Note: This article is a fictionalized account of a typical pilot arriving at Dover Army Air Field, Delaware during World War II.
Having recently completed my Fighter Transition and Gunnery training, I’ve been sent here to Dover Army Airfield, a base located in the heart of America’s first state and in fact only four miles from the state capital. It’s not a large base, but it is an important one accomplishing an important function in this war – training me and other pilots in the P-47 Thunderbolt.
I’m told that I will enjoy my stay here and with help will become quickly oriented. But first things first—reporting in. My first stop will be the base adjutant’s office followed with the base personnel officer, squadron commander, secretary of the Officers’ Mess, finance officer, flight surgeon, the dentist and finally the directorate of my activity, the 125th A.A.F. Base Unit.
My baggage was shipped to Dover via Pennsylvania railroad on my railroad ticket. I‘m instructed to give my baggage check to the Personnel Transportation Officer and he will see that it is collected at the station and deliver it to my base address.
As a new single resident of Dover Army Air Field, I will reside in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters (BOQ). It’s not the Waldorf, but neither will I be charged $20 per day. I may be expected to have some gripes and legitimate kicks, crabbing, etc. Some will be the management’s fault—some because I might be hard to please. Whatever my squawk, I’m told it will be welcomed and to bring it to the attention of the Secretary of the Officers’ Mess, whose office is located at the Club.
There are no quarters available for married officers and their families on the base. Private housing facilities in adjacent civilian communities are very scarce. If anyone desires hotel accommodations, private housing, or information concerning the availability of apartments, it is suggested they contact the USO Club at 306 South State Street across the street from the Richardson Hotel. This grand hotel, built in 1882, has 68 rooms with steam heat and other modern conveniences. I was told that actor Robert Mitchum is a frequent visitor.
Even the military can expect rationing. If I required an issue of gasoline rations, I would present my claim to the Personnel Transportation Officer. He would take it before the ration board and insure that my ration coupons were issued promptly. Since I arrived by train and have no car I will not have a need for a gasoline ration card or the “A” stamp stuck on the windshield. Also, all private automobiles driven on the base must be registered with the Provost Marshal. Applications are available at the Guard House, located across the street from the main Fire Station adjacent to Base Headquarters. The personal use of the Motor Pool’s gas station is forbidden as it’s for military vehicles only.
A list of handy telephone numbers will help during my short time here at Dover. The airfield’s main number is 5881. Phone number extensions such as Ext. 50 for the Base Adjutant, Ext. 264 for the Base Operations Officer and Ext. 342 for the Officers’ Mess are a few of those that I’m told that I may want to remember. When making local personal calls off the base, I’m to use a Class “B” phone. Class “A” phones are for more official matters.
Dependents of station personnel do have their privileges and are authorized Commissary Cards that are available from the Commissary Officer. The Commissary is located near the Officers’ Club near the South Gate. A permanent gate pass will also be issued through the Provost Marshal and the Post Exchange will furnish a Post Exchange Dependent Purchase authorization.
The Base doesn’t like them and I understand I won’t like them either. However, they are a must for any military establishment. Base regulations can be found at Base Headquarters, Orderly Rooms and in offices of all Directorates such as Personnel. They contain useful information on local conditions, facilities, conveniences and requirements which will assist me in making adjustments to my new environment. Incidentally, while I’m stationed here I’m to make it a habit to read the Daily Bulletin which is posted on the Bulletin Board at the Officers’ Mess. Copies are also are sent to each work section.
Recreation is an important “tension reliever” in getting one through this training. The Post Theater offers shows every night of the week and the movie schedule is posted in the Daily Bulletin. Two movie houses are also located downtown Dover: the Capitol and Temple Theaters.
The Post library is open every day of the week. Golfing and bowling also are available to officers of this station in the City of Dover. Sports and games are available at and through the gym including basketball, badminton, baseball, boxing, football, medicine ball, horseshoes, softball, mat work weight-lifting, volleyball and wrestling and there is a dance at the Officers’ Club once each week. All other activities at the club are announced in the notices on the Officers’ Club bulletin board and through the daily Bulletin.
As a newly arrived student I have many questions regarding my stay here at the base: Where do I eat? What kind of Post Exchange (PX) do we have? Where can I attend religious services? There are two places to eat on base: the Officers’ Club and the PX. The price of meals at the Officers’ Club is Breakfast – 30¢, Lunch and Supper – 40¢.
Our PX is one of the best. A stock of uniforms, shirts, etc. is carried and others may be ordered. They have a swell lunch and ice-cream counter and carry a large selection of toilet articles, gifts, candy, cigarettes and cigars. And, an area for relaxation is also available.
The Post Chapel is located just north of the PX. Services are available for all denominations including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Christian Science. Christian Science services are held in the Base Legal Office. All officers also have the opportunity to attend one of the numerous churches of Dover.
The officer’s wives who have accompanied their husbands may join the Women’s Club of Dover Army Air Field and volunteer for the Red Cross for the purpose of making dressings for the Post Hospital and volunteering with the Mobile Canteen.
These and many other questions were answered. But right now—on with my duty!
For most of the war, Dover was primarily a P-47 fighter training base. Built in greater quantities than any other US fighter, the P-47 was the heaviest single-engine WWII fighter to go into production. The Thunderbolt performed 546,000 combat sorties between March of 1943 and August 1945.
Seven squadrons in all from the 365th and the 83rd Fighter Groups (both stationed at Dover AAF) were involved in preparing these pilots for European combat. The 365th Fighter Group “Hell Hawks” included the 386th, 387th and 388th Fighter Squadrons. Their stay at Dover was brief, only three months as an operational warm-up for their overseas assignment. The 365th was posted to a combat tour in England in December 1943 with 9th Air Force.
The 83rd Fighter Group included the 448th, 532nd, 533rd, and 534th Fighter Squadrons. It was a training unit designed to train individual pilots in a stream of replacements for other combat crews, lost or transferred from the combat zone. It was attached to the Philadelphia Fighter Wing from November 22, 1943 to April 10, 1944, when it was disbanded and redesignated as the 125th Base Unit, from April 10, 1944 to September 15, 1944. Another redesignation came on September 15, 1944 when it was re-named the 125th AAF Base Unit (Fighter).
From July 1, to September 30, 1945 the primary mission of the 125th changed from training fighter pilots to the pre-separation of personnel from the service and continued to do so until its termination at Dover AAF on March 31, 1946.
Written by: Harry E. Heist, Archivist
Source: Report of Historical Data from 1 April 1945 – 30 June 1945 of Headquarters, Army Air Base, Dover Army Air Field, Dover, Delaware on microfilm at Air Force Historical Research Agency