Calling All History Nerds! Have You Heard The Story About the Great White Fleet in WWII?

Calling all history nerds – we know you’re out there! Ferries have been cruising people around Casco Bay since the 1800’s, which means there are tons of fun historical tidbits to dig up and discover.

While most of you probably know (if you paid attention in class) that the major battles of WWII were fought on foreign soil, you might not have all of the details about how Portland, the islands of Casco Bay, and even our ferries, played an important role in the war.

Just like the rest of the country, Portland struggled through the Great Depression, but in the early 1940s, preparations for war brought Portland out of those dark days. In the lead up to WWII, western Casco Bay became the fifth most active naval port in the United States.

And, in 1942, the Navy began making use of the ferries, taking possession of the original Aucocisco to transport soldiers between the islands. The fleet of ferries, at that time, was known as the “Great White Fleet” because they were all painted white. But, during the war, the white was covered up with a coat of gray paint.

On Long Island, the Navy took over a section of land and used it for a fueling depot, while over 50 military structures were being built on Peaks Island. A rusted steel box designed to look like a ship’s engine room still sits onshore on Little Chebeague Island—the remnants of the Navy Firefighting School.

Under the water, submarine nets—large nets used to protect a harbor from submarine infiltration—surrounded much of western Casco Bay, making travel to some of the island communities much more difficult. Islanders and captains took to calling the trip to Bailey Island the “all day cruise,” because it took much of the day to get there—traveling out around Great Chebeague Island because the gap between Chebeague Island and Long Island was closed off by submarine nets.

After all of the preparations, war-time operations were abandoned in Casco Bay. Historical accounts suggest that the invention of nuclear technology made defense systems like the ones set up in Portland Harbor obsolete.

If you’re interested in the history of Casco Bay, our Mailboat Run is a great way to learn more! We make two daily trips down the bay year-round, so even though temperatures are dropping, you can still cruise Casco Bay and get your history fix. For even more historical nuggets, there are several historical societies on the islands—the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island, the Long Island Historical Society, the Cliff Island Historical Society, and the Chebeague Island Historical Society.

Casco Bay has a rich history, one that we are very proud to be a part of! Make sure to stay tuned for an announcement about an October 3 event at our terminal that will satisfy any history buff’s appetite.