How to Use
Reading 1: Floyd Bennett Field--World War II 1941-1945
The United States had taken steps towards military preparedness in 1939, with the Naval Aviation Reserve Act and Civilian Pilot Training Acts which together authorized 6,000 new officers, added new training bases, and expanded pilot training to 20,000 students at 11 colleges.¹ In 1940, the Vinson-Walsh Act also authorized a 70% increase in the Navy's overall combat readiness, including naval aviation. The Navy's aircraft quota increased from 4,500 aircraft in 1939 to 15,000 by the end of 1940. Floyd Bennett Field became a base for naval patrol squadrons prior to its sale to the U.S. Navy. On June 2, 1941, the airfield was officially commissioned U.S. Naval Air Station, Brooklyn, New York with the mission “to provide base facilities for the Fleet and the North Atlantic Naval Frontier, and to assemble, service, equip, and deliver naval aircraft from factory to fleet.”²
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 and a declaration of war by Congress, Floyd Bennett Field's duties as Naval Air Station New York grew rapidly. The Navy adapted the civilian airport's Administration Building with its control tower and the permanent hangars to military service. The Navy also expanded the runways and facilities for seaplanes and built additional functional structures. Several aviation units of the Atlantic Fleet, three submarine patrols squadrons, a scout observation service unit, and two Naval Air Transport Service squadrons were based at the air station. In addition, Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Exceptional Service) operated radio equipment out of the control tower, directing traffic at this busiest naval air station in the nation, while others packed parachutes for use by aviators, served as aviation machinist mates, or “plane captains.”
Former WAVES interviewed on March 22, 2004 shared their recollections. Fran (Boggs) Metcalf recalled, “I carried lots of tools, washed props down, changed oil filters, unbuckled cowling and dusted cockpits. I worked on F4Us, F4Fs and PBYs.”³ In addition to their regular jobs, WAVES served on desk duty over the weekends. Amy May (Foster) Feluk detailed their schedule: “WAVES were on duty on a four-day duty schedule. One weekend we were off on Saturday, one weekend we were off on Sunday, one weekend we were off on Saturday and Sunday, and one weekend we were on duty all weekend.” Josephine (Camerlengo) Tanner was assigned to the Aircraft Commissioning Unit (ACU) and explained, “This unit handled the receipt, equipping and checking naval aircraft arriving from the Grumman and eastern factories…I was transferred from ACU to Assembly & Repair (A&R). This department was responsible for having every aircraft properly assembled and kept in satisfactory flying condition, as well as overhauling engines on a regular basis. It was in this department that I was plane captain to a crew of three men. My signature was on the paper that released the serviced aircraft for ferrying to the West Coast.”
The site was also home to a Coast Guard station, where the newly developed Sikorsky R-4 helicopter was tested and in early 1944 first employed on a rescue mission. Naval Air Station New York administered two auxiliary airfields, as well. Naval Air Facility (NAF) Roosevelt Field (Mineola, Long Island, New York) served as a center to modify airplanes for use by the Royal Navy, while NAF Mercer Field (Trenton, New Jersey) received Grumman-designed combat planes from an adjacent General Motors plant which had converted its assembly line from automobile production to the production of aircraft for the war effort.
Some of the people who worked at Naval Air Station New York lived on the base while others lived in nearby communities and commuted to work by subway and then bus or rideshare. The base theater hosted top New York entertainers and celebrities such as impresario Ed Sullivan, while its Officer's Club was decorated with luxurious Art Deco materials salvaged from the sunken ocean liner Normandie. Sports leagues, such as the Floyd Bennett baseball team, offered off-duty relaxation to sailors posted at this Brooklyn location.
For all the attractions of civilian life associated with being in vibrant New York City, the personnel at Naval Air Station New York were entrusted with a serious job. With the entry of the United States into the war on the side of the Allies in December, 1941, Germany immediately began waging unrestricted submarine warfare against the U.S. merchant fleet. These ships, carrying both troops and war materiel, were targeted not only on the high seas, but also within sight of the Atlantic coastline. Naval Air Station New York expanded its anti-submarine patrols. Only a few months into the war, on May 1, 1942, the U.S. Navy's Eastern Sea Frontier war diary records a Navy plane attacking a periscope sighted near Fire Island, off the southern coast of Long Island, New York. An even more serious engagement occurred on August 7, 1943 when a patrol aircraft based at Floyd Bennett Field located and attacked a U-Boat, but was shot down. Throughout the war, aviators on patrol developed and tested inventions and improvements in anti-submarine warfare. Their contributions during the “Battle of the Atlantic” helped secure the trans-Atlantic supply line by the end of 1943. The reliable source of men and materiel enabled the Allies to mount the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Questions for Reading 1
1. How significant do you think the naval air patrols from Naval Air Station New York (Floyd Bennett Field) were during World War II? In forming your answer, consider the following issues:
2. Who were the U.S. Navy WAVES? What types of jobs were performed at Naval Air Station New York by U.S. Navy WAVES? How do you think the substitution of women for men in the performance of these jobs helped the U.S. war effort?
3. Personnel at the Naval Air Station New York , like U.S. civilians, coped with wartime rationing. What evidence do you find in Reading 1 suggesting how people stationed off-base managed to commute despite the rationing of gasoline?
Reading 1 was compiled from the National Park Service's brochure Floyd Bennett Field: WWII 1941-1945; NAS BEAM: U.S. Naval Air Station New York, Floyd Bennett Field (Baton Rouge, LA: Army and Navy Publishing Co., 1944) ; Metcalf, Fran Boggs; Amy May Foster Feluk; and Josephine Camerlengo Tanner. “Memories of the service careers of three Navy W.A.V.E.S.” 22 March 2004, Floyd Bennett Field Task Force Collection, Brooklyn, New York ; Eastern Sea Frontier War Diary, Defenses of the Southern New York Harbor, December 1941-September 1943, National Archives and Records Administration (available on microfilm from the Naval Historic Research Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC, microfilm NRS 1971-48); U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Naval Affairs. The Decline and Renaissance of the Navy 1922-1944. Report prepared by Senator David I. Walsh, Senate Document 202, 78 th Cong., 2d. sess., 1944; and materials in the collection of the Floyd Bennett Field Task Force .
¹ One beneficiary was Tuskegee Institute which trained African-American aviators, the Tuskegee Airman, who saw service in World War II.