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Naval Air Station, Livermore

This station was built in 1942 four miles east of Livermore to relieve overcrowding of the naval air facilities at Oakland Municipal Airport. The primary mission of the base was to train pilots. Up to October 1944 some 4000 cadets trained here in N2S trainers known as "Yellow Perils". By late 1944 the Navy needed fewer pilots, so training operations ended and the station was given several new tasks; servicing fleet air units preparing for overseas operation, storing aircraft, repairing aircraft and the training of Navy and Marine air reservists.After the war the station closed down in stages and was decommissioned altogether in 1946. NAS, Livermore had the following outlying fields during the war:


Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
by M.L. Shettle, Jr. with additional information added by SGM Dan Sebby

In order to present the history of Naval Air Station Livermore, we first must present the reason for its founding as a facility to relieve the overcrowding of Naval Aviation facilities in Oakland. On August 1, 1928, a Naval Reserve Aviation Base (NRAB) was established at the Oakland Municipal Airport (now Oakland International Airport [OAK]). In 1935, the station began conducting the 30-day Elimination Training Course and in 1941, full primary pilot training. Eleven days after Pearl Harbor, the Commanders of all the NRABs held a conference in Pensacola, the subject being the increase of primary training at their respective bases. Among the commanders with a problem, was Commander R. L. Johnson of NARB Oakland. With the addition of Army Air Corps interceptor aircraft at the Oakland Municipal Airport and the crowded airspace in the area, an increase of primary training would be impossible. After returning to Oakland, Commander Johnson and his staff set to work to find a site for a new base.

Surveyors traveled 25 miles east of Oakland, near the town of Livermore, and surveyed the farm of W.G. Wagoner. However, nobody had requested the permission of the owner, Mr. Wagoner, and when he discovered surveyors on his property. Mr. Wagoner was a patriotic American, but he justifiably objected to the survey crew stomping around in his crops without asking permission. The next morning he pulled up all the surveying stakes and piled them under a tree. When the survey party returned and asked him where the stakes were, Wagoner replied: "They're under that tree. If you want them, get them, and get the hell out of here!"

Once the U.S. Navy properly contacted Wagoner and stated its intentions, he was very cooperative and willingly sold 629 acres of his farm for $75,260. Construction got under way on 30 January 1942, with a $1.565 million initial allocation. Just 20 days later, an aircraft made a test landing on the proposed airfield. On 25 March 1942, training flights from Oakland began using the field on a regular basis. At the end of May 1942, personnel arrived to start operations at Livermore.

On 24 September 1942, an additional 50.005 acres was gained through condemnation proceedings (Declaration of Taking Civil 22334-R) against Louis Madsen, John and Dora Bargman, and Charles and Sue Nissen. This property was located across East Avenue from the station proper and known as the Gunnery Range Area. In addition to the small arms ranges, this portion of the station also had athletic fields, supply and public works areas, water supply facilities and barracks for female enlisted sailors (known as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service [WAVES]) By the end of November 1942, all primary training activities moved aboard. Since administrative control remained at NRAB Oakland, Livermore was not yet commissioned.

By the beginning of 1943, Livermore was operating 144 Stearman N2S “Kaydet” and 15 Naval Air Factory N3N “Yellow Peril” primary training aircraft. The next month, the Navy allocated an additional $1 million for new construction and improvements. Livermore finally separated from Oakland on June 1, 1943, and commissioned as an NAS. Aircraft present had increased to 162 Stearman N2S and 18 Timm N2T “Tudors”. By the end of the year, the station reached peak utilization with 234 Kaydets and 24 Tudors. During 1944, primary training was reduced throughout the U.S. Navy and NAS Livermore was no exception. On October 15, 1944, primary training ended as the last of over 4,000 aviation cadets left the station. On that date, NAS Livermore was placed under the command of NAS Alameda's Naval Air Center. Although, the station's runways had not been designed for carrier aircraft, Carrier Air Group (CAG) 33 arrived for operational training with Detachment A of NAS Alameda's Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) 6 in support. CAG 40's fighter and torpedo squadrons followed in December with 17 F6F “Hellcat” fighters and 10 TBM/TBF “Avenger” torpedo bombers.

During early 1945, Composite Squadrons (VC) 33 and 7 passed through the station. In mid-1945, Livermore reached its second peak of operation with the four squadrons of CAG 13 plus VC-77, a total of 107 aircraft. One torpedo squadron completed training and received orders to embark onto its aircraft carrier. At the squadron's scheduled hour for departure, their lucky mascot dog could not be located and the squadron refused to leave without it. The situation was beyond the control of the base's commander. A frantic search was conducted all over the base and the City of Livermore until the dog was found. Once the dog was safely aboard one of the squadron's aircraft, they took off.

The Navy-owned acreage at Livermore totaled 681. The airfield proper consisted of a 3000 x 2700-ft. macadam (a mixture of crushed rock and asphalt or tar) mat. This unique airfield layout suggests that primary training was meant to remain here throughout the war. There were a total of 12 Outer Landing Fields (OLF) during the station's primary training days. All the OLFs, including the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) Intermediate Field north west of town, were sod fields. In March 1944, station personnel stood at 228 officers, 800 cadets, 1828 enlisted men, and 25 civilians. Barracks existed for 159 officers, 864 cadets, and 1947 enlisted. The station usually operated a Beech GB “Traveler” for light transport, a Howard GH “Nightingale” air ambulance, and a Vultee SNV “Valiant” for proficiency.

Livermore remained in use by carrier units until the end of 1945. For the first six months of 1946, the station served as the Naval Air Reserve facility for the San Francisco Bay area, until that activity moved to NAS Oakland. On 10 October 1946, the Navy decommissioned the station opening it to civilian aircraft, although the airfield saw very little use. Unlike other military installations closed after World War II, the U.S. Navy retained ownership of the facility and did not transfer control of the station to the War Assets Administration. In early 1947, the airfield was used for a model airplane meet and later for a stock car race. From late 1947 to 1950, the Livermore Elementary School system utilized some of the base's buildings. In 1950, the local community suggested the site for the proposed Air Force Academy. When the Air Force indicated it desired a total of 9,000 acres, the offer was withdrawn. On 2 April 1950, Permit NOy(R)-451133 was issued by the Bureau of Yards and Docks to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for the building of an Atomic Partial Accelerator at the former NAS.

On 5 January 1951, the Bureau of Yards and Docks, U.S. Navy, formally transferred the former NAS Livermore in its entirety to the AEC for use by the University of California's Radiation Laboratory. Although the Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration, was informed that the facility was surplus, documentation supports the direct transfer of the former NAS Livermore from the U.S. Navy to the AEC.

Among the atomic weapons developed here over the years were warheads for the Navy's Regulus II, Terrier, and the Polaris missile systems. In 1980, the facility's name was changed by Congress to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in memory of the late Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958), co-founder (along with Dr. Edward Teller [1908-2003], father of the Hydrogen Bomb) and first director of the laboratory. Lawrence received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1939 for the invention of the cyclotron. In 1995, the laboratory had a staff of 8,000 and a budget of $950 million. The former Gunnery Range Area currently operates as an annex of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories. Today, both Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories continue their work on nuclear weapons, as well as developing new defense and homeland security technologies. Several former U.S. Navy buildings are still in use, the most notable being the drill hall that houses atomic accelerators.


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


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