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Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Blythe Army Air Field
(Blythe Army Air Base)
 
Blythe AAF, 16 July 1943
 
Also known as Blythe Army Air Base, this field was located 7 miles west of the town of Blythe on what is now Interstate Highway 10. The field was built for the I Troop Carrier Command but was given up by that command, without ever occupying it, to the 4th Air Force as a California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA) training field. The 46th Bomb Group and later the 34th Bomb Group occupied the field during the CAMA days and flew a variety of planes including B-17s, B-24s, A-31s and A-36s. Blythe Army Air Field later became a sub-base of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) and after the war it became Blythe's local airport.

There was another airfield in Blythe, Gary Field, near the present-day golf course, which had a private pilot training school known as the Morton Air Academy. The school was contracted by the Army Air Corps early in the war to give primary training to Air Corps cadets. Gary Field had a total of three auxiliary airfields during World War II:
 
A-1 Ripley #1 (10 miles south)
A-2 Ripley #2 (8 miles south)
A-4 (which was located a mere half mile to the west).
 
The Primary Flying School at Gary used the Stearman PT-17. The contract flying schools were mostly staffed by civilian instructors. The Commanding Officer was an Army Air Forces officer, and usually there were Army Air Forces check pilots who made sure the students were qualified. The Commander at Gary was Major Frank Fuller of the Fuller Paint Company fame. The civilian head was Roger Pryor, who was a musical director for one of the Hollywood film studios
Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne

 
Corps of Engineers History
 
Located in Riverside County, California. This site is approximately 6 miles due west of the City of Blythe on West Hobson Way, adjacent to Interstate Highway 10.
 
The Army entered into a lease on 1 June 1942 with the County of Riverside to acquire use of 290.45 acres (later determined to be 282.61 acres) consisting of the Blythe Airport. Between 1942 and 1944 a total of 2354.89 acres of public domain land were transferred to the War Department and all desert claims cleared through declaration of taking. A total 1,896.04 acres were acquired in fee from various private parties. A total of 6.54 acres of public domain land were acquired for right--of-ways as well as a 1.98 acre easement and 0.63 acre permit. The Army encroached on 20.18 acres for which a permit was never acquired. Total acquisition, including the encroachment, was 4,560.06 acres.
 
The Army established Blythe Army Airfield (BAAF) which was a second Army Air Forces heavy bombardment crew training base during World War II. The 85th Bombardment Group and the 390th Bombardment Group were active at BAAFin 1942 and 1943. Up to 75 B-17 bombers were flown and maintained at this site. During this period the military constructed over 650 buildings and other types of improvements including hangars, office buildings, barracks, warehouses, runways and taxiways, water and sewer systems, hospital, fuel and ordnance storage.
 
Historical records and drawings indicate that bombs and explosive materials, and possibly incendiary and pyrotechnic materials, were stored on-site in up to five magazines or bunkers. A poorman gunnery range, skeet range, and jeep type target range, all with ammunition storage, were constructed and used by Army personnel.
 
This site is currently owned by Riverside County and leased to the City of Blythe. The main runways and a few remaining buildings constructed by the Army are beneficially used by the city as an airport. All other improvements constructed by the Army have been demolished.
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District

 
Extract of January 1945 US Army and Navy Directory of Air Fields
 


 
Additional History
 
Members of the 87th Bombardment Squadron (Light) and two of the squadron's Douglas A-20 Havocs. September 1942

Blythe Airport was established by the Civil Aeronautics Administration in the late 1930s as an emergency landing field on the Los Angeles to Phoenix airway. A commercial airport opened in April 1940.

The airport was leased by the United States Army in 1942 and between 1942 and 1944, the U.S. War Department acquired 4,248.12 acres in fee from various private parties, 6.54 acres of public domain land via transfer, 282.61 acres by lease from the County of Riverside, a 1.98-acre easement, and a 0.63-acre permit. The Army encroached on another 20.18 acres, increasing the total acquisition for Blythe Army Air Field to 4,560.06 acres. Over 650 buildings and other types of military facilities and improvements were constructed at this airfield, including hangars, office buildings, barracks, warehouses, runways and taxiways, water and sewer systems, a hospital, and fuel and ordnance storage.

In addition to the main facility at Blythe, several auxiliary airfields were built.

During World War II the airfield was known as Blythe Army Air Field and was used by the United States Army Air Forces. The use of the site began on May 14, 1942. Blythe AAB was built for the I Troop Carrier Command but was given up by that command, without ever occupying it, to the Fourth Air Force as part of the United States Army Desert Training Center (DTC) was established by General George S. Patton shortly after the outbreak of the war, Blythe was the only airfield with construction already under way. For six months, the air field served as the sole air support base for the Army maneuvers under way at the DTC.

The 46th Bombardment Group and later the 85th Bombardment Group occupied the field during the CAMA days and flew a variety of planes including A-31 Vengeances and A-36 Apaches. Once air fields were established at three new locations within the DTC (Thermal, Rice and Desert Center), Blythe field was no longer required for the Army's desert exercises. After General Patton was sent to North Africa, the name of the training center was changed to the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA). The 46th and 85th Bomb Groups were reassigned.

The Army Air Forces then used Blythe as a heavy bombardment crew training base for the Second Air Force 16th Bombardment Training Wing 358th Combat Crew Training School. The field's mission was changed to the training of combat air crews prior to shipment overseas. The 85th Bombardment Group and the 390th Bombardment Group were active at Blythe AAF in 1942 and 1943. Up to 75 B-17 Flying Fortresses were flown and maintained at the base. During 1943 and 1944, Blythe AAF was used for squadron pilot training, then in December 1944 reverted to an active heavy bombardment base with B-24 Liberators

At its peak in December, 1943 the base had a population just short of 8000 uniformed and civilian personnel. This was twice the population of the city of Blythe, the only community within a one hundred mile radius. By April 1944 only a housekeeping force was assigned to the base. By July 1944 the field was abandoned by the Army and declared surplus. 126 airmen were killed in Blythe Army Air Base-related accidents.

Blythe Army Air Field later became a sub-base of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) on 30 June 1945, and was inactivated on 18 October 1945, although during October–December 1946, the 477th Composite Group (Medium) used the airfield for desert maneuvers, flying B-25 Mitchells.

The airfield was declared surplus in 1946 and was reported to the War Assets Administration for disposal. On September 10, 1948, the entire 4,560-acre site was transferred to the County of Riverside via quitclaim deed dated September 10, 1948

Today a modern airport is on the site of the former wartime airfield; most of the area of what was Blythe Army Air Field has been abandoned to the natural landscape. Abandoned runways and concrete parking ramps are visible in aerial photography.

Extracted from Wikipedia 9 April 2014



Known Units at Blythe AAF
 
34th Bomb Group (Heavy) 15 December 1942-April 1944. B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators
4th Bombardment Squadron
7th Bombardment Squadron
18th Bombardment Squadron
391st Bombardment Squadron
46th Bombardment Group (Light) 23 May 1943-November 1942. A-20 Havoc
55th Bombardment Squadron
51st Bombardment Squadron
83rd Bombardment Squadron
87th Bombardment Squadron
55th Bombardment Group (Dive) 2 November-11 December 1942 A-24 Dauntlesses
499th Bombardment Squadron
500th Bombardment Squadron
501st Bombardment Squadron
502nd Bombardment Squadron
398th Bombardment Group (Heavy) April 1943 B-17 Flying Fortresses
600th Bombardment Squadron
601st Bombardment Squadron
602nd Bombardment Squadron
603rd Bombardment Squadron


Updated 13 May 2014

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