Organization of Air Forces, Eastern Sea Frontier


From the beginning of World War II, problems of Frontier air organizations were extremely complicated. The major problem was the shortage of naval planes suitable for patrol and. anti-submarine operations. Consequently, the Frontiers were for some time largely dependent on the Army for long-range patrol duty. As Navy planes were made available, gradual developments were inaugurated to create unified command. To clarify the complicated sequence of these developments, the following aspects must be considered separately:

1. Assignment of Aircraft.
2. Air Task Group Structure in the Frontier.
3. Control of Air Operations.

1. Assignment of Aircraft

Before the war, the Atlantic Fleet had developed training programs at I'M Norfolk and at NAS Quonset Point, with Fleet Officers in command of such shore-based units. The Naval Districts also had their own Naval Air Stations, with a limited number of planes assigned to the Districts by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. The Naval Air Station at Lakehurst came in a separate category, because its Commanding Officer was not directly responsible to the Commandant of the Fourth Naval District. On December 10, 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations requested the Commander, North Atlantic Naval Coastal Frontier to place in commission at Lakehurst on January 2, 1942, ZP Squadron 12, as a part of ZP Group ONE. This was done, and it was then stated that ZP-12 was the first non-rigid airship squadron to see service in the United


States Navy. Almost immediately thereafter, these airships conducted regular offshore patrols, under the operational direction of Frontier headquarters.

When the Frontier forces were organized, it was first stated that only the Naval Local Defense Forces (that is, the Naval District Forces) would be activated. And since there had been little need for naval aircraft in the Districts, it thus happened that the North Atlantic Naval Coastal Frontier had but two squadrons: one in the First Naval District (VS1D1 at Squantum), and one in the Third Naval District (VS1D3 at NAS New York). The latter was commissioned on December 31, 1941, under the command of the Commanding Officer, NAS New York. Previously, on December 16, 1941, the Coast Guard Air Station at Brooklyn had been placed under the command of the Commanding Officer, NAS New York; but was maintained logistically by its own Commanding Officer, heading up for this purpose under the Senior Coast Guard Officer in the Third Naval District. Also, in February 1942, Floyd Bennett Field was taken over by the United States Government and the total of 942 acres made available for military purposes. Much of it came under the control of NAS New York.

Early in January, the Frontier Commander informed CominCh by letter that "no effective plans" were available to him which were "capable of maintaining long-range seaward patrol" and that "the necessity for at least one squadron of patrol planes cannot be overemphasized." CominCh thereupon forwarded the letter to CinCLant, obviously implying that the need might be satisfied temporarily by the transfer of one Fleet squadron to the Frontier. On January 27, 1942, CinCLant replied with the statement


that while the need of the Coastal Frontier Commanders for long-range planes was fully appreciated he could not recommend any reassignment from the Fleet "until Atlantic Fleet Patrol Wing needs in this respect have first been satisfied." He added that Fleet aircraft had already been made available to the Commandant of the Fifth Naval District for anti-submarine patrols in the Norfolk area; but that such use was possible only for limited periods. CominCh answered, saying, "it is not the intention to provide patrol squadrons to the Frontiers until such time as Fleet squadrons have been brought up to full strength."

In effect, this meant that during the early days of the U-boat campaign in Frontier waters, almost all long-range air patrol of this area had to be done by the Army First Bomber Command. Thus it happened that the Frontier was primarily dependent on the Army for extended air coverage, not only during January but also during most of 1942.

Short-range patrol squadrons were made available by CinCLant during February. On January 25, 1942, CinCLant informed this Command that any Fleet aircraft shore-based in the Frontier would be made available for emergency assistance in the combat of enemy submarines; but that such emergency use should not interfere unduly with scheduled training operations. Unfortunately, emergencies were the order of the day, and such heavy demands were made on Fleet aircraft by Frontier operations that CinCLant found it necessary to define with more-precision the nature of the limited use intended. On February 14, 1942, he wrote that Fleet aircraft had not been made available for routine patrol operations; that all orders or directives for limited use of Fleet aircraft should be made to the Senior


Fleet Aviator of any Fleet Air Detachment furnishing planes for anti-submarine operations. Thus, control of Fleet aircraft was to be kept strictly within the Fleet.

In spite of increasing submarine successes, no further aircraft assignments were made for several weeks. On February 7, 1942, CominCh sent to this Command a dispatch listing new assignments of ships and aircraft to bolster the weak forces. These assignments for surface craft included 15 Coast Guard Cutters, 5 PE's, 7 PY's, and 3 PC's. Then came the air assignments:

  1. Lakehurst Naval Air Detachment.
  2. Coast Guard Aircraft of New York, Elizabeth City and Salem.
  3. Any Naval Aircraft as CinCLant may make available.
  4. VS1D3 and VS1D1.
  5. As formed, within the limits of the Eastern Sea Frontier, all other Inshore Patrol Squadrons.

The plea of Commander Eastern Sea Frontier for some of the United States-built planes which were earmarked for the British had been turned down in January and February 1942. But during March, sinkings continued at such an alarming rate that the Navy Department reconsidered. On March 28, 1942, CominCh informed Commander Eastern Sea Frontier that 70 OS2U-3 planes previously assigned to the British would be made available for anti-submarine patrol in the Eastern and Gulf Sea Frontiers - at the rate of four per day. The assignment was as follows:

(1) to VS1D1 6
(2) to VS1D3 6
(3) to VS1D5 18
(4) to Atlantic Fleet Carrier Replacement Group 9 18
(5) to VS1D7 (Gulf) 12
(6) Spares 10
Total 70


CinCLant was further directed to make available one squadron of Carrier Replacement Group 9, for temporary duty under Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier.

The need for flexibility in reassignment of Fleet aircraft resulted in a complete reorganization of Fleet air during July 1942 -- and this change had direct bearing on the Frontiers. In the new structure, all Fleet planes were under the administrative control of Commander Patrol Wings, Atlantic Fleet and of Commander Patrol Wings, Pacific Fleet. In the Atlantic, Patrol Wing Five had its normal home base at Norfolk and was directed to include a command area from Norfolk south to the Gulf Sea Frontier and east including Bermuda. Patrol Wing Seven, based at Argentia, covered the command area including Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland. Patrol Wing Nine, normally based at Quonset, covered the command area from north of Norfolk to the Canadian boundary. Previous to this time, patrol squadrons had been assigned permanently to a Patrol Wing. In the new organization, Patrol Wings were no longer to be assigned permanently to any particular wing command, but would be shifted by CominCh directives as varying situations required. The purpose was to effect increased mobility of squadrons and flexibility of organization.

Furthermore, the new structure more carefully delineated responsibilities of administration and operation. Squadron commanders and flight crews were relieved of all practicable administrative and maintenance details. Each Patrol Wing flag unit was organized as a separate command, for purposes of operational and administrative control, and was designated "Patrol Wing Headquarters Squadron."

On July 22, 1942, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations outlined the manner in which these new Inshore Patrol squadrons should be produced:


"Form and commission following squadrons to relieve Carrier Replacement Group Nine of Inshore Patrol Duty when ready:

VS-3D1 At NAS Quonset About 15 August
VS-1D4 At NAS Cape May About 15 August
VS-2D5 At NAS Norfolk (for Cherry Point) About 25 August

Operational allowance each squadron, 18 VSO to be transferred from Carrier Replacement Group 9. Personnel will be obtained by splitting squadrons 1D1, 1D3, and 1D5. Additional personnel should be furnished immediately in anticipation of subdivision of these three squadrons. Inform department of commissioning dates. Bureaus and Offices of Navy Department take necessary action to make available personnel and material."

These directives were carried out, with some slight delays for commissioning dates, and by August 31, 1942, the Frontier squadrons relieved not only the Carrier Replacement Squadron but also long-range Fleet planes (PBY's) which had served temporarily under the Commandant of the Fifth Naval District. The Fleet planes In Group 9 were permanently transferred to Inshore Patrol Squadrons of the Frontier.

An even more important shakeup in the relation between Fleet aircraft and Frontier aircraft took place in October 1942. Assignment of aircraft by CominCh to three organizations (Fleets, Frontiers, Naval Districts) had meant confusion of administrative responsibilities insofar as matters of training and logistics were concerned. It seemed desirable to authorize one coordinating head for such administration; to centralize the naval administrative commands for all naval aircraft under the Atlantic Fleet and the Pacific Fleet. On October 17, 1942, CominCh directed that all Inshore Patrol aircraft squadrons should be transferred immediately from the various Naval Districts to the Atlantic or Pacific Fleet, as appropriate. These squadrons thus became Fleet squadrons in the same sense that the other patrol squadrons were.


For operational control, however, they were at once reassigned to the Sea Frontiers without change. Maintenance, material, personnel and training came under the appropriate Fleet Air Commanders, and were handled as a part of the shore-based air forces of the Fleet. Perhaps to avoid confusion between these Inshore Patrol Squadrons and their Patrol Wing commands, CominCh directed that on November 1, 1942, the term "Patrol Wings" would be changed to "Fleet Air Wings" -- this new term used to indicate all air squadrons of any and all types, together with supporting vessels, duly assigned by Fleet commanders.

In conformity with these changes which subordinated all aircraft to Fleet commands, CominCh directed that Airship Group One at Lakehurst should report to the Atlantic Fleet on December 1, 1942; that Airship Group Three should report to the Pacific Fleet. As Fleet units, these Airship Groups thus came under the cognizance of the respective Fleet Air Commanders for maintenance, material, personnel and training; but for operational control they remained under the Sea Frontiers.

In this new organization, there was need for a closer relationship between air commands of the Frontier and the Fleet. To effect this coordination, Commander Eastern Sea Frontier took note of the earlier directive which permitted him to use Fleet Air Wing Commanders as task group commanders. In the Frontier Operation Plan 1-43, promulgated January 1, 1943, the somewhat misleading statement occurred that task groups 90.13 and 90.l4 were Fleet Air Wing 5 and Fleet Air Wing 9, respectively. In actual practice, however, the planes assigned to the Frontier from these two Fleet Air Wings had been reassigned to other task group commanders. These included two patrol squadrons and two scouting squadrons from Fleet Air Wing 5; four scouting squadrons from Fleet Air Wing 9; Airship Group One from Fleet Airship Group 30. But


the Operation Plan made clear the administrative nature of these two new task groups:

"Fleet Air Wings utilize all available resources to enhance the operational effectiveness of the various Fleet squadrons under operational control of Eastern Sea Frontier. Provide personnel to augment permanent nuclei of control staffs in local stations (tactical) operations offices which are maintained for tactical control of Air Operations in the Frontier. Supervise training of Squadron personnel; keep Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier advised of the training situation as effecting the capabilities of units assigned to operate under the Frontier. Administer squadrons under operational control of the Frontier Commander in accordance with effective Fleet directives."


2. Air Task Group Structure in the Frontier

The major problem in organizing Frontier aircraft was to devise a task group structure which would expedite operational control, without too many intermediate commands between the Joint Operations Control Office in Frontier Headquarters and the aircraft designated to carry out a specific mission. During the early days of the Frontier, there were so few planes that plans could be outlined with theoretical simplicity. On December 5, 1941, Change No. 2 to the Frontier Operation Plan O-4 (Rainbow No. 5) placed surface craft under the operational control of Task Group Commanders Who were the Commandants of the component Naval Districts; but placed aircraft under the operational supervision of Task Group Commanders who were senior air officers at the various Naval Air Stations. Such an organization permitted


a direct command relationship from Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier to five Air Task Group Commanders:

  1. Coastal Air Patrol Group.
    1. New York unit, based at NAS New York, with 9 VPB's and 1 AVD.
    2. Quonset unit, based at NAS Quonset, with 9 VPB's.
  2. Observation Group.
    Airships, based at NAS Lakehurst.
  3. Salem Air Patrol Group.
    Coast Guard aircraft, based at Salem, Mass.
  4. Rockaway Air Patrol Group.
    Coast Guard aircraft, based at Rockaway, N.Y.
  5. Currituck Air Patrol Group.
    Coast Guard aircraft, based at Elizabeth City, N.C.

This five-group organization of aircraft was taken out of its theoretical status and put into effect without change on January 3, 1942 -- less than a month after our entry into the war -- when the Frontier Operation 1-42 was promulgated. Analysis indicates that of the five groups, three were Coast Guard, comprising a few planes originally intended for peace-time shore patrol; that one was a lighter-than-air group which was still in its early stage of organization; that the "Coastal Air Patrol Group" was made up of the Inshore Patrol squadrons assigned to the First and Third Naval Districts - the former based at Quonset, the latter based at New York.

At this time, no authority had been delegated to Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier to have operational control over a specific squadron or detachment of Army planes from the First Bomber Command. Nevertheless, the standard authorization for unity of Army-Navy command, exercised for the defense of coastal and sea frontier was set forth clearly, in the Joint-Action Manual FTP 155 -- and Commander Eastern Sea Frontier did not wait for specific authorization in making use of Army planes for anti-submarine patrol. On


March 26, 1942, unity of command was formally vested in Commander Eastern Sea Frontier over all Naval forces duly allocated and over all Army air units allocated for operations over the sea in the protection of shipping and in anti-submarine warfare. On March 28, 1942, Lieutenant General Hugh A. Drum, Commanding General of the Eastern Defense Command, formally reported to Commander Eastern Sea Frontier that the First Bomber Command, less three bombardment squadrons, and the First Air Support Command, less four Observations Squadrons, were allocated to the Eastern Sea Frontier. These Army planes were handled as a task group directly controlled by Commander Eastern Sea Frontier.

As for the planes actually available from the Army, since December 7, 1941, the First Bomber Command had only enough planes to provide two daily flights of three planes from Westover Field in Massachusetts, Mitchel Field in New York and Langley Field in Virginia -- a total of six flights each day over standard courses laid out by Commander Eastern Sea Frontier. These planes were B-17's, B-18's and B-25's. During January, it had been pointed out that these few units were assigned by the Army only "at the expense of a striking force which could be called upon in case of enemy attack." As for the First Air Support Command, none of their observation planes carried armament when first assigned to Eastern Sea Frontier. By the end of March, the First Air Support Command had available 84 small planes, of which only 26 carried 100-pound fused contact bombs.

During the period from January to April, 1942, operational practice gradually resulted in a change from the plan promulgated on January 3, 1942. It was found that there was so close a relationship between surface and air


tasks that the Task Group Commanders of Naval Districts (i.e., the Commandants) continued to issue orders to the Air Task Group Commanders (i.e., Senior Naval Air Officers) at those Naval Air Stations in the geographical area under their control.

In practice, the Inshore Patrol Squadron of the First Naval District had continued to operate under the appropriate Commandant, who in turn was responsible as a Task Group Commander To Commander Eastern Sea Frontier. The only other aircraft Inshore Patrol Squadron, at first, was based at NAS New York, and operated under the control of the Commandant, Third Naval District. During the early months, after our entry into the war, an anomalous situation developed here, since the Commandant, Third Naval District (Admiral Adolphus Andrews) was also Commander Eastern Sea Frontier. When this dual command was separated by the appointment of Rear Admiral Marquart as Commandant, Third Naval District on March 26, 1942, certain moves were made to avoid duplication of functions. For example, the Third Naval District Communications Code Board in "Radio New York" continued to handle all incoming and outgoing dispatch traffic for Commander Eastern Sea Frontier, thus avoiding the necessity for creating two Code Boards in the same building - 90 Church Street. Also, it was agreed that since the Eastern Sea Frontier Joint Operations Office had operational control of NAS New York, there would be no value in creating a subordinate air officer in Com 3; that NAS New York would be controlled directly by the Commander Eastern Sea Frontier. Thus the Commanding Officer of NAS New York actually continued as a Task Group Commander directly responsible to Commander Eastern Sea Frontier and not operationally controlled


by Commandant, Third Naval District. Such a structure, in keeping with Operation Plan 1042, was further supported by the operational control of NAS Lakehurst, which took no cognizance of Commandant, Fourth Naval District. In similar fashion, Army air fields geographically located, for example, in the First Naval District, were operationally controlled by Commander Eastern Sea Frontier without the intermediate control of Commandant, First Naval District. Thus these three air components (NAS New York, NAS Lakehurst and Army Air for anti-submarine patrols) were operationally controlled as Task Groups of the Frontier Force. But the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Naval Districts had operational control of Inshore Patrol squadrons as assigned.

Carrying out the directives of CominCh, Commander Eastern Sea Frontier issued a new Operation Plan (2-42) on April 15, 1942, in which the Frontier air forces were directly under the control of each Commandant acting as Task Group Commander:

  1. Northern Air Patrol.
  2. Narragansett Air Patrol.
  3. New York Air Patrol.
  4. Delaware Air Patrol.
  5. Chesapeake Air Patrol.
  6. Southern Air Patrol.

Then as separate task groups:

  1. Striking Force (First Bomber Command and First Air Force)
  2. Airship force.

Shortly after the appearance of this Plan, the Task Group Commander of the New York Force (Com THREE) requested a clarification of command relationships for the New York Air Patrol. In answer, Commander Eastern Sea Frontier wrote on April 17, 1942, "Until the Commander New York Force is otherwise advised,


the Commander Eastern Sea Frontier will continue to exercise direct control of the New York Air Patrol as heretofore. It is understood this procedure is satisfactory to the Task Force Commander." Thus the aircraft of the Third Naval District remained in a category distinct from the aircraft of the other Naval Districts, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of command.

A further attempt was made to improve the efficiency of air operations. On May 26, 1942, Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier wrote to CominCh and to Frontier Task Group Commanders recommending certain changes. It was therein stated that the senior aviators of Naval Air Stations were primarily concerned with industrial and training activities and that it was considered essential that the Operations staffs of the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Naval Districts should be increased immediately to include Air Operations Officers of suitable rank and experience. "It is not considered possible," the letter continued, "for a District Air Operations Officer to perform his military duties effectively unless he is relieved of all other administrative responsibilities."

In retrospect, it can be seen that the general direction of all these changes had been from centralization of air control in Headquarters, Eastern Sea Frontier to decentralization, so that the Task Group Commanders in a given geographical area had responsibility for the integration of both air and surface forces operating in that area. In July 1942, the Commanding General, Eastern Defense Command, wrote to Commander Eastern Sea Frontier and called his attention to certain duplications of air coverage functions as a result of the separation of Navy Air Forces and Army Air Forces in a given geographical area. He proposed that closer coordination of functions


could be worked out of all Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine aircraft assigned to anti-submarine duty in the Frontier should be reassigned to the Commanding General, First Bomber Command, who would serve as Task Group Commander for Air under Commander Eastern Sea Frontier. "To do so," he added, "would permit him, under your control, the more readily to plan and keep track of all coastwise air operations; to avoid duplication of effort by the assignment of missions to units most available to the job; or to avoid the possibility of neglecting a mission on the assumption that 'the other fellow' is going to take care of it."

In reply, Commander Eastern Sea Frontier stated that the ideal way to gain efficient cooperation between Army and Navy air in the Frontier would be to reassign Army planes to Naval Air Stations so that they would serve directly under a geographically responsible Task Group Commander such as the Commandant. He added that such a move had never been made because it was known that the Army Air Force wished to have Army planes continue their centralized organization for purposes of administration and training. Thus the Army proposal for unity of air command was regretfully rejected. In corroborating this answer, CominCh wrote to Commander Eastern Sea Frontier that "the proposals are those of over-centralization, as opposed to decentralization, which latter allows for the bringing into play of all the advantages of the principle of the initiative of the subordinate."


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Transcribed and formatted by Rick Pitz for the HyperWar Foundation