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Hamilton AFB

Template:Infobox military structure

Hamilton Air Force Base was a United States Air Force base located along the western shore of San Pablo Bay. It was then south of Novato, California, and is now part of Novato.[1]

History

Hamilton Airfield was named for First Lieutenant Lloyd Andrews Hamilton of the 17th Aero Squadron, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism at Varssonaore, 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.[2]

Origins

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.

The U.S. Weather Bureau had an official cooperative weather station on the base from 1934 to 1964.[3]

Pre-World War II use

Bomber Mission

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.

Fighter Mission

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.

Pearl Harbor Attack

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). Some of the planes managed to land at a short fighter strip at Haleiwa, one set down on a 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.

World War II

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:



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