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by Nov 30, 2019

Sasebo Harbor with Seishin Cathedral in view (also called Miura-cho Catholic church).

It began as a small fishing village, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, eventually becoming part of the Hirado Domain, enriched by interaction with Dutch and British traders, ruled by the Matsura family until the feudal system was abolished in 1871.

In 1883, recognizing the protective potential of Sasebo’s broad, deep, sheltered bay, Lt. Commander, later Admiral Heihachiro Togo nominated the harbor to become the forward port for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The cathedral was built in 1930 and is the symbol of the city.

Harbor dredging soon began, as well as construction of a breakwater, docks and ship repair and coaling facilities. The new naval base was formally activated in 1889 as part of the newly designated Third Naval District.

It was from Sasebo Harbor that the Japanese Navy sortied for war with China over influence in Korea, during the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894, and later, where Admiral Togo set sail with his Combined Fleet, to engage Russia’s Baltic Fleet in what would become Japan’s epic and victorious Battle of Tsushima Strait during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Japan joined as an ally of Great Britain during World War I, instrumental in the defeat of German forces in the Pacific and sending ships from Sasebo to help escort and provide safe passage for Allied convoys through the Mediterranean Sea. The Triumphal Return Memorial Hall was built at Sasebo in 1923 to honor the service, and remember the sacrifice of those who died during World War I.

Sasebo’s Naval District facilities sprawled across the area during WWII, employing some 50,000 workers at its height. Facilities included the Sasebo Naval Arsenal and Sasebo Naval Station, which in turn had munitions and aircraft factories up and down the coast. There were warships in the harbor, there was an extensive and fully evolved shipyard, there were fuel and ammunition depots, and training facilities ranging from boot camps for Navy recruits to training centers for non-commissioned and commissioned officers.

During World War II, Sasebo was a city with a population of more than 300,000.

On June 29, 1945 the city suffered its only B-29 bombing raid of the war, destroying a major portion of the city’s commercial district. More than 60,000 people were left homeless by the raid and an estimated 1000 people were killed.

After the end of World War II, Sasebo Naval Base facilities were occupied by Allied forces, and the US Fleet Activities Sasebo was formally established there in June 1946.

During the Allied occupation, the functional size of the base was reduced and unnecessary facilities from the former Japanese Naval Station were divested, becoming public or civic property. While many of those former military facilities were razed and the properties redeveloped, other structures were saved, restored and continue to be used.

When the Korean War erupted in 1950, the port of Sasebo was among the key gathering and departure points from Japan for forces taking part in MacArthur’s planned amphibious landing at Inchon.

USS Missouri in Sasebo Harbor for resupply during the Korean War, 1952.

During the Korean War, Sasebo quickly became the primary resupply port for UN and US forces, with millions of tons of ammunition, fuel and provisions flowing into and out of the port, with approximately 20,000 support troops stationed at the facility.

Soon after the Korean War armistice was signed at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ships arrived for shared use of Sasebo facilities, while US Fleet Activities Sasebo continued operations in support of US Navy ships of the Seventh Fleet. That shared-use arrangement continues to this day.

US Fleet Activities Sasebo operations expanded during the War in Vietnam, finally scaling back as America’s war in Vietnam wound down, the base re-designated as a Naval Ordnance Facility as the US Fleet presence declined significantly.

US Fleet Activities Sasebo returned to full operation in the 1980’s, serving forward deployed ships of the US Seventh Fleet, playing a critical logistics role during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, serving as a key ordnance and fuel supply link for ships operating in the Persian Gulf.

Today, U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo continues to support the varied needs of US Seventh Fleet units in the Pacific region.

Contemporary view of the Port of Sasebo, as seen from atop Mt. Yumihari