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City of Savannah sets up 'Defense Council' for WWII
Bulloch History
roger allen
Roger Allen

Note: The following is one of a series of articles looking at events in the history of Bulloch County.

On May 20, 1941, the National Office of Civilian Defense was established by Executive Order 8757 as a federal emergency war agency. Its main purpose was “to coordinate state and federal measures for protection of civilians in case of war emergency.”

The Savannah Morning News article of Aug. 23, 1941, entitled “Defense Chairman Named by Groves; Defense Council Formed by LaGuardia Plan,” announced supervised blackouts, air raid drills and Civil Air Patrols.

The Savannah-Chatham County Defense Council was set up by the city's mayor and aldermen and the Chatham County commissioners. The Defense Council, led by Robert W. Groves, focused on support services and civilian protection.

There were to be two units. The first, Civilian Protection, supervised the Air Raid Wardens, Auxiliary Firemen, Auxiliary Police, Public Works, Utility Repair, Emergency Medical, Messengers, and Emergency Welfare Service.

The second, Civilian War Services, oversaw Block Leaders; as well as the Salvage, Transportation, Nutrition, Recreation, Health, Child Care, Housing, Agricultural, and Bonds & War Savings committees, and Rationing Boards.

The Savannah Morning News article of Jan. 28, 1942 reported the assistant director of National Civilian Defense, Daniel W. Hoan's comments that “Very few cities have done as much as Savannah in organizing civilian defense.”

On Feb. 14, 1942, the Savannah Morning News article entitled “Port Protection Group Appointed” revealed plans for “safeguarding shipping and perfecting internal security for harbor and port of Savannah.”

“The Code of the city of Savannah…Up to and Through the Year 1945, adopted by the Mayor and City Council of the city of Savannah on March 6, 1946, revealed that on April 22, 1945 the entire waterfront of the Savannah River became a "restricted zone."

The new instructions affected “any and all wharves, piers, buildings, abutments, projections and other structures, extending into the waters of the Savannah River within the limits.”

F.R. Harris' paper, entitled “The Port of Savannah: A Report to the Agricultural and Industrial Development Board of Georgia,” released on August 9, 1945, detailed just how large a responsibility defending the port of Savannah would be.

It stated "the Savannah Harbor of World War II consisted of the lower twenty-two miles of the Savannah River and seven miles of channel across the bar to the Atlantic Ocean."

What's more, "The main harbor spanned the width of the Savannah River from the Standard Oil Company terminals, 2 ¾ miles below the city, to the Atlantic Creosoting Company terminals, 5 ½ miles above the city."

Furthermore, there were "about 15,600 feet of developed waterfront with 51 wharves and piers." A committee formed to oversee plans for Savannah's harbor was chaired by M. W. Lippitt, a commissioner for the Savannah Port Authority.

The Defense Council next established the Savannah Aircraft Warning Service Filter Center. The Savannah Morning News article of June 7, 1942 entitled “Filter Center Is on the Job,” reported on its activities.

Civilian volunteers were to play an important role in the operation of the Filter Center, set up at the Chamber of Commerce office downtown, where they would serve as the “nerve center" of Savannah's defenses.

Army and Navy personnel ran the Filter Center during the night. Savannah Morning News articles revealed much about these posts: the first article, dated June 26, 1942, was entitled “Observers at Outposts of Aircraft Warning Service on the Job.”

The second Savannah Morning News article, dated Nov. 29, 1942, entitled “They Stand Watch While Savannah Sleeps” detailed the work of those in the observation towers of the Chatham County Aircraft Warning Service.

Aircraft Warning Post #33 was located on top of the Liberty National Bank Building. Downtown. The women volunteers worked 2-hour-shifts per day, and the men at night, both groups for an average of 1-2 shifts per week.

President Truman announced in May 1945 that the Office of Civilian Defense would be abolished, but as the 'Defense Council' was established by the City Council and County Commissioners, the federal decision did not directly affect it.

Nevertheless, the Savannah Morning News announced on May 8, 1945, “Defense Council to be Dissolved.” Thousands of Savannahians had worked with the Defense Council, and over 5,ooo participated in the mock air raids drills.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history who provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email him at

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