Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields
Big Lagoon Bombing Target Number 12
by SGM Dan Sebby, Historian, California Military Department


Prior to Navy use, the Site was undeveloped land owned by the then California State Parks Commission, now the California Department of Parks and Recreation. There was some placer gold mining conducted on the sand spit during the 1930s.

On 13 April 1944, the Interdepartmental Air Traffic Control Board (IATCB) approved a three mile radius area around a point located at North 41o 11', West 124o 07' 30" for a dive bombing target to be aligned with Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Arcata. The IATCB action began the process of acquiring the required property at what was and still is known as Big Lagoon.

The Big Lagoon Target No. 12 consisted of 153.03 acres that was acquired by leasehold from the California State Parks Commission. It should be noted that on 12 June 1944, the Special Assistant to the United States Attorney General, acting on behalf of the Navy Department, filed a condemnation suit against what was thought to be the landowners of what became Big Lagoon Target No. 12 and Humboldt Bay Target No. 13 (341.51 acres). However, it was soon discovered that the Big Lagoon site was owned by the State of California. Negotiations were successfully concluded and the land was leased to the U.S. Navy for $1.00 per year.

The acquisition of Big Lagoon was completed in June 1944, but the adverse weather prevented full utilization of the facilities until September 1944. From September 1944 until June 1945, the rocket training program was accelerated to a very high degree with the average size carrier based squadron completing its training at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Arcata in the course of a week.

The Big Lagoon Target No. 12 was located on the lagoon side of the long sand spit that separates the lagoon from the Pacific Ocean. A Property Acquisition Map, dated April 1944, indicates that the target's proposed boundary extended from the south end of the spit, up to the north end of the spit, and east over approximately one half of the lagoon.

The target consisted of a 100 foot radius made of drift logs painted orange and white with a radar screen in the center. There were five raft markers, placed every 1,000 feet, and positioned in a straight line across the lagoon from the target toward Highway 101. Also in the lagoon, north of the raft markers, was a six foot by six foot Observers' Tower on a raft. The Range Control Radio Shack consisted of a "Dallas Hut" (a prefabricated wood frame and plywood structure) with a flat roof for the tower. A second Observers' Tower was located on the spit next to the target area and was six feet by six feet by eight feet. Range House No. 1 was located 4,000 feet south of the target on the ocean side of the spit; the Range Spotters Station was located 1,000 feet south of the target; the Deflection Spotters Station was located in the lagoon to the southeast of the target.

Due to the heavy fog in the area, NAAS Arcata underwent a change in its mission and during January of 1945, the Station was approved for the installation of an experimental Fog Dispersal Unit. During the initial period of this installation, the rocket training program continued at a high speed, with weather conditions exceptionally favorable. However, around the first of June 1945, it was felt that the rocket training program could not be continued further because of adverse fog conditions. On 1 July 1945, the Fleet Air Training Detachment One withdrew from NAAS Arcata altogether; stripping its targets and removing all Carrier Aircraft Service Unit, squadron, and Fleet personnel and equipment.

The lease (Lease NOy(R)-31389) was terminated by the Navy Department on April 14, 1946. The property is currently part of the Dry Lagoon Beach State Park, adjacent to the Big Lagoon County Park.

US Army Corps of Engineers History

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Updated 23 June 2017