Brief History of U.S. Troops
On the Isthmus of Panama
From the Panama American, August 15, 1939

The arrival on the Isthmus of military and naval forces of the United States government post-dates the early construction days, taking the military services as a whole.

A large detachment of Marines arrived in Colon in 1903, just before the revolution which severed Panama from Colombia. The Marines, who were under the command of Brigadier General Eliott, served mainly to keep the Panama Railroad open for operation during the first revolutionary period and until the Panamanian government was established on a sound basis.

A detachment of Marines was stationed on the Isthmus continuously from 1903 to 1914, with the main body quartered at Camp Elliott near the town of Bas Obispo. For part of the nine years the marines were on the Canal Zone they were under the command of Lt. (later Maj. Gen.) Smedley Butler. The largest group of Marines serving on the Isthmus at any time consisted of 12 officers and 375 men.

The Tenth Infantry arrived on the Zone in 1911 and occupied the post of Corozal which had formerly been a Canal construction town. It was not until 1914, however, that any units of the Coast Artillery came to the Isthmus. At that time three companies arrived for duty, and were stationed temporarily at Empire until the completion of temporary quarters at Fort Amador.

Later in 1914, another unit of infantry - the Fifth - with a force of 41 officers and 739 men was sent to the Zone from the States. They were accompanied by a number of officers and men from the Medical Corps and several from the Quartermaster's Corps. They were stationed at Empire in some of the buildings which had been abandoned when the Canal administration moved to its present headquarters at Balboa Heights.


Shortly after the opening of the Canal to interoceanic traffic, further detachments arrived for Isthmian service. By the time the United States entered the World War, the forces totalled slightly more than 5,000.

The first order setting a certain portion of the Isthmus aside as a military reservation was issued on March 25, 1918, with the establishment of Fort Sherman on the Atlantic Side.

The Panama Canal Department was formed in 1917 with headquarters at Quarry Heights. The department includes all military units on the Canal Zone which at the present time consist of 11 large Army posts, including 2 aviation fields.

The Panama Canal Department is divided into two sectors, the Atlantic Sector with headquarters at Fort De Lesseps, which is now under the command of Brig. General Richard C. Moore, and the Pacific Sector, with headquarters in Balboa, under the command of Major General Ben Lear.

Almost all branches of the military service are stationed in one post or another in the Canal Zone. Fort Davis on the Atlantic Side and Fort Clayton on the Pacific are primarily infantry posts, although small units at both posts represent the Engineers, Signal Corps, Field Artillery, Medical Corps and Quartermaster Corps.

Fort Amador, Fort Sherman and Fort Randolph are the Coast Artillery posts. Corozal includes several different units, the principal ones being the Ordnance Companies, 4 Quartermaster companies, a school for cooks and bakers, which operates a small public bakery, a chemical company and the Pacific Motor Pool.

The two army aviation fields are at France Field on the Atlantic Coast and the Albrook Field on the Pacific. Smaller posts are maintained at Fort Kobbe, Paitilla Point and the Fortified Islands at the Pacific Entrance to the Canal.


In addition to his duties as commander of the Panama Canal Department, the executive officer of the United States forces stationed on the Canal Zone - at present Major General David L. Stone - becomes in time of war by presidential decree, executive of the civilian forces as well as the military population. This provision, which amounts practically to the enforcement of law, was used during the United States participation in the World War, when the commanding general of the department took precedence in authority over the then governor of the Panama Canal, Col. Chester Harding.

Army forces stationed on the Zone have increased many fold since the first small marine establishment at Bas Obispo. At the present time the military forces stationed here number more than 13,000.

Presented by CZBrats
Update: October 4, 1998
articlesb.gif (1646 bytes)
MMy.gif (1755 bytes)