On April 1, 1941, a B-18 Bolo bomber landed on a north-south runway on Albuquerque’s east mesa, signaling the official opening of the Albuquerque Army Air Base, which would evolve into what is today Kirtland Air Force Base.
Construction of the Army air base started on Jan. 7, 1941, on 2,000 acres near a privately owned Albuquerque airport, and was completed in August 1941, four months after that lone B-18 landed and four months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. Within two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, the first bombardier cadets arrived at the Albuquerque air base for training.
“Major accomplishments at the Albuquerque air field during World War II included training over 1,200 pilots and 5,200 bombardiers, participation in the Manhattan Project (atomic bomb) and the development and demonstration of the proximity fuze,” said John L. Deuble Jr., an Albuquerque author who specializes in military history. “During World War II, the atomic bomb was the number one technology and the proximity fuze (which detonates an explosive device when it reaches a predetermined distance from a target) was number two. The allies would not have won World War II without these two items.”
Deuble will give a talk titled “Kirtland Army Air Field During World War II” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, in Botts Hall at the Special Collections Library, 423 Central NE. Admission is free.
The Albuquerque Army Air Base was renamed Kirtland Army Air Field on Feb. 25, 1942, in honor of Col. Roy C. Kirtland, a pioneering aviator who learned to fly in 1911 and served in World War I as the commander of a mechanics regiment and an inspector of aviation facilities. He was recalled from retirement in 1941 at the age of 65 and died of a heart attack in May 1941 at Moffett Field, Calif.
During the war, KAAF’s mission was to train air crews, especially bombardiers, for heavy bombers – B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24 Liberators and B-29 Superfortresses. Even before the United States got into the war, B-17 air and ground crews in the 19th Bombardment Group had trained at KAAF in 1941 before being deployed to Clark Field in the Philippine Islands. Commanded by Lt. Col. Eugene Eubank, for whom Albuquerque’s Eubank Boulevard is named, the 19th would become arguably the most famous bomber unit of World War II for the role it played in the campaign against Japan.
Deuble said KAAF’s most valuable contributions to the war effort were its role as a transportation center for scientists working on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos and the part it played in the evolution of the proximity fuze, a triggering mechanism much more effective than contact or timed fuzes. Between 1942 and 1945, nearly 50,000 test firings of the top-secret proximity fuze were done at KAAF’s anti-aircraft artillery range.
Deuble, originally from suburban Philadelphia, has lived in Albuquerque for 17 years. A veteran of the Korean War, he served in the Army (2nd Ranger Battalion) in 1949-50 and in the Air Force (3rd Air Rescue Squadron) in 1951-54. He earned bachelor degrees in chemistry and history from the University of the Pacific in 1959 and has been researching and writing history for more than 45 years.
He specializes in the history of western military installations and his books include “Camp Furlong – Columbus, New Mexico 1912-1926,” “An Illustrated History of the 1st Aero Squadron at Camp Furlong – Columbus, New Mexico 1916-1917” and “Camp Cody – Deming, New Mexico, a New Mexico World War I U.S. Army National Guard Training Installation.”
His talk at the Special Collections Library will touch on the early years of Albuquerque airports and the development of the Army air base, the air base’s missions before and after the United States’ entry into World War II and “Bombardier,” the 1943 movie filmed mostly at Kirtland Army Air Field.
The movie stars Pat O’Brien as Maj. Chick Davis and Randolph Scott as Capt. Buck Oliver and tells the story of six bombardier candidates and their traning. The 19th Bombardment Group’s Eubank, by then a brigadier general, introduces the film.
One thing Deuble is sure of is that he will not run out of material.
“I have about 10 charts on this topic,” he said. “However, time will not allow me to use all of them.”