America’s Oldest Military Bases Abroad

The U.S. military maintains over 750 bases across 80 countries globally. The vast majority of these can be found within the contiguous United States, with Europe hosting the next most, followed by Southeast Asia, notably including Camp Humphreys in South Korea. While Camp Humphreys, which opened in 1950, is the largest American military base abroad, it is far from the oldest.  

To determine the oldest U.S. active military bases that are overseas, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the study, U.S. Military Bases Abroad, 1776-2021 by David Vine, professor at the department of anthropology at American University. We ranked the bases according to the year they opened, listing the 23 bases founded by 1943 at the latest. Data on the number of active-duty personnel and bases within each country as well as estimated land acreage of each base came from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a military think-tank.

Out of the 23 bases on the list, 13 are located in Puerto Rico, operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Not surprising given the important strategic position Puerto Rico holds between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The first of these was constructed in 1902. (Also see, the six European bases where the U.S. is storing nuclear bombs.)

Puerto Rico was one of the territories the United States received in the wake of its victory over Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Cuba, which gained independence from Spain following that war, agreed to lease Guantánamo Bay to the U.S. Navy on its southeastern shore in 1903. Other possessions the U.S. secured from Spain in the Pacific – Guam and Wake Island – have military bases.

Elsewhere, four of the oldest U.S. overseas bases are in the United Kingdom, established there just after America entered the war in 1941. That same year, the U.S. began leasing from Denmark the Thule Air Base in Greenland, which at more than 233,000 acres, is by far the largest overseas military base by physical size. (This is the largest military base in each state.)

Click here to see the oldest international military bases.

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