Thornbrough Air Force Base

Last updated
Thornbrough Air Force Base
Airport typePublic
Owner State of Alaska DOT&PF - Central Region
Serves Cold Bay, Alaska
Hub for PenAir
Elevation  AMSL 101 ft / 31 m
Coordinates 55°12′19″N162°43′28″W / 55.20528°N 162.72444°W / 55.20528; -162.72444 Coordinates: 55°12′19″N162°43′28″W / 55.20528°N 162.72444°W / 55.20528; -162.72444
USA Alaska location map.svg
Airplane silhouette.svg
Thornbrough AFB
Location of airport in Alaska
Direction LengthSurface
Statistics (2011)
Aircraft operations9,210

Thornbrough Air Force Base is a former facility of the United States Air Force in Cold Bay, Alaska. Following its closure, it was redeveloped into Cold Bay Airport.

United States Air Force Air and space warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially formed as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.

Alaska U.S. state in the United States

Alaska is a U.S. state in the northwest extremity of the United States West Coast, just across the Bering Strait from Asia. The Canadian province of British Columbia and territory of Yukon border the state to the east and southeast. Its most extreme western part is Attu Island, and it has a maritime border with Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. To the north are the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—southern parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest. It is the largest U.S. state by area and the seventh largest subnational division in the world. In addition, it is the 3rd least populous and the most sparsely populated of the 50 United States; nevertheless, it is by far the most populous territory located mostly north of the 60th parallel in North America: its population—estimated at 738,432 by the United States Census Bureau in 2015—is more than quadruple the combined populations of Northern Canada and Greenland. Approximately half of Alaska's residents live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. Alaska's economy is dominated by the fishing, natural gas, and oil industries, resources which it has in abundance. United States armed forces bases and tourism are also a significant part of the economy.

Cold Bay Airport airport

Cold Bay Airport is a state owned, public use airport located in Cold Bay, a city in the Aleutians East Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska. First built as a United States Army Air Forces airfield during World War II, it is one of the main airports serving the Alaska Peninsula. Scheduled passenger service is available and air taxi operators fly in and out of the airport daily. Formerly, the airport operated as Thornbrough Air Force Base.



The airport was constructed during World War II as Fort Randall Army Airfield during the secret military buildup of the Territory of Alaska that began in 1941. Originally, the equipment was supposed to construct McGrath Army Airbase, but the ground had frozen by the time that the equipment arrived. [1] Disguised as civilian employees of the Blair Canning and Packing Company, United States Army personnel in civilian clothes were shipped to Cold Bay. Construction began in December 1941, and the airfield was ready for operation by March 1942. Because of the foresight of Alaska's military commanders, the new airfield, along with another new secret airfield, Cape Field at Umnak, was ready to contribute to the defense of Alaska against Imperial Japanese Navy air attack during the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942. The airfield at Cold Bay remained operational throughout World War II.

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Territory of Alaska territory of the USA between 1912–1959

The Territory of Alaska or Alaska Territory was an organized incorporated territory of the United States from August 24, 1912, until Alaska was granted statehood on January 3, 1959. The territory was previously the Department of Alaska, 1868–1884; and the District of Alaska, 1884–1912.

McGrath Army Airbase

McGrath Army Airbase is former United States Army airbase located in McGrath, a city in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area of the U.S. state of Alaska.

Known units assigned to Fort Randall Army Airfield (AAF) were:

344th Fighter Squadron

The 344th Fighter Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with 343d Fighter Group stationed at Shemya Army Airfield, Alaska Territory.

54th Fighter Squadron

The 54th Fighter Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was to the 3d Operations Group, being stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. It was inactivated on 28 April 2000.

Fort Randall AAF was also used by the United States Navy during the Aleutian campaign. A two-gun 6-inch (152-mm) naval gun battery was located at Grant Point. One gun is on display near the town dump. A four-gun 155 mm gun battery on Panama mounts was located at Mortensen's Lagoon at Thin Point. The HECP bunker still exists at Pride Lake.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of US Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. It has the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 336,978 personnel on active duty and 101,583 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 290 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of June 2019, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

Panama mount

The term Panama Mount describes a gun mount developed by the U.S. Army in Panama during the 1920s for fixed coastal artillery positions. Panama mounts were widely used during the buildup to and during World War II by the United States military.

In the spring and summer of 1945, Cold Bay was the site of the largest and most ambitious transfer program of World War II, Project Hula, in which the United States transferred 149 ships and craft to the Soviet Union and trained 12,000 Soviet personnel in their operation in anticipation of the Soviet Union entering the war against Japan. Fort Randall provided housing and classroom space for the instructors and trainees. At any given time, about 1,500 American personnel were at Cold Bay and Fort Randall during Project Hula. [2] The area to the southeast of the Fort Randall Air Air Field runways was known as "Navy Town". In addition to housing, this area also included a theater, hospital and a runway.

Project Hula Place

Project Hula was a program during World War II in which the United States transferred naval vessels to the Soviet Union in anticipation of the Soviets eventually joining the war against Japan, specifically in preparation for planned Soviet invasions of southern Sakhalin and the Kuril islands. Based at Cold Bay in the Territory of Alaska, the project was active during the spring and summer of 1945. It was the largest and most ambitious transfer program of World War II.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a federal sovereign state in northern Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Pacific War Theater of World War II fought in the Pacific and Asia

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean theatre, the South West Pacific theatre, the South-East Asian theatre, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the Soviet–Japanese War.

The airfield was named Thornbrough Air Force Base in 1948 for Captain George W. Thornbrough, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-26 Marauder pilot. Captain Thornbrough fought during the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942, bravely attacking a Japanese aircraft carrier that was launching strike aircraft at Dutch Harbor. Although his torpedo struck the carrier, it failed to explode. Captain Thornbrough returned to his airfield to refuel and rearm and then took off to rejoin the fight. The aircraft and entire crew were lost during their return from this mission, when they were unable to land at Cold Bay. The wreckage of Captain Thornbrough's aircraft was found 50 miles (80 km) from Cold Bay on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula the following month.

In the United States uniformed services, captain is a commissioned-officer rank. In keeping with the traditions of the militaries of most nations, the rank varies between the services, being a senior rank in the naval services and a junior rank in the ground and air forces.

Aircraft carrier Warship that serves as a seagoing airbase

An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries, reduce the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.

Dutch Harbor Harbor in the United States

Dutch Harbor is a harbor on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, Alaska. It was the location of the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942, and was one of the few sites in the United States territories to be subjected to aerial bombardment by a foreign power during World War II. It was also one of the few sites, besides the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, in incorporated U.S. territory to be bombed by the Japanese in the war.

It was redesignated from Army Air Base (AAB) to an Air Force Base (AFB) on 28 March 1948 along with seven other Army Air Bases in Alaska. Its chief assets were a 10,000-foot runway and a deep-water dock. It was controlled by the 5024th Air Base Squadron, Alaskan Air Command (AAC). It was logistically supported by the 39th Air Depot Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Its mission became supporting Military Air Transport Service (MATS) transport flights along the Great Circle Route from Japan, as well as supporting the 7th (later 9th) Weather Group which provided support for WB-29 Superfortress flights of the 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Eielson AFB which operated over the Northern Pacific and Bering Sea. Both the runway and dock have continued in service to this day serving as transportation hubs for airlines and shipping.

The control tower at Cold Bay airport in August 1972. Cold Bay airport.jpg
The control tower at Cold Bay airport in August 1972.
Cold Bay sometime in the late 20th century. Cold Bay Airport's runways are visible. Cold Bay, Alaska.jpg
Cold Bay sometime in the late 20th century. Cold Bay Airport's runways are visible.

The 5042d ABS was discontinued on 1 January 1950 per AAC General Order Number 198, dated 13 December 1949, due to budget restrictions. Control of the base was taken over directly by AAC. It was planned for inactivation; however, the transport demands by MATS flying to Japan to support the Korean War delayed the inevitable closing of the base until 1 September 1953 by AAC General Order 66.

Between 1956 and 1958, Cold Bay Airport was used as a logistics support base during the construction of Cold Bay Air Force Station, a Ground Control Intercept (GCI) station for Alaskan Air Command during the Cold War. Today, the airport is used by the USAF 611th Air Support Group, based at Elmendorf AFB to support the unattended Long Range Radar (LRR) site A-08 just to the northwest of the airport.

See also

Related Research Articles

Hunter Army Airfield

Hunter Army Airfield, located in Savannah, Georgia, United States, is a military airfield and subordinate installation to Fort Stewart located in Hinesville, Georgia.

Eleventh Air Force Numbered air force of the United States Air Force responsible for the Alaskan region

The Eleventh Air Force (11 AF) is a Numbered Air Force of the United States Air Force Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). It is headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska.

Alaskan Air Command 1945-1990 United States Air Force major command, predecessor of the Eleventh Air Force

Alaskan Air Command (AAC) is an inactive United States Air Force Major Command originally established in 1942 under the United States Army Air Forces. Its mission was to organize and administer the air defense system of Alaska, exercise direct control of all active measures, and coordinate all passive means of air defense. In addition, the command also supported Strategic Air Command elements operating through and around Alaska. It was redesignated Eleventh Air Force on 9 August 1990 and, concurrently, status changed from a major command of the United States Air Force to a subordinate organization of Pacific Air Forces.

Ladd Army Airfield United States historic place

Ladd Army Airfield is the military airfield located at Fort Jonathan Wainwright, located in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was originally called Fairbanks Air Base, but was renamed Ladd Field on 1 December 1939, in honor of Major Arthur K. Ladd, a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps who died in a plane crash near Dale, South Carolina on 13 December 1935.

Marks Air Force Base former United States Air Force facility

Marks Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force facility located two nautical miles (4 km) west of the central business district of Nome, a city in the Nome Census Area of the U.S. state of Alaska. Following its closure, it was redeveloped into Nome Airport.

Santo-Pekoa International Airport

Santo-Pekoa International Airport is an airport in Luganville on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. Airports Vanuatu Limited provides aviation services for the airport.

Lawson Army Airfield airport in Fort Benning, United States of America

Lawson Army Airfield is a military airport located at Fort Benning in Chattahoochee County, Georgia, south of the city of Columbus, Georgia. It is Fort Benning's primary Force Projection Platform.

Cape Field at Fort Glenn United States historic place

Cape Field at Fort Glenn was a military site significant for its role in World War II. It consists of Fort Glenn, an airfield of the United States Army Air Corps later renamed Cape Air Force Base, and the adjacent Otter Point Naval Air Facility, both located on Umnak Island in the Aleutian Islands of southwestern Alaska. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

California World War II Army Airfields Wikimedia list article

During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) established numerous airfields in California for training pilots and aircrews of USAAF fighters and bombers.

Wyoming World War II Army Airfields

During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) established numerous airfields in Wyoming for training pilots and aircrews of USAAF fighters and bombers.

During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) established numerous airfields in Massachusetts for training pilots and aircrews of USAAF fighters and bombers.

Cross City Air Force Station

Cross City Air Force Station is a former United States Air Force facility, located 1.6 miles (2.6 km) east of Cross City, Florida.

Lunéville-Croismare Airport french airport

Lunéville-Croismare Airport is an airport in France, located approximately 3 km east-southeast of Lunéville in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department. The airport is used for general aviation, with no commercial airline service.

Muqeible Airfield

Muqeible Airfield is an abandoned military airfield located in the northern West Bank, approximately 1 km southwest of the village of Muqeible, Israel and 3 km north of Jenin.

Alexai Point Army Airfield

Alexai Point Army Airfield is an abandoned World War II airfield with two runways laid across Alexai Point on Attu Island, Alaska. The remains of the Seabee built airbase are located about 4 miles east of the closed Casco Cove Coast Guard Station, directly across Massacre Bay.

Bangor Air National Guard Base

Bangor Air National Guard Base is a United States Air National Guard base. Created in 1927 as the commercial Godfrey Field, the airfield was taken over by the U.S. Army just before World War II and renamed Godfrey Army Airfield and later Dow Army Airfield. It became Dow Air Force Base in 1947, when the newly formed U.S. Air Force took over many Army air assets. In 1968, the base was sold to the city of Bangor, Maine, to become Bangor International Airport but has since continued to host Maine Air National Guard units under a lease agreement with the city.

Elmendorf Air Force Base United States military facility in Anchorage, Alaska

Elmendorf Air Force Base is a United States Air Force facility in Anchorage, Alaska. Originally known as Elmendorf Field, it became Elmendorf Air Force Base after World War II. In 2010 it was amalgamated with nearby Fort Richardson to form Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Fort Glenn Army Air Base

Cape Air Force Base also known as Fort Glenn Army Air Base, is a site significant for its role in World War II fighting, operating alongside Otter Point Naval Air Facility.

Naval Air Facility Adak United States historic place

Naval Air Facility Adak, was a United States Navy airport located west of Adak, on Adak Island in the U.S. state of Alaska. After its closure in 1997, it was reopened as Adak Airport. The facility was designated a National Historic Landmark for its role in World War II, although most of its elements from that period have been demolished or lie in ruins.


  1. "HISTORY OF THE ELEVENTH AIR FORCE". Eleventh Air Force. Archived from the original on 17 February 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  2. Russell, Richard A., Project Hula: Secret Soviet-American Cooperation in the War Against Japan, Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1997, ISBN   0-945274-35-1, pp. 1, 13, 16, 35.

Military history