Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Naval Air Station, Alameda
(Benton Field, Naval Aviation
berthed at NAS Alameda.
by Rechard E. Osbourne
In 1934 the city of Alameda built an air
strip called Benton Field on reclaimed land at the north end of
the island. It was built for two reasons; for the immediate use
of Pan American Airways, and as an incentive to attract the Navy
to the community of Alameda. The Navy studied the site, accepted
Alameda's offer, and in 1938 began building a large air station
here that could support four aircraft carrier groups, five patrol
squadrons, two utility squadrons, have facilities for complete
plane and engine overhaul, piers to dock two aircraft carriers
and several outlying air fields. The new naval station, named
U.S. Naval Air Station, Alameda, became the Navy's "Aviation
Gateway to the Pacific". Construction wasn't yet complete
when the U.S. went to war in Dec. 1941, but the air station's
personnel began performing wartime duties with what they had available.
Offshore and inshore air patrols were begun, air cover for convoys
was provided and the station became a ferry point for fleet air
units going elsewhere.In late March 1942 the aircraft carrier
"Hornet" arrived at NAS, Alameda and 16 Army B-25 bombers
were hoisted aboard. The Hornet then departed under great secrecy
on April 2. These were the planes of General Jimmy Doolittle's
Raiders that bombed Tokyo and other cities in Japan on April 18,
During World War II, this was one of the
Navy's busiest air stations with air units, carrier groups, supplies,
numerous naval personnel and sometimes VIP's passing through on
their way to the Pacific or to points east. Actually, construction
never stopped at NAS, Alameda during the war and by 1945 it was
a huge facility with 3600 officers and 29,000 enlisted personnel.
In late 1943-early 1944 the AAF established
a large intransit air depot in Alameda to handle the logistics
of moving large numbers of AAF personnel, planes and equipment
from Europe to the Pacific in preparation for the final assault
on Japan. It was the largest new construction project undertaken
by the AAF at this time. The air depot included many warehouses,
wharves, rail sidings and deep-water docks. With the sudden end
to the war in the Pacific, though, this facility saw little use.
The naval air station continued in full
operation after the war and became home to many Navy commands
and service units. In 1967 the station's air field was named Nimitz
Field in honor of Adm. Chester Nimitz. NAS, Alameda continued
in full operation throughout the Cold War and was one of the Navy's
most important facilities on the west coast. In the 1990s NAS,
Alameda was closed. Outlying fields for NAS, Alameda during World
War II were:
Source: World War II Sites in
the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
P5M-2 Marlins of
Patrol Squadron (VP) 47 at the Seaplane Landing, circa 1956.
by M.L. Shettle
Alameda is located on the eastern shore
of San Francisco Bay, adjacent to Oakland. The first local aircraft
flight occurred in 1911 to entertain the visit ing President Taft.
During World War I, the City's fathers proposed Alameda for a
Naval base, but no action was taken. In 1927, an airport was built
with one east/west runway, an administration building, three hangars,
and a yacht harbor. Three years later, the Army established an
air base at the airport, now known as Benton Field. Over the next
few years, the City continued to expand the airport's area by
filling land into the bay. In 1935, Pan American Airways took
over the yacht basin and inaugurated flying boat service to Hawaii
and the Orient. On June 1, 1936, Alameda deeded the entire property
to the government for the nominal fee of $1. Four months later,
the Army abandoned Benton Field and turned over its facilities
to the Navy. Due to budget con straints, no construction would
take place by the Navy for another two years.
In 1938, Congress finally appropriated $10
million to develop a Naval Air Station at the site. The next year,
Pan American moved to a new base at Treasure Island. Construction
at Alameda proceeded at a leisurely pace. The station commissioned
on November 1, 1940, with a minimum of facilities.
Initial construction provided for two carrier
air groups, five seaplane squadrons, two utility squadrons, and
an Assembly and Repair Department. In July 1940, additional funds
were appropriated to enlarge the station with two seaplane hangars
and a carrier berthing pier, as well as other facilities. With
the start of the war, patrol and scouting squadrons began operations
commanded by Fleet Air Wing 8. Carrier squadrons also were formed
and commenced combat training. CASU 6 commissioned to support
the carrier units. Construction resumed once again and proceeded
rapidly with hydraulic fill operations adding
more land. A 345-man Army antiaircraft unit moved aboard after
Pearl Harbor to provide air defense. On April 1, 1942, the Navy's
second Naval Air Transport Squadron, VR-2, formed at the station
and operated its first flight to Hawaii on May 15.
The same day VR-2 commissioned, LCol. Jimmy
Doolittle's 16 B-25s arrived at Alameda and were loaded aboard
the USS Hornet. The next day, the Hornet departed in broad daylight
-- destination unknown with the exception of three men: Doolittle;
Adm. Mitscher, commander of the Task Force; and Navy Lt. Henry
Miller, who had instructed the Army pilots in short-takeoff procedures.
Sixteen days later, Doolittle and his men bombed Tokyo. Of the
80 crewmen, five died in crash landings and three were executed
by the Japanese. Doolittle received the Medal of Honor for leading
San Francisco Bay area was the major Naval
surface and supply base on the West Coast -- Alameda pro vided
aviation support for these activities. Scout and Observation Service
Unit 3 (SOSU 3) commissioned at Alameda and supported the various
aircraft assigned to the battleships and cruisers in San Francisco
Bay. SOSU 3 functioned similar to a CASU, but serviced and trained
personnel in the operation of catapult and scouting aircraft.
During the remainder of 1942, Alameda began building sev eral
auxiliary air stations in the central California area. In January
1943, station personnel stood at 100 officers and 3,543 enlisted
men. In April, Alameda opened an auxiliary at Oakland, followed
in May by Crows Landing and Monterey. The next month, additional
auxiliaries commissioned at Vernalis, Santa Rosa, and Hollister
-- Arcata opened in July and Watsonville in October. In addition,
Pan American Airways' Pacific operation had been placed under
contract to the Navy and Pan Am's base at Treasure Island was
made an NAAF. The Navy designated Alameda as a Naval Air Center
with overall command of these auxiliaries. The Commander Fleet
Air Alameda was vested with command of the aviation activities
of these stations and held the rank of Commodore. By year's end,
personnel aboard reached over 10,000.
In June 1944, Alameda opened an additional
auxil iary at Fallon, Nevada for an aerial gunnery school. When
Pan Am moved its operation from Treasure Island to Mills Field,
San Francisco's municipal air port, the Navy established an NAAF
at that location. When primary training ended at Livermore in
1944, that station was also placed under the command of Alameda.
Various patrol squadrons of PBMs, PVs, and PB4Ys also passed through
Alameda during the war and were supported by Patrol Aircraft Service
Unit 8 (PATSU 8). By the end of 1944, almost 1400 aircraft were
on board, although over 1000 were in various stages of overhaul
or repair by the Assembly and Repair Department -- the largest
activity on the station. VR-2 ultimately operated 54 aircraft
that included transport versions of the Consolidated PB2Y Coronado
and the PBM Mariner plus the lone Martin PB2M-1R Mars. On April
6, 1945, Alameda opened the last of its auxiliaries at King City,
for merly used for Army primary training. By the end of the war,
Alameda's personnel totaled 29,000 ser vicemen and civilians with
almost 2,000 aircraft pre sent. The Navy investment in the station
reached a total of $75 million.
Alameda's 2327 acres had five 500-ft. wide
asphalt runways -- the longest 5,000 ft. Initially, the airfield
was painted in a camouflage pattern to guard against possible
air attack. The station had twelve auxil iaries and one OLF at
Concord, California. Aircraft assigned to the station totaled
18, plus the 12th Naval District Commandant's JRB. Barracks existed
for 979 officers and 14,417 enlisted men.
Following the war, Alameda continued to
provide services and support to the aviation activities of the
Pacific Fleet. All of Alameda's auxiliaries eventual ly closed
with the exception of Fallon, Nevada, that became an NAS and Crows
Landing that became an OLF. With the arrival of jet aircraft,
one of the base's runways was extended to 7,200 ft. and a new
8,000-ft. runway added. The seaplane transport squadron, VR-2,
continued to operate from Alameda with JRM Mars and R3Y Tradewinds
until that squadron decommissioned in April 1958. With the closing
of Oakland in 1961, Reserve activities moved to Alameda. In the
last 30 years, the primary activities of the station have been
homeport of air craft carriers, aircraft overhaul and repair,
and Reserve activities.
In 1994, Alameda was homeport to the nuclear-pow
ered aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham
Lincoln, as well as two guided missile cruisers and a destroyer
tender. The Naval Aviation Depot (former Assembly and Repair Department)
is the largest activity on the base and employs over 3,500 civilians
that overhaul, repair, and modify Naval aircraft. Five Reserve
squadrons are also based at the station. Alameda, after 50 years
of service to the fleet, was selected for closure by the 1993
Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The base closed in 1997.
NAS Alameda closed April 25, 1997, and the Naval Aviation Depot
(NADEP) closed September 30, 1996. Until 1997, Alameda Point
was known as Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda. It was a federal
facility, with approximately 60 military tenant commands for
a combined military/civilian work force of over 18,000 personnel.
In 1997 the base closed, and the Navy began turning the property
over to the City of Alameda.
Four carriers were tied up at NAS Alameda
in November 1945 as a part of Operation Magic Carpet -- SARATOGA
(CV-3), ENTERPRISE (CV-6), HORNET (CV-12) and SAN JACINTO (CVL-30).
The Navy has donated the HORNET to the Aircraft Carrier HORNET
Foundation for use as a museum. She is currently moored at ex-NAS
Alameda (now Alameda Point) pier 3, and is open to the public
The NAS at Alameda contained 2,479 acres
of property owned by the U.S. Navy: 1,521 acres upland, and 958
acres of submerged tideland in San Francisco Bay. In addition,
155 acres are leased from the City of Alameda. Naval Air Station
Alameda provided support services to Naval aviation facilities.
Berthing space at two piers accommodated aircraft carriers, and
ship maintenance was also accomplished at Alameda. The Naval
Air Rework Facility Alameda allowed for repair and revamping
of Navy jet and turboprop aircraft.
The airfield has two crossed US-equipped
runways: one 8,000 feet in length, 200 feet in width; the other
7,200 feet long, 200 feet wide. Two helicopter landing areas
are provided. The airfield' at Alameda NAS includes 469,700 square
yards of aircraft parking apron and seven aircraft maintenance
hangars. There is an air traffic control tower on site.
The community adamantly opposed the threatened
closure of NAS Alameda in 1993. However, following the announcement
of the closure, the City established a base conversion office
and formed the Alameda Base Reuse Advisory Group (BRAG) to provide
a forum for community input to the base reuse planning process.
Also, in 1993, Congressman Ron Dellums formed the East Bay Conversion
and Reinvestment Commission (EBCRC) to encourage regional input
into the conversion process and to undertake a one-year pilot
project outlining how a community should effectively close a
base. In April 1994, the City and County of Alameda signed a
Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), and established the Alameda Reuse
and Redevelopment Authority (ARRA). The ARRA was recognized by
DoD as the responsible entity for submitting and completing the
Community Reuse Plan for NAS Alameda.
On April 16, 1997, the U.S. Department
of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the Alameda
Reuse and Redevelopment Authority (ARRA) signed a five-year services
agreement for port services and for the use of three piers at
the former Alameda Naval Air Station. MARAD will give berth to
11 ships of its Ready Reserve fleet at Piers 1, 2, and 3. MARAD's
Ready Reserve ships are available to transport equipment, supplies
and vehicles for military-support operations worldwide. They
are manned 24 hours a day, and each ship has a standing/sitting
crew of 8-10. ARRA has contracted with Trident-3M Services, a
start-up local company comprised of former military and civilian
workers, to provide all the necessary port services to the MARAD
ships. Trident maintains the piers and the utility connections
and will provide safety services such as spill response and channel
surveys. The City of Alameda provides police and fire protection.
MARAD will purchase its utility services directly from utility
Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda is located
on the western end of Alameda Island, in Alameda and San Francisco
counties, California. Alameda Island lies along the eastern side
of the San Francisco Bay, adjacent to the city of Oakland. The
base, rectangular in shape, is approximately 2 miles long and
1 mile wide, and occupies 2,634 acres of land. Approximately
1,526 acres of NAS Alameda are land and 1,108 acres are bay.
Most of the base is within the city limits
of Alameda. However, the dump site west of the airstrips pokes
out into San Francisco Bay and, therefore, slightly into the
City and County of San Francisco. The (former) Naval Air Station
Alameda (NAS) is the geographic center of the San Francisco Bay
Area and occupies the western one-third of the island of Alameda.
Within the Station's four square miles are a major airfield,
deep water port, aircraft and ship maintenance facilities, 1,513
units of family housing and barracks-type housing, industrial,
retail, warehouse and recreational facilities.
The area encompassed by NAS Alameda was
historically a combination of submerged lands, tideland, and
dry land. The site is relatively flat, with elevations ranging
from sea level to 30 feet above sea level. The property occupies
the flattest portion of Alameda, reflecting its origins as diked
bay lands and mud flats. Much of the land now occupied by NAS
Alameda was once covered by the waters of San Francisco Bay or
was tidal flats. Much of the base was gradually filled using
hydraulically placed dredge spoils from the surrounding San Francisco
Bay, the Seaplane Lagoon at NAS Alameda, and the Oakland Channel.
The first documented filling of tidal and submerged land began
sometime during the 1890s. By 1927, the northern part of what
later became NAS Alameda had been filled, chiefly with dredge
materials from US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) projects associated
with the Oakland Harbor and other harbors throughout the East
Bay. Prior to 1930, at least two large industrial sites, a borax
processing plant and an oil refinery, were located on the island
near what is now the eastern end of NAS Alameda. The refinery
was located at the site of the present-day Site 13.
The filled land was partially occupied
by the Alameda Airport, a City-owned facility, and Benton Field,
a minor US Army Air Corps facility. The U.S. Army acquired the
NAS Alameda site from the city of Alameda in 1930 and began construction
activities in 1931. The Navy acquired title to the land from
the Army in 1936 and began building the air station in response
to the military buildup in Europe prior to World War II. After
the 1941 entry of the United States into the war, more land was
acquired adjacent to the air station. Following the end of the
war, NAS Alameda returned to its original primary mission of
providing facilities and support for fleet aviation activities.
Alameda is located at the geographic center
of the San Francisco Bay Area. It consists of a main island just
offshore from Oakland and directly across the bay from San Francisco,
plus the tip of a peninsula attached to the mainland near Oakland
Airport, Coast Guard Island and Ballena Isle. Alameda is accessed
by four bridges, two tunnels, two ferry terminals to San Francisco,
and a water taxi to Oakland. The main island is characterized
by charming neighborhoods of Victorian architecture, two historic
downtown areas, and marinas. In addition, in the late 1980s,
the 205-acre Marina Village mixed-use project was successfully
developed with 1.1 million square feet of office space, a 125,000
square foot retail shopping center, 178 townhomes, and a marina.
The peninsula portion of the city, named Bay Farm Island,
is home to more recent residential development, the Harbor Bay
Business Park, and a very popular 36-hole municipal golf complex.
This is where naval aviation was born
when, in 1911, a daredevil pilot named Eugene Ely was the first
to land a plane aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania using a platform
50 feet wide and 140 feet long.
The keel for the Naval Air Station Alameda
was laid December 1917, when a young visionary, John J. Mulvany
decided the island in front of Alameda would be ideal for a naval
base. Through Mr. Mulvany's efforts, a special Navy Yard committee
advocated purchase of the land. Congress shelved the recommendation,
but through the years the Navy continued to lobby for the site.
Several congressional committees visited Alameda to view the
In June 1936, Public Resolution 19 was
presented to the 76th Congress authorizing President Franklin
D. Roosevelt to accept the land from the City of Alameda for
the sum of $1 to cover the paperwork involved.
In 1938, Alamedans, like thousands of
other Americans, were dimly concerned with the growing unrest
in Central Europe. They had not yet accustomed themselves to
thinking that the actions of other countries could affect the
future of the nation.
It was not with an eye to wartime preparedness
that the first construction was started on the air station. Buildings
and hangars for the new naval air station grew steadily until
November 1, 1940 when NAS Alameda was commissioned and turned
over to a staff of 200 civilians and a small complement of Naval
At the moment of the attack on Pearl Harbor,
December 7, 1941, Alameda NAS buildings were still gaunt steel
frameworks and the five 5,000-foot runways were only partially
completed. As the "aviation gateway to the Pacific"
in World War II, facilities were built almost overnight, personnel
were hired and trained and military men and supplies were funneled
out to the far reaches of the Pacific in ever increasing numbers.
The sleepy township of Alameda changed
from a community of 30,000 to a bustling city of more than 85,000.
A large percentage of Alameda residents were employed at the
Station, working hand-in-hand with the military personnel stationed
It was from NAS Alameda that the famed
General Jimmy Doolittle and his B-25 Mitchell bombers were loaded
aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet prior to their takeoff
on the first attack of the war on the Japanese homeland in April
Under its program for peace, NAS Alameda
placed equal emphasis on all phases of its primary mission, that
of providing facilities and support for fleet aviation activities.
This included overhaul and repair of aircraft for the fleet,
supply of all kinds of aircraft and equipment, the berthing and
fueling of large ships and training facilities for military personnel.
Alameda was the Supervisor of Shipbuilding and General Engineering
and Drydocks Co. It held the Link Celestial Navigation Training
School, Fleet Radar Operator's School, Operational Information
Section, U.S. Coast Guard Training Station, Aviation Storekeeper
School, U. S. Maritime Service Officers School, Combat Aircrew
Training Unit, Air Support Training Unit No. 2, and the Training
Aids Depot, West Coast. It was also the Naval Air Control Center.
Since the Korean War, the station has
continued to emphasize jet aircraft and build new missile rework
and electronic data-processing facilities.
A capital investment of over $100 million
has been made in the buildings, grounds and facilities. Replacement
value would be in excess of a quarter-of-a-billion dollars. The
station's total area covered 2,842 acres, including 1,108 acres
under water. Landing field runways were designed to accommodate
the latest models of Naval aircraft and varied in length from
7,000 to 8,000 feet and 200 feet in width.
To maintain the ship-worthy channel, the
dredging of over one million cubic yards of silt each year was
required. A 1,000-foot wide channel was maintained from its piers
to the deep water of San Francisco Bay. These piers had complete
facilities to accommodate the largest aircraft carriers.
New housing construction provided military
personnel with modern multi-dwellings for the welfare of their
During the Vietnam crisis, the station
once again provided massive support for the Pacific Fleet. Every
effort was made to carry out the nation's mission and tasks effectively
and efficiently for Navy ships, aircraft, equipment and personnel
ashore and abroad.
The La Prieta Earthquake on October 17,
1989 caused considerable damage to the station buildings and
its runways. However, these latter were repaired and operational
by mid-January 1990. Several of the buildings were condemned.
In 1996, the Base Realignment and Closure
Commission closed Alameda NAS on April 25, ending 56 years of
Naval Aviation History to the roar of a 21-gun salute. The venerable
facilities were turned over to the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment
Authority for various commercial programs.
Over 400 F6F Hellcats
awaiting disposal circa 1947