the war.
During World War II, there was also the nearby Civilian Conservation camp known as Camp Jumbo. There was another large adjoining construction camp.
The Depot didn’t see much action until 1962. Its mission was still the same, to receive, renovate or demilitarize ammunitions before issuing them to the Joint Forces. The Depot served as an important ammunition center throughout the Korean War and Vietnam War.
In 1980, the depot was redesignated and became a government-owned facility that would be operated by contractors. Day & Zimmermann Hawthorne Corporation is the current operating contractor for the depot. The name was changed to Hawthorne Army Depot in 1994.
Recently, a deadly explosion at Nevada’s Hawthorne Army Depot occurred in 2013 after a training exercise for the Marine Corps. The 60 millimeter mortars were suspended until the accident had been reviewed. In total, eight US Marines were killed and many others were wounded when a mortar exploded inside of its firing tube while the Marines were doing a mountain training exercise at the Hawthorne Army Depot. The investigation determined that it was human error to blame for the mortar explosion stating that “people didn’t follow correct procedures.” The Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division were training from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The ban was lifted on 60 mm mortar systems for training last May after the mortars and ammunition were determined to be safe.
The accident occurred at the training center which uses 46,000 acres of US Forest Service Land in Pickel Meadow, California.
Before contractors worked at the depot, it was mainly operated by civilians and military personnel who were also housed in nearby government facilities. The changes to the depot have also meant changes to the surrounding community. For example, the nearby town of Babbitt has been vacated and another military housing area once known as Schweer Drive is vacant.
The housing in these areas is significant because they were created to be duplexes and a system of trusses all allowed the interior walls to be removed without damaging the structure. Many of these houses have become used for other purposes in Nevada.
There are also production areas, industrial housing areas, headquarters, engineering facilities, shops and entertainment areas built at the post. The Hawthorne Army Depot stores reserve munitions that can be used the first 30 days of any major conflict for the US. That means that the depot is only staffed fully when there is a major conflict. The rest of the time the post is rather vacant with minimal employment. This means that the contractors control much of the depot and left little development with the surrounding community.