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|Hamilton Army Airfield|
|Part of Air/Aerospace Defense Command|
|Located near Novato, California|
Hamilton AFB, 2006 US Geological Survey photo
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Controlled by||United States Army Air Forces|
United States Air Force
|Garrison||Aerospace Defense Command|
|Hamilton Army Airfield|
|Part of Air/Aerospace Defense Command|
|Located near Novato, California|
Hamilton AFB, 2006 US Geological Survey photo
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Controlled by||United States Army Air Forces|
United States Air Force
|Garrison||Aerospace Defense Command|
Hamilton Airfield was named for First Lieutenant Lloyd Andrews Hamilton of the 17th Aero Squadron, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism in action" at Varssonacre, Belgium, in leading a low level bombing attack on a German airdrome 30 miles (50 km) behind enemy lines on August 13, 1918. Thirteen days later Hamilton died in action near Lagnicourt, France.
What would eventually become Hamilton Air Force Base has its origins in the late 1920s, when the airfield was first established. Known at first unofficially as the Marin County Air Field, as Marin Airfield, as Marin Meadows Air Field, and as the Army Air Base at Marin Meadows, it was officially termed from 1929 until 1932 the "Air Corps Station, San Rafael." Then, with formal development beginning, it was named Hamilton Army Air Field on July 12, 1932.
Construction of the airfield began about July 1, 1932, with the airfield being originally designed to accommodate four bomb squadrons and their personnel. Captain Don Hutchins of the Army Air Corps reported on duty as the first commanding officer of the new field on June 25, 1933, and Captain John M. Davies' 70th Service Squadron arrived that December as the first squadron assigned to the base.
The Hamilton Field Station Complement replaced the 70th Service Squadron on March 1, 1935. The original construction program was completed on May 12, 1935, at which time the field was ceremonially handed over to Brigadier General Henry 'Hap' Arnold, commanding the First Wing, by Governor Frank Merriam of California.
Hamilton was originally designed as a bomber installation. On May 5, 1934, the first planes assigned to Hamilton were Martin B-10 and B-12 bombers of the 7th Bombardment Group, being transferred from March Airfield. Shorty thereafter amphibious reconnaissance aircraft of the 88th Observation Squadron were assigned to Hamilton.
The B-12 bombers housed at Hamilton Field were phased out in 1937 and the 7th Bomb Group was reequipped with the Douglas B-18 Bolos. The B-18, was a standard two engine short range bomber, and was capable of airlifting combat equipped troops en masse, an important advance in combat techniques at the time.
The next step forward in bomber technology was the development of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a four engine airplane that was bigger, faster, and heavier than any previous bomber and required a longer and stronger runway to operate. Because the runway at Hamilton Field was not adequate for the B-17, the larger planes had to go elsewhere. In 1939 the 7th Bombardment Group was designated as a "Heavy" bomb group and was moved to Fort Douglas, Utah on September 7, 1940 to train with B-17s.
Hamilton became a fighter base under the USAAC Air Force Combat Command in December 1940, becoming the home of the 9th, 10th and 11th Pursuit Wings. The 9th PW was reassigned from March Field, bringing the 14th and 51st squadrons equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. Two other wings, the 10th PW with the 20th and 35th Groups and the 11th PW, with the 11th, with the 54th and 56th Groups were activated at Hamilton in December 1940, all equipped with P-40s and a scattering of older Curtis P-36 Mohawks
The arrival of the pursuit wings and their crews caused crowding at the base and initiated the first of many housing problems. Hamilton was assigned to the USAAC 4th Air Force, on December 7, 1941 and the airfield was designated as an air defense base for the west coast as part of the Western Defense Command on January 5, 1942.
In response to the growing crisis in the Pacific, on December 6, 1941, the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron (30th Bombardment Group) with four B-17Cs and two new B-17Es left Hamilton Field bound for Hickam Field, Hawaii on their way to Clark Field in the Philippines to reinforce the American Far East Air Force there. None were armed. After leaving Hamilton, and flying all through the night, the bombers arrived over Oahu on the morning of December 7, 1941, and faced an unusual welcome. The B-17s had arrived over Oahu during the Japanese air attack on Hawaii which triggered American entry into World War II. They arrived at Pearl Harbor at the height of the attack (radar operators mistakenly thought that the Japanese attack force was this flight arriving from California). Two of the planes managed to land at a short fighter strip at Haliewa, one made a belly-landing at Bellows, one set down on the Kahuku Golf Course, and the remainder landed at Hickam under the strafing of Japanese planes.
The B-17Es of the 7th Bombardment Group were moved back to Hamilton from Utah for deployment to the Far East. Six of them arrived in Hawaii just after the Pearl Harbor attack, but the rest of them were ordered to remain in the United States to defend California and were sent south to Muroc AAF near Rosamond.
During World War II, Hamilton was an important West Coast air training facility. Its mission was that of an initial training base for newly formed fighter groups. The airfield was rapidly expanded to a wartime status, with construction of additional barracks, mess halls, administration buildings, warehouses, Link trainer buildings, schools, hospital and other structures.
The following units trained at Hamilton:
|Group||Assigned Dates||Aircraft Type|
|78th Fighter Group||May 1942 – November 1942||P-38 "Lightning"|
|329th Fighter Group||July 10, 1942 – July 13, 1942||P-38 "Lightning"|
|354th Fighter Group||November 10, 1942 – January 18, 1943||P-39 "Airacobra"|
|357th Fighter Group||December 1, 1942 – March 4, 1943||P-51 "Mustang"|
|363rd Fighter Group||March 1, 1943 – August 1943||P-39 "Airacobra"|
|367th Fighter Group||July 15, 1943 – October 11, 1943||P-38 "Lightning"|
|369th Fighter Group||August 1, 1943 – November 5, 1943||P-40 "Warhawk"|
|372nd Fighter Group||October 28, 1943 – December 7, 1943||P-40 "Warhawk"|
|478rd Fighter Group||December 1, 1943 – December 12, 1943||P-39 "Airacobra"|
Auxiliary training fields used by Hamilton AAF during World War II were:
In addition, the Air Transport Command (ATC) used Hamilton as a major aerial port and transshipment facility for troops and cargo heading to the Pacific and CBI Theaters. The ATC West Coast Wing was headquartered at the airfield, with the 64th Transport Group being assigned early in 1942. The 1503rd AAF Base Unit was also stationed here.
In the initial postwar years, Hamilton remained Air Transport Command's primary West Coast facility until 1948 when Military Air Transport Service (MATS) moved most activities to nearby Travis AFB. During this time Hamilton functioned also as a major separation center for returning troops. MATS, and later Military Airlift Command (MAC), retained a presence at Hamilton through the Air Force Reserve, which based several Air Transport, and later Military Airlift wings at the base until it closed in 1976. Strategic Air Command also assigned several reserve reconnaissance groups to Hamilton in the late 1940s, flying photographic missions with RB-29 Superfortresses. Tactical Air Command assigned the F-84 Thunderjet-equipped 349th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the mid-1950s to Hamilton also as part of its reserve forces.
However, the new Air Defense Command, was the major presence at Hamilton after World War II, using the base as headquarters for the air defense of the Pacific Coast. The base went through a series of command redesignations during this period. In the United States Army Air Forces reorganization of 1946 it was assigned to Air Defense Command. Later, in 1948 the base was assigned to Continental Air Command, then back to Air Defense Command/Aerospace Defense Command in 1951 then, as its usefulness waned, to the Air Force Reserve in 1970.
The initial Air Defense Command major unit at Hamilton was the 325th Fighter Group which was reassigned from Mitchel AAF, New York on April 9, 1947. Squadrons of the 325th FG were the 317th and 318th Fighter Squadrons, both being initially equipped with the Northrop P-61 Black Widow. The units mission was air defense training missions along the West Coast.
In the immediate postwar years, the Black Widow was pressed into service as an air defense interceptor in response to the USAAF's problems in developing a useful jet-powered night/all-weather fighter. The war-weary P-61s were soon replaced in May 1948 by the North American F-82F Twin Mustang, and on May 10 the Wing and component Groups and Squadrons were redesignated as All Weather. The 325th was the first Air Defense Command group to receive the F-82.
The 325th Fighter Wing (All Weather) also was established on May 10, 1948 as part of the Wing-Base concept, with the 325th Fighter Group becoming a subordinate unit of the wing. The unit was transferred on June 27, 1948 to Moses Lake AFB, Washington for the purpose of defending the Hanford Nuclear site.
With the departure of the 325th for Washington, the 78th Fighter Wing was activated at Hamilton on November 16, 1948, with the 78th Fighter Group being reassigned from Mitchel AFB as its subordinate operational unit. During World War II, the 78th Fighter Group trained at Hamilton with P-38 Lightnings in 1942 and served as part of its air defense organization. Although briefly inactivated between 1952 and 1956, the 78th Fighter Wing was the host unit at Hamilton until it was inactivated in 1969.
The 78th Fighter Group's initial operational fighter squadrons were the 82d, 83d, and 84th (Jet). The 82d and 83d squadrons were equipped with F-51D Mustangs, while the 84th flew the Republic F-84B Thunderstreak. As its predecessor, the 325th, the mission of the 78th Fighter Wing was the air defense of the Pacific coast. The wing and subordinate units were redesignated as the 78th Fighter-Interceptor Wing on January 20, 1950.
The first production Northrop F-89B Scorpion interceptor was accepted by the USAF during February 1951, and entered service with the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. However, in retrospect, the F-89B was rushed into squadron service too rapidly. There were not enough trained pilots and radar operators, and there were not enough maintenance personnel who knew the intricacies of the complex and troublesome Hughes E-1 fire control system. The in-service rate of the F-89B was appallingly low, and crashes were all too frequent.
In 1949, the ADC Western Air Defense Force (WADF) was established at Hamilton on September 1 and the 28th Air Division (28th AD) was activated December 8. The WADF was responsible for the air defense of the Western United States, and controlled air defense units in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico. Its subordinate 28th AD controlled the operational air defense Groups and Squadrons.
As part of a reorganization of Air Defense Command, on February 6, 1952 the 78th FIW was inactivated and in its place, the 4702d Defense Wing stood up at Hamilton. The 4702d was a placeholder unit until the 566th Air Defense Group of the 28th Air Division assumed control of the base on November 7, 1952. Units of the 566th ADG at Hamilton were:
During its time at Hamilton, the 325th FIS sponsored the "Sabre Knights" aerial demonstration team. In August 1955 the 325th unit designation was transferred to Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin.
The 496th FIS was activated on March 20, 1953 as a fighter-interceptor squadron at Hamilton as part of the west coast air defense forces. Partially equipped at first with six F-51Ds, the squadron soon transitioned to F-86D aircraft and prepared to move to Europe. In August 1954 the 496th FIS was transferred to Hahn Air Base West Germany to stand air defense alert. Although based at Hahn, the 496th FIS was assigned to the USAFE 86th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Ramstein Air Base.
On August 18, 1955 the 78th Fighter Group (Air Defense) was reactivated at Hamilton under the 28th AD with the 83d and 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons flying F-86D Sabres.
In 1956, it was decided to elevate the operational units at Hamilton back to a Wing level, and the 566th ADG was inactivated, and the 78th was redesignated as the 78th Fighter Wing (Air Defense) on September 14, being reactivated on October 18. The reactivated wing consisted of the 83d and 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons.
The 78th Fighter Wing was initially equipped with the North American F-86D interceptor version of the Sabre. Although, in reality it was a quite different aircraft than the F-86H model, the predominant version used after the Korean War. In the late 1950s, the F-86D served as the main air defense weapon against Soviet bomber attacks. In retrospect, the Soviet bomber threat was grossly exaggerated, but it cannot be denied that the presence of the F-86D interceptor was an important deterrent.
The Lockheed F-104A had originally been scheduled to replace the North American F-100 Super Sabres of the Tactical Air Command beginning in 1956. However, by the time that the F-104A was finally ready for delivery, Air Force requirements had changed. The Starfighter's relatively low endurance and its lack of ability to carry a significant offensive weapons load made it no longer suitable for TAC. Consequently the TAC lost all interest in the F-104A even before it was scheduled to enter service.
This might ordinarily have been the end of the line for the F-104A. However, delays in the delivery and development of the Convair F-106A Delta Dart Mach 2+ fighter-interceptor for ADC Command had at that time become worrisome, and the USAF decided to go ahead and accept the F-104As originally destined for the TAC and assign them to the ADC as a stopgap measure.
The selection of the F-104A for the ADC was sort of curious, since it had not been originally designed as an interceptor and it lacked an adequate endurance and had no all-weather capability. However, its high climb rate made it attractive to the ADC and it was hoped that the Starfighter could fill in until the F-106 became available.
First to get the F-104A was the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton, replacing the F-86Ds and became operational with the type on February 20, 1958. In October 1958, twelve F-104As of the 83rd FIS were crated and airlifted by C-124 transport to Taiwan, where they served temporarily with the Republic of China Air Force during the Quemoy crisis. The crisis was peacefully resolved, and the aircraft were returned to the USA.
The F-104A was not very well suited for service as an interceptor. Its low range was a problem for North American air defense, and its lack of all-weather capability made it incapable of operating in conjunction with the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) system. The F-104As were replaced by the end of 1960 by more heavily armed all-weather McDonnell F-101B Voodoos. The F-104As were then transferred in 1960 to Air National Guard squadrons.
With the relative failure of the F-104A in the interceptor role, the 84th FIS was re-equipped with the McDonnell F-101B Voodoo in 1959 and the 83d FIS in 1960. The F-101Bs were modified versions of the SAC F-101A nuclear attack aircraft (designed for one-way missions carrying tactical nuclear weapons) by modifying the avionics systems and fire control systems for air to air missiles. The last F-101Bs were delivered in March 1961, and once the teething troubles with its fire control system issues were corrected, the F-101B proved to be a quite successful interceptor. However, it was outshone by the faster and more maneuverable Convair F-106A Delta Dart when that interceptor finally entered service.
Along with the F-101Bs, The dual-seat F-101F trainer was also flown at Hamilton. F-101Fs were equipped with dual controls, but carried the same armament as the F-101B and were fully combat-capable.
The Convair F-106A Delta Dart replaced the F-101 at Hamilton during 1968. The F-106 was considered by many as being the finest all-weather interceptor ever built. It served with the 84th FIS until 1987, nearly 20 years. On September 30, 1968 the 498th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron was transferred to Hamilton from Paine AFLD, Washington and was inactivated, with its F-106s being reassigned to the 84th FIS.
On April 1, 1966, in addition to reactivating the Fourth Air Force, U.S. Air Force, the Headquarters Western NORAD Region (North American Air Defense Command) was activated at Hamilton AFB. This headquarters was not only responsible for the aerospace defense of 11 western states, but also controlled defense forces in two western Canadian provinces. NORAD was a joint U.S. Air Force/Royal Canadian Air Force (Canadian Forces after February 1968) organization. The new Western NORAD Region command combined the 25th, 26th and 27th NORAD Divisions, which were headquartered at McChord AFB Washington, Corvallis Oregon, and Luke AFB Arizona, respectively. West coast radar stations were under the command of headquarters at Hamilton AFB. Data was fed to the NORAD SAGE Combat Center (SCC-5) blockhouse at HAFB via the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system. The SAGE Combat Center utilized a three-string AN/GSA-51 computer system. Headquarters Western NORAD Region was inactivated at Hamilton Air Force Base on December 31, 1969.
On December 31, 1969, the 1st Fighter Wing (Air Defense) was reassigned from Selfridge AFB, Michigan as a result of its closing, replacing the 78th Fighter-Interceptor Wing which was inactivated. Its operational squadron was the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron which was reassigned from the inactivating 78th FIW. The 84th FIS continued to fly the F-106.
At Hamilton the 1st FW was an administrative organization of the ADC 26th Air Division. Although an Air Defense Command wing since the founding of ADC in 1946, the 1st Fighter Wing had long and deep traditions as a Tactical Air organization since its World War I origin in 1918. As the Vietnam War wound down, Headquarters Tactical Air Command was directed to preserve the lineage of many units which had command-controlled designations that gave them no history or traditions. HQ ADC transferred the 1st FW without personnel or equipment to TAC on October 1, 1970 to replace and absorb all assets of the 15th Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
With the transfer of the 1st FW, the 84th FIS continued to operate at Hamilton until August 30, 1973 directly under the Aerospace Defense Commands 26th Air Division.
The 84th FIS was reassigned to Castle Air Force Base near Merced, California on September 1, 1973 as part of Hamilton's closedown, transferring its F-106s and effectively ending the air defense role of Hamilton AFB.
At Castle, the 84th FIS continued to fill the Air Defense role throughout the 1970s, eventually retiring its F-106s in 1981. The squadron was redesignated the 84th Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron on July 1, 1981 flying T-33s as its primary aircraft for live electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) training. Participated in live flying exercises as targets for various Tactical Air Command ADTAC air divisions and for the F-15s of the 49th TFW at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The 84th FITS also flew target missions for the weapons controller training program.
The 84th FITS was inactivated on February 27, 1987.
Along with its air defense mission, Hamilton AFB was Headquarters for the 349th Military Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit which was activated on May 10, 1949 and operated at Hamilton through July 25, 1969 with the exception of a brief period during 1951/52. The wing was assigned to Continental Air Command (ConAC), however when activated the wing was allocated to Military Air Transport Service/Military Airlift Command.
The 349th was bestowed the history and lineage of the World War II 349th Troop Carrier Group, which had been part of the Ninth Air Force IX Troop Carrier Command in Europe. Units attached to the 349th MAW (under various designations) were the 349th Troop Carrier Group, Medium (June 27, 1949 – April 2, 1951) and 310th, 311th, 312th and 313th Troop Carrier Squadrons. It was known as the "Golden Gate Wing" and flew the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando. During the Korean War, the reserve personnel of the 349th were called to active duty and used as fillers in other wings that were not up to combat strength. Consequently, the 349th TCW was inactivated on April 2, 1951.
With the reconstruction of reserve forces on May 26, 1952, the unit was reorganized as a Tactical Air Command fighter-bomber wing and it was reactivated on June 13 as the 349th Fighter-Bomber Wing. Its operational squadrons were the 310th, 312th, 313th, 313th and 8649th squadrons (August 20, 1954 – February 6, 1956). As a tactical fighter-bomber wing, the 349th flew the North American F-51 Mustang (1952–1954), Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star (1952–1956), and the Republic F-84 Thunderstreak (1956–1957).
In September 1957, the unit was redesignated as the 349th Troop Carrier Wing, Medium, with the following squadrons: (97th, 312th, 313th, 314th Troop Carrier Squadrons) and assigned to Tactical Air Command.
The 349th flew the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. The wing was ordered to active service on October 28, 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The 349th, like the other reserve troop carrier wings, was completely equipped and ready to move with only a few hours notice as was the case during the Cuban call-up. Only four hours after the first call to report for duty was made, 95 percent of the wing's flying personnel had checked in and were ready to move. With the cessation of the crisis, the wing was relieved from active duty on November 28.
The 349th was redesignated the 349th Military Airlift Wing on June 1, 1966 when the unit was reallocated to Military Airlift Command. The Wing controlled four (921st, 938th, 939th and 941st) airlift groups.
The unit flew the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II. A recall to active duty was again initiated on January 26, 1968, in response to the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korea. During the Vietnam War, the wing airlifted many thousands of tons of cargo across the Pacific to support U.S. forces throughout the Southeast Asia and Pacific theaters of operations, as well as points in Europe and the Middle East.
On July 25, 1969 the 349th MAW was transferred to Travis AFB.
On January 1, 1972, the Air Force reassigned the Air Force Reserve's 452d Military Airlift Wing from March AFB, California to Hamilton AFB. At Hamilton, the wing converted to C-130B Hercules on April 1, was redesignated the 452d Tactical Airlift Wing (452 TAW). In October 1973, the 452 TAW became the "host wing" for Hamilton AFB. As a result of the base closure decision regarding Hamilton, the 452 TAW transferred back to March AFB in 1976 for redesignation as the 452nd Air Refueling Wing (452 ARW) and transition to the KC-135E Stratotanker.
The Air Force curtailed its activities on the base after October 1, 1973 when the 452d was relieved of host base responsibility, with most of the base being transferred to the U.S. Army as Hamilton Army Airfield. The Pacific Strike Team of the U.S. Coast Guard occupied two of the historic hangars. The housing was transferred to the U.S. Navy and a 411-acre (166 ha) parcel of the base being transferred to the General Services Administration (GSA) for public sale.
The 452d TAW operated at a low level of activity until January 11, 1976 when an agreement was finally reached to close Hamilton as part of the post-Vietnam War drawdown of the military. The base was placed in a caretaker status on that date pending final disposition. A controversy then developed over future civilian use between those supporting its adaptation into a major civilian airport, those bitterly opposed to its continued use as an airfield at all, and those holding varying intermediate degrees of opinion
The GSA public sale occurred in 1985, and finally in December 1988 The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommended closure of the last 700 acres (2.8 km2) of government land at Hamilton Army Airfield. As a consequence of BRAC 1993's closure decision regarding all of the U.S. Navy's San Francisco area bases (NAS Alameda, NAS Moffett Field, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, NAVSTA Treasure Island, the Navy vacated its Hamilton housing in 1996.
Following its closure, many of the facilities at the airfield have been reclaimed by the city of Novato and county of Marin for public use. The airfield is also part of tidal wetland restoration effort currently underway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (San Francisco District), California Coastal Conservancy, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. This multi-agency construction and environmental restoration effort is called the Hamilton Wetland Restoration Project and is funded by federal, state, and regional burses.
Several structures have been removed and replaced with a housing subdivision known as Hamilton Landing. Some of the hangars have been converted into offices, retaining their façade while being renovated on the inside. Several other old AAF/AFB buildings remain intact, either awaiting demolition or renovation. The Discovery Channel show MythBusters has used hangar space at Hamilton to carry out some of their experiments. Some scenes for the 1984 film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were filmed at Hamilton, as were some scenes from the 1983 film, The Right Stuff.
The U.S. Coast Guard currently owns 282 Spanish style duplexes and homes; these units were part of the old Hamilton Air Force Base housing. Due to the buildings' age, there is a need for maintenance. Many issues experienced with older homes are experienced by Coast Guard tenants, such as insufficient wiring and water damage. Access is limited to U.S. Coast Guard tenants and their families, however, thru traffic is a common occurrence.
Today, many of the old buildings are intact, including a large number of decrepit-looking wooden barracks apparently remnants of the World War II era. Extensive defunct aviation facilities are still visible, including taxiways and nine large hangars.
Significant pollution by toxic agents has been identified around the former military base.
The base was originally built via contract awarded December 5, 1933; most of the buildings were complete by late 1934. Captain Howard B. Nurse, Construction Quartermaster, supervised the design and construction. He departed from traditional base design by rendering the buildings in the Spanish Eclectic (Spanish Revival) style then popular in California. Churrigueresque elements adorn the more important buildings. Reinforced concrete walls were covered in stucco to appear similar to earlier California missions; mission tile roofs topped the buildings. Recessed porches, cantilevered balconies, polychrome tile bands and wrought iron grillework complement the designs.
In 1993 and 1994, the Historic American Buildings Survey documented many of the structures within Hamilton Field, assessing each one for historic value.
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