04 July 2010

Robins Air Force Base: the Beginning, & its Place in Military & Aviation History

Wellston, Houston County, Georgia was little more than a small country community with a railroad stop, surrounded by peach orchards in 1940. Then came 16 June 1941. "The War Department officially announced today the selection of Wellston, Georgia, thirteen miles south of Macon, as the site for the construction of the Air Corps Depot..."

Very little was left untouched after World War II. Even in Houston County, Georgia, where no bombs fell and no battles were fought, there could be no going back to the pre-war status. The most far-reaching changes had come about because of the government installation at Wellston. More than any other development, Robins Air Force Base has provided the economic base for Houston County, and every human endeavor pursued in this county has felt the impact of what became one of Georgia's largest industries.

The task of turning cotton fields into an air depot was immense. The only man-made assets on hand were the railroad and the secondary road to Macon. Possession by the Corps of Engineers began August 1941. The acquisition of the land was made possible only by the partnership, which immediately was formed by Houston County residents and Bibb County promoters. The first official mayor of the City of Warner Robins, Charles B. "Boss" Watson, is given the credit for assembling the land from 26 different land owners. Since there was no city hall, he conducted business from his front porch at his home near Watson Boulevard.

Construction began following the groundbreaking on 1 September 1941. $14 million were authorized to construct buildings and utilities at the new depot. With the United States entering into war later that same year, the early completion of the depot became more urgent. The first buildings were occupied January 1942. The depot was in full operation within 12 months following the groundbreaking. Four depots were being built across the United States simultaneously. Robins was the last to begin and the first completed. In May 1942, 6600 workers were employed in the construction effort. There was not a day's labor trouble on the entire job. An area of 3,000 acres was purchased soon after the original purchase of 2,200 acres. Temporary wooden buildings were completed in mid-1942 at a cost of $3 million to provide a dispersed aerodrome for troop training missions.

While the construction was going on, an employment office was set up in Macon under the leadership of Karl McPherson to hire the workers for the depot. Most of these workers were sent to Middletown, Pennsylvania, and Fairfield, Ohio for training. The essential parts of the construction area were completed by the end of August 1942. What was originally expected to take 30 months was finished in less than a year. Production in the industrial area officially began in October. Troops poured in.

When first established, the depot was called "Wellston Air Depot." In January 1942, it was named "Robins Field" in memory of Brigadier General Augustine Warner Robins. He had been Chief of the Materiel Division, Army Air Corps from 1935 to 1939, and was Commandant of the Training Center at Randolph Field in Texas when he died in 1940. In October 1942, the depot's title was changed to "Warner Robins Army Air Depot." When the town rapidly being constructed adjacent to the field was incorporated as the City of Warner Robins 5 March 1943, everything in the area bore one or two of the late general's names.

The mission of RAFB throughout its history has centered on the maintenance shops and warehouses located there. The mission and workload concept followed for the first decade was based on geography. Robins was responsible for the repair of airplanes and components and the issuance of parts to the sir fields in the southeastern United States. Principally, the sir fields in the southeast were used to train flyers.

Before the base opened, its mission was expanded to include the training of supply and maintenance officers and men to perform these depot tasks overseas. The organizations that performed these tasks were known as air depot groups. More than maintenance and supply techniques were involved. These air depots contained military police, medical, signal, and several other supporting units. The air depot groups went to both the Pacific and European theaters of the war. It is estimated that 50,000 people were trained in Houston County in these varied disciplines.

The manpower to accomplish these wartime missions far exceeded the early forecasts given in the announcement of the depot's establishment. By the end of March 1945, the strength of the Command was 1,651 officers; 9,035 enlisted and 12,984 civilians. A year later, with the return of peacetime, there were 75 officers, 81 enlisted, and 6,039 civilians. Manning continued to decline until 1949 when the headquarters of the 14th Air Force was moved to Robins from Orlando. The Korean War prompted the need for continued military support, so the life of the base became a long one.

Curtiss P-40N "WarHawk"
Robins Air Force Base has its place in military and aviation history. The Curtiss P-40N "WarHawk" was part of the P-40 aircraft series that was the major fighter for the Army Air Corps at the beginning of World War II. More than 13,000 were built before production ended in 1944. P-40s engaged the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the invasion of the Philippines in December 1941.

During the second World War, the Warner Robins Air Technical Service Command provided logistic support and depot-level maintenance of all P-40 aircraft in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Lockheed C-60A Lodestar
The Lockheed C-60A Lodestar first entered service in 1941. Powered by two Wright Cyclone engines, it was one of the fastest airplanes in its class. At the start of World War II, many of the Lodestars were pressed into service by the Army Air Corps.

The Lodestar could carry up to 18 fully equipped troops and was used for medium transport, communications, and training.

During World War II, Robins Air Field was responsible for the maintenance and logistical support for all C-60 aircraft assigned to bases in a five state area.

Martin RB-57A "Canberra"
The Martin RB-57A "Canberra" made its first flight on 20 July 1953.

The B-57 was assigned to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in the decentralization of the AFLC management in 1953. That made it the first aircraft weapons system assigned to Warner Robins for worldwide logistics management.

Lockheed YMC-130H "Hercules"
The Lockheed YMC-130H "Hercules" is used for many type missions: air refueling, weather observation, cargo hauling, passenger carrier, dropping paratroopers, performing electronic surveillance, delivering equipment, drone launching and monitoring, air rescue, and as a bomber. When used as a gunship, it's one of the most heavily armed aircraft in the United States Air Force.

Currently, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (WR-ALC) performs sustainment and depot maintenance on a number of US Air Force weapon systems. Specifically it supports AC-130, C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, E-8 Joint STARS, EC-130, F-15 Eagle, HC-130, HH-60 Pave Hawk, MC-130, MH-53 Pave Low, RQ-4 Global Hawk, U-2 Dragon Lady, and UH-1 Iroquois aircraft. To accomplish this mission, the center employs nearly 13,000 people.

Sources include:
- A Land So Dedicated: The History of Houston County, Georgia by Bobbe Hickson
- News articles from The Macon Telegraph (Georgia)
- Articles & Artifacts on display at the Warner Robins Museum of Aviation
- Wikipedia.org

Photos © 2002 - 2010 S. Lincecum

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.