Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Naval Air Station, Oakland
(Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Oakland; Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Oakland, Oakland Organized Reserve Aerodrome)
Naval Air Reserve Base Oakland, 6 December 1934
NAS Oakland
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.

On February 5, 1927, the Oakland City Council purchased the 692-acre Bay Farm Island, five miles south of town, to develop an airport. On June 3, the Army informed the City that it wished to use the island as the takeoff point for an attempt to fly to Hawaii. Since a runway did not yet exist, the Army requested that one be graded by the end of the month. Working around the clock for 23 days, crews completed a 7,020-ft. runway -- at that time, the longest in the world. On June 28, 1Lts. Lester Maitland and Albert Hegenberger departed in a Fokker C-2. Twenty five hours and 49 minutes later, they landed on Oahu at the Army's Wheeler Field, completing the first non-stop flight between the Mainland and Hawaii.
Oakland became the departure point for many pioneering flights to Hawaii. In July, Ernie Smith and Emory Bronte, also completed a non-stop flight to Hawaii. On August 16, a group of aviators gathered at Oakland to vie for $35,000 in prizes offered by pineapple magnate James Dole for a race to Hawaii. Six entrants crashed preparing for the race or at the race's start and two disappeared over the Pacific. On August 17, two aircraft completed the flight, with the first prize of $25,000 being claimed by Hollywood stunt pilot Art Goebel and his navigator, Navy Lt. William Davis. Charles Lindbergh was the guest of honor for the dedication of the airport that took place on September 27. On May 31 of the next year, Australians Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm departed for Hawaii on the first leg of their epic flight to Australia.

On August 1, 1928, the Navy formed an NRAB at the airport with two aircraft and 1200 sq. ft. of leased hangar space. By 1935, the station began the Elimination Training Course with ten aircraft. Eleven days after Pearl Harbor, the C.O.s of all the NRABs held a conference in Pensacola -- the subject being the increase of primary training at their bases. Among the C.O.s with a problem, was Cdr. R.L. Johnson of Oakland. With the addition of Army interceptors at the airport, the expansion of primary training would be impossible without a new base. After returning to Oakland, Cdr. Johnson and his men selected a site 25 miles away, 3.5 miles east of Livermore. Nevertheless, full primary training began in January 1942. With the imminent departure of primary training, Oakland was chosen to be a Naval Air Transport Service Terminal. In September, VR-3 began scheduled service to the station. By November 1942, all primary flight activities transferred to Livermore; however, administrative control remained at Oakland.

On January 1, 1943, Oakland became an NAS along with most of the other NRABs in the Navy. On March 4, VR-4 commissioned with a complement of 13 R4Ds received from Alameda's VR-2 which then became an exclusive seaplane operation. When Livermore commissioned as an NAS on June 1, Oakland was, in turn, reduced to an NAAS under Alameda. VR-11 commissioned here on September 1. Although the headquarters of VR-11 moved to Honolulu three and a half months later, the squadron maintained a detachment and conducted training at Oakland. Meanwhile, United Airlines had an aircraft mechanics school for the Army at the airport. In 1943, United began training Navy mechanics and completed 1,281 during the war.
In April 1944, the station began an expansion program. On June 16, VR-13 commissioned and in the spring of 1945, transferred to Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands. A new NATS passenger terminal reached completion on July 19.
Oakland was situated on 1,016 acres of which the Navy owned 65 and leased the remainder. The air field had four asphalt runways, the longest 6,500 ft. Barracks existed for 253 officers and 4,658 men. The station operated an R5D, a GH Howard, and an SNV. Oakland was a joint-use facility with the Army's Air Technical Service Command that serviced transient aircraft.
Following the war, the Navy began reserve activities at Oakland in 1946, upgrading the station to an NAS. In 1961, Oakland closed and the Reserve mission moved to Alameda. Today, the airport is known as Oakland International Airport.
Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.
US Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District History (1999)
The Oakland Municipal Airport, located 7 miles southeast of the City of Oakland and 15 miles east of the City of San Francisco in the County of Alameda, consisted of 1167.71 acres, leased from the Board of Port Commissioners of the City of Oakland, State of California on 1 February 1944, with 5 permits and encroachments (no area) dated from October 1942 to March 1943.
Oakland Municipal Airport (formerly used as a municipal airport) is now officially designated as the Oakland International Airport. The airport facilities were used by the Army Air Forces, the Air Service Command, and jointly used by the Navy. The site contained a landing area, a hangar area, and a wharf area. Improvements at the time of the lease included runways, 8 hangars, hotel and restaurant, administration buildings, a garage, other small buildings, and a wharf. Many improvements and additions were added to the property including fencing, storm sewers, water and electrical distribution, gas storage tanks, fueling pits, repair and repavement of runways and taxiways, new and resurfaced roads, additions to the wharf area, extensions of railroad to wharf, and earth fill for levee and crew shelters.
Effective date of disposal was 8 October 1946, for 1167.71 acres. By agreement dated 16 November 1949, the United States surrendered its leasehold interest to the City of Oakland, stipulating "any interest shall be used for public airport purposes for the use and benefit for the public" and all structures, improvements, facilities and equipment shall be maintained in good and serviceable condition during the remainder of their estimated life as determined by the Civil Aeronautics Administrator. This agreement also states that the United States would have the right to use the entire airport in the event of a national emergency (recapture clause). According to the Supplemental Agreement No. 3 dated 30 January 1946, "the City of Oakland is willing in lieu of restoration by the Government of said lease, to accept the sum of $18,000.00, the government thereafter is released of any further responsibility therefore". The two remaining leases 2.75 acres (terminated 4 Feb 46) and 5.16 acres (terminated 31 Mar 47) were also with the Board of Port Commissioners of the City of Oakland.
US Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District History (2002)
General Site History-Army

The military began using the Oakland Municipal Airport (OMA) as early as 1927 (the year it was established) on an occasional basis as a starting point for long distance Pacific flights. The first stationing of Army aircraft at OMA on a regular basis appears to have occurred with the organization of the 9th Corps Area Air Corps Detachment on 19 June 1936. The main mission of the detachment was flight training of Air Corps Reserve Officers of the Northern California Military District along with servicing transient aircraft. These activities continued through at least 1941, by which time the flight training included 2 hours of ground target gunnery and 4 hours of aerial target gunnery, though the location for this training was not noted.''

In August 1940, the Army Air Forces contracted with the civilian Boeing School of Aeronautics already in operation at OMA to train their airplane mechanics. The station was activated on 20 September 1940 as the Air Corps Training Detachment, Boeing School of Aeronautics, Oakland California. Two years later, all commercial activities at the school were discontinued. A little over a year after that, in November 1943, the Army's contract for the training ended, but not before the Navy established a detachment for their own mechanics there.

With the start of the war, the 4' Air Force, headquartered at Hamilton Field about 30 miles to the northwest across San Pablo Bay, began dispersing interceptor aircraft around northern California. Dispersal bases included Oakland, which became the headquarters of the 4th Air Force Fighter Command. Accordingly, with an expanded presence at OMA, the Army made improvements to the airport runways and increased the facilities.

In June 1942, the planned increase in facilities at the dispersed airdrome included additional taxiways, housing and bomb storage facilities. An indoor Rifle Range (Building Number 26) already existed by that time. The housing plan included acquisition of a detached 14.59-acre parcel for a housing/cantonment area.'' Also during 1942, the Army completed 5 buildings for Battery "G" of the 217th Coast Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft) at OMA. The Anti-Aircraft weapons of the 217th are unknown, but most likely consisted of 37mm and 50 caliber antiaircraft guns. The location of the weapons assigned to Battery G are unknown, but probably included emplacements in and around the airport.

By March 1944, the 4th Air Force planned on transferring jurisdiction of OMA to the Air Service Command (ASC), retaining use of airfield for emergency tactical operations only. On 1April, the Army portion of OMA fell under the command of the Sacramento ASC to be followed by a transfer to the Pacific Overseas ASC on 15 August 1944. At this time, the pllnciple activity at OMA was the processing of combat aircraft for overseas shipment to various theatres of operation.

Following the end of the war in the fall of 1945, the civilian Port of Oakland that operated OMA officially requested the relinquishment of the Amy's facilities, so that commercial operations might resume as soon as possible. Although the Army Air Forces had not determined their future requirements for OMA, they had no objection to the use of the facility for civilian and commercial activities. The War Department declared the separate cantonment area surplus by that December, and the leases for several small parcels were canceled in early 1946. However, the Army's declaration of excess did not occur until September 1946 and the accountability for the main airfield was not transferred to the War Assets Administration until 19 December 1947. Subsequently, the Port of Oakland regained control of the Army's portion of the property.

General Site History-Navy

The Navy's continued presence at Oakland both predates and continues long after the Army Air Forces. On 1 August 1928, the Navy formed a Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB) at OMA. By 1935 the NRAB began an elimination training course. At the beginning of the war, in Januay 1942, the NRAB Oakland began full primary training of Navy fliers in the Bay area. However, the dispersal of Army interceptors at OMA crowded the airfield too much for use as a primary flight instruction facility. The Navy selected Livermore as the new location for primary training, and moved the activities there by that November. Assembly and repair functions and administrative control remained at OMA. Approximately a dozen auxiliary fields were associated with this primary training mission that initially fell beneath Oakland, which all later became associated with Livermore.

On 1 January 1943, the Navy's portion of OMA became Naval Air Station (NAS) Oakland, in a general upgrade of all the NRABs in the Navy at the time. Its status was reduced to a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) on 1 June with the commissioning of NAS Livermore. Although the primary flight training moved, the Navy's presence continued at OMA as a Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) terminal. NATS established its West Coast headquarters at NAAS Oakland, which continued as an operating, maintenance and overhaul base, and a school site for mechanics. Following the establishment of the overall NATS headquarters at OMA, the base was once again upgraded to an NAS on 1 May 1945. Following the end of the war, the Navy planned on placing NAS Oakland in reduced operational or caretaker status. The date kept moving back from fall 1945 to fall 1946, as preparations to move the NATS mission across the bay to Moffit Field were delayed by facility construction.

Effective 1 October 1946, NAS Oakland was placed on reduced status. Subsequently, the Navy reestablished a reserve air station at OMA, which continued operations there until 1961. At that time, NAS Oakland closed and the reserve mission moved to NAS Alameda, thus ending direct military use of the site.
Oakland Organized Reserve Aerodrome
Designated as an Organized Reserve airdrome in 1922. Organized Reserve activities discontinued 21 October 1941.
Units assigned:

Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Air Fields (January 1945)
US Army Corps of Engineers Real Estate Map
Click image for a larger view.

Extract, War Department Inventory of Owned, Sponsored and Leased Facilities, December 1945


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Updated 10 March 2016