16th BOMBARDMENT GROUP, VH
(SECOND AIR FORCE)
FAIRMONT ARMY AIR FIELD
|Operations in Puerto Rico
|Preparation for Overseas Movement (P.O.M.)
|Organization and Administration
|Supply and Equipment
The projected move to Borinquen Field, Puetrto Rico, was simplified early in the month by giving it the administrative status of an overseas movement. Under the new set-up, elements of the 16th Group at the advanced base became a task force under the code name "Gypsy".
This expediant was necessary to solve complicated problems of a flight over foreign waters, which involved customs and health regulations as well as foreign relations. Furthermore, it simplified the job of sorting out Fairmont Army Air Field and Group personnel for transfer to the advanced base.
Under this arrangement, anyone sent to Puerto Rico could be attached to the GTF (Gypsy Task Force) regardless of his previous organization. Therefore, administration at the advanced base on Borinquen Field would be centered in one organization.
Another advantage of the task force method of operation was that supplies could be drawn for one organization instead of two. These supplies would be expendable -- a practical necessity for running an organization so far from its home base.
The first aircraft for Borinquen Field left Fairmont Army Air Field on 3 January 1945. On board were Lieutenant Colonel Andre F. Castellotti, Major John S. Gillespie, Assistant Group Operations Ofrficer, and Captain Oliver C. Mosman, Jr.,
Group S-2, Together with other officers, they constituted the advance party which was to prepare the way for the rest of the organization.
The B-17 made the trip in less than 16 hours with one stop at Miami, Florida, for refueling. It was followed on 5 January by more B-17s, and on 9 January the first B-29s arrived with crews ready for training.
The 15th Squadron was the first to send its crews to Puerto Rico for 16 days of training. It was to be followed by the other two Squadrons in order.
PREPARATION FOR OVERSEAS MOVEMENT (P.O.M)
The other major event in January was the preparation for moving overseas. This was speeded up as February First -- the commitment date for the Ground Echelon -- approached.
The P.O.M inspection team arrived on the base in the middle of the month and checked the 16th Bomb Group thoroughly. Few major discrepancies were found in any section and the organization was pronounced ready for overseas duty.
The final processing for Ground Echelon personnel began on 22 January 1945.1 It lasted for five days and Group officers were the last to go through line.
The schedule called for men to be processed in groups of 10 and the line was closed strictly at 1700. Lieutenant Colonel Karl E. Springer, ex-officio Commanding Officer of the Groud Echelon, insisted that a physical check be made on every item of clothing and equipment specified in P.O.M. regulations.
1/ Memorandum Unnumbered, HQ 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 20 Jan 1945
The supply section continued its work and, by the end of the month, had practically all equipment crated and ready for shipment. It was decided to hold classified material until the last minute so it could be placed in a guarded freight car for the trip to the Port of Embarkation (P.O.E.).
Footlockers and other personal equipment were stenciled and sealed by the Supply Section and stored for shipment. Officers met considerable difficulty in obtaining the former item as there were few at Fairmont Army Air Field.
Visit to the Port
A preliminary visit was made to the Seattle P.O.E by Colonel Gurney on 14 January2. He was accompanied by Major Richard W. Kline, Group Air Inspector, and First Lieutenant Francis L. McLaughlin, Group Supply Officer. They inspected the facilities and returned to Fairmont Army Air Field with information needed to complete preparations for the movement.
A few days later, P.O.E. representatives visited Fairmont Army Air Field and discussed the movement with the Group staff. They requested that enlisted men travel to the port in fatigues and that officers wear Class B uniforms.
They requested that all possible equipment for the movement be obtained at Fairmont Army Air Field as there were shortages in certain items at the P.O.E. But the port would, as well as it could, replace missing items, they added.
ORGANIZATION AND ADMINISTRATION
Splitting the Group
Most of the organizational and administrative problems during the month
2/   Par. 8, S.O. #10, Hq 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 10 Jan 1945
Colonel Gurney expressed the wish that all men leaving for Borinquen be briefed thoroughly on conditions at the advanced base, including local regulations and customs duties on souvenirs brought back to the United States. Most of this information was unavailable at Fairmont Army Air Field.
Some information on conditions in Puerto Rico was given by Colonel William A. Miller, GTF Commander and former Commanding Officer of the Grand Island, Nebraska, Army Air Base. The field, he asserted, was one of the best under the control of the U.S. Air Forces.
Borinquen had been selected for the GTF operation primarily because of its ideal weather conditions, he explained. The only flying hazard, he added, was an occasional rain shower, which rarely lasted more than 20 minutes.
Military personnel would be limited strictly to the air field while in Puerto Rico, he said. This precaution was necessary to offset a large venereal disease rate among the civilian population.
But every attempt had been made to provide adequate recreational facilities on the field, he said. He described swimming pools, theatres, tennis courts and a golf course readily available to members of the group.
Route to Borinquen
The flights to Borinquen were scheduled for both B-17s and B-29s. Therefore, a variety of routes were established to meet the exigencies of weather and the varying capabilities of the two types of aircraft.
Under the set-up, the B-17s were assigned two routes. One ran from Fairmont Army Air Field to Galveston, Texas, then to Batista Field, Cuba, and then to Borinquen. The other route ran from Fairmont Army Air Field to Morrison Field, Florida, and then to Borinquen Field.
Major Robert L. Jones, Group Operations Officer, decided that it would be best to combine the B-29 Flights to Borninquen Field with a training mission. Therefore, the B-29 route was altered to give the crews the experience of 3,000 miles of navigation.
Prior to the flights, crews and passengers were carefully briefed on all phases of the mission, including customs regulations and censorship rules at Borinquen Field. The latter was the responsiblitiy of the Group S-2 section.
From a standpoint of obtaining information, the customs regulations presented one of the most difficult problems of the movement. At a community as far inland as Geneva, Nebraska, no offical information was available and men who had been in Puerto Rico gave conflicting accounts.
Eventually, it was determined that the customs regulations would permit returnees to bring into the United States 50 dollars worth of goods duty free. This included one gallon of liquor but no other type of food or drink.
On 23 January, a Second Air Force TWX3 flatly prohibited any importation by aircraft of goods purchased in Puerto Rico. But it pointed out that souvenirs
3/ TWX 2AF EV5626, CG, 2ndAF, to CO, FAAF, 23 Jan 1945
could be bought in the Borinquen Field Post Exchange and mailed back to the United States. This did NOT include liquor.
Under the TWX, all returning aircraft were to be searched at Fairmont Army Air Field and anything purchased in Puerto Rico impounded. Very few crew members attempted to violate the provisions of this directive.
The problem of censorship was a physical problem of doing the work instead of the question of obtaining information. The volume of outgoing mail at Borinquen Field was huge, sometimes attaining the proportions of 600 letters a day.
The task of censoring this mail fell to the Group S-2 section which never had more than three officers at the field at one time. Because of the ideal weather, other personnel were in the air most of the time and could offer little help.
S-2 officers were briefing crews as often as five times a day and spending hours at night reading mail. A verbal request was made to the GTF commander for special censorship personnel to ease the situation but by the end of the month no action had been taken.
Once censorship had been explained to the men there were very few violations and most of these were due to misunderstanding the regulations. Nevertheless, all outgoing mail was carefully checked.
It soon became evident that the group would have to change its basis of organization with the departure of the Ground Echelon for the overseas theatre. There would not be sufficient administrative personnel remaining to justify the line
between the three squadrons which had been maintained in the past.
Therefore each section was instructed to prepare for consolidation of its activities. The consolidation would, to a large extent, weaken the separate identities of the three squadrons and the 23rd Photo Lab.
One of the plans involved setting up a single orderly room in the Group Headquarters building for all units. A consolidation of S-2 and S-3 personnel was also contemplated.
The total strength at the end of the month was: 4
There were no outstanding shortages in any position although a superficial examination of the strength table5 would seem to indicate a few. Actually, these shortages were rapidly being made up by on-the-job training from another MOS.
There was only one important change in key personnel during the month. This took place on 9 January when Captain Kenneth H. Patton became the Group Communications Officer.6 He replaced First Lieutenant Wilfred E. Templeman.7
4/ Part I, Pages 1 & 3, WD, AAF Form 127, Hq 16th Bomb Gp (VH), Fairmont AAF, Geneva Nebraska, 31 Jan 1945
6/ Par. 3, S.O. #9, Hq 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 9 Jan 1945
7/ Par. 2, S.O. #9, Hq 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 9 Jan 1945
Transfer of Personnel
Towards the end of the month, the Group was carefully stripped of surplus personnel. A number of clerks, and armorers who, could not be carried under the authorized Tables of Organization were shipped to bases in the Second Air Force.
SUPPLY AND EQUIPMENT
Gypsy Task Force Supplies
The major task for the month was sending supplies to Borinquen Field. Advance information had indicated there would be ample amounts of needed material in Puerto Rico but this proved to be erroneous.
The S-2 and Navigation sections were faced with the greatest problems. Gypsy Task Force had ordered nearly nine tons of maps of the Caribbean area but their delivery was delayed.
Fortunately, Captain Arthur N. Umpleby, Fairmont Army Air Field Staff navigator, had ordered a large quantity of maps. These were sufficient for operations in the area.
The S-2 section found no briefing aids whatsoever at Borinquen Field. A major need was a public address system for the briefing room and baloptican.
The public address system was nonexistent, but this problem was solved by shipping a motion picture projector to Puerto Rico. When a microphone was attached to the amplifier, the system worked very well.
In addition, a baloptican, a quantity of acetate, grease pencils, maps, aerial photographs and target charts were sent to the advanced base.
Aerial photographs of the Caribbean area were unavailable at either Fairmont Army Air Field or Borinquen Field. But Captain Mossman managed to obtain a sufficient supply from Army Engineers at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Shortages which could not be alleviated included wallboard, photo-reproduction paper and a series of technical items.
The benefits of weather in Puerto Rico were demonstrated very clearly in the training statistics for the 15th Squadron which was the first to go to the advanced base. A training table prepared for 25 January8 depicted that squadron as practically complete in its transition training.
A Second Air Force compilation for 26 January9 listed the 15th Squadron as practically complete on missions one through twelve in first phase training and mission numbers one and four in third phase training. The other two squadrons spent most of the month in ground training.
Under the Gypsy Task Force set-up, all ground training was performed at Fairmont Army Air Field. This reduced the problem to a routine matter of scheduling and holding classes.
Maintenance was divided into first and second echelon at Borinquen and third
8/ Crew Nos 1501 to 1517, Crew Progress Chart/AAF Training Standards, 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 25 Jan 1945
9/ Crew Nos 1501 to 1517, 2nd AF Crew Progress Chart-Flying Training (VH), 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 25 Jan 1945
and fourth echelon at Fairmont Army Air Field under the GTF plan of operations. In either case, the major problems were caused by the special changes contemplated in aircraft of the 16th Group.
When the organization first arrived at Borinquen Field, attempts were made to fly training missions at 30,000 feet. But this altitude proved to be too much for aircraft which had not been stripped and which were being flown by inexperienced crews.
The altitude forced too many engine changes and several of the crews ran out of gasoline. Colonel George A. Blakey, Fairmont Army Air Field Commanding Officer, flatly prohibited flights above 20,000 feet.
This order was to remain in effect until aircraft could be stripped of armament and prepared for high altitude flights and until crews had more experience with cruise control.
During the course of the month, B-29s were gradually equipped with the APG-15, a radar set for the tail gunner. But by the end of January, no aircraft had been fitted with the APQ-7. However, the Group was informed that training aircraft fitted with the latter set would be available before the Group left Fairmont Army Air Field.
Facilities at Borinquen Field were excellent considering the haste with which the Gypsy Task Force had been organized. There was ample housing and office space and adequate provisions for recreation.
The group Headquarters was established in one wing of a former residence. The other wing was used as a headquarters for whatever squadron was on the field at the time.
At first, there was a shortage of office furniture but this was remedied by going through a series of offices and consolidating available supplies. Typewriters were not ample, but they were sufficient.
Officers were billeted either in BOQs or in houses and enlisted men in barracks. There was never any hot water in the latter.
As all men were strictly limited to the base, the Borinquen Field officials had put forth special efforts to provide recreational facilities. These included two swimming pools, tennis courts, a golf course, and post theatres.
The Post Exchange was very large and sold souvenirs of Puerto Rico as well as the usual items found in an army "PX". A special department facilitated customs problems.
On the last day of the month, a series of promotions were announced among the enlisted men, effective the first of February10. This was in accord with Colonel Gurney's announced liberal promotion policy.
There were few indications of the general state of morale. But it was believed that it was normal for an organization about ready for overseas movement.
10/ Par. 2, S.O. #31, Hq 16th Bomb Gp (VH), 31 Jan 1945
Captain Bernard J. Gannon, Group Chaplain, said in an interview that most of the problems with which he was confronted involved men who were worried about their families. This, of course, involved principally men who were assigned to the Ground Echelon.
GEORGE E. REEDY, JR.,
1st Lieutenant, Air Corps,
Several photos are included in the history, but have not yet been reproduced for inclusion on this web page.
There also exists several pages of substantiating data, that have yet to be transcribed. This data consists of special orders, memorandum, report forms and copies of TWX messages. This will take a long time to transcibe and I wanted to focus on transcription of the unit history first. Hopefully, my fingers will be able to stand this.