Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Rice Army Air Field
 
Rice Army Air Field, 1942 (courtesy San Bernardino County Library).
 
 
Located two miles southeast of the town of Rice, Rice AAF was a small airfield and a sub-base of Thermal Army Air Field and later, San Bernardino Army Air Field. It was used to train pilots and crews of aircraft whose mission it was to support ground troops. This included a wide variety of aircraft from observation planes to bombers. The airfield consisted of two paved 5,000' runways and numerous dispersal pads extending off the runways to the south.
 
In order to house the more than 3,000 men, the Army constructed temporary barracks and other buildings. By 1944, the airfield was assigned to March Field as a sub-base. Rice Army Air Field was closed later mid-1944, and declared surplus at the end of 1944.
 
Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
 
 
 
Bureau of Land Management History
 
One of several combat-ready, fall-back fields, in the event of a Japanese attack on the west coast.
 
"Rice, home of USAAF first P-51 group. Gunnery range needs nothing more than a scoring crew, etc." [John Lynch: E-mail June 9, 1999]
 
Rice Municipal Airport, at an elevation of 850 feet (depicted on aeronautical charts as 832'), was acquired by the IV Air Support Command on September 29, 1942, and was operational by October 26,1942. Rice Army Airfield, like Desert Center, was a sub-base of Thermal Army Airfield and later, San Bernardino Army Air Field. It was used to train pilots and crews of aircraft whose mission it was to support ground troops. This included a wide variety of aircraft from observation planes to bombers. The facility was in the heart of Desert Training Center/California Arizona Maneuver Area (DTC/C-AMA) operations, close to Camps Iron Mountain, Coxcomb, and Granite. In order to house more than 3,000 men, the army constructed barracks, recreation and mess halls, power houses, hangars, and dormitories. Two paved runways also existed, each measuring 5,000 by 150 feet and numerous dispersal pads extending off the runways to the south; each had a load bearing capacity of 30,000 pounds for use in transporting heavy military cargo. The two runways can be seen to form an arrow pointing toward the south. The San Bernardino County line bisects the campsite, and the airfield lies wholly in Riverside County. During the construction of the camp, a 900-foot-deep well was dug to obtain water for the troops. Unfortunately, the well hit hot mineral water that was unfit to drink. Rice Army Airfield was located adjacent to the small railroad town of Rice, which consisted of a small cafe and store (Eberling 1997: 3; U.S. Air Force Historical Division n.d.a:1).
 
Under the IV Air Support Command in 1942 and early 1943; the 71st Reconnaissance Group and the 85th Bombardment Group flew reconnaissance and dive bomber training missions with the Army ground forces in the DTC.
 
After most Army units had deployed to overseas theaters by mid-1943, Rice AAF became a Fourth Air Force group training facility for units deploying to combat commands overseas, training pilots and aircrew with a wide variety of tactical aircraft, from light observation planes to medium bombers. Known units assigned to Rice were:

• 312th Bombardment Group, April 13 - August 15, 1943
• 339th Fighter Group, September 1943 - March 1944
 
Having been equipped with A-24 and A-25 aircraft and trained in the dive-bomber role, the 339th were re-equipped with P-39s in July 1943. The Group moved to Rice Field, CA in September 1943 and stayed there until shipping overseas on 22 March 1944. P-39Q 42-20720 is shown here as it appeared at Rice Field. The artwork that this a/c bears is one of the more popular pin-ups from Esquire Magazine, being Alberto Vargas' "There'll always be a Christmas" from the December 1943 edition.
 
Fourth Air Force was activated as the Southwest Air District of the GHQ Air Force on 18 December 1940, at March Field, California. It was redesignated Fourth Air Force on 26 March 1941 with a mission for the defense of the Southwest and Lower Midwest regions of the United States.
 
Fourth Air Force supported Army Air Forces Training Command's mission of training of units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations. After personnel graduated from AAFTC flight schools, navigator training,; flexible gunnery schools, and various technical schools, Fourth Air Force organized the personnel, aircraft and equipment into combat groups and squadrons. The newly-formed units received secondary training prior to their assignment to the deployed combat air forces in the various overseas theaters. Most P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning groups were trained by Fourth Air Force primarily due to the proximity of their manufacturing plants in Southern California. By 1944, most of the Operational Training of groups ended, with the command concentrating on the training of replacement personnel, using Army Air Force Base Units (AAFBU) as training organizations at the airfields controlled by Fourth Air Force.
Air Defense Wings were also organized for the major metropolitan areas along the West Coast, using training units attached to the Wings. By 1944 the likelihood of an air attack along the West Coast was remote, and these air defense wings were reduced to paper units.
 
It is rumored that Rice was once considered as "ground zero" for the Trinity site test of the worlds first nuclear weapons test explosion. Rice escaped becoming "Rice Crispy" partly because the Army office charged with choosing the actual test site had a previous falling out with General Patton and didn't want to have any further contact with the fiery General who commanded and controlled the Rice airfield. The actual test site chosen was located in the northwest sector of the Alamogordo Army Air Station near Socorro, New Mexico.
 
By May 1944, the airfield was assigned to March Field 15th Bombardment Wing at March Field as a sub-base, and the Second Airdrome Detachment was disbanded. Rice Field was closed on August 2, 1944, and declared surplus in October. The airfield was maintained for a short time afterward by resources found at other DTC/C-AMA sites. There a detachment of Squadron H from Thermal Armyairfield was maintained for a short time afterward by resources found at other DTC/C-AMA sites. There a detachment of Squadron H from Thermal Army Airfield (U.S. Air Force Historical Division n.d.a:1). The facility was inactivated and turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers on 1 January 1946.
 
Current Condition: The Rice Army Airfield was located 2.2 miles east of the "town" of Rice. The main entrance to the airfield is easily located today. A lone tree immediately south of California Highway 62 and the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroad tracks marks the entrance road. Foundations can be found throughout the area, including those for barracks, mess halls, and guard shacks. Most of the access road to the runways and airplane parking areas were coated with oil and are, therefore, still clear today. Runways and taxiways can also be found, although many of them are currently covered with sand and vegetation. Several airplane parking areas still exist, along with an extensive apron and a firing butt for airplane stationary-target practice. There appears to have been a tent camp associated with the airfield, as several rock-lined walkways and tent areas are located immediately west of the airfield. Roads lined with basalt rocks also exist throughout the area. Rice Army Airfield, therefore, contains elements of several types of resources found at other DTC/C-AMA sites. There are reports of aerial target ranges existing to the south, as well as to the north, of the airfield. A few old cars can be found on some of these ranges, exhibiting signs of having been extensively shot.
 
 
National Register of Historic Places History
 
Rice Field pre-dated World War II. It began as a municipal airport for the community of Rice constructed sometime after 1932 (Freeman 2011). A decade later, the airport was acquired by the 4th Air Support command and was in military use by October 26, 1942.
 
As part of the combat training, the Army Air Force and the Army Service Force were included, serving as support to Army Ground Forces (AGF).
 
Air squadrons were primarily assigned supporting roles to the ground units, providing tactical support and generally creating a realistic combat environment (Blake, 1996).
 
During maneuvers and other training operations, planes flew low over the troops in order to prepare them for strafing in actual combat. Air crews also practiced bombing and gunnery on several ranges spaced throughout the DTC/CAMA. For the most part, air-to-ground gunnery practice was focused on the toes of nearby mountains (Hazenbush, 1944).
 
A variety of airplanes were used. L-1 and L-4 Piper Cubs were common for surveillance, proving invaluable in spotting enemy units and directing artillery fire more effectively. Low flying, twin-engine A-20 Havoc attack airplanes (light bombers) were perhaps the most frequently encountered by ground troops. Because of the presence of these aircraft, small units learned the importance of camouflage, dispersion, and the digging of slit trenches. In several instances, C-50 cargo planes were used to supply troops during maneuvers. Douglas C-47, P-39 Airacobra, P-40 Warhawk, and P-38 Lightning were also known to have been used at the DTC/CAMA.
 
The Rice AAF had two 5,000-foot runways and numerous dispersal pads. The airfield contained barracks, recreation and mess halls, powerhouses, and support facilities to house 3,000 men. By 1943, 4,000 men were reportedly stationed there (Bischoff 2000, p. 93; Fergusson and Calvit 2009, p. 2-10). The 836th Engineer Aviation Battalion was temporarily stationed in adjacent Camp Rice to assist in construction/improvement of the airfield before being moved to Camp Young which had better amenities.
 
After the DTC/C-AMA was closed on April 30, 1944, Rice AAF was assigned to March Field as a sub-base. It ceased operating on August 2, 1944. In 1949, the field was reopened as a civilian airport. The air field was privately owned from 1951 through 1955. Its final abandonment occurred sometime between 1955 and 1958 (Freeman 2011). [PP: 571]
 
Bischoff (2007), the Applicant’s historian for RSEP, argues that the Rice AAF and Camp Rice should be considered eligible for listing in the NRHP, having sufficient integrity to reflect their important historical association with the DTC/C-AMA. He regards Rice AAF to be, by far, the best example of a DTC/C-AMA airfield. It was a multifaceted facility containing many important elements, still evidenced by elaborate, improved-surface runways, taxiways, dispersal pads, streets, rock-lined walkways associated with a tent area, and foundations for various temporary structures such as barracks, mess halls, kitchens, lavatories, bathhouses, operations, etc. Staff concurs with Bischoff’s eligibility recommendations for both the Rice AAF and Camp Rice. These resources meet all NRHP Criteria A, B, C, and D (also CRHR Criteria 1-4). [PP: 583]
 
The Rice Army Air Field site consists of three major areas: (1) the administration area, (2) runways, and (3) dispersal pads. The administration area is located at the north end of the site, just south of SR 62 and consists of a small road network, with the remains of former buildings, now restricted to concrete slabs and footings. Interpretation has led to their identification as the Administration Building, Base Operations Building, Barracks and Mess buildings, etc. At the lower center of the administration area, just north of the runway area, is a well-preserved concrete pad 800 feet long and 300 feet wide. It is likely (based partly on discussions with World War II veterans) that this served as a parade ground or deck for mustering and reviewing troops and equipment.
 
There are two runways at Rice Army Air Field that are at right angles to one another and that are oriented northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast, respectively. The runways themselves are to be 5,000 feet long and 150 feet wide. The broader, formerly cleared areas adjacent to and surrounding the runways create a giant V-shaped, cleared area with two legs, each 545 feet wide. Where the legs meet at the ‘V’, they are 1.07 miles long (short or inner edge) and 1.17 miles long (long or outer edge). As stated above, lighter-colored bursage has recolonized the runways to a density similar with that of the surrounding desert. Darker creosote bush, however, has recolonized only sparsely such that the runways are clearly visible on aerial photographs.
Features
The following is a summary of the most numerous types of features:
 
Rice Army Air Field is significant to our military history because it played an important role in training U.S. Army troops for World War II in North Africa. The combined training of air and land forces was a valuable tool for the men that would help win World War II. It would be eligible for the NRHP and the CRHR under Criterion A for its association with CAMA and Criterion B for its association with a significant historical figure, General Patton.
 
Rice Army Air Field and Camp Rice are important components to the NRHP-eligible DTC/CAMA cultural landscape district. A draft multiple property submission for this district was previously prepared and submitted, and is awaiting edits for final approval. Rice Army Air Field and Camp Rice are likely to be designated as contributing elements to this overall submission for the DTC/CAMA district. Integrity considerations for these types of sites are very different from traditional sites. As stated above, construction of permanent facilities for the DTC/CAMA was very limited, which reflects war time urgency as well as the commander’s desire for Spartan conditions. Further, when viewed as an important component of the whole, Rice Army Air Field and Camp Rice both help to convey the significance of this broader DTC/CAMA district. The integrity of location, design, and setting are generally still able to convey the significance of both Camp Rice and Rice Army Air Field. As a result, Rice Army Air Field and Camp Rice should be considered eligible for listing on the NRHP (and the CRHR) under Criteria A and B.
 
Although some features, such as the runways and dispersal pads remain in outline, Rice Army Air Field has become more of an archaeological site than an architectural site, as the structural remains have deteriorated. A multidisciplinary approach was therefore taken to this assessment, and included contributions by architectural historian Elizabeth Calvit and historic archaeologist Matt Bischoff. The developed context for the DTC/CAMA (Bischoff, 2000) played an integral role in directing the research, as did the participation of Mr. Bischoff in assessing existing conditions, evaluating archaeological deposits, refining the historic context, and reviewing NRHP eligibility statements.
 
 
Draft Historic Properties Treatment Plan Rice Solar Energy Project (November 2011)

Rice Army Air Field began as a municipal airport for Rice, a small town in the Mojave Desert in southeast California. Its original date of construction is unknown, but a review of 1932 Los Angeles Airways Chart determined that Rice Army Air Field was not constructed until after 1932 (Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields). Though no exact date of activation for Rice Army Air Field is known, Rice Municipal Airport was acquired by the IV Air Support Command on September 29, 1942, and was reportedly operational by October 26, 1942 (U.S. Air Force Historical Division, n.d.a).
 
Rice Army Air Field was constructed in a triangular plan, consisting of two 5,000 foot runways and numerous dispersal pads extending off the runways to the south (Bischoff, 2000). It is not certain if the airfield was originally constructed in a triangular plan or if this was a subsequent modification. The Desert Center AAF was also constructed in a triangular plan, while Shavers Summit AAF was a single air strip.
 
Rice Army Air Field, like Desert Center, was a sub-base of Thermal AAF. The facility was in the heart of DTC/CAMA operations, close to camps Iron Mountain, Coxcomb, and Granite. Exact numbers of personnel stationed at Rice Army Air Field are not known. As mentioned above, however, by late 1943 there were approximately 4,000 from the Army Air Forces in the DTC/CAMA, many of which were likely stationed at Rice Army Air Field. By August of that year, the nearby Blythe AAF housed 6,025 personnel. Rice Army Air Field was built using largely standard plan, theater of operations-type buildings. These were similar to those found at other airfields of the time, including Desert Center. Barracks, recreation and mess halls, power houses, along with various other support facilities were constructed, reportedly designed to house 3,000 men. The base also contained an electrical generating facility, water system, communications systems including control tower, base weather office, post exchange, and base headquarters. The airfield was located adjacent to the small railroad town of Rice, which consisted of a small cafe and store (Eberling, 1997; U.S. Air Force Historical Division, n.d.a).
 
The isolated location of Rice Army Air Field made life difficult for the men assigned there. Supplies were difficult to come by, no recreational facilities were available, there was little chance of advancement for those stationed there, the weather was difficult, and rations were unsatisfactory. According to the unit’s history, the 2nd Airdrome detachment experienced untold hardships in operating the base:
 
During the 7 months the 2nd Airdrome Detachment has been in existence, it has experienced great and continuous difficulty in obtaining supplies of all types, particular difficulty in obtaining engineering supplies absolutely essential in order to maintain mechanical and other fixed installations. Whether the Service Groups, the sections of the III Tactical Air Division, nor the sections at Headquarters at Thermal Army Airfield after Rice Army Air Field became a sub-base of Thermal Army Airfield have at any time provided what in the opinion of the undersigned would constitute adequate sources of supply (Costigan, 1944:3).

The morale of the 2nd Airdrome Detachment was not helped by the fact that there were no recreational facilities provided at the base. The detachment, however, purchased a motion picture projection machine, constructed an outdoor open top theater, and rented films from Los Angeles. The material for the theater was taken from “odds and ends” of other buildings. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provided benches taken from a Japanese-American Internment/Relocation Center 40 miles away on the Colorado River (Costigan, 1944).
 
In addition to the airdrome detachment, Rice Army Air Field was the home to several air units during the war. Most of the time, one tactical air unit was assigned to the base, although occasionally there were two. The 85th Bomb Group was transferred to Rice Army Air Field from Blythe Army Airfield in December 1942. From Rice, the group used several bombing and gunnery ranges nearby. The 85th Bomb Group remained at Rice until April 1943 (Hazenbush, 1944). Following the 85th, the 312th Bomb Group was assigned to Rice Army Air Field in the spring and summer of 1943. The 312th apparently trained in Douglas A-20 Havocs while at Rice. The A-20s had conducted some of the first strikes against Nazi targets in July of 1942, so their value was recognized early.
 
Later, the 339th Fighter Group was assigned to the field in September 1943. The 339th had actually been designated a Fighter Bomber Group in August of that year (following the end of the use of dive bombing, which the unit had been designated formerly), made up of three squadrons: the 503rd, 504th, and 505th Fighter Squadrons. While at Rice Army Air Field, pilots in the 339th trained in the Bell P-39 Airacobra. Like other units trained there, the 339th experienced largely unencumbered training due to good weather and absence of civilian populations. Also, similar to other air units at the DTC/CAMA, the 339th trained in providing close air support for ground units. The 339th participated in the large-scale maneuvers that were such an integral part of the training offered by the DTC/CAMA. The unit apparently spent 8 months at Rice Army Air Field before being sent to the port of embarkation for shipment overseas. In one of many ironic twists in the war, the unit eventually flew P-51 Mustangs, a much different aircraft with a completely different role than those they had trained in while at Rice Army Air Field (Stephenson, 1998). The 339th may have been the last air unit stationed at Rice.
 
On April 30, 1944, after approximately 2 years of operation, the U.S. Army closed CAMA and abandoned the 14 camps and airfields. By the following month, Rice Army Air Field was assigned to March Field as a sub-base, and the 2nd Airdrome Detachment was disbanded. The airfield was closed on August 2, 1944, and declared surplus in October. It was maintained for a while after this by a detachment of Squadron H from Thermal AAF (U.S. Air Force Historical Division, n.d.a). It operated as a civilian airport beginning in 1949. A 1954 USGS topographic map depicted Rice Army Air Field as having two paved runways, taxiways, and a ramp. Between 1952 and 1955 Rice Army Air Field became a private airfield; however, by 1958, it was abandoned (Freeman, 2009). Aerial photography and site visits by private citizens documented the airfield’s condition between 1996 and 2009. The runways, ramp, and pads were discernable from the surrounding desert landscape. There were no structures or buildings on the site.

Other Online Histories:
 
Wikipedia
Abandoned and Little Known Airfields
 
 
Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields (January 1945)
 
 
 
 
Site Map Click mao for a higher definition image.
 
 
Updated 29 August 2016