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Naval Air Station, Alameda
(Benton Field)
 
History I by M.L. Shettle Jr.
History II by globalsecurity.com
 

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, 1942.

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
History I
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 the raid.

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.

Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.

History II
 

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 for tours.
 
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 providers.
 
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.
 
Copied with permission from globalsecurity.com
 

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