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:
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.