Historic California Posts, Camps Stations and Airfields
Coast Guard Air Station, San Francisco
(San Francisco Municipal Airport, Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Mills Field)

Coast Guard Air Station, San Francisco/Naval Auxiliary Air Facility, Mills Field during World War II. (National Archives)


by Richard E. Osbourne

This is now San Francisco International Airport. In 1927 the airport was built as San Francisco's municipal airport and named Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco. It was built almost entirely on land reclaimed from the bay.

In 1931 it was renamed San Francisco Airport. This was the name it had when, in December 1941, the U.S. military took it over for the duration of the war. It operated as a military airport throughout the war with limited use being given to the needs of commercial airlines. The Air Transport Command operated here and had an air freight terminal.

In 1944 the field was chosen to be an intransit field for Army Air Forces aircraft and crews transferring from Europe to the Pacific. The sudden end to the war in the Pacific, though, cut this activity short. Soon after the war, the airport was returned to civilian authority

Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
The Coast Guard goes on active duty with the Navy in wartime and this old Douglas RD-4 was at CGAS San Francisco in December 1941. This photo shows it repainted for Navy duty in 1942. (Bill Larkins)
Coast Guard Air Station, San Francisco
by globalsecurity.com
Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco is based in San Francisco, California at the San Francisco International. Airport (SFO). CGAS San Francisco operates four HH-65A "Dolphin" helicopters off the Coast Guard ramp.
The Coast Guard Air Station, San Francisco, located on property adjacent to San Francisco International Airport – then known as Mills Field – was established in the winter of 1940/41, and uses the airport’s runways. The station was formally dedicated on February 15, 1941. The first official patrol flight was over San Francisco Bay. Lt. George H. Bowerman was the first commanding officer of the Air Station. In April of 1942, the station was assigned to the operational command of Commander, Western Sea Frontier, U.S. Navy. The planes attached to Air Station were then considered and treated as a Squadron Command, under the Commander of the Air Task Group of the Frontier for all operations. At the end of the Second World War, the station was released from the Navy and continued as a Coast Guard Search and Rescue unit.
Buildings on the station include: one hanger, one nose hanger, one barracks, one administration building with an enclosed infirmary, BOQ, supply building, boathouse, and a few small support structures.
As of April 1974 aircraft assigned to the station included: four HH-52A amphibious turbine helicopters, two HUl6E amphibious fixed wing aircraft, and three HC-130B long-range turbo prop fixed wing aircraft. However, the station was, at that time, scheduled to receive one AOSS aircraft during the year and all HC130B aircraft were to be replaced by "H" models June 1, 1974. The station also maintained a 30-foot utility boat.
Copied with permission from globalsecurity.com
Naval Auxiliary Air Facility, Mills Field
by M.L. Shettle

In 1926, the citizens of San Francisco turned a jealous eye towards Oakland, across the bay. Oakland had recently received service on a newly awarded air mail route. Municipal pride drove the City to establish an airport. Hilly San Francisco is severely geographically restricted so the City traveled south to find an adequate site. Property was leased for $2,500 per year from the estate of Darius Ogden Mills, a merchant millionaire from the 1860's Gold Rush days. Mills had established a rancho at the site with the nearby township named Millbrae. Once completed, the airport was named Mills Field.
On November 15, 1940, the Coast Guard commissioned an air station at Mills Field. After the beginning of the war, additional land was created by hydraulic fill and three hard-surfaced runways built -- the longest 8,000 ft. The Army established a sub base of Hamilton Field, primarily used by the Air Transport Command. Army facilities included an air freight terminal and barracks for 110 officers and 700 enlisted men. The Coast Guard remained at Mills throughout the war conducting patrol and sea/air rescue operations. In 1944 the field was chosen to be an intransit field for Army Air Forces aircraft and crews transferring from Europe to the Pacific.
The Coast Guard's complement numbered 55 officers and 263 men with barracks for 16 officers and 290 men. Aircraft assigned to the Coast Guard peaked in June 1945 with two PBMs, seven PBYs, two PB2Ys, four JRFs, two GHs, and one SNJ.
In September 1942, Pan American Airways began operating under contract to the Navy from the Treasure Island seaplane base. By 1944, growth of Naval activities on and around Treasure Island prompted Pan Am to move its operation to Mills Field. The Navy leased 85 acres at Mills Field and commissioned an NAAF. Pan Am continued to use the facilities at Treasure Island for aircraft overhaul. In the spring of 1945, Pan Am operated four B-314s, 18 PB2Ys, one PBM-3R, and one JRB. Naval presence at the facility was minimal with the C.O. of the Coast Guard station also serving as the NAAF's C.O.

After the Navy placed Pan Am under contract to provide transport services, the airline's Boeing 314s and Martin Clippers were purchased. Pan Am continued to operate these seaplanes plus additional Navy aircraft. Pan Am also had operations at Floyd Bennett Field, New York; Dinner Key, Florida; and Seattle, Washington. In addition, the airline conducted a celestial navigation school at Dinner Key, Florida. Early on, a good and necessary service was provided; however, with the arrival of the Douglas R5Ds (C-54) and the development of modern airfields, transoceananic flying boats had become inefficient, archaic, and redundant. Nevertheless, the contract continued -- Pan Am's pork barrel and payback for services previously rendered. A former NATS R5D pilot recalled his experiences at Oakland to the Author: "We would watch Pan Am takeoff across the Bay. Several hours later, after lunch and flight planning, we also departed for Hawaii. After landing at Honolulu, we would take a nap and get up in time to watch the same Pan Am airplane land. Of course, we came back to the States mostly empty - all military passengers had to take Pan Am." The minimum flight time between San Francisco and Hawaii for the B-314 was 15 numbing hours -- the R5D could do it in almost half that time!

Following the war, Pan Am operated the last B-314 flight between Hawaii and San Francisco on April 9, 1946, replacing it with DC-4s. However, Alameda's VR-2 continued to operate JRM Mars and R3Y Tradewind seaplane transports on a limited basis until 1958. Today, Mills Field is San Francisco International Airport. The Coast Guard continues a presence with several helicopters.
Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.
Mills Field, circa 1946
US Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District History (1991)
Site Name: San Francisco Municipal Airport.
Location: The San Francisco Municipal Airport site (formerly known as Mills Field) is part of the San Francisco International Airport. The site is located in San Mateo County, 12 miles south of San Francisco and east of the Bayshore Freeway (see Figure 1). The site is divided into two sections. The first section includes a northern portion of the San Francisco International Airport and 23.11 acres located on the west side of Bayshore Freeway. The second section, formerly known as the housing site, is located on bayfill in a semi-industrial section of San Mateo County.
Site History: The San Francisco Municipal Airport site totaled 2,111 acres of property leased by the Army from the City and County of San Francisco on February 5, 1942. During World War II, the military assumed control of the airport but permitted restricted commercial flights. Airport facilities were modified to meet military requirements, including the enlargement and strengthening of runways, taxiways, and apron areas.
On February 15, 1949, the lease for 2,111 acres was terminated by agreement and the property was conveyed to the City and County of San Francisco for public airport purposes. The agreement contained a recapture clause granting the government unrestricted possession of the entire airport during a national emergency.
Since World War II, the airport has expanded and is now known as the San Francisco International Airport. The housing site is located on property that has since become a freeway.
Extract of January 1945 Directory of Airfields

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


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