The Heavy Lift

The War Years

“The United States was a member of a fighting team of United Nations that won the greatest war in history. There were three major players who represented the United States on that team: our fighting forces overseas, the production army here at home, and the link between them.”
(The United States Merchant Marine at War, Report to President Truman from the War Shipping Administration – January 1946)
The US was drawn into World War II in 1941, and the military across the west coast ramped up the effort to defend the country as well as support war efforts in the Pacific. Supply chains were critical. As early as the 1930s, the Navy was planning a network of supply depots and annexes. In 1944, the need for an annex to the supply depot at Oakland was identified, and Rough and Ready Island selected. The island already had rail and roads, and was in safer inland territory than the coast. The land was secured from the City and other landowners, and construction on the Stockton Annex, Naval Supply Depot, Oakland (later the Naval Supply Annex Stockton) began in August of 1944.

Due to a chronic labor shortage, the annex was constructed in part by Prisoner of War (POW) labor. POWs from Germany and Italy lived and worked on the island beginning in the early spring of 1945. POWs were also housed at the Stockton Ordnance Depot, just across Burns Cutoff from Rough and Ready Island, and the San Joaquin Fairgrounds; many remained after the end of the war as they awaited repatriation. The POWs famously volunteered for the Barbwire Bowl, two American football games held in 1946 that received national attention.

Construction of warehouses, offices, and a wide variety of infrastructure was completed in June of 1945 – just two months before the end of the war. The new supply annex was one of the first to be purpose-built for moving cargo with pallets and forklifts. Palletized shipping dominated military and civilian cargo handling until the rise of containerized shipping in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Naval Supply Annex Stockton is a National Historic District, significant for its association with innovations in military shipping during World War II. 


Webmap of Historic District

German POW message in concrete
A drainage canal at the Naval Supply Annex Stockton lined in stone-in-concrete, built and signed by German prisoners of war. Source: Library of Congress, HABS CA-2682-AH.

Naval Supply Annex Stockton on Rough and Ready Island, May 1946.
Source: Port of Stockton

Post-War Years

The Naval Supply Annex, Stockton was quiet after the war, though the Navy kept the annex open and continued to move cargo. There was a brief period of activity during the Korean War years between 1950 and 1953, As the Cold War ramped up, Rough and Ready Island’s secure inland location became valuable again as the US looked towards the nuclear threat from the Soviet Union. The Naval Communication Center, Stockton was constructed between 1956 and 1957. Naval Senior Chief Petty Officer Jerry A. Whitworth was a radioman at the communications center, and eventually, a traitor in chief warrant officer John Anthony Walker’s spy ring. Whitworth provided intelligence to the KGB via Walker from the Naval Communication Center, Stockton until the spy ring was discovered in 1985.


  • “Whitworth Convicted of Spying”, Washington Post, July 25, 1986
  • “Jerry Whitworth, Accused in Espionage Ring : No One Really Knew Fourth Spy Suspect”, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1985

Rough and Ready Biographies

German POW - Richard Statetzny

“One day they announced that all those interested in American football could join the team. Since I was sports-mad, I was all for it.”
Elite German paratrooper (Fallschirmjäger) Richard Statetzny survived combat, hunger, and thirst from Crete to Russia to North Africa. He was captured by the English in Morocco in May 1943 and turned over to American troops in Tunisia. Statezny arrived in the US in August 1943, and was held in various POW camps until the war ended, at which time he was sent to the camp at the Stockton Ordnance Depot. Statetzny played in the Barbed Wire Bowl, during which he enjoyed “hearty meals” and other privileges. He was repatriated to Germany in 1946, and is a retired master painter now living in Dortmund. He is believed to be the last living German World War II paratrooper.


Richard Statetzny, age 22, in 1942 during training. Source: Warfare History Network.
Statetzny (far left), age 20, in 1940 with his airborne mortar crew. Source: Warfare History Network.
German Prisoners to Play Bowl Grid Game. Source: San Bernadino Sun, January 13, 1946.

Jerry Whitworth

“Jerry Whitworth is a zero at the bone. He believes in nothing.”
(Federal District Judge John P. Vukasin in the Los Angeles Times – August 29, 1986)
Jerry Whitworth was a spy for the Soviet Union who stole Navy secrets, including from the Naval Communications Center, Stockton and passed them to the Soviet Union via the John Walker spy ring. A lonely farm boy from eastern Oklahoma, abandoned by his father, Jerry Whitworth joined the Navy out of high school in 1956. He was a young man with big dreams but a failure to follow through. He became a Navy “lifer” despite aspirations to be an engineer or geologist. Friends and family describe Whitworth as always needing money, and it appears that cash was his main motivation for stealing classified information; he received a reported $322,000 for “detailed plans for primary, secondary, and emergency communications circuits”. Whitworth passed classified information to the ring between 1973 and his retirement in 1983. The spy ring was uncovered through a combination of reports by Walker’s ex-wife and Whitworth’s own letters to the FBI, sent apparently because the Soviets had refused to pay him for his last delivery. Whitworth was sentenced to 365 years in prison, and fined $410,000.


Jerry Whitworth
Jerry Whitworth from a cruise book photo from a 1982-83 deployment.
Source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

Mary Cecelia (Castelanelli) Kaehler

Mary C. Kaehler was a civilian registered nurse at the Stockton Ordinance Depot from 1943 to 1945.
During WWII she played an integral role in the medical housing and treatment of both American GIs and German Prisoners of War (POWs) at the Depot, located on what is now the Port of Stockton’s East Complex. She relayed that the POWs were exceptionally respectful towards her and the staff and were very industrious during their time spent at the Depot. Upon learning of her engagement to an American soldier, Corporal Maurice N. Kaehler, the POWs presented her with a bouquet of flowers. Her vivid accounts and photos are invaluable to the historical records at the Port of Stockton and have helped confirm accounts made in newspapers during this time period. After the war the POWs returned home, and Mary continued her life as a successful dairy farmer. The operation she founded continues to this day.


  • Information provided by Mary Kaehler, Margaret Kaehler, and the Kaehler family