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Dover Air Force Base during the Korean War

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by Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins Jr., (DE ANG Ret)

 

The world’s postwar quietude was broken on June 25, 1950 when North Korean forces invaded the South and started the Korean War. The 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron “Rocketeers” was posted to the recently re-named Dover Air Force base for a brief period on August 13, 1950. Assigned to the 4th Fighter Group, they trained at Dover until November when they were deployed to air combat in Korea flying F-86A Sabrejets. The 336th was a lineal descendant of the famous Royal Air Force “Eagle Squadron” during World War II.

The dormant field reactivated in 1951 and was assigned under the Air Defense Command. Dover’s proximity to major industrial cities, as well as the nation’s capitol made it an ideal location for the air defense mission. The federalized 148th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard was assigned to Dover flying F-51 Mustangs.  During their tenure at Dover they would transition to republic F-84C Thunderjets, and then F-94 B and F-94C Starfire interceptor aircraft.

A year later the 80th Air Base Squadron activated, maintained and provided support services for the squadron and three other tenant units, including the 1737th Ferrying Squadron, Detachment 1909-6 Airways and Communications Services, and Detachment 4, 9th Weather Group.  The 1737th delivered aircraft including single-engine fighters to North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries.  In 1952 it pioneered “Operation High Flight” flying fighter aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean for delivery to Air Force units abroad and to our NATO allies.  It ferried over 2000 aircraft each year including 260 in one record-breaking month.  It also developed a “High Flight” program returning aircraft from Europe to the Untied States.
In November, 1952 the 46th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4709th Air Defense Wing relieved the demobilized Pennsylvania Air Guard 148th FIS, in the interceptor role at Dover AFB, also flying F-94 “Starfires”. Their job was to “stay aware and counter any attack by the Russian Bear.”   They maintained four F-94s of their twenty assigned aircraft on twenty four hour alert “cocked and loaded” for an airborne launch within five minutes.
On May 27, 1953 an order condemning 634 acres of land owned by the City of Dover was signed and ownership of the Base was passed to the United States Air Force.  A payment of $35,000 was proffered to the City of Dover based on the city estimate of investment and improvements for the land before WWII.

The Korean Crisis spurred another round of furious activity and expansion.  The former
collection of wartime-expedient frame and tarpaper buildings put great limitations on the
mission and had to be replaced by functional facilities. By October 1953, $22 million had been spent on facilities that would later total some $65 million among nine separate contractors. The expansion included dozens of structures including dormitories, mess halls, officer quarters, warehouses, as well as a post office, fire department, NCO and Officers Club, school, chapel, hospital, theater, gymnasium, laboratory and other necessary buildings.  Dover AFB was now a self contained, and self supporting city. Dover AFB retained the Fighter Interceptor Wing as part of the East Coast Defense System, but now added a new mission that would dwarf previous uses.

 

A New Mission

The foundation for a new mission was laid when, recognizing Dover’s strategic location, the Military Air Transport Service, (MATS), assumed control and began, with an appropriation from Congress, to transform the Base into the East Coast embarkation point and foreign clearing base, on 1 April 1952. Dover was selected as a port of aerieal embarkation because of its proximity to the anticipated theater of operations in Europe and Africa as well as its proximity to East Coast sea ports. Further a new MATS operation was required because the previous facility at Westover Massachusetts was being converted to a SAC base. These were the reasons offered during a 1952 Congressional hearing by the Air Force. The new mission included airlifting critical cargoes and high-priority
personnel to the Far East in support of the United Nations police action in Korea as well as support of overseas bases in the North Atlantic, United Kingdom, and Europe. In a little more than a year, four support units of MATS Atlantic Division set up on the base and became the nucleus that formed the 1607th Air Transport Wing (ATW).

The 1st Air Transport Squadron and the 21st Air Transport Squadron were reconstituted, in
September 1953 and activated on 18 November 1953 at Dover ADB, DE, as part of the 1607th Air Base Group.  They were re-designated as “medium” and formed the nucleus of the new Group. The “Medium” designation referred to their mission aircraft, the Douglass C-54G Skymaster which it flew until 1955. The first C-54G to arrive #45566 was assigned on December 3, 1953.  Rounding out the 1607th Air Base Wing was the 1607th Air Base Group, the 1607th Air Base Squadron, the 1607th Maintenance and Supply Squadron, and the 1607th Medical Group.

The 1607 ATW activated on 1 January 1954 and took over host unit responsibility for Dover from the 80th Air Base Squadron, which had been de-activated in August 1953.. The Base added population to eventually total some 9000 airmen and officers, as well as 500 civilian employees covering some 2000 acres. The Secretary of the Air Force designated Dover Air Force Base as a permanent Air Force installation on December 22, 1953.

Three more squadrons of airlifters were added in early 1954. On February 16, 1954 the 39th Air Transport Squadron and the 45th ATS were assigned to the 1607 ATW, becoming operational in March.  The 39th was re-designated “Medium” flying the Douglas C-54G Skymaster aircraft mostly to Rhein-Main Germany.

By the end of 1954, there were five flying squadrons operating out of Dover and it was well on its way to what is today the premier U.S. Air Force airlift base on the East Coast.

You can learn more about Dover AFB and the Korean War at http://www.militaryheritage.org/KoreanWar.html

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