Memories > Kingman Army Airfield

36,000 Gunners Trained During WWII
From Fifty Year Reunion Program, 1995.  (Author unknown)
In the course of human progress it seems an almost universal rule that, whenever someone states a need, someone comes along to fill it. In 1934, with the clouds of war building in Europe and threatening to drift westward, the Army Air Force stated a need for a heavy bomber. Bomber at
                KAAF - Photo #8955 Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle obliged with its Project 299. After putting the prototype through its paces in 1935, the Army ordered a fleet of the aircraft, now dubbed the B17, and popularly known as the Flying Fortress. And a fortress it was. It bristled with armament fore and aft, port and starboard, above and below. 

Now the need was to recruit gunners and find a place to train them in the use of the weapons aboard the Fortress. Each gunner would be required to become proficient in all positions.

In 1941, Major John C. Horton of the West Coast Flying Training Command Headquarters at Moffett field, California, took a trip to Kingman, Arizona, and found it the perfect location. The land was fairly level, the population was sparse, and land was available at a fair price.

Now the pace quickened, for on December 7, 1941, the 'Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. War was declared against the Japanese Empire, and shortly afterwards, against Germany. The B17, along with the rest of the family of war planes, was needed immediately on both fronts.

In May, 1942 the Army Air Force authorized the construction of a gunnery school in Kingman. The estimated cost was about 9 million dollars. In addition to the main facility, several emergency strips were built.  There was one at Red Lake, about 17 miles northeast of the base. Others were built near Topock, and Yucca.  Another was built at what is now Lake Havasu City Airport.

During construction of the base, there were a few problems among the workers. Food delivery was slow, Cafeterias were hurriedly built to feed the hands. There was also a housing problem, eventually eased by emergency construction of new units.

Davis Dam was being built during this time.  Work on the dam was temporarily suspended, and the construction crews were sent to Kingman to help with the new base.

They worked fast in those days.  On August 4, 1942, under the command of Lt. Colonel Harvey P. Hughn, the Army Air Force Flexible Gunnery School was officially declared open for business only a couple of months after the project started.

But before the business of the base could be conducted, the operation had to be organized. This was the job of 460th Base Headquarters squadron which moved in December 1, 1942.  Shortly afterwards, a new base commander was assigned This was Colonel George E. Henry, who reported on duty December 10.

Now came the first wave of people for whom the base was built:  the 1120th, the 1121st, 1122nd, and 1123rd Flexible Gunnery Training squadrons Also taking up residence at this time were the all black 334th Aviation Squadron, and the 100th Guard Squadron otherwise known as the Military Police.

Firing Shotguns - Photo #9922The new gunners were put to work immediately, but not in airplanes. The first part of their training was to assure their familiarity with weaponry of any kind. They were introduced to the BB Range. Here they used devices similar to the armament in the aircraft except their weapons fired only BBs. Once proficient with their BB guns, they graduated to shotguns (Possibly to grow accustomed to the recoil.) On completion of their preliminary training the gunners were finally allowed to enter the B17 and fire the actual weapons for which they had volunteered. This method of training paid dividends, for later on, in competition with other gunnery schools, the Kingman school often took top honors.

Service Club -
                  Photo #438 Morale was always an issue among a large group of young men miles from home, many for the first time, and no place to go with their weekend passes but the tiny desert town of Kingman. Enter Bob Hope, et. al. to the rescue. Other big name entertainers came to the base, such as the Three Stooges with their zany tomfoolery and Kay Kaiser with his orchestra and his fun and games. The USO organized other shows to help keep the people happy and willing to work all out for the war effort

Bugs Bugs Bunny was there, too.  With sanction from Warner Brothers, Bugs was adopted as the official base mascot. The poster of Bugs with fierce countenance, and armed to the teeth for war, was displayed in a most prominent location on the base.

On May 7,1943, the facility was officially named the Kingman Army Air Field. The base continued to grow and change during 1943. Many new squadrons were added to the base and some of the existing ones were combined. The 1120th and the 329th merged with the 328th to become the 328th Flexible Gunnery Training Group. The 1122nd, 537th, and 538th were consolidated to form the 1123rd Flexible Gunnery Training Group.  The 1121st became the 329th. The 536th and the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Groups were added to the list. Also assigned to the B17 fighting groups was the 31st altitude squadron, training for operations at high altitude.

KAAF Support Troops
                  - Photo #5850 Serving to augment the training groups were 1012th Quartermaster Platoon, the 684th Army Band, the First Weather Detachment 25 of the 858th Signal Service Company, Detachment 14 of the 909th Quartermaster and the 2053rd Ordnance Company. In 1943 a detachment of Chinese gunners was sent to Kingman for training.

There were aircraft other than the B17 assigned to the base. The AT 6, AT 1 1 and the AT 23 were used for flight training and target, towing.  The BT 18 was used for flight training.

KAAF Retreat - Photo #8344As often happens in massive programs employing large numbers of people and machinery working to the limit of their endurance, sudden tragedies will strike.  The Kingman training school was no exception. On January 2,1944, a B17 flying near McClellan Field, California, disintegrated in bad weather.  Of the thirteen men killed in the resulting crash, eleven were from Kingman.  Four days later, on January 6, a bus loaded with gunnery students bound for the base, crossed the railroad tracks just north of the entrance. The driver did not see the oncoming train. Train and bus collided, and twenty-eight students died.

On April 22, 1944, the Kingman Army Air Field was consolidated and redesignated the Army Air Force Unit 3018. Each of the units on the base became subdivisions of 3018. On June 15, Colonel Donald B. Phillips became the new base commander. During 1944 the 3018th was one of the top training schools in the United States.

KAAF Retirement - Photo #7910The war ended on both fronts in 1945. With peace in the world, there was no further need for a gunnery school. Or for the airplanes that carried the guns. The year saw the base gradually wind down to a stop.

Command of the base changed again to Colonel Walter L. Wheeler who became commander on April 1, 1945. Kingman Army Airfield was temporarily inactivated on June 30.  Colonel Lance Call became the base commander to supervise the deactivation. In the last quarter of 1945 the base designation changed again, becoming the 4184th. Base command changed twice more to Lt. Colonels James L. Meadows and John J. Radigan. At midnight, February 25, 1946, the gunnery training base became history.

On February 26 the training base became Storage Depot 41.

Depot 41, 7000 Planes - Photo #2576"Storage Depot" was a misnomer. The intent was to render thousands of airplanes down to aluminum ingots. Kingman was one of five sites chosen for the task. Never mind they were created for the purpose of mass destruction, those airplanes represented some of the finest and most complex examples of mechanical art ever produced by the human race up to that time. In addition to the B17s, other airplanes brought into the base included B24s, P38s, B26s,  A26s.  The job was finished by , the first quarter of 1948.  Seventy million pounds of aluminum from seven thousand airplanes were shipped out of Kingman.

A relatively few of the airplanes escaped destruction, and some are still flying today. Others rest in museums to be viewed by people who do not remember, or who do not understand the  meaning of what they are seeing.,

Job Done, seen the last of War - Photo #5473In July 1948, the Military released the base for civilian use, and it became a property of Mohave County.

View 13 Photographs of Kingman Army Airfield 1942 to 1948
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Mohave Museum of History and Arts
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Kingman, Arizona 86401