Air Base Purpose

This page is from a heritage partnered project. It was written in 1998 by students from Stephenville Integrated High School and edited by their teachers. It has not been vetted by the heritage website's academic editor.

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. It was important to protecting the North Atlantic. Initially used as a emergency landing field, it soon became more significant.

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 Pepperrell in St. John's via Stephenville, and then on to the United States.

Changing Hands

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 centre 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 the USSR. This network was later 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.

Turning the Base Over to Newfoundland

In 1966, the base was officially closed and turned over to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The base had successfully accomplished all of the tasks set for it. It continued to be utilized, 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 base catered to mock battles and training missions in the summer of 1998 when US troops returned. They took part in extensive training exercises that saw the Earnest Harmon Air Force base come alive once again.

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