Buckley Field in World War II: Part II

  • Published
  • By Christopher McCune
  • 460th Space Wing Historian

In last month’s heritage article, we examined the developments that led to the construction of Buckley Field as an auxiliary landing area for Lowry Field and its eventual transformation into a training base after World War II began.  In this article, we’ll look at some of the major training programs at the base during the war.


Buckley Field’s primary mission during most of World War II was to serve as a training facility for fighter armament, while Lowry provided training for bomber armament.  Initially, the training curriculum lasted 15 weeks and covered both types of aircraft, but the influx of students proved to be so large that the courses at both bases were whittled down to nine weeks and re-classed as separate curriculums in September 1942.  The following month, Buckley implemented a seven-day, three-shift training week.  Students came from three pipelines—first-time enlistees newly graduated from basic training, members of tactical units who had plenty of real-world experience but needed a course of instruction on the newer equipment being used in the war, and washouts from other courses within the Army Air Forces, which included mechanics, radio operators, and aviation cadets.  Approximately 12 percent of the early student body had prior experience, and these individuals often became instructor assistants.  In addition, foreign-service troops from countries including France, Peru, South Africa, and the Netherlands also received training at Buckley. 


The first instructor cadre consisted of individuals that were re-assigned from the staff at Lowry, then expanded to include high-ranking graduates from the early classes and civilian instructors.  The most notable challenge early in the war, which occurred across the entire Army Air Forces, was the lack of public-speaking and teaching experience of the instructors.  This led Army Air Force Technical Training Command (AFTTC) to mandate that each base establish its own instructor school to teach pedagogical theory and provide practicums in classroom instruction.  Buckley’s instructor school operated from December 1942 to May 1943 and graduated a total of 516 instructors.  By June 1943, Buckley had over 1,000 armament instructors on staff, including 540 graduates of the base’s own school as well as 100 civilians.  Instruction quality was enhanced by the presence of a technical library and field reports from deployed instructors on the latest developments in equipment and maintenance.  The curriculum itself evolved during the war, but focused primarily on aircraft machine guns, synchronization, explosives, gun sights, and a 12-day field exercise.  Classes consisted of a combination of lecture, visual aids, hands-on instruction and training films—not much different from today’s current US Air Force technical training schools.  AFTTC closed the school on 25 June 1944 when AFTTC re-consolidated it at Lowry; in two years of operation, over 50,000 graduates had completed the course.


Buckley also served as a basic training installation during the war, beginning in July 1943.  Classified as Basic Training Center No. 8 in September, drill took place just to the west of the main barracks complex, which currently houses the ADF-C, while field training was conducted at three camps adjacent to present-day Quincy Avenue within the base’s bombing range.  The curriculum also included classroom instruction.  Both fresh enlistees and applicants for the Army Air Force’s aviation cadet program underwent basic training; the former received 48 days of training over a 56-day period, including 27 days of field training, while the latter only required 28 days of training.  Field training consisted of a jungle warfare obstacle course, rifle and submachine gun ranges, infantry tactics to include fire-team assaults, and aerodrome defense that included mock paratroop invasions.


The arrival of the enlistees for basic training forced Buckley’s quartermaster office to overhaul its supply distribution system.  Prior to the change, most supplies were issued in bulk to the individual squadrons, but this system did not work for new trainees.  Instead, an assembly-line style system was implemented where each article of clothing and equipment was separated into individual stations.  As the trainees progressed down the line, he was given his allotted items that were subsequently checked off on a supply list, a distribution method remarkably similar to how enlistees receive their initial clothing issue at basic training today.   Another distinct similarity was the implementation of section guideon pennants for the students to march with, in an effort to increase unit morale and esprit de corps.  Save for a brief revival in the spring and summer of 1946, basic training activities ceased at Buckley Field in December 1944; altogether, nearly 42,000 individuals graduated basic training during the World War II era.


One of the most unusual training schools at Buckley Field was the arctic survival school, first activated at Camp Williams, Wisconsin in September 1942.  As the needs for such training expanded into 1943, the school relocated to Maine, then to Buckley Field in June 1943.  The schools instructors had extensive experience, having been part of both Arctic and Antarctic expeditions prior to the war.  One instructor, a particularly creative civilian named Belmore Browne, not only played an extensive role in crafting the course syllabi, but also produced several reference drawings for classroom instruction as well as an exhibit of survival equipment and supplies that served as a training aid.  After the war, Browne served as a consultant for the Air Force and helped develop the fledgling Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape (SERE) school.


Artic survival trainees underwent most of their classroom instruction at Buckley in the west aircraft hangar and field training at Echo Lake, approximately 10 miles from the summit of Mt. Evans.  The Echo Lake complex was a miniature base in its own right, covering 600 acres that included five subsidiary camps, a 25-bed hospital, a dentist, post office, mechanic shop, Post Exchange, two small libraries, a motor pool, dog kennel, and classrooms.  The curriculum initially contained a total of six sections that were later consolidated down to three, but the students’ course of instruction varied depending on their military occupation.  The only standard was that all students had to complete the Arctic Living field training phase, which included rescue training.  The curriculum proved its mettle in 1944 when a March blizzard trapped 34 people near the summit of Berthoud Pass.  Students and instructors mounted a rescue effort and managed to locate and extract all 34 individuals, including three babies.  The school was relocated to Great Falls, Montana in October 1944, having graduated over 4,500 students.


A number of other training programs at Buckley were implemented that would be too numerous to list here, but included chemical warfare, aircraft recognition, aerial reconnaissance, military police, and continuation flying training.  The bombing and gunnery range also operated throughout the war, serving Lowry Field and units stationed at other bases in Colorado.  In our final look next month at Buckley Field during World War II, we’ll examine life at Buckley Field, its various support and administrative activities, and its fate after the war ended.