Walker Army Airfield (Kansas)

Walker Army Airfield (Kansas)

Walker Army Airfield (also known as Victoria-Pratt Airfield or Walker-Hayes Airfield) is an abandoned airfield located north of Interstate 70 in Ellis County, 4 miles northeast of Victoria, Kansas.

History

Origns

During World War II, the facility was used as a United States Army Air Forces Second Air Force to train bomber crews. Walker is a very large airfield to be completely abandoned consisting of three runways (each approximately 8,800 ft long), taxiways and a large paved ramp area, all still in very good condition.

Requisite land was purchased by the government in fee simple from individual owners. Additional areas were leased from the Union Pacific railroad for the location of storage yards. Other auxiliary facilities were acquired as needed. Three gunnery ranges were acquired in Ellis, Ness, and Gove counties, and three bombing ranges in Trego and Graham counties.

Contracts were negotiated on 26 August 1942, and construction got under way on 14 September. Three concrete runways 150 feet in width were paved to a length of 8,000 feet and graded at each end another 1,000 feet so that by adding concrete paving at each end, runways 10,000 feet long would be available. Concrete taxiways 75 feet wide, as well as an apron 300 by 375 feet, were constructed. The cantonment, originally designed for about 1,000 men but later much expanded, was of minimum cost (theater of operation) construction, save for the dispensary and one mess hall which were of mobilization type construction. As an example of subsequent expansion, originally only one hangar was built, but by the time of the field's inactivation five hangars were in use. Completion to the point of limited occupancy was accomplished within 79 days after negotiation of the contracts.

Bomber training

The first military personnel at the base were members of a Quartermaster Corps detachment, which arrived from Smoky Hill AAF (aka Schilling Air Force Base), Salina, on 11 November 1942. This advance party was composed of one officer, 2d Lt. Glenn M. Wheeler, and four enlisted men. The first commanding officer of the yet incomplete base was Capt. James E. Altman, who assumed command on 12 December 1942. However, he was quickly replace by Lt. Col. William A. Cahill on 18 December.

The new field acquired its headquarters unit with the activation of the 500th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron on 8 February 1943. Real base activity began when the 852d Signal Corps Detachment, the 3d Weather Squadron, the 23d Airways Communications Squadron, the 2064th Ordnance Corps Detachment and a medical detachment were attached to the 500th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron for administration, rations, and quarters. Early in 1943 the 502d Bombardment Squadron also arrived, along with a guard squadron, a quartermaster company, and an airdrome squadron. The field was in good enough condition by 4 July 1943 to enable the commanding officer to hold "Open House."

Walker Army Air Field began operations simply as a satellite field of Smoky Hill Army Air Field located in Salina. In this capacity Walker was used merely as spillover field in the performance of Smoky Hill's mission of processing heavy bombardment crews for overseas shipment. A more important, and more independent, mission was given to Walker 1 February 1943 when the Second Air Force organized the 6th (later replaced by the 7th) Heavy Bombardment Processing Headquarters there. Walker thus became a processing center in its own right. By the middle of 1943 a still further expansion of mission was due at Walker. The field was scheduled to begin training B-29 crews for combat duty, and in about August 1943 the first B-29s were brought in. Walker was to function through the remaining active portion of its career within the training program of the 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing, which had its headquarters at Sioux City Army Base.

As the training program got under way a major problem presented itself in the lack of bombing ranges. Prior to December 1943, Walker had only one bombing range, the result being overcrowding beyond reasonable limits of safety. In an effort to eliminate this dangerous situation arrangements were made with other fields in that area of Kansas whereby planes from Walker could practice bombing on ranges belonging to other fields. A much better solution was found by the acquisition of four tracts of land during December 1943. By the end of January 1944 these ranges were almost ready for use. As was anticipated, not only did the new ranges eliminate a dangerous condition, but it also resulted in accelerating the B-29 program.

All the units permanently stationed at Walker were reorganized on 25 March 1944 and placed in the 248th AAF Base Unit, which assumed the official designation of the 248th OTU (Operational Training Unit) Training School. The new organization was designed to serve as carrying unit for all permanent party activities, as well as to conduct functions of administration, training, supply, and maintenance.

In April 1944 there was established a Directorate of Training which it was anticipated would, when fully manned and equipped, take over and completely train new bombardment groups coming to Walker. This involved preparation of training programs and schedules and the proper coordination of all training activity to ensure fulfillment of Second Air Force requirements with no overlapping or loss of time. As one group would complete operational training and prepare to leave, the leading elements of the next group would arrive and training would begin on the new group. Sometimes overlapping of two groups on the field at the same time caused acute, though temporary, housing problems. Besides training bomb groups for overseas, Air Service Groups, such as the 72d, 75th and 367th, were also trained for overseas duty.

From very humble beginnings, both the mission and the physical plant of Walker Army Air Field expanded considerably so that by 31 August 1944 a total of 5,936 personnel were stationed at the field. Out of this total 529 officers and 2,742 enlisted men were stationed for training, leaving a permanent party of 235 officers, 1,781 enlisted personnel, and 659

Postwar use

With victory over Japan in August 1945, the mission of the 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing changed and slackened. Salina was the only one of the wing's stations to continue combat crew training. Five other stations were to complete the manning and training of the 449th, 467th, 448th, 44th, and 93d Groups, while three stations, including Walker were left with no mission at all.

Consequently, Walker was relieved from assignment to the 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing and reassigned to the Air Technical Service Command, effective 30 September 1945, and further assigned to the Oklahoma City Air Material Area. The latter then moved into the 4180th AAF Base Unit to maintain the field on a housekeeping basis. On 31 January 1946 Walker was put on inactive status, and disposition of property became the major activity at the field. The inactive status continued until the War Department placed the installation in a surplus category in the middle of 1946. A transfer agreement was drawn up on 21 November 1946 between representatives of Oklahoma City Air Material Area, Walker Army Air Field, Fifth Army and the District Engineers, Kansas City. Subsequently, on 19 December 1946, the field was transferred to the District Engineers.

Portions of the base were leased to a citizen in 1946. In 1949 the air field was returned to the Air Force and became known as Victoria Auxiliary Field until 1959 although apparently no Air Force personnel were ever assigned there. In 1971, the Air Force leased the NE/SW runway for a study dealing with explosive cratering, however, the current owner of the site has said the study had been done shortly after WW2.{cite} The craters are still visible and vegetation and trees have voluntarily grown in the craters.

The site was sold to the same private citizen in 1959 and was held by him until 1991. Former structures included hangars, maintenance buildings, aboveground storage tanks, warehouses, laboratories, machine shop, hospital, garage, motor pool, paint and dope shop, ordnance storage, chemical weapons storage, and various other structures.

From 1948-1952, crop-dusting planes were stored in the old Maintenance hangar. The airfield was apparently abandoned at some point between 1965-68. The site is presently used for agricultural purposes.

B-29 (VH) Units trained at Walker AAF

* [http://330th.org/ 330th Bombardment Group] 1 Apr 1944 - 7 Jan 1945
* 383d Bombardment Group 14 Jan - 11 Aug 1945
* 458th Bombardment Group 25 Jul 1945 -21 Aug 1945
* 462d Bombardment Group 28 Jul 1943 - 12 Mar 1944
* 500th Bombardment Group 16 Apr - 13 Jul 1944

ee also

* Kansas World War II Army Airfields

References

* Kansas Historical Quarterly - Summer/Autumn 1959
* Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.

External links

* [http://www.airfields-freeman.com/KS/Airfields_KS_C.htm#walker Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Walker Army Airfield / Victoria-Pratt Airfield, Walker KS]


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