Stephenville was chosen as the site of the Earnest Harmon Air Force base because of its excellent
flying conditions and strategic position in the world. Even today, it remains a key to controlling
the North Atlantic. Primarily used as a emergency landing field, the Stephenville air base soon
became more important as time went on. Throughout its history, it has been used to the farthest
extent of its abilities and has benefitted all that supported its missions and maintenance.
Even before its completion in August of 1943, this base was of great importance to both the U.S.
Army and Navy. When the first contingent of troops arrived in Newfoundland in January of
1941, they were only a handful of men consisting of engineers and key US civilian personnel.
Their purpose was to survey the land for the potential construction of an air force base and to
advise what structures would be required. In February of that year, 150 members of the US
Signal Corps and a small group of the 24th Coast Artillery landed and began to set up temporary
residences and defenses around the Stephenville area. Among other things, the purpose of the US
Signal Corps was to set up a communications network from Fort Pepperill via Stephenville, and
then on to the United States.
The Stephenville Air Force base had not been completed when the US Army Air Force (USAAF),
along with the 429th Bombardment Squadron, arrived in April of 1943. They rested at the base
before continuing their journey across the Atlantic. The crews numbered over 700 personnel in
total. Although the base seemed fully functional, it was not completed until September of 1943
when it was officially opened for heavy air traffic. Previously, the only major planes that used the
base were B-17 bombers refueling for trans-Atlantic flights. That same month, command of the
base was transferred to the Army Air Transport Service. Its mission was to service all aircraft
involved in the air movement of personnel and supplies to the European Theater. The base would
also accommodate large bombers that were patrolling the Atlantic for German U-boats activity.
The end of the war in Europe increased activity at Harmon field with the return of US troops.
While the US Air Bases at Goose Bay, Gander, and Argentia looked after the return of both
United States and Canadian aircraft from the war zone and England, Harmon Field concentrated
mostly on the movement of personnel and supplies. The Earnest Harmon Air Force base housed
approximately thirty thousand troops at its peak while personnel were waiting for flights home.
The base was later upgraded in the hopes of becoming a permanent US military base. All aspects
of the base were improved and it was soon recognized as one of the most elegant foreign bases in
the service. In 1948, control of the base again was transferred to another department; this time
the base was to be run by the newly formed US Air Force. Its new mission was downgraded to
become a small refueling station. For seventeen years, 132,000 passengers and 3,000 tonnes of
cargo passed through Stephenville annually. In 1953, the base underwent a major change.
Originally a personnel base, it was converted to a refueling center with the installation of large
fuel tanks that were scattered throughout the area. Many groups such as the renowned F-102
Flight Interceptor Squadron used this base as part of an air defense network set up to defend
against a possible cross-polar attack from Russia. This network was later to be known as
NORAD. Also, it was not uncommon to see formations of F-102 jets fly overhead before
departing to meet over the Atlantic for the in-flight refueling of other aircraft.
In 1966, the Earnest Harmon Air Force base was officially closed and turned over to the province
of Newfoundland. The base had successfully accomplished all of the tasks set for it. It is still
utilized today, but not to the extent of its former glory. The DELTA DAGGER was a fighter jet
that was well known in the skies of Stephenville. A replica was constructed as a monument and a
reminder of the impact that the base had on the town of Stephenville. The Earnest Harmon Air
Force base will soon cater to mock battles and training missions in the summer of 1998 when US
troops return once again. They will be taking part in a extensive training exercise that will see the
Earnest Harmon Air Force base come alive once again as we recall its past glory.