Historic Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields:
March Air Reserve Base
(Alessandro Flying Training Field, March Field, March Air Force Base)
March Field, 9 August 1929 (California Military Department)

March Air Reserve Base History

The story of March Field began at a time when the United States was rushing to build up its military forces in anticipation of an entry into World War I. News from the front in Europe had not been good as it explained for those at home the horror and boundless human misery associated with stalemated trench warfare. Several European news sources reported significant German efforts at this time to build a fleet of flying machines that could well alter the nature of modern warfare and possibly carry the war to the skies. In response, Congressional appropriations in early 1917 in the neighborhood of $640,000,000 attempted to back the plans of General George O. Squier, the Army's chief signal officer, to "put the Yankee punch into the war by building an army in the air." At the same time the War Department announced its intentions to build several new military installations. Efforts by Mr. Frank Miller, then owner of the Mission Inn in Riverside, Hiram Johnson and other California notables, succeeded in gaining War Department approval to construct an airfield at Alessandro Field located near Riverside, an airstrip used by aviators from Rockwell Field on cross-country flights from San Diego. A parade in Riverside on February 9, 1918, gave notice than an army flying field would soon be coming to Riverside.

The Army wasted no time in establishing a new airfield. Sergeant Charles E. Garlick, who had landed at Alessandro Field in a "Jenny" in November, 1917, was selected to lead the advance contingent of four men to the new base from Rockwell Field. On February 26, 1918, Garlick and his crew and a group of mule skinners from nearby Colton, known to be experts in clearing land as well as for their colorful syntax, began the task of excavating the building foundations at Alessandro. On March 20, 1918, Alessandro Flying Training Field became March Field, named in honor of Second Lieutenant Peyton C. March, Jr., son of the Army Chief of Staff, who had been killed in a flying accident in Texas the previous month. By late April, 1918, enough progress had been made in the construction of the new field to allow the arrival of the first troops. The commander of the 818 Aero Squadron detachment, Captain William Carruthers, took over as the field's first commander and for a time operated out of an office in the Mission Inn. Within a record 60 days the grain stubble-covered plain of Moreno Valley had been partially transformed to include 12 hangers, six barracks equipped for 150 men each, mess halls, a machine shop, a post exchange, a hospital, a supply depot, an aero repair building, bachelor officer's quarters and a residence for the commanding officer. On May 15 when the first JN-4D "Jenny" took off, March Field seemed to have come into its own as a training installation. The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, did not halt training at March Field initially but by 1921, the decision had been made to phase down all activities at the new base in accordance with sharply reduced military budgets. In April, 1923, March Field closed its doors with one sergeant left in charge.

March Field remained quiet for only a short time. In July, 1926, Congress created the Army Air Corps and approved the Army's five-year plan which called for an expansion in pilot training and the activation of tactical units. Accordingly, funds were appropriated for the reopening of March Field in March of 1927. Colonel William C. Gardenhire, assigned to direct the refurbishment of the base, had just directed his crews to replace underpinnings of many of the previous buildings when he received word the future construction would be in Spanish Mission architectural design. In time, March Field would receive permanent structures. The rehabilitation effort was nearly complete in August, 1927, when Major Millard F. Harmon reported in to take over the job of base commander and commandant of the flying school. Classes began shortly after his arrival. In the months ahead Air Force leaders such as Hoyt Vandenberg, Nathan Twining, Thomas Power and Curtis LeMay completed their initial flight training at March Field. The base, however, was about to enter a new era.

Boeing P-12B's assigned to the 34th Pursuit Squadron then stationed at March Field. Circa 1932 (National Archives)

As March Field began to take on the appearance of a permanent military installation, the base's basic mission changed. When Randolph Field began to function as a training site in 1931, March Field became an operational base. Before the end of the year, the 7th Bomb Group, commanded by Major Carl A. Spaatz, brought its Condor B-2 and Keystone B-4 bombers to the picturesque field. The activation of the 17th Pursuit Group and several subordinate units along with the arrival of the 1st Bombardment Wing initiated a period where March Field became associated with the Air Corp's heaviest aircraft as well as an assortment of fighters.

In the decade before World War II, March Field took on much of its current appearance. It also became more than a place hard to find on aerial maps of Southern California. Lieutenant Colonel Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, base commander from 1931 to 1936, changed this. Through well-publicized maneuvers to Yosemite, Death Valley and other sites in California, a visit by Governor James Rolph in March 1932, numerous visits by Hollywood celebrities including Bebe Daniels, Wallace Berry, Rochelle Hudson and others, and visits by famous aviators including Amelia Earhart, March Field gained prominence. Articles in Los Angeles newspapers kept March Field in the news and brought to it considerable public attention. The completion of the first phase of permanent buildings in 1934 added to the scenic quality of the base. This was also a period of outstanding achievements in test flights and other contributions to the new science of aviation. Dusty March Field had come a long way in one decade.

1935 March Field Air Show (California Military Department)


The attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 quickly brought March Field back into the business of training air crews. Throughout the war many soon-to-be-famous bombardment groups performed their final training at March before embarking for duty in the Pacific. During this period the base doubled in area and at the zenith of the war effort supported approximately 75,000 troops. At the same time, the government procured a similar-sized tract west of the San Diego highway that bordered the base and established Camp Haan as an anti-aircraft artillery training facility. It supported 85,000 troops at the height of its activity. For a time, March Field remained a bust place indeed. In 1946, Camp Hahn became a part of March's real estate holding when operations at the base returned to a more normal setting.

After the war, March reverted to its operational role and became a Tactical Air Command base. The main unit, the famed 1st Fighter Wing, brought the first jet aircraft, the F-80, to the base. This deviation from the traditional bombardment training and operations functions did not long endure. In 1949, March became a part of the relatively new Strategic Air Command. Headquarters Fifteenth Air Force along with the 33d Communications Squadron moved to March from Colorado Springs in the same year. Also in 1949, the 22d Bombardment Wing moved from Smoky Hill Air Force Base, Kansas to March. Thereafter, these three units remained as dominant features of base activities.

From 1949 to 1953, the B-29 Superfortresses dominated the flightline at March Air Force Base. For four months, July to October, the 22d saw action over Korea and in this brief period, contributed to the elimination of all strategic enemy targets. Involvement in the Korean Conflict had no sooner ended when the wing converted from the huge propeller-driven B-29s to the sleek B-47 jet bombers and their supporting tankers, the KC-97s. The KC-97s belonging to the 17th and 22d Air Refueling Squadrons represented an amazing jump in technology. Planes and crews from March began breaking altitude and distance records. The new refueling planes introduced a significant advance in operational range. Overall operational capability could now be measured in global terms. This had been demonstrated earlier when General Archie Old, the Fifteenth Air Force commander, had led a flight of three B-52s in a non-stop around-the-world flight termed "Power Flight" in just 45 hours and 19 minutes. Ceremonies upon their arrival at March on January 18, 1957, emphasized the global reach of the Strategic Air Command. In 1960, the first Reserve unit was assigned to March, flying C-119s. The end of the 1960s saw March Air Force Base preparing to exchange its B-47s and KC-97s for updated bombers and tankers. Increasing international tensions in Europe and elsewhere by September 16, 1963, brought March its first B-52B bomber, "The City of Riverside." Soon 15 more of the giant bombers appeared on the flightline along with new KC-135 jet "Stratotankers." March's first KC-135, "The Mission Bell" arrived on October 4, 1963. For the next twenty years this venerable team would dominate the skies over what had come to be called the Inland Empire as the 22d Bombardment Wing played a feature role in the Strategic Air Command's mission.

Boeing B-47s "Stratojets" assigned to March AFB's 12th Air Division (California Military Department)

During this period both tankers and bombers stood alert at March as part of America's nuclear deterrent force. The might of March's bombers and tankers, however, were soon to be used in quite another scenario. During the conflict in Southeast Asia, the 22d Bombardment Wing deployed its planes several times and March crews learned well the meaning behind such names as Young Tiger, Rolling Thunder, Arc Light and Linebacker II. In these troubled years the base served as a logistical springboard for supplies and equipment en route to the Pacific. Near the end of the conflict, March operated as one of the reception centers for returning prisoners of war.

Following the end of hostilities in Southeast Asia, the 22d returned to its duties as an integral part of the Strategic Air Command. For the next eighteen years until 1982, March effectively supported America's defensive posture. The occurred through several post-Vietnam adjustments. One of these brought the retirement of the wing's last B-52 on November 9, 1982. This event signaled yet another era for March Air Force Base and for the 22d. The 22d Bombardment Wing , so long a key ingredient in March's long history, would become an air refueling wing with the new KC-10 tanker. The new tankers, able to accomplish considerably more than the KC-135s, promised a new tomorrow for the Strategic Air Command. Within months after the first KC-10 arrived at March on August 11, 1982, crews quickly realized the ability of the new aircraft to carry cargo and passengers as well as impressive fuel loads over long distances. Air refueling for March Air Force Base had entered a new age. The California Air National Guard also arrived in 1982, bringing with them the F-4C's.

Beginning in the early 1980s the KC-10 became the vehicle carrying March Air Force Base into a new technological epoch. The large KC-10s with their versatility and their dependability again gave the base a featured part in America's efforts to retain a strong and flexible military air arm. The utter importance of the KC-10s in conventional operations became a particularly apparent during Desert Shield and Desert Storm where their outstanding service contributed measurably to the success of American forces in the defense of Saudi Arabia and the liberation of Kuwait.

In 1993, March Air Force Base was selected for realignment. In August 1993, the 445th Airlift Wing transferred to March from Norton AFB, Calif. On January 3, 1994, the 22d Air Refueling Wing was transferred to McConnell AFB, Kansas, and the 722d Air Refueling Wing stood up at March. As part of the Air Force's realignment and transition, March's two Reserve units, the 445th Airlift Wing and the 452d Air refueling Wing were deactivated and their personnel and equipment joined under the 452d Air Mobility Wing on April 1, 1994. On April 1, 1996, March officially became March Air Reserve Base.

From the dusty stubble that once was Alessandro Flying Strip to today, March, for over 70 years, has been a key element in the advance of aviation and in the growth of the modern Air Force. As the Air Force restructures and prepares for new challenges, March seems destined to remain as an important base for the air operations of tomorrow.

The above text is courtesy of the March ARB Public Affairs Office
A California Air National Guard RF-4C "Phantom II" assigned to the 196th Reconnaissance Squadron, circa 1991 (California Military Department)
March Field
by Justin M. Ruhge
Located ten miles SE of Riverside on 678 acres, Alessandro Aviation Field was established March 1, 1918. The name was changed to March Field on March 20, 1918 in honor of 2nd Lieutenant Payton Conway March Jr. Lieutenant March was fatally injured on February 12, 1918 two weeks after he had been commissioned in the regular Air Service, when his Curtiss JN-4 crashed at Fort Worth, TX.
Construction began on March 23, 1918. The first unit to occupy it was the 818th Aero Squadron commanded by Sergeant Charles E. Garlick on February 26, 1918. One of the oldest air fields in California, March Field conducted pilot training from 1917 to 1923. Eight hangars, an airplane machine shop, assembly buildings and a warehouse were completed by March 2, 1929. The first hospital opened in December 1933. 1,600 acres were added to the north of the installation in late 1940. The Field facilities were designed for heavy-bomber crew training during World War II. An extensive runway rehabilitation project was completed in mid-1945. Auxiliary fields for March were: Santa Catalina Island Buffalo Springs Airport and Needles Auxiliary Field.
The name of the post was changed to March Air Force Base on January 13, 1948.
From 1952 to 1954 the start of B-47 and KC-97 operations prompted strengthening of concrete areas and addition of facilities including hangars, armament and electronics buildings. A 644-unit Wherry housing project was completed in mid-1953, and a new maintenance hangar completed in mid-1955. New taxiway accesses, enlisted men's dormitories, and an alternate communication center were constructed in 1958. The introduction of B-52 and KC-135 operations made March AFB the largest SAC installation from 1966 to 1968. An alert facility and weapons storage area was completed in May 1980.
Under the Base Closure Act, March AFB was downsized in 1996. On March 31, 1996, the 722nd Air Refueling Wing "stood down" and the 452nd Reserve Wing took over command of March Reserve Base. The reserve flies the C-141 cargo planes and the Air National Guard the KC-135 refueling tankers.
Reference: Air Force Bases by Robert Mueller, 1989, United States Air Force Research Center, Washington, D.C.
A pre-World War II postcard showing Douglas B-18A "Bolos" assigbed to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron on the flightline at March Field, circa 1938-1941 (California Military Department)
Extract, War Department Inventory of Owned, Sponsored and Leased Facilities, 1945


A postcard showing KC-97's "Stratotankers" on the flightline at March AFB, circa 1950's (California Military Department)


Known Army Units at March Field

 Data Source


Order of Battle of United States Land Forces in the World War (1931-1949)
World War I
9th, 68th (II), 215th, 289th, 293rd, 311th Aero Squadron
A - E Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1919-1921
9th Aero Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1921-1922
19th Pursuit Squadron
23 Bombardment Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1921-1923
9th Observation Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1927
44th Observation Squadron
95th Pursuit Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1927-1931
Headquarters, 13th School Group
47th, 53rd and 54th School Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1927-1933 70th Service Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1933-1935 64th Service Squadron 
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1931-1933
Headquarters, 1st Bombardment Wing
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1931-1934
9th, 31st and 34th Bombardment Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1931-1935
34th, 73rd and 95th Pursuit Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1932-1936
76th Service Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1933-1935
Headquarters, 1st Pursuit Wing
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1935-1936 54th Bombardment Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1935-1937
Headquarters, 7th Bombardment Group
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1935-1939
34th, 73rd and 95th Attack Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1935-1941
Headquarters, 19th Bombardment Group
30th, 32nd and 93rd Bombardment Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1936-1940
5th Air Base Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1936-1941
1st Weather Squadron
38th Reconnaissance Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1939-1940
34th Bombardment Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1939-1941
73rd and 95th Bombardment Squadrons
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1940
36th Bombardment Squadron
89th Reconnaissance Squadron
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 1940-1941
Headquarters, 1st and 15th Bombardment Wing
Headquarters, 9th Pursuit Wing
Headquarters, 17th Pursuit Group
91st Observation Squadron
  7 December 1941 
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 4th Air Force Base Command:
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 14th Pursuit Group (Fighter):
48th Pursuit Squadron (Fighter)
49th Pursuit Squadron (Fighter)
50th Pursuit Squadron (Fighter)
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 51st Pursuit Group (Fighter):
16th Pursuit Squadron (Fighter)
25th Pursuit Squadron (Fighter)
26th Pursuit Squadron (Fighter)
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 64th Transport Group:
18th Transport Squadron
4th Photographic Squadron (1st Photographic Group)
Tow Target Detachment
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 32nd Air Base Group:
43rd Material Squadron
44th Material Squadron
31st Air Base Squadron
Air Force Band
Detachment, 1st Communications Squadron
Detachment, 1st Weather Squadron
3rd Chemical Company (Service) (Aviation) (less Detachments)
808th Engineer Battalion (Aviation)
682nd Ordnance Company (Aviation) (Pursuit)
693rd Ordnance Company (Aviation) (Pursuit)
718th Ordnance Company (Aviation) (Air Base)
Company L, 30th Quartermaster Regiment (Truck)
Detachment, Company D, 89th Quartermaster Battalion (Light Maintenance)
4th Quartermaster Company (Supply) (Aviation) (less Detachments)
4th Aircraft Warning Company
405th Signal Company (Aviation)
433rd Signal Maintenance Company (Aviation)
318th Signal Company (Air Wing)
854th Signal Service Company (Aviation) (less Detachments)
4th Signal Platoon (Air Base)
 Army of the United States Station List  1 June 1943
Army Air Forces:
Army Air Forces Weather Station (Type A)
Engineer Camouflage School, Aviation No. 1
Finance Detachment
Detachment 2, Fourth Air Force Replacement Depot
Medical Detachment
Veterinary Detachment
Detachment, 1st Airways Communications Squadron
Detachment, 1st Weather Squadron, Regional
4th Engineer Aviation Unit Training Center
4th Photographic Mapping Squadron (less Flight A)
6th Antisubmarine Communications Squadron (to be activated)
7th Target Tow Squadron (plus Flight B and Radio Control Flight R)
20th Fighter Group (Two Engines)
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron
55th, 77th and 79th Fighter Squadrons
21st Altitude Training Unit
30th Bombardment Group Heavy
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron
27th and 38th Bombardment Squadrons (Heavy)
31st Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron
57th Aviation Squadron (Colored)
360th Fighter Group (Two Engines)
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron
371st, 372nd, 373rd Fighter Squadrons
438th Army Air Forces Band
829th Guard Squadron
Detachment 2, 854th Signal Service Company, Aviation
855th, 856th, 1887th Aviation Engineer Battalions (Colored)
860th,1876th, 1885th, 1886th, 1890th, 1900th, 1901st Engineer Aviation Battalions
Detachment 9, 904th Quartermaster Service Company, Aviation
907th Engineer Headquarters Company, Air Force
922nd Quartermaster Truck Platoon, Air Base (Colored)
2 Sections, Operations Platoon, 923rd Quartermaster Company, Boat (Aviation)
929th and 930th Air Base Security Battalions (Colored)
938th Engineer Camouflage Battalion, Aviation
1308th Guard Squadron (Colored) (to be activated)
1907th, 1912th Engineer Aviation Battalions (to be activated)
1909th, 1917th Engineer Aviation Battalion (Colored) (to be activated)
2028th Quartermaster Truck Company (Colored)
Detachment 1, 2066th Ordnance Service COmpany, Aviation
Western Defense Command:
770th Military Police Battalion (Zone of the Interior) (less Company C)
774th Military Police Battalion (Zone of the Interior) (Colored)
Army of the United States Station List 7 April 1945
Army Air Forces:
Third Echelon Repair Shop
Section, 65th Army Air Forces Base Unit (1st Weather Region)
Detachment, Section D, 85th Army Air Forces Base Unit (101st Army Airway Communications Service Squadron)
420th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Combat Crew Training Station - Bombardment (Heavy))
Women's Army Corps Squadron
470th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Engineer Camouflage School, Aviation)
579th Army Air Forces Band
Army of the United States Station List 7 April 1945
Army Air Forces:
Army Air Forces Station and Convalescent Hospital
25th Air Service Group
Headquarters and Base Service Squadron
35th Air Engineering Squadron (Air Service Group)
578th Air Materiel Squadron (Air Service Group
39th Tactical Reconnassance Squadron
40th Bombardment Group, Very Heavy
25th, 44th, 45th Bombardment Squadrons, Very Heavy
58th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron
Section, 68th Army Air Forces Base Unit (101st Weather Group)
321st Army Air Forces Base Unit (Tactical)
338th Signal Company, Wing
361st Air Services Group
Headquarters and Base Services Squadron
615th Air Engineering Squadron (Air Service Group)
624th Air Materiel Squadron (Air Service Group)
412th Fighter Group
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron
29th, 31st, 445th Fighter Squadron (Jet Propelled)
414th and 425th Night Fighter Squadrons
579th Army Air Forces Band
Detachment, 721st Army Air Force Base Unit (101st Airways Communication Service Squadron)


Victory parade, 15 August 1945

Additional Online Histories

Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields


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Updated 28 March 2016