Sedalia Army Air Force Base, 1942-47

A new base

In the spring of 1942 a Board of Army officers was examining various sites around Sedalia, Missouri, for a proposed glider station. At that time, the Army Air Forces was attempting to find and develop bases that would accommodate the programmed expansion of its tactical air strength to fight a two-ocean war. One of the U.S. military organizations that desperately needed training bases was I Troop Carrier Command (TCC), which was organized on 30 April 1942 (almost five months after the Japanese Navy’s carrier air attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 41), to train combat troop carrier units and crews. In order to carry out its training program, the Command needed 12 airfields, one of which the Board of Army officers was examining at Sedalia.

The Board considered several sites, including the State Fairgrounds and a location near Dresden, but they could not be adapted for expansion to meet proposed training requirements. Therefore, the Board recommended a site location two miles south of Knob Noster, 12 miles east of Warrensburg and 22 miles west of Sedalia. That region, located in Johnson Country between the Missouri River to the north and the Lake of the Ozarks to the south, was formerly known as the “Blue Flats” because of the loose, gray-blue topsoil found in the area.

Acquisition of the site was handled by the Missouri River Division Real Estate Office in Omaha, NE, and according to the records in the U.S. Engineers Office in Kansas City, MO, the name Sedalia Glider Base was used to designate the site for the proposed glider station.

Before actual construction began on the field proper, work began on a spur rail track of the Missouri Railway to the proposed airfield site, which would feed the base in due time. Construction of runways started thereafter and, at one time, nearly 2,500 men, working in two 10-hour shifts, were employed in construction jobs on the base.

The overall project took approximately 1,943,000 man-hours, and in approximately 25 days the work was completed, breaking many construction speed records. The first building constructed and put to use was the old Headquarters building. Of interest is the fact that the first obstacle course was built from scrap lumber left over from the construction of various buildings on the base.

The base’s original construction consisted of 300 buildings, mostly barracks, warehouses, engineering, post exchange, bachelor officer quarters, hospital, officers’ mess, squadron mess halls, theater, recreation buildings, chapel, parachute building, post office and guard house; additional construction added 150 buildings. The base had four concrete runways, each 7,200 feet long and 150 feet wide, and for the operational fuel source, there were five 25,000-gallon tanks with an Aqua System. The base had four hangars, each 80 feet deep, 120 feet wide, side height of 25 feet, and center height of 38 feet.

Base activated

On 8 Aug 42, while construction was still underway, Sedalia Army Air Base was activated. There was a rush throughout the United States to complete training bases for air crews for the war and the base was placed under direct jurisdiction of I TCC at Scott Field, Indianapolis, Indiana. The primary mission of Sedalia Army Air Base was the activation of TCC groups and the advanced training of glider pilots.

At the outset, there were only five Army officers on the base, but a cadre of enlisted men and 11 non-commissioned officers arrived at Sedalia on 29 August. These men, drawn from the 363rd Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron at Camp Williams, Wisconsin, formed the nucleus of the 405th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron which was activated on 1 Sep.

The Sedalia Sub-Depot, later designated 325th Sub-Depot, was activated at Sedalia on 31 Aug for the purpose of supplying, maintaining and repairing all Army Air Forces equipment assigned to tactical organizations. These specialized functions of the Sub-Depot made it possible to furnish everything needed to keep the aircraft flying at Sedalia.

By September ’42, the base was ready for training operations. The first tactical organizations to be stationed and trained at Sedalia were the 50th Troop Carrier Wing, which established its headquarters on the base, and the 89th Troop Carrier Group together with its components. Other units that received valuable troop carrier training at Sedalia between Sept. ’42 and March ’45 were the 314th, 375th, 433rd, 435th, 438th, 439th, 440th, 441st, 442nd, 443rd and 449th Troop Carrier Groups.

On 15 April 43, the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing made its headquarters at Sedalia. The 60th Troop Carrier Wing established its headquarters at Sedalia from 15 June-19 July 43, and the 61st Troop Carrier Wing maintained its headquarters there from July 1943 up through the consolidation of all base units on 15 Apr 44. The 63rd Troop Carrier Group was the last of the tactical organizations in training at Sedalia at the time of the consolidation.

The majority of these tactical organizations assigned to Sedalia received on the average of three months training at that base before they departed for more advanced training at other bases in the I TCC.

During the summer months of 1943, a number of improvements, including hard surfacing of the roads by the Post engineers, the building of sidewalks and the renovation of several offices and buildings were made on the base. Indicative of the rapid growth of Sedalia since its activation was the fact that by 31 Aug 43 a total of 4,290 military personnel was assigned to the station.

Glider training facility

Training for TCC began slowly due to the fact that practically all personnel on the field were comparatively untrained and inexperienced in the department for which they were assigned. The absence of the proper classroom activities, which was a major handicap to the training program, was eliminated by the completion of a school building on 7 April 1943.

The U.S. War department created and printed an extensive Technical Manual for Advanced Glider Training on 8 April 1943, which provided precise training procedures for CG-4A glider pilots including familiarization, instructions, prior to take-off procedures, precautions before take-off, heavy load flight operations, tow positions, rough air operations, turning, cast off from tow ship, maneuvers, landing patterns, glide operations, traffic in landing patterns, low cut-off landings, dive approach for combat landings under enemy fire, night flying, emergency procedures and duties of the copilot.

The manual established procedures to be followed for TCC to standardize heavy glider transition on the CG-4A and to provide instructors and supervisory personnel with information so they could train proficient pilots.

The first maneuvers held at Sedalia Army Air Field were conducted on 24 Sep 43. A parachute battalion assigned to Alliance Army Air Base, Nebraska, had as a training objective to capture Sedalia field and its conversion to enemy use rather than destruction.

The field was alerted at 0200 hours that morning and the “White Plan” for the defense of the base was implemented. All military personnel had been restricted to the field the preceding night and at the first sound of the alarm, the “White Plan” immediately went into operation and all individuals and units moved to their assigned stations.

At 0400 hours, the first wave of enemy bombers attacked, concentrating on runways and hangar installations, which underwent simulated bombing and strafing. Twenty minutes later, paratroops landed with their immediate objective of capturing the control tower and other key installations, and maintaining the offensive until the arrival of airborne troops.

Gliders landed and discharged troops and equipment. Nearly an hour was required for paratroops to set up positions and gain the offensive. In spite of the long delay, attacking troops were credited with capturing key installations, achieving their objective and victory.

Training mishaps

Not all glider tow training flights from Sedalia went as planned. On 23 June 44, 45 C-47s towing gliders, some loaded with jeeps, were en route from Sedalia to Vichy Airport in Maries County when a glider broke loose from its C-47. Two pilots were flying the glider and they were able to land it safely in a pasture on the Everett Hopkins farm, two miles from Iberia; the pilots were subsequently picked up by a Sedalia C-47 and flown back to the base.

The grounded and intact glider remained in the pasture until it was picked up the next morning by a C-47 tow plane, with an exciting climax for how the glider was retrieved. An estimated 300 residents were present to witness the glider pickup — which was part of the glider and C-47 tow plane crew training at Sedalia Army Air Field.

The tow plane, in its pre-pickup action, first made a test flight over the pasture so the pilots could get their bearings, and on the next pass, flying at 300 feet, the crew chief threw out a towline from the rear, left of the open cargo door. The C-47 then picked up speed and flew away.

Preparatory to the pickup, two wood poles were erected and anchored together at the top by means of a looped nylon rope, with the other end attached to the glider’s tow-and-release mechanism. A metal hook at the end of the tow cable would snag the rope between the upright poles.

The glider was easily snatched from the pasture. The pickup hook was attached to the end of a 1,050-foot, 3/8-inch flexible steel cable and wound around a drum inside the C-47.

The cable playout was slowed by a set of multiple disc brakes, which gradually and smoothly accelerate the glider to the speed of the tow plane. The glider’s acceleration took from seven to eight seconds, with it ending approximately 600 to 700 feet trailing behind the C-47.

Base conversion

In the first year, during the period of construction and organization of the base, a major problem of Sedalia was the lack of adequate training facilities. By the first part of 1944, however, a fairly good training program was in operation. Actually, training was carried on by the individual tactical units, which placed emphasis on those subjects most vital and most important to their own interests and activities.

During 15 April-1 October 1944, conversion and change occurred at Sedalia and was probably the most far-reaching event in the entire history of Sedalia: the consolidation of all base units into the 813th Army Air Force Base Unit on 15 April 1944. Satellite fields were taken over and put under the direct control of Sedalia, including Vichy Army Air Field, Grand View Municipal Airport and Marshall Field, all in Missouri.

The basic mission of the 813th Army Air Force Base Unit and of Sedalia was to train combat crews and individuals for overseas replacements. Power pilots (C-47) were trained to tow gliders under single as well as double tow (this was a difficult operation with two gliders). Crew Chief schools familiarized mechanics with the duties of an aerial engineer on the C-47. Radio-Operator-Mechanic Communications, Navigation and Weather Schools also were conducted.

POW camps

During WWII, the U.S. was home to thousands of German and Italian POWs as well as a few thousand Japanese POWs. Today, the physical remains of these camps are all but gone, but by the end of WWII, America’s POW camps held 371,683 Germans, 50,273 Italians and 3,915 Japanese.

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to take custody of large numbers of Axis troops captured in North Africa and Sicily and, after the invasion of France on D-Day, German troops captured in Europe. However, it took until the middle of 1943 for the first American POW camps to convert from existing military facilities or part of new construction.

About 15,000 German and Italian POWs were sent to 30 camps in Missouri, to four main camps and 26 branch camps, where POW labor could be best utilized; primarily for agriculture work. The branch camps held between 50 and 300 POWs and were housed in any available structure that could be secured. Because the branch camps were often short-lived, many of their records have been lost or destroyed.

POWs were allowed to retain most of their personal effects, those that weren’t taken during prisoner searches. They were issued dark blue work clothes with a large white “PW” stenciled on the back to identify them as prisoners.

Standard Army-issued clothes to POWs consisted of four undershirts, a wool shirt, four pairs of drawers, two pairs of cotton trousers, two pairs of wool trousers, a belt, four pairs of socks, a pair of shoes, a pair of gloves, a wool coat, an overcoat and a rain coat.

The daily schedule for U.S. POW camps followed a definite schedule, which started with reveille at 0530 followed by breakfast at 0600. POWs then returned to their barracks to shave and shower, clean barracks and pick up area around barracks. At 0730 POWs started work in camp or, if cleared by U.S. Army authorities, boarded trucks for transport to agriculture work or permitted industrial work.

A bag lunch was served at noon out in the fields and work resumed at 1300. At 1630 work was done and POWs returned to camp where they were allowed to shower and clean up. Dinner was served between 1800 and 1900 and the remainder of the day was free time until lights out.

A detachment of POWs from Fort Leonard Wood worked at the branch camp at Sedalia Army Air Field in support of non-direct military operations. These POWs performed general upkeep and maintenance, repair, soil erosion control and road maintenance on the installation.

Many Sedalia residents protested the Germans’ presence to Governor Forrest C. Donnell and local union leaders protested their use in the surrounding civilian economy. Sedalia Army Air Field commander Col. Jerome McCauley described the prisoners to the Sedalia Democrat as “men who have been found to be of good behavior and not trouble makers, desiring to work where they were sent.”

The first group of German POWs, 139, arrived at Sedalia Army Air Field in May 1945. The war in Europe ended on May 8, but these troops had been in transit from the European Theater of Operations. Even after the surviving German high command signed the Allied terms of unconditional surrender, German POWs were still on their way to the United States. Another group of German POWs, 161, arrived from Fort Leonard Wood in July.

German POWs in the United States were retained to assist in harvesting the fall 1945 crops because the bulk of US service personnel had not begun to be released from war time duty and transported back home.

By September, the number of POWs dropped to 150, 90 by February 1946, with the remaining departing on March 8, 1946, which closed the surrounding Branch POW camps.

New functions

The major transportation of activity at Sedalia from January through March 1945 was centered around the conversion from C-47s to C-46s and the accomplishment of the different phases in combat crew training to facilitate C-46 training, the 197th C-46 Mobile Training Unit was moved to Sedalia on 19 Dec 44.

During July and August 1945, Sedalia continued to function as a combat crew training station for C-46 crews and, at the same time, it assumed the new function of providing central instructor training for combat crew training stations throughout the I TCC, a program that provided proficiency and teaching methods in all aspects of troop carrier flying. As a minor but independent mission during this period, the base served as a training encampment for Civil Air Patrol Cadets.

Immediately after the cessation of hostilities and the suspension of training, Sedalia participated in “Project Wonderful,” the ferrying of B-29 crews to new stations for ultimate overseas shipment.

On 28 March 46, the 813th Army Air Force’s Base Unit at Sedalia was redesignated 322nd Army Air Force Base Unit and, on the same day, the 322nd was assigned to Third Air Force and the base was assigned to Third Air Force. The base was also placed under the command of the newly organized Tactical Air Command.

More changes

Effective 1 Sep 46, Sedalia was placed in a temporary inactive status, which was to be completed by 1 October. All activities of technical and tactical training were curtailed and flying was reduced to an absolute minimum. All military positions were named, insofar as possible, by non-rated personnel; all surplus equipment and personnel were reported to higher headquarters for reassignment. Although temporary inactivation was completed, reassignment as a satellite station to an active station was not required and the 322nd continued with necessary operations under the control of commanding general, Ninth Air Force, Greenville, SC.

In May 1947, pursuant to a War Department Circular, Sedalia was placed on surplus status and the primary mission continued to be that of deactivation, with a contemplated closing date of 31 Aug 47.

On 26 July 47, with President Harry Truman’s signing of the National Security Act, the Department of the Air Force was born. During its period of inactivation Sedalia became an Air Material Command installation.

On 1 Aug 51, the 4224th Air Base Squadron was organized at Sedalia and effective the same date, Sedalia was assigned to Second Air Force, Strategic Air Command (SAC). The 4224th was responsible for monitoring the rehabilitation of Sedalia and for developing it to a point where it would be capable of supporting an airbase group and the base was to be developed to support a medium bombardment unit.