The Early Days of Fort Sherman
Panama Canal Zone
Page 2

Construction at the Gun Battery sites attached to Fort Sherman consisted of temporary housing for 100 officers and 846 enlisted men, temporary warehouse ammunition facilities of 9,688 sq. ft., bulk fuel storage for gasoline (1 tank 3,000 gallons) and diesel oil (3 tanks 11,500 gallons) and 55 miles of gravel rock access roads.
         Anti-Aircraft Artillery searchlight (SAL) positions considered sub-posts of Fort Sherman, included: SAL II 1, 143, 151, 161, 163, and Aid Stations 71 1 and 713 located on the Fort Sherman Military Reservation; SAL 101, 103, 105, 117, 191, 193, and CP-7 located in the Canal Zone; SAL 137,145, 155 and 177 located in the Republic of Panama. Each installation with the exception of the two aid stations, was the site of anti-aircraft artillery searchlights and had details of 10 men stationed at each position. The total areas occupied were these approximate sizes; on Military Reservation was 35 acres. The sizes of the sites within the Republic of Panama were: No. 137, (31.4032 acres); No. 145, (9.02 acres); No. 155, (24.194 acres); and No. 177, (72.8798 acres).
        The four positions located in the Republic of Panama were leased by the United States with indefinite renewal privileges, under provisions of the agreement signed May 18, 1942. Leases on Positions 137 and 145 were dated from May 1941 and April 1941 respectively. All positions except No. 137 were on land owned by the Government of the Republic of Panama and were leased to the United States without cost. Approximately three-fourths of position No. 137, (9.5137 hectares), belonged to an individual, and annual payment of $475.50 was made by the United States to the Republic of Panama for the use of this land.
        The cost of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery searchlight positions attached as sub-posts to Fort Sherman was given as $130,177 as of July 31, 1945. By January 1946, only positions 101, 191, 193, and 195 were manned. Since that date, these were declared surplus and were razed or salvaged. Construction at the attached Anti-Aircraft Artillery searchlight positions consisted of temporary housing for seven officers and 2,865 enlisted men and 11.2 miles of gravel access roads.
        Harbor Defense Searchlight Positions, included five searchlight positions located within the Fort Sherman Military Reservation occupying approximately 14 acres. A detail of eight men was stationed at each of these positions. The cost of the five searchlight positions as of July 31, 1945, was $29,275. All had been abandoned by 1945. Construction at these Searchlight positions attached to Fort Sherman included temporary housing facilities for 200-500 men and 3.5 miles of gravel access roads. The cost of the automatic weapons positions to the United States was listed as $474,583 as of July 31, 1945. By September 1945, only five of the positions had been evacuated by military personnel, by December 1945, 12 of the total 21 stations were not manned and by June 1946, 11 of the positions were also declared surplus. The buildings on the locations declared surplus were razed and/or salvaged, but the sites were retained for possible future emergency use. Construction for the attached anti-aircraft automatic weapons positions consisted of temporary housing for 75 officers and 705 enlisted men and 4 miles of gravel, stone access roads.
        Artillery units stationed at Fort Sherman during the war years included the 1st Coast Artillery (Type-C) Regiment, the 343d Anti-Aircraft Artillery Searchlight Battalion, the 1st Provisional Artillery Battalion, the 37th Coast Artillery Battalion, the 761st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion and the 763d Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion.
        Mobile Force Positions attached as sub-posts of Fort Sherman included:

Infantry Camp Piña   -- located in the Canal Zone
Engineer Camp Piña -- located on the Fort Sherman Military Reservation.
Charges River Pontoon Bridge -- located within the Military Reservation

        Infantry Camp Piña (Spanish for pineapple) was approximately 26 acres in size located 7 to 10 road miles south of Cristobal, Canal Zone. It was the station for an Infantry Battalion and served as a jungle training area for these troops while Engineer Camp Piña, approximately 12 miles southwest of Cristobal, was used principally as a civilian housing area for the Engineer employees. The Charges River Pontoon Bridge was used as a means of getting across the river at this point and required only a detail of eight troops for manning. The combined area occupied by the two installations on the Military Reservation was approximately 75 acres.
        The cost of the three Mobile Force positions, as of July 1945, was $537,192. By September 1945, Engineer Camp Piña had been abandoned by Army forces, the Charges River Pontoon Bridge was manned by a detail of only six men and Infantry Piña Camp was reduced to 200 troops. By December 1945, the Pontoon Bridge position was not manned and Infantry Camp Piña had been further reduced to 73 men. On September 24, 1945, Engineer Camp Piña was formally declared surplus by the Department Engineer, Panama Canal Department. By then all installed equipment had been removed and slated for salvage. Construction for the three attached Mobile Force positions consisted of temporary housing for 128 officers and 696 enlisted men, bulk fuel storage for gasoline (I tank, 750 gallons), diesel oil (I tank, 1,000 gallons), and 20 miles of gravel, rock access roads.
        Following World War II, the large coast defense guns at Fort Sherman (as well as at those at several other sites near the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the Panama Canal) were dismantled, removed from the area and scrapped between 1946 and 1948. (The mortars had already been dismantled in 1943). As a result, Coast Artillery personnel were reassigned outside Panama.
        In the interim years between 1948 and 1960 anti-aircraft automatic weapons at Fort Sherman constituted the Atlantic defenses of the Panama Canal. These were supplanted by a battery of HAWK missiles in 1960. The missiles were removed in December of 1968.
        During the period 1948 to 1951, Fort Sherman was used primarily to billet troops assigned to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus. On January 1, 1959, Fort Sherman was designated as inactive sub-installation of Fort Gulick. However, on September 1, 1961, it was reclassified as an active sub-installation of Fort Gulick, and later obtained separate status.
        In April 1951, the Department of the Army assigned the U.S. Army Caribbean Command the jungle warfare training mission in the Army. In compliance with this directive a provisional headquarters was established to conduct "Exercise Brush Bay" on the Fort Sherman Reservation. From this small beginning grew the groundwork for the jungle school which became known as the Jungle Operations Training Center. Since 1957, Fort Sherman became the center for jungle warfare training. However the growth of the jungle school was not a rapid one. After operation "Brush Bay" in 1953, the headquarters was disbanded, but the 7437th Army Unit was activated to care for the maneuver area, and was attached to the 33d Infantry Regiment, the major tactical unit stationed in Panama at the time and was also further charged with the mission of conducting jungle warfare training."
        A new development in the growth of the jungle school had begun. The facilities at Fort Sherman were improved and by the Spring of 1954, the program was sufficiently developed to begin training units from the 33d Infantry Regiment. The objective of this training was to make the entire regiment completely proficient in jungle operations. Since then, the installation has been used for tactical amphibious training of troops.
        In May 1956, the 33d Infantry was inactivated and replaced by the 20th Infantry Regiment, which inherited the mission of conducting jungle warfare training. Under this regiment, reorganized in December 1957 as the 1st Battle Group, 20th Infantry, cycle training was conducted for military personnel outside the Panama area.
        On July 1, 1963, the jungle school's mission and functions were assumed by the Jungle Operations Committee of the newly redesigned US Army School of the Americas, Fort Gulick, Canal Zone. The Jungle Operations Committee successfully operated under the School of the Americas for five years. By 1965, Fort Sherman covered a total area of 12,171 acres.
        The Department of the Army recognized and acknowledged the importance of the jungle school's mission of training individuals in jungle operations and directed that the Jungle Operations Committee be established as a separate Department of Army school on the same priority for personnel, supplies, and equipment as schools and training centers in the continental United States. Thus, on July 1, 1968, the Jungle Operations Training Center was established to carry on the mission of training students to conduct operations in a jungle environment. On July 1, 1970, the school was placed under the operational control of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), later re-designated as SAF, 3d Special Forces Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
        In July 1975, the Jungle Operations Training Center was again designated an independent major subordinate command, this time under the 193d Infantry Brigade. In 1976, the Jungle Operations Training Center began the transition from an individual training center to a unit training center. Finally, in January 1989, the unit which operated the Center became designated as the Jungle Operations Training Battalion. For its contribution to the military operation code named Operation Just Cause against the Panama Defense Forces in December 1989, the Battalion was awarded a battle streamer for its participation as Task Force Sherman. In 1995, the Jungle Operations Training Battalion trained twelve stateside infantry battalions and four engineer companies within its 23,000 acres of unique terrain with fresh and salt water, mangrove swamps and rolling hills.
        Batteries Kilpatrick, Mower, Stanley, Baird and Howard were used for jungle training purposes. Battery Kilpatrick located at the tip of the Fort Sherman lagoon, became a favorite tourist attraction for U.S. military members. Battery Kilpatrick was converted to serve as a zoo (formerly at Battery MacKenzie), operated in connection with jungle warfare training conducted by the U.S. Army School of the Americas. No.1Gun pit became a pool for caymans and alligators, and a snake house was built over No. 2 Gun pit, with cages for other animals scattered throughout the reservation. During the last decade, it was demoted to a simple storage area for ground maintenance and repair equipment.
        Battery Pratt, constructed about two and a half miles southwest of the Mower- Stanley-Baird-Howard complex, was originally called Chagres Battery No. 1. Battery Pratt later became a communications site. Battery MacKenzie, known as Chagres Battery No. 2, was built near the Spanish colonial era fortification of Fort San Lorenzo. When the Fort Sherman Main Post was closed down in 1953, Battery MacKenzie was used to house troops assigned to the Jungle Warfare Training Center in temporary structures for operational units only. At this time, Camp Pina, a tent city located on the opposite side of the Chagres River, was designed to facilitate a battalion-size unit for short period of time. During the 1970's, improvements were made to the interior of Battery MacKenzie for use as a field command post for certain phases of jungle warfare. It was later used by the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). In September 1981, the 3/7th SFG's Airborne Training Area at Fort Sherman was dedicated to the memory of the late General Melvin Zais by Brigadier General K. C. Leuer, Commander of the 193d Infantry Brigade and Lieutenant Colonel E.N. Russell, 3/7th Special Forces Group commander."
        The Jungle Warfare Training Center maintained a zoo at Battery MacKenzie for use during the training cycle and as a showplace for visiting dignitaries and the general public. Personnel stationed at the school kept a variety of animals, ranging from boa constrictors to sloths and ocelots, for use as "training aides" in jungle survival classes. The zoo was later transferred to Battery Kilpatrick and from there to its present site behind the chapel.
        In 1976, Fort Sherman also became the "home" for the local Army's Noncommissioned Officer's (NCO) Academy providing instruction for members in the Primary Leadership Course, the Primary NCO Course, and the Basic NCO Course. In June 1976, the first Jungle Air Assault Course was conducted by the Academy, followed by the first Primary Leadership Course in October 1976, and first Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course in January 1977. The Noncommissioned Officers Course for Combat Arms was an innovative approach to providing critical career progression training to NCOs in 1 1B and 11C Combat Arms MOS. The Combat Arms course incorporated the latest techniques in individual training in consonance with long- term trends in the Army training. Later, on January 30, 1984, the NCO Academy instituted the Primary Leadership Development Course."
        The Jungle Operations Training Battalion participated in Operation Just Cause in December 1989 as part of Task Force Sherman, which was operationally controlled by Task Force Atlantic, 3 Brigade, 7 Infantry Division (Light). JOTB conducted successful security and defense missions of Fort Sherman and Gatun Locks complex; cleared and secured 27 towns and villages; eliminated the threat from the Hunter Platoons south of the Chagres River, and captured numerous enemy prisoners, weapons and large amounts of munitions and military equipment. For its contributions during Operations Just Cause, the battalion was awarded a battle streamer.
        Fort Sherman entered into a transition period in the early 1990's as it prepared both its facilities and personnel for the closure of the rest of the Atlantic military community in Panama in compliance with provisions of the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977.
        The largest modernization project during this decade was the renovation of the Fort Sherman Troop Medical Clinic (building 210) in 1994, into an ultra-modern health clinic, with a wide range of emergency services as well as routine health care. The two floors were converted into bachelor quarters, This was necessitated by the closure of the Coco Solo Army Hospital and the closures of Fort Davis and Fort Gulick/Espinar in September 1995. Also in 1994, rotational engineers constructed a temporary wooden pier built into the lagoon directly across from the Jungle Operations Training Battalion boathouse. This pier was approximately 45 feet long and between 8 and 12 feet wide.
        The Ocean Breeze Recreation Center overlooking Shimmey Beach offered a pool room, music room, library, wood shop, fitness center. Recreational facilities were further enhanced in 1995 with the inauguration of the Gold Coast Suites, previously known as the Gold Coast Inn, at Shimmey Beach, where four tropical duplexes were remodeled as guest house facilities, with a total of eight units available for occupancy. Each suite featured two bedrooms, a bathroom, dinette, kitchen and living room luxuriously furnished in contemporary fashion. Cable television, VCRs and phones were also included. Each suite had a hammock, washer and dryer, picnic table, chairs, barbecue grill and umbrella, and housekeeping services."
        By October 1994, families were no longer allowed to be assigned on Fort
Sherman. With the official disestablishment of the remaining facilities at Fort Gulick/Espinar in September 1995, Fort Sherman became the sole Atlantic-side U.S. military installation in Panama, except for Galeta Island.
        JOTB inactivated on April 1, 1999; Fort Sherman and Piña Range were transferred to Panama on June 30, 1999. At that time, Panamanian authorities were contemplating the conversion of most of the area into an eco-tourism National Park (possibly named San Lorenzo) due to its great ecological diversity, a housing development near the Gatun dam, and a shipyard and other maritime facilities along Limon Bay.

        El Castillo de San Lorenzo El Real del Chagres (the Royal Castle of San Lorenzo of the Chagres) better known simply as Fort San Lorenzo, is among the early Spanish outposts in the New World. The Chagres River and its guardian cliff upon which Fort San Lorenzo was built was first sighted by Columbus during his fourth voyage of 1502, where he actually landed and traded with the Indians of Panama. When the city of Panama was founded in 1518, the Chagres became one of principal routes from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Therefore, once the first makeshift fortifications of Fort San Lorenzo were built in 1575, the bastion influenced and affected the Spanish colonization of much of Central and South America. Although designated as a Panamanian National Monument since 1908, the area around Fort San Lorenzo was originally incorporated into the Fort Sherman Military Reservation, in
During World War I, a radio listening post was set up at Fort San Lorenzo and during World II (1942) a searchlight and three inch anti-aircraft guns were emplaced to prevent German submarines from sending raiding parties up the Chagres toward Gatun Darn. The U.S. Army also built a pontoon bridge across the Chagres just above its mouth. The bridge and gun position was dismantled after the war and Fort San Lorenzo again became a sight-seeing area and a picnic ground.
        In 1955, a clean-up project of the area was initiated under the auspices of Major General Lionel C. McGarr, U.S. Army Caribbean Command. Ten years later, in 1965, a rehabilitation project was undertaken under the command of Major General James D. Alger, U.S. Army Southern Command, aimed at clearing the brush from the walls and repairing certain areas which for many years had been hidden from view by dense jungle growth.
        Following the implementation of the Panama Canal Treaties of 1977 between Panama and the United States, the area returned to Panamanian jurisdiction on October 1, 1979. - However, the access road to Fort San Lorenzo cut through Fort Sherman. This, unfortunately, contributed to isolate this historical Spanish colonial fortification site. Because of its remoteness and restricted access through Fort Sherman, this historic landmark of the Western Hemisphere has not received the visitors or attention it deserves.


Many thanks for the information provided by these documents:

* Narration: "The Era of U.S. Army Installations in Panama " Written by the Historian Office - United States Army South, Fort Clayton, Panama

* Maps: Charles S. Small - Military Railroads on the Panama Canal Zone © 1982

If you would like to contact Mr. Pascual, his email address is :

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