(26) World War II

The 1940s saw the region and World again plunged into war. Young men and women from the Albemarle entered the Armed Forces and were deployed in all theaters. Fabric stars hung in many windows indicating the home of someone in the service, with gold stars indicating a death. Thousands more worked in the region’s shipyards, factories, forests, and farms to equip and supply the fighting forces. Others migrated, particularly from rural areas, to the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News areas to provide critical civilian labor in shipyards and military bases. 

Wartime combat affected the region in the form of German U-boats along the Outer Banks that exacted a heavy toll on merchant shipping. Some ships in so-called “Torpedo Junction” were sunk in sight of swimmers, and burning oil slicks and bodies washed on shore were a grim and not uncommon occurrence along the Outer Banks. 

To fight the U-boats, the Weeksville Naval Air Station was established south of Elizabeth City in 1940 to house K-class airships. These “blimps” escorted merchant ships along the coast, and in concert with Civil Air Patrols and blackouts along the coast, losses due to German submarines were reduced by more than ninety-five percent. 

Other wartime bases were established in the Albemarle. A Marine Corps Air Station was established along the Albemarle Sound east of Edenton. It primarily trained glider pilots and airborne troops and had more than twenty buildings.

Other stations in the Albemarle included the Harvey Point Naval Air Station, established in Perquimans County as a seaplane base in 1942, and Watkins Civil Air Patrol Base 16 in Manteo. 

Shipyards in Elizabeth City constructed sub tenders and repaired small Navy vessels, employing hundreds of workers. An airstrip at Maple in Currituck County was built as an emergency landing strip, primarily for planes unable to make it back to the Oceana base in present Virginia Beach. In a different vein, in 1943-1944 a prisoner-of-war camp was established across the Roanoke River in neighboring Martin County, with Italian and German internees providing critical labor on the farm and in the forest.