Panama Canal Zone

Alliance Allies - Minor Member Nation or Possession
Possessing Power United States
Entry into WW2 7 Dec 1941
Population in 1939 51,000


ww2dbaseIn 1903, the United States supported the separatist movement in Colombia; when the separatists achieved in breaking the province of Panama from Colombia, the United States was awarded with what was to become the Panama Canal Zone to construct a canal linking the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean. The canal zone had an area of 553 square-mile, or 1,430 square-kilometers. It was categorized as a unorganized US Territory. The head of government of the territory was the head of the Panama Canal Company, and the law was upheld by the United States District Court for the Canal Zone. The capital of the canal zone was Balboa, a city where about half of the territory's population resided. Just prior to the US entry into WW2, the Panama Canal Zone was assigned under the Caribbean Defense Command, and a major effort to improve the poor communication systems (and other less-than-ideal infrastructure) began mid-year. When the tension with Japan mounted, all Japanese ships were forced out of the canal zone by 22 Jul 1941. The canal zone was well-defended due to its strategic importance. Protecting the nearby waters were anti-torpedo nets and naval mines. On the ground, the defenses included chemical smoke generators, anti-aircraft gun positions, two long range radar (one on each coast), 634 search lights, 30 aircraft warning stations, 11 16-inch coastal gun batteries, and finally troops stationed at Colón, Margarita Island, and Toro Point (Fort Sherman). Although hostile submarines did venture near the canal, it was never in serious harm. The Panama Canal Zone was returned to the Republic of Panama on 1 Oct 1979 as agreed two years prior with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties.

John Geoghegan, Operation Storm
United States Army Center for Military History


Panama CanalOther


US submarines C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4, and C-5 in the Gatun Locks of Panama Canal, circa 1914Panama Canal Zone Administration Building, Balboa, Panama, 1917Renown in Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal, 13 Sep 1920USS Arizona in a lock in the Panama Canal, circa 1921
See all 25 photographs of Panama Canal Zone in World War II


Map of the Panama Canal Zone published in 1947 by the US Navy in “Building the Navy

Panama Canal Zone in World War II Interactive Map

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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Anonymous says:
    2 Feb 2013 03:32:04 PM

    i really like this topic its very interesting to learn about .. i somehow enjoy learning history about Wars, esp for a girl like me its very unique!

  2. jerry walls says:
    23 Aug 2015 08:52:23 PM

    my dad was posted there before pearl harbor .capturing german coast watchers .him and another soldier on a out post were left behind .when pear harbor was hit.after relief did not show up at out post and out off food.they returned to base to find it deserted
  3. Anonymous says:
    9 Feb 2016 05:59:41 PM

    my great-grandfather was stationed there in wwii. he got his "war wound" there: malaria. i have to say, it's been hard finding information about this.
  4. Jaime Ortiz says:
    29 Mar 2016 12:21:21 PM

    Hello, I know I am off topic here, but as wide as the internet is, I don´t seem to be able to find help on any place else. Is there a place where I can find out if a certain poerson came to Panama during Worl War I? the thing is, my greatgrandfather was in Panama two or three years around 1919-1921 and was never heard from again, we are trying to find him through several web sites but his name was sort of common back then and we lack information, knowing that he served and was in Panama those years would shorten the list.
  5. Alice says:
    9 Apr 2016 12:53:10 PM

    to Jaime Ortiz, what was your Great Grandfather's name? Mine was there too, at that time. He was Paul Harold Zimmermann. He was married to Grace Bliss. She returned to NY to have their 1st son, PHZimmermann, Jr.
    PHZ Sr. did not return to NY as expected. His wife thought he may have been killed there and buried as a "John Doe". HOWEVER that was not the case! He fled to the north country, married my Grandmother(he was not legally divorced) and had a family of four with her. His 1st son with her was also named PHZ, Jr.... [a second one]. These 2 Jrs. were born 2 years apart and died 2 years apart and never knew that either of them existed ! This may or may not be your family but someone out there is connected to the Paul Harold Zimmermann that was born in Waukesha, WI around 1898 or later.
    Please contact me

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Panama Canal Zone in World War II Photo Gallery
US submarines C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4, and C-5 in the Gatun Locks of Panama Canal, circa 1914
See all 25 photographs of Panama Canal Zone in World War II

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