Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dale Mabry Airfield Project Paper #19

My research on Dale Mabry airfield is from information I’ve found online and in the airfield museum located on the second floor of Tallahassee Regional Airport. On my trip to the airport, I started thinking, not only about all the different planes and aeronautic military activity that was once under my feet but the fact that I was standing on an early 1900’s army base for one of the most interesting and influential wars of all time. In just 1928 the former 200 acre dairy farm and swampland was bought by the city to build an airport. Just one year later Dale Mabry Field was opened, dedicated to Dale Mabry, an Army Captain known for experimenting with balloons during World War I. With just one grass runway, Navy pilot Ivan Munroe and 3 other former pilots started offering training in aeronautics and aerial photography. It wasn’t until 1940 that Dale Mabry Field was leased by the US Army air corps as a military air base. The military started a 90-day reconstruction to clear the typical swampy Florida conditions. During the reconstruction railroad siding and some drainage improvements were made to the land and 3 functioning concrete runways were completed. (2 of those runways which are now known as Appleyard and Pensacola Street).

This is where I found the most interesting facts of this US Army base. After construction of the full air base which had expanded from a puny 530 acres to an incredible 1,720 acres complete with 133 buildings, it is said that it became close to a “self-sufficient city”. The airbase came with dorms, mess halls, several runways, a church, hospital and even a bowling alley. In its prime the base was training 1,300 offices, 3,000 enlistees, and 800 employees. Students from Florida State College for Women would take civil aeronautics class and I’ve also attached a photo of the previously mentioned Ivan Munroe teaching a group of students. This was all happening on the same land where we currently attend history class at Tallahassee Community College. We attend class and listen to the war stories of WWI without previously knowing that under our feet is where the former 58th fighter group of 1942 was assigned (part of Ill Fighter Command training). Although another 5 major fighter groups were also stationed at the airfield, this was the first operational training unit. It included incredible machinery such as Curtiss P-40 Warhawks they gave rigorous combat training to new pilots that were freshly graduated from Training Command advanced flight schools. The combat group of the 58th were later deployed to Egypt in mid-1942. Between 1940- 1945 not only were 5 fighter groups successfully trained and deployed from the Army airfield but between 1944 and 1945 it was even the sight of a detention center for German prisoners of war (POWs). The end of Dale Mabry army base airfield occurred after Japanese Surrender in summer of 1945 and it was turned over to the War Assets Administration. It is now the site of Tallahassee Community College, and off Pensacola, the street my own home is located.