A state of war: Florida from 1939 to 1945

Anthony D Atwood, Florida International University


World War II profoundly impacted Florida. The military geography of the State is essential to an understanding the war. The geostrategic concerns of place and space determined that Florida would become a statewide military base. Florida's attributes of place such as climate and topography determined its use as a military academy hosting over two million soldiers, nearly 15 percent of the GI Army, the largest force the US ever raised. One-in-eight Floridians went into uniform. Equally, Florida's space on the planet made it central for both defensive and offensive strategies. The Second World War was a war of movement, and Florida was a major jump off point for US force projection world-wide, especially of air power. Florida's demography facilitated its use as a base camp for the assembly and engagement of this military power. In 1940, less than two percent of the US population lived in Florida, a quiet, barely populated backwater of the United States. But owing to its critical place and space, over the next few years it became a 65,000 square mile training ground, supply dump, and embarkation site vital to the US war effort. Because of its place astride some of the most important sea lanes in the Atlantic World, Florida was the scene of one of the few Western Hemisphere battles of the war. The militarization of Florida began long before Pearl Harbor. The pre-war buildup conformed to the US strategy of the war. The strategy of theUS was then (and remains today) one of forward defense: harden the frontier, then take the battle to the enemy, rather than fight them in North America. The policy of "Europe First," focused the main US war effort on the defeat of Hitler's Germany, evaluated to be the most dangerous enemy. In Florida were established the military forces requiring the longest time to develop, and most needed to defeat the Axis. Those were a naval aviation force for sea-borne hostilities, a heavy bombing force for reducing enemy industrial states, and an aerial logistics train for overseas supply of expeditionary campaigns. The unique Florida coastline made possible the seaborne invasion training demanded for US victory. The civilian population was employed assembling mass-produced first-generation container ships, while Floridahosted casualties, Prisoners-of-War, and transient personnel moving between the Atlantic and Pacific. By the end of hostilities and the lifting of Unlimited Emergency, officially on December 31, 1946, Floridahad become a transportation nexus. Florida accommodated a return of demobilized soldiers, a migration of displaced persons, and evolved into a modern veterans' colonia. It was instrumental in fashioning the modern US military, while remaining a center of the active National Defense establishment. Those are the themes of this work.

Subject Area

American history|Military history

Recommended Citation

Atwood, Anthony D, "A state of war: Florida from 1939 to 1945" (2012). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3554132.