Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Vandenberg Air Force Base
(Camp Cooke, Cooke Air Force Base, Prisoner of War Camp)
by Jeffrey Geiger, Chief, Office of History, 30th Space Wing

The German Blitzkrieg of World War II illustrated clearly that a new and more deadly dimension had been added to modern warfare. In response to this new threat, the U.S. Army sought improved training centers for the rapid development of its armored and infantry forces. Having conducted a survey of the Lompoc-Guadalupe-Santa Maria triangle, the Army acquired approximately 86,000 acres of land in March 1941. Most of the property was purchased while smaller parcels were obtained by lease, license, and easements.

The property was comprised of parts of five Mexican land grants: Casmalia, Guadalupe, Mission de la Purisíma, Ranchos Lompoc, and Todo Santos y San Antonio. A sixth grant, Jesus Maria (42 acres), was transferred virtually intact to the Army. With its flat plateau, surrounding hills, numerous nearby canyons, and relative remoteness from populated areas, the Army was convinced that it had found the ideal training location. Construction of the Army camp began in September 1941. Although its completion was still months away, the installation was activated on October 5, and named Camp Cooke in honor of Major General Philip St. George Cooke.

General Cooke was a cavalry officer whose military career spanned almost half a century, beginning with his graduation from West Point in 1827 to his retirement in 1873. He participated in the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War. A native of Virginia, General Cooke remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Perhaps his most enduring achievement came when as a colonel during the Mexican War, he led a battalion of Mormons from Missouri to California. The route led by Colonel Cooke in 1847 opened the first wagon route to California, and today the railroad follows much of the early wagon trails.

Almost the entire Central Coast including all the area acquired for Camp Cooke had been home to aboriginal Chumash Indians, but their influence gradually declined in the 19th century. After the overthrow of Spanish rule in 1821, the Mexican government, seeking to protect its empty frontiers through colonization, rewarded its army veterans and their descendants with grants of land. In the years that followed, Anglo ranchers replaced many of the Mexicans as holders of the grants through purchase, intermarriage, or outright chicanery. In the 1850s, Lewis T. Burton began purchasing land north of Santa Barbara and in 1853 became the owner of Rancho Jesus Maria. Since much of the ranch was located on a mesa, the mesa became known as Burton Mesa. By the turn of the century, ownership of Rancho Jesus Maria had transferred to Edwin Jessop Marshall. A wealthy businessman, Marshall added the land to his ranch empire that included holdings in California, Arizona, and Mexico.

Although the construction of Camp Cooke continued well into 1942, troop training did not wait. The 5th Armored Division rolled into camp in February and March, and the steady roar of its tanks and artillery soon became part of the daily scene. From then until the end of the war, other armored and infantry divisions kept up the din before they too left for overseas duty.

Besides the 5th Division, the 6th, 11th, 13th, and 20th Armored Divisions as well as the 86th and 97th Infantry Divisions, and the 2d Filipino Infantry Regiment were all stationed at Cooke at varying times during the war. Also trained at Cooke were an assortment of anti-aircraft artillery, combat engineer, ordnance, and hospital units. Over 400 separate and distinct outfits passed through Camp Cooke.

As the war progressed, German and Italian prisoners of war (the latter organized into Service Units [ISUs]) were quartered at Camp Cooke. Both groups were kept separate from each other in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and worked on the post at various jobs including mechanical and civil engineering services, clerical positions, food service, and the main laundry. To help relieve the severe labor shortage in the commercial market created by wartime exigencies, the German were also put to work in local communities. They worked mostly in agricultural jobs.

A maximum security army disciplinary barracks was constructed on post property in 1946. Confined to the facility were recalcitrant military prisoners from throughout the Army. When Camp Cooke closed in June 1946, personnel at the disciplinary barracks received the additional duty as installation caretakers. Practically the entire camp was then leased for agriculture and grazing.

From August 1950 to February 1953, Camp Cooke was used as a training installation for units slated for combat in Korea, and as a summer training base for many other reserve units. It was during this period that the 40th Infantry Division of the California National Guard mobilized at Camp Cooke and deployed to Japan and later Korea. On February 1, 1953, the camp was again inactivated. Four years later the military would return to Camp Cooke, but this time the Air Force was here to stay.

The disciplinary barracks, meanwhile, was transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to house civilian offenders in August 1959. Today it is known as the United States Penitentiary at Lompoc.

In September of 2000, veterans of the 40th Infantry Division gather an Vandeberg Air Force Base to Dedicate it Korean War Memorial.

In June of 2001, the final remnants of Camp Cooke, including some barracks used by the 40th Infantry Division during its mobilization for the Korean War, were torn down.

Cooke AFB

With the advent of the missile age in the 1950s, the Air Force recommended transfer of Camp Cooke from the Army for use as a missile training base. Its remote location and proximity to the coast offered a perfect setting for safely launching intermediate range ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles (IRBMs/ICBMs) to targets in the Pacific Ocean. These same geographic features were also ideal for launching satellites into polar orbit without overflight of populated land masses during missile liftoff.

In November 1956, Secretary of Defense, Charles E. Wilson, directed the transfer of 64,000 acres of North Camp Cooke to the Air Force; two months later the first Air Force unit, the 6591st Support Squadron, was established at Cooke.

By the time the Air Force began ground breaking for the future missile base in May 1957, it had already activated at Cooke the 392d Air Base Group and simultaneously inactivated the 6591st Support Squadron on April 15, 1957. With the activation of the 704th Strategic Missile Wing (Atlas) at Cooke on 1 July, the 392d was assigned to the wing. In mid-July, the 1st Missile Division relocated from Los Angeles to Cooke AFB to supervise wing operations.

The buildup of men and equipment during this time was matched by a significant increase in the number of buildings going up on base. Missile facilities and launch complexes also appeared as tons of concrete and steel gradually transformed the landscape.

Meanwhile, in October 1957 Russia had launched its Sputnik satellite into orbit. The United States Air Force responded to Russian success by accelerating the development of its missile program. It also transferred management responsibilities for Cooke AFB from Air Research and Development Command (ARDC)to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) on January 1, 1958.

Along with the transfer, SAC acquired the three ARDC base organizations and responsibility for attaining initial operational capability (IOC) for the burgeoning U.S. missile force. The command was also directed to conduct training for missile launch crews.

Site activation, and research and development testing of ballistic missiles remained with ARDC. Space launches were to be conducted jointly by both commands. Although the mission at Cooke was now divided between ARDC and SAC, the two commands cultivated a close relationship that was to flourish for the next 35 years.

Vandenburg AFB

On October 4, 1958, Cooke AFB was renamed Vandenberg AFB in honor of the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the Air Force's second Chief of Staff.

Renamed Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) on 1 April 1961 and redesignated Air Force Materiel Command after AFSC's merger with Air Force Logistics Command on 1 July 1992.

The first missile launch from Vandenberg AFB was a Thor IRBM on December 16, 1958. Two months later on February 28, 1959, the world's first polar orbiting satellite, Discoverer I, lifted into space from a Thor/Agena booster combination. The Atlas made its debut West Coast flight on September 9. The following month, equipped with a nuclear warhead, Vandenberg became the site of the first ICBM to be placed on alert in the United States.

In 1961, the Titan I entered the inventory at Vandenberg AFB, but a more advanced version with storable propellants, all inertial guidance, and in-silo launch capability--the Titan II--was already in the process of development. More importantly, the solid-propellant, three-stage Minuteman ICBM was under development and began flight tests at Vandenberg in September 1962.

In subsequent years, other launch vehicles followed including the Peacekeeper (MX) ICBM beginning in June 1983, the Titan IV space booster in March 1991, the air-launched Pegasus booster in April 1995, and most recently the Delta II commercial space booster in February 1996. By April 1996, 1,721 orbital and ballistic missiles had lifted off from Vandenberg AFB.

In addition, Vandeberg AFB was the sight of the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) and the Space Shuttle programs. Construction work for MOL began at Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6) in March 1966. Three years later, in June 1969, the project was canceled, the victim of cost overruns, completion delays, and emerging new technologies.

After nearly a decade of abandonment, SLC-6 was reactivated and underwent an estimated $4 billion modification program in preparation for the Space Shuttle, beginning in January 1979. Persistent site technical problems, however, and a joint decision by the Air Force and NASA to consolidate Shuttle operations at Cape Canaveral in Florida, following the Challenger tragedy in 1986, resulted in the official termination of the Shuttle program at Vandenberg on December 26, 1989. Today, SLC-6 is used by commercial space launch firms.

For more information concerning the history of Vandenber AFB, CLICK HERE

Camp Cooke
by Justin M. Ruhge

Army Triangular Division Camp, XXXVI Corps. Named in honor of General Philip St. George Cooke, a Cavalry officer, explorer and historian who brought the Mormon Battalion to California to assist in its conquest by the United States.

Early in 1941 the Army began the development of Camp Cooke as a tank-training base. This remote area is now known as Vandenberg Air Force Base. The development of this camp is thoroughly described in A History of Camp Cooke, 1941 to 1946 by Sgt. W.W. Purkiss, written during the war and located in the National Archives, San Bruno, California. The following excerpts from the book describe better than any the opening of this huge camp eight months before the outbreak of war.

In keeping with the new trend in warfare, more and more emphasis was placed on the development of armored forces. New and better training centers for our 'blitz buggies' were sought. Military leaders, looking over the country for suitable sites, happened upon the Lompoc-Guadalupe-Santa Maria triangle. Here terrain, ocean and climate conspired to produce a country ideally suited for armored forces. In March 1941, the announcement was made that a military reservation was contemplated in this area. The idea of Camp Cooke was born.

The first job was to determine the suitability of the area for military uses. The War Department took options on most of the land needed. On May 9, 1941, the preliminary survey to determine the quality of the terrain was begun. The firm of Leeds, Hill, Barnard and Jowett was awarded the contract. Captain C. W. Secord, Construction Quartermaster, represented the military in this pre-spade work.

By June, the War Department had definitely decided that work was to go ahead. The appropriations for this and several other camps were asked for in Congress on June 5, 1941. Since the passage of the bill was a foregone conclusion, bids for the construction were taken from several contractors. The money for the construction was assured when President Roosevelt signed a $7,596,948,000 supplementary defense appropriation bill on the 25th of August. Almost simultaneously the construction contract was awarded to the firm of McDonald and Kahn Co. and J. F. Shea Co. of San Francisco. Their bid of $17,382,670 was the lowest offered. The Leeds, Hill firm was retained as surveying outfit to supervise the construction of the camp.

In the meantime the War Department started buying the land already optioned. When they were finished, they had purchased 122 tracts totaling 92,000 acres. The size of these tracts ranged all the way from the microscopic to the mammoth, from the L. C. Sanor tract amounting to .009 acre (just a few buckets of dirt!) to the Jesus Maria Rancho of 40,930 acres (about 1,000 times the size of Pa's back forty').

The Jesus Maria Rancho had a long and rich tradition dating back to the grant of land given to a loyal subject of the King of Spain. It was one of the last strongholds of Old California customs.

For many years before its purchase by the War Department, the J. R. Marshall family had owned it. The area was used largely for grazing, hunting, a few crops (there used to be a field of oats in the present warehouse area) - and dude ranching. 'Marshallia,' now used for officers' homes, was a popular dude ranch before the war.

Another large tract of land was that of James B. Rogers, son of Will Rogers. (Chapel 5, on Montana near California, was originally known as Rogers Chapel, in honor of the great American gum-chewing-humorist-philosopher.)

Many of the extremely small tracts were bought in order to secure the right-of-way on the south side of the Santa Ynez River. Another interesting and important purchase was the town of Surf. It was bought from the State of California at a tax delinquent 'fire sale.' Condemnation proceedings were brought against the owners of 5,000 acres in order to secure their tracts.

So take 122 pieces of land (Appendix xvii.), fit them together in a huge jigsaw puzzle covering 92,000 acres and you have the Camp Cooke Military Reservation.

On the 11th of September there was a public dedication ceremony for the Camp.

When one looks over the completed Camp Cooke today, he is likely to say casually, 'Big, isn't it? Must have been quite a building project.' But the deeper one goes into the story of its building, the more one becomes impressed by the fact that the building of Camp Cooke was another one of these engineering 'impossibles' that the American people were compelled to achieve in their grim struggle for survival. Truly here was a great achievement in the face of enormous difficulties.

At first, it was 'dust, dust, dust!' fleets of caterpillar tractors swung into action clearing away underbrush and leveling the ground. The fall of 1941 was characterized by some of he strongest winds on record. After a long, dry summer the earth was powder dry. Mix with these the ceaseless plowing of the powerful 'cats' and you have dust storms which are first cousins to those which made a desert of our Midwest dust bowl.

Howard Cash, who came with a surveying party, tells of the weird experience of sitting in his truck with dust swirling so thickly around it that he couldn't see beyond the windshield, listening to the 'cats' plowing by on all sides. One tractor driver left his vehicle at noon when he came off shift; the worker following him wasn't able to find the tractor. The 'cat' was not found till the next morning!

Later it was ' mud, mud, mud!' With the coming of the rainy season, new problems developed. The hard pan of Camp Cooke terrain is very uneven. The spots where the hard pan falls off were filled with soft earth, which gave a deceptively firm impression.

In the rainy season, these 'potholes' gathered most of the water and the earth took on a glue-like consistency. When anything heavy passed over, it sank as though in quicksand. (Ranchers before the war lost many cattle in these 'potholes.') The contractors lost their huge tractors. Chester Garrison, of the post engineers, tells of several tractor drivers who had to spring to safety as their tractors slowly sank out of sight in the muck.

This created one of the major problems, which had to be solved before the Camp itself could be built. Not only had the ground to be leveled, but also it was necessary to build up a firm base for buildings and motor parks.

It took sweating, digging, hauling (and cussing) to do the job. Thousands of tons of shale rock were dug out of the countryside, at the many shale pits. (There is an old shale pit on the side of the back road to Lompoc, at the foot of the big hill.) Fleets of trucks hauled the shale from dawn to dusk. Gradually areas were made ready for building operations. Many of the motor pools on the right side of New Mexico (the road to Surf) have eight to ten feet of shale rock for bases.

By early October an army of construction workers swarmed over the Burton Mesa and buildings sprang up like mushrooms. At the peak of activity, there were over 4,000 construction workers on the job. They lived anywhere and everywhere: there was a large 'tent city' near the main gate: trailer camps were scattered here and there: many commuted between camp and Lompoc, or Santa Maria, or anywhere one could toss his hat.

Rain or shine, dust or fog, hell or high water, the work went ahead. Weather at its worst (of course, the weather is NEVER very bad in California - California Chamber of Commerce) did nothing more than delay work momentarily. By October 28, the project was announced as 12 per cent complete.

In early October the first contingent of the military moved in. The SCU in Camp Cooke was activated October 5, 1941. (It was then known as the CASC, Corps Area Service Command.) The advance party was a group of 11 enlisted men (all NCO's) and one officer, Captain Roswald Smith. This was a signal construction outfit.

They set up camp in 'Blue Gum Terrace' in a group of blue-gum eucalyptus trees opposite the intersection of Wyoming and Ocean View (area 14) several hundred yards west of the road. Here then was the SCU's first camp headquarters. Until early November, the staff of headquarters occupied offices in the Chamber of Commerce building in Santa Maria. The Corps Area Engineers had their offices in the Rubel Building in Santa Maria.

At Blue Gum they lived the rugged life, bunking in tents, sans hot or cold running water, sans central heating, sans shower bath - but with plenty of cross-ventilation, a nice fresh breeze off the Pacific! The PX set up shop in a small shack called the 'Officer's Club.' There was a combination frame and tent Mess Hall. Cooking was done on an open field range. Mixed with the food were liberal portions of sand.

All the available water had to be trucked from Lompoc. Hot water for shaving was heated over the open fire. Baths were something out of this world. Passes were issued so the men could go to neighboring towns to take baths. Incidentally the men found a perfect alibi for overstaying passes. During one of Camp Cooke's infrequent fogs (??!) it would be almost impossible to find one's way back to the area.

Landmarks were constantly shifting with the rapid advance of Camp construction. A bewildering number of paths crisscrossed over the fields. Very confusing! But very convenient for the boy hard-put to explain a few hours of AWOL.

None of the original contingent remains at Camp Cooke, although many will remember Major Peterson, CWO Breton, and M/Sgt Moriarty who left here recently. These three came to Camp Cooke during the first few weeks of its life.

On October 15, 1941, Lieutenant Colonel John B. Madden assumed the duties of commanding officer. On November 20, the first flag-raising ceremony was held in Camp Cooke, with a eucalyptus tree serving as flagpole. In November Colonel Madden moved into the half-completed Headquarters building with his staff. The Corps Area Engineers, under Colonel Bres, moved into the building, which now houses Civilian and Military Personnel. In December the enlisted men regretfully (?) left their well ventilated home in Blue Gum Terrace and moved into barracks in area 9. By then the detachment had grown to 80 men.

Incidentally the first building completed in Camp Cooke was the present Supply Building, then occupied by building contractors. The present B&B Studio was then a first aid shack for construction workers.

In November, building went on apace…As if the date was known ahead of time by Washington, every effort was made to be ready by the end of 1941, for war!

In early January 1942, the second of Camp Cooke's four commanding officers, Lieutenant Colonel Carle H. Belt, assumed the duties of post commander (promoted to full colonel in April).

The water treatment and filtration plant was completed on March 21, 1942. A saltwater barrier was also built in the Santa Ynez River to protect the water supply. The water supply had to support a peak population of 38,000, quite a sizable city for the 1940s.

The sewage plant was placed in operation on February 9, 1942.

Most of the roads to the camp either had to be built from scratch or rebuilt to handle the heavy weight and volume of traffic in and out of the camp. Rail spurs had to be built from the Southern Pacific tracks at the coast into the warehouse area. The spurs were completed in February 1942.

At this time the part of the camp along California Avenue was completed plus the station hospital and Area 13. A total of $17 million was spent on this first half. An additional $2.4 million was spent on roads. Government funds were also provided to construct USO facilities in Lompoc and Santa Maria. Santa Maria opened in March 1, 1942 and Lompoc on August 7, 1942.

Test ranges were laid out from one end of the base to another. 90-mm anti-aircraft, 105-mm artillery, Sherman Tank, bazooka, machine gun, rifle and pistol ranges and remote target ranges. Urban villages were set up for realistic door-to-door fighting.

In August 1942, construction of the second part of the camp began in Areas 14,15,16 and 17, at a cost of $15 million and doubling the housing capacity of the camp. Work was completed in March 1943.

The camp was organized and managed by the 1908 Service Command Unit of the 9th Service Command, Fort Douglas, Utah. The commanding general was Major General David McCoach Jr.

The Camp newspaper was called The Clarion, which began in 1942.

Camp Cooke was ready to swing into full-scale production of the world's best soldiers.

The camp's primary training function was for armored tank divisions. The first such division to arrive was the 5th Armored Division, with its Sherman Tanks, which arrived in February 1942 and left in March 1943. Six months were spent in training on Camp Cooke's Burton Mesa and three at the southern California Desert Training Center.

The 5th (Victory) Infantry Division was activated October 1, 1942 at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Its commander was Major General Jack W. Heard. Upon departing Camp Cooke in February 1943, the command was transferred to Major General Lunsford E. Oliver. The Division reached France in August 1944. Fighting across France for the month the division reached the Our River and entered Germany on September 11. In November the 5th Armored Division along with the 90th Infantry Division crossed the Moselle River. The Division fought through Germany and by V-E Day, it was the one closest to Berlin.

The second division to arrive at Camp Cooke was the 6th Armored Division, with its Sherman Tanks, called "Super-Sixth". The Sixth was activated at Fort Knox, KY. on February 15, 1942. They arrived at Camp Cooke in February and March of 1943 after five months at the Desert Training Center. The division trained at Camp Cook for a year and left for England in January and February 1944 where they took part in the Normandy invasion of France. They landed on Omaha Beach in July 1944. They took part in the fighting in France and then rushed to relieve the 101st Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge with the Third Army. After 23 days of fighting the German army withdrew on January 26, 1945. Bastogne was secured. During 1945, the Sixth along with the Fourth Armored Divisions crossed the Kyle and Moselle Rivers and overran Kassel, Weimar, Jena and Gotha. At the end of the war the division was pulled back to Weimar and then returned to the States and deactivated.

The commanding General of the Sixth from February 1942 to May 1943 was Major General William H. H. Morris. Major General Robert W. Grow replaced him and commanded the Division until deactivation.

In May 1944 the 11th Armored Division, with its Sherman Tanks, began training at Camp Cooke. It was called "The Thunderbolt Division". It was the first to use the portable flamethrowers.

In October the 97th Infantry Division known as "The Trident Division" arrived at Camp Cooke. Its commander was Brigadier General M. B. Halsey. The 97th was originally organized during World War I at Camp Cody, N.M. in September 1918. The 97th left early in 1945.

November 23, 1944 saw the arrival of the 86th (Black Hawk) Infantry Division. Long caravans of Army Vehicles transported them from Camp San Luis. Their commander was Major General Harris M. Melasky.

The 13th and 20th Armored Divisions began to arrive in August of 1945.

In April 1944, Camp Cooke was designated a camp for German Prisoners of War. Construction of a separate fenced camp was begun in the Northeastern area of the camp. The first group of 587 prisoners arrived on June 16, 1944. For the week the guard duty for this group was handled by the Camp's Military Police Detachment. On June 26, 1944, the Prisoner of War Guard Detachment of Camp Cooke was activated by General Order 144, Headquarters, and 9th Service Command. In general, the ration of guards to POWs was 1 to 15.

Under Camp Cooke were organized 16 branch camps that placed prisoners up to 200 miles away, where they were needed to help plant crops and harvest them as well as do road work. They replaced the men who were fighting in Europe and the Pacific. The number of prisoners varied but reached a peak of 8,700 in January 1946.

Under the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War, the prisoners had to be housed and fed in equivalent conditions as their captors. Prisoners could not be used for defense-associated work.

In Camp Cooke, the prisoners worked as labor battalions, clean-up details, and kitchen police. In all camps they were paid 80 cents per day for which they received camp script with which to purchase incidental items at the camp PX. The work of the prisoners helped pay the cost of housing the prisoners and helped the farm community with their labor shortages.

The prisoner host camps and the branch camps were closed in June 1946 and the prisoners turned over to the European armies who put them to work in their countries until their troops could return from war duties. Some prisoners did not return to their countries until the early 1950s.

The 11th "Thunderbolt Division" was activated on August 15, 1942 at Camp Polk, La. It was stationed also at Camp Barkeley, Texas and then went through intensive desert training in the Desert Training Center before coming to Cooke.

After leaving Camp Cooke in September 1944, the 11th Armored Division landed on the Normandy beaches in December and plunged directly into the "Battle of the Bulge." In January 1945, the division teamed with the 6th Armored Division and fought through Belgium, France and Luxembourg. It then joined the 4th Armored Division and entered Germany. By March it crossed the Rhine River and took Leipzig. The division ended its campaign at Linz Austria on the Danube River where it remained until returned to the U.S. and deactivated in December 1945.

The Division was commanded by three generals during its lifetime: Major General Edward H. Brooks, August 1942 to March 1944; Brigadier General Charles S. Kilburn, March 1944 to March 1945; and Major General Holmes E. Dager, March 1945 to the end of the war.

The 86th Infantry Division was reactivated for use in December 1942. It received most of its training in other camps. Camp Cooke was used as an assembly point and outfitting center just prior to its going overseas. The division went to the European Theater of Operation in February 1945. The division had two commanders: Major General Alexander E. Anderson, from September to December 1942; Major General Harris M. Melasky from January 1943 to the end of the war.

The 86th saw 42 days of combat duty in Europe. It fought its way across Germany and reached Perwang, Austria by the end of the war. It was the first to be redeployed after the war with occupation duties in the Pacific and finally ending up in the Philippines.

The 97th Infantry Division was activated at Camp Swift, Texas in February 1943 and assigned to the Third Army. The Division came to Camp Cooke by way of four other camps where it received most of its training. It arrived at Camp Cooke on November 1, 1944 and left for Europe in February 1945.

The division had two commanding generals: Brigadier General Louis A Craig, February 4 to December 31, 1943; Brigadier General Milton B. Halsey, January 1, 1944 to the end of the war.

When the 97th reached Germany, it went into action to eliminate the Ruhr Pocket opposite the town of Dusseldorf. It crossed the Rhine River on April 3, 1945. It fought its way across Germany and met up with the Russian Army near Luditz, Czechoslovakia.

The 97th was returned to the U.S. following the 86th and was redeployed to occupation duties on Honshu, Japan.

V-E Day came on May 6, 1945 and V-J Day was proclaimed on September 2, 1945.

The 13th Armored Division (Black Cat) was redeployed from Europe to Camp Cooke in September 1945 to prepare it for combat in the invasion of Japan. It's tanks and equipment were sent ahead while the Division took 60 days leave. In the meantime, the Japanese surrendered and the 13th was inactivated in November 1945. Prior to this visit, the 13th had never been at Camp Cooke.

The 20th Armored Division was redeployed from Europe to Camp Cooke in September 1945 to prepare it for combat in the invasion of Japan. This division had never trained at Camp Cooke before. With the surrender of Japan the 20th, like the 13th, began to discharge its troops. By March 1946, the remnants of the 20th were transferred to Camp Hood, Texas where the Division was to be absorbed into the 2nd Armored Division.

One of the special organizations on the Camp was the Army 2nd Filipino-American Infantry Regiment. It, along with the 1st Regiment, comprised some 7,000 Filipino-American soldiers. The 1st Regiment was formed at Camp San Luis Obispo in 1942 and many soldiers in the 2nd Regiment trained at Camp Cooke, Camp Hunter Liggett and Camp Roberts before heading to the South Pacific where they joined other Army troops to reconquer and occupy the Philippines. Before leaving, each soldier received one of the traditional bolo knives. The regiment was shipped to New Guinea in May 1944 and then on to the Philippines. Colonel Charles Clifford was the Regimental Commander at Camp Cooke.

The Camp was placed on caretaker status in late 1946. The Camp had a peak population of about 36,000 in June 1943. During the course of Cooke's life, close to 400 separate and distinct outfits moved in and out of the camp. Only the regiments or battalions are listed in the Appendix. Upward of 175,000 personnel were stationed at Camp Cooke. All the personnel records were shipped to the 9th Service Command Division when the Camp was closed. All excess supplies were buried in the many canyons on the Camp property. The Camp property was leased for agriculture and grazing."

Part of the Camp became an Army disciplinary barracks, now the United States Penitentiary, Lompoc. The installation played an important role in the post-war years while Camp Cooke lay idle.

Camp Cooke was reactivated in August 1950 after the outbreak of the Korean War and Burton Mesa once more echoed to the sounds of war. Its rejuvenation lasted exactly two and a half years. Encouraged by the truce negotiations at Panmunjon and prodded by the discovery of oil on the north post (Union Oil still owned the mineral rights under the Jesus Maria Rancho), the army inactivated Camp Cooke in February 1953 and turned it over again to the disciplinary barracks "house-keepers."

Far more details on Camp Cooke can be found in the reference document.

Camp Cooke received a new lease on life when the Air Force transferred it from the Army in September 1956. In June 1957, North Camp Cooke, approximately 65,000 acres, was renamed Cooke Air Force Base.

Over the years most of the original Camp Cooke has been replaced by modern Air Force facilities. A Patton Tank monument is a reminder that the Base had another beginning and role in the history of the Base, which was renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base October 4, 1958.


Reference: The History of Camp Cooke, 1941 to 1946, Compiled by Wesley W. Purkiss Sgt. 1908 SCU. National Archives Record Group 338. History of Vandenberg Air Force Base, From Cooke to Vandenberg, From Tanks to Missiles, by Dr. Martin Hagopian, Command Historian, Headquarters Twentieth Air Force, June 30, 1993. "Camp Cooke Clarion, 1942 to 1946".

Army Units Assigned to Camp Cooke during World War II

 Data Source


 Army of the United States Station List  1 June 1943
Band (68th Armored Regiment) (AGF)
Band (69th Armored Regiment) (AGF)
2nd Armored Group (AGF)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
529th Armored Infantry Battalion
530th Armored Infantry Battalion
531st Armored Infantry Battalion
2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment (less BAnd) (AGF)
Detachment 2, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Special Troops, II Armored Corps (AGF)
6th Armored Division (AGF)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Service Company
146th Armored Signal Company
86 Armored Reconnaisance Battalion
68th Armored Regiment (less Band)
69th Armored Regiment (less Band)
25th Armored Egineer Battalion
50th Armored Infantry Regiment
128th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
212th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
231st Armored Field Artillery Battalion
Division Trains
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Maintenance Battalion
Quartermaster Battalion
76th Armored Medical Battalion
11th Replacement Depot (ASF)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
45th through 64th Replacement Battalions
33rd Field Hospital (ASF)
34th Field Hospital (ASF)
Company A, 99th Quartermaster Bakery Battalion (AGF)
105th Evacuation Hospital (Semi-Mobile) (AGF)
116th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group (AGF)
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery
166th Coast Artillery Battalion (Anti-Aircraft)
168th Coast Artillery Battalion (Anti-Aircraft)
202nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion
128th Station Hospital (250-Bed) (ASF)
193rd Quartermaster Gasoline Supply Company (less 1st Platoon) (AGF)
199th Ordnance Battalion (AGF)
Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment
909th Ordnance Heavy Automotive Maintenance Company
910th Ordnance Heavy Automotive Maintenance Company
341st Ordnance Motor Transport Supply Company
455th Ordnance Evacuation Company
472nd Ordnance Evacuation Company
540th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank)
483rd Ordnance Evacuation Company
850th Ordnance Depot Company
3523rd Ordnance Automotive Maintenance Company
202nd Quartermaster Gasoline Supply Battalion (less Companies A and C) (AGF)
280th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzer, Truck Drawn) (AGF)
281st Field Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzer, Truck Drawn) (AGF)
342nd Medical Regiment (less Band) (AGF)
488th Quartermaster Depot Company (AGF)
529th Armored Infantry Battalion (AGF)
530th Armored Infantry Battalion (AGF)
531st Armored Infantry Battalion (AGF)
561st Army Postal Unit (ASF)
562nd Army Postal Unit (ASF)
606th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Heavy, Self-Propelled) (AGF)
775th Tank Destroyer Battalion (AGF)
1138th Engineer Combat Group (ASF)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
154th Engineer Combat Battalion
155th Engineer Combat Battalion
156th Engineer Combat Battalion
1908th Service Command Unit (Station Complement (ASF)
1929th Service Command Unit (Branch School for Bakers and Cooks) (ASF)
1955th Service Command Unit (Ordnance Service Command Shop) (ASF)
 Army of the United States Station List  7 April 1945
140th Italian Quartermaster Service Company (less 2nd Platoon at Mount Ranier Ordnance Depot, Washington)
142nd Italian Quartermaster Service Company (less 2nd Platoon) (ASF)
1908th Service Command Unit (Station Complement) (ASF)
1990th Service Command Unit (Sub-School for Bakers and Cooks) (ASF)
 Army of the United States Station List 7 April 1946
1908th Service Command Unit (Station Complement) (ASF)
Film Library
Prisoner of War Camp
Quartermaster Laundry
AAF - Army Air Forces units AGF - Army Ground Forces ASF - Army Service Forces units WDC - Western Defense Command
Camp Cooke Prisoner of War Camp
At the time of World War II, the POW camp property was part of Camp Cooke. In June 1957, Camp Cooke was transferred to the Air Force and the following year it was renamed. In early 1958, the remaining POW camp barracks were replaced by new military family housing units and the streets in the area were redesigned, thereby erasing the original boundaries of the POW camp. All POW-related structures have been removed. Jeffrey Geiger, an historian at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California was interviewed regarding the POW site. He is the author of a book entitled "German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, California, Personal Accounts, 1944-1946". The book discusses the experiences of various prisoners interned at Camp Cooke and at its auxiliary camps during World War II. In the process of completing research for his book, Mr. Geiger visited Camp Cooke and each of the auxiliary camps and conducted a visual examination of the properties for evidence of their former use.
Example of a Post Card from a German Prisoner of War interred at Camp Cooke.
Camp Layout for the Camp Cooke POW Camp for 5,000 Prisoners.
From The Military Engineer.
Historical Data Card - Post Camp, Station or Airfield
Branch Camps of Camp Cooke, California




 Tagus Ranch, Tulare County  220  29 Jul 1944  13 Feb 1946
 Chino, San Bernardino County  513  6 Oct 1944  1 Apr 1945
 Goleta, Santa Barbara County  247  20 Oct 1944
4 Dec 1945
 Boswell Ranch, Corcoran, Kings County  499  1 Dec 1944  5 Oct 1945
 Tulare Fairgrounds, Tulare County  245  11 Dec 1944  24 Jan 1946
 Shafter, Kern County  588  18 Dec 1944  5 Oct 1945
 Lamont, Kings County  946  18 Dec 1944 / 7 Jan 1946  5 Oct 1945 / 23 Mar 1946
 Lakelands, Corcoran, Kings County  631  14 May 1945 / 3 Jan 1946  5 Oct 1945 / 16 Feb 46
 Tipton, Tulare County  397  24 May 1945  4 Feb 1946
 Saticoy, Ventura County  437  27 May 1945  after 1946
 Old River, Kern County  Unknown  18 Oct 1945  6 Jan 1946
 Buttonwillow, Kern County  Unknown  24 Oct 1945  14 Jan 1946
 Delano, Kern County  Unknown  24 Oct 1945  26 Mar 1946
 Tachi Farms, Corcoran, Kings County  Unknown  21 Nov 1945  2 Jan 1946
 Lemoore, Fresno County  Unknown  8 Dec 1945  11 Apr 1946
 Rankin Field, Tulare County Unknown  Unknown Unknown
Extract, War Department Inventory of Owned, Sponsored and Leased Facilities, 1945
Camp Cooke
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Updated 8 February 2016