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Naval Air Facility, Thermal
(Thermal Ground Support Base, Thermal Army Air Field)
 
Located two miles southeast of the town Thermal, this Army Air Field was used by the Army to support training within the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA). Later in the war the Navy used it. The airfield is 119 feet below sea level.
Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
 

NAF Thermal
by M.L. Shettle

During the first year of U.S. involvement in World War II, the Army hurriedly established a training center in the California desert, 25 miles southwest of Palm Springs. General George Patton trained his army here in preparation for Operation Torch -- the invasion of North Africa. Known as Thermal Ground Support Base, the 2553-acre facility had two 5,000 ft. runways. Between March 1943, and May 1944, the Army attached several liaison and tactical reconnaissance squadrons to the airfield. Thermal had been inactive for six months when the Navy requested permission to occupy the base on December 2, 1944. Things were done quickly in those days and the Army gave verbal approval five days later. ACORN 29 and CASU II arrived aboard on December 7, and began readying the station. On December 12, the Commanding General, 4th Air Force gave the Navy official authorization to take over the airfield with the stipulation that the Army could reoccupy with 30-days notice.

Initially known as Naval Air Bases Detachment Thermal, elements of CAG 98 arrived in late December and flight operations began. Besides flying operations, the station also served as a pre-embarkation training center for ACORNS, CASUs, and Seabee units. The Navy officially commissioned NAF Thermal on February 1, 1945. A Ferry Service Unit was established for use by VRF-3. CASU 70, the last CASU created during the war, commissioned in March to support CAG 98.

The base's facilities were in rather poor condition. During the first few months of the Navy's occupancy, the ACORNS and Seabees made extensive improvements. Spread over four miles of desert, the usual Army tarpaper shacks were repaired and brought up to "Navy standards." The runways and taxiways had to be repaired and additional aircraft parking ramps installed. The Navy leased a recreation center, 2.5 miles from the base, with a swimming pool and dance hall for enlisted men. In addition, a local citizen supplied a house and swimming pool at a nearby ranch to the Navy. The house became the Commanding Officer's residence. Officers and their wives were allowed to used the pool. The ACORN, CASU, and Seabee training program ended on April 20, 1945, after ten such units had passed through the station.

CAG 98 was an operational training unit that administered refresher training -- similar to the East Coast's CAG 97. CAG 98 also maintained units at Los Alamitos and Ventura. Activity of CAG 98 peaked between June and September 1945, when 375 pilots received rocket, gunnery, and bombing training. Aircraft strength reached 115 including the F6F, F4U, TBM, SB2C, and SBD. Station aircraft consisted of a J4F, an N2S, an NE, and a GB.

Located in the Coachella Valley 150 feet below sea level, the place was named Thermal for a reason. Daily summer temperatures reached 120F in the shade soaring much higher on the concrete ramp. Conducting training here was not easy and summer flight operations took place from 0300 to 1300. In the heat of the day, the ground crews simply could not service the aircraft. At those temperatures, just touching hot aluminum would blister the skin!
 
The Navy closed Thermal on November 1, 1945, returning the field to the Army two months later. Today, Thermal is a municipal airport serving gener al aviation. Among the World War II buildings surviving is a hangar that is presently used by the local Fixed Base operator.

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