Return to Naval Historical Center home page. Return to Frequently Asked Questions page.

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Quonset Hut

Related Resources:

National Building Museum Exhibition
Nissen Hut

The quonset hut, whose semi-cylindrical form was copied from the British Nissen hut, by the end of the war differed considerably in construction from its prototype. The original quonset hut was
framed with arch-rib members of steel, T sections, 2 inches by 2 inches by 1/4 inch. The hut was 16 feet by 36 feet in plan. The members were formed to a radius of 8 feet and covered with corrugated steel sheets, borne by wood purlins. The principal improvements over the Nissen type were an interior pressed wood lining, insulation, and a tongue-and-groove wood floor. Innumerable detail problems were encountered in the development of the original T-rib huts, principally because of the necessity for 48 different needs, such as galleys. shower-latrines, dental offices, isolation wards, and bakeries. Each type required individual drawings and layouts for the interior setup, and in many cases it was necessary to develop special interior equipment, such as special ovens and beds, to fit the quonset hut form. All huts were designed and detailed, using the original T- rib design.

Training at Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island, 1945

Training at Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island, 1945

The principal objection to this type of construction was that the curveline of the side walls began at the floor, resulting in a loss of effective width of the hut. A more suitable structural rib was found in the form of a welded strip steel member, 2 inches by 3 5/8 inches. This member--actually two light-weight channels welded back to back--contained a groove which held nails. The new rib was fabricated to provide a vertical sidewall, 4 feet high. This new hut was known as the quonset redesigned hut. Its floor plan was 16 feet by 36 feet. Standard-hut drawings were remade, for both structural and facility details. As the necessity arose for adapting the huts to use as dispensaries, latrines, hospitals, and other special facilities, the details were worked out and checked by actually erecting units in the field at the proving ground, to determine the practicability of the design for field use. In all, 86 approved interior layout plans were prepared for the small hut and the large 40-by-100-foot arch-rib warehouse.

Naval Supply Depot warehouse, Guam, 1945

Naval Supply Depot warehouse, Guam, 1945

To reduce shipping space and tonnage a redesign, incorporating lighter, corrugated, galvanized sheets for covering and half-inch plywood floors instead of one-inch tongue and groove, was effected. The new hut was larger, 20 feet by 48 feet, and lighter, using 3 ½ tons of steel instead of 4 tons. It occupied from 270 to 325 cubic feet of shipping space instead of 450 cubic feet. The arch-rib again became semi-circular.

United Nations advance camp, South Korea,1968

United Nations advance camp, South Korea,1968

Toward the end of 1943, continuations to each end of the hut added 4-foot overhangs to the 48-foot length. The addition was to prevent driving rains and sunlight from entering the hut through the end bulkheads. The total outside length of the hut became 56 feet, but the actual interior living space remained 48 feet. The official quonset hut dimension nomenclature then became 20-by-56. However, in the spring of 1945, it was determined that the 4-foot overhangs on the huts used in northern or temperate climates were unnecessary, and they were eliminated. In order to standardize the nomenclature for both the northern and the tropical type the dimension nomenclature was changed back to 20-by-48. This. of course, was based on interior, living dimensions; the exterior dimensions of the tropical hut remained at 20-by-56. Throughout this war history, with few exceptions, when quonsets are referred to they are of the 20-by-48-foot living-space size.

Marianas Islands ammunition depot, 1945

Marianas Islands ammunition depot, 1945

As finally developed, the quonset hut required less shipping space than did tents with wood floors and frames, when equal numbers of men were to be accommodated.

Originally, all huts had unpainted galvanized exteriors. To reduce the chance of enemy observation from the air, an olive-drab camouflage paint was applied at the factory. After 1942 the factory service was extended to include packaging for overseas shipment. Before then, some plate bending, wood fabrication. and all packaging took place at Davisville.

Quonset huts with local camouflage, Tulagi, 1945

Quonset huts with local camouflage, Tulagi, 1945

The number of huts produced or procured by the Navy were as followed:

 T-rib quonset   8,200
 Quonset redesigned  25,000
 Quonset 20-by-48 and 20-by-56  120,000
 Total  153,200


Larger warehouse structures also were developed for Navy advance- base use. The first were 40-by-100-foot structures with vertical sides. They used 20 tons of steel and about 650 cubic feet of shipping space. About 300 of these were procured. They were superseded by a quonset-type warehouse of the same floor plan. The steel weight was 12 ½ tons, and the shipping volume was 350 cubic feet. If a concrete floor was required, 600 additional cubic feet of shipping space was required for portland cement. In all, 11,800 such warehouses were procured. For large advance base supply functions, multiple arch-unit warehouses were developed from the 40-by-100-foot warehouses, to furnish greater storage area under single roofs.

Source: Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940- 1946. Vol.1. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1947.

9 April 2008