Major World War II Fighter Training Base
As it became more likely that the United States would be drawn into the war in Europe, the Government directed the military services to look for locations that could be used for the training of service personnel. It was with the war effort in mind that Charlotte’s small Douglas Municipal Airport was considered for a U. S. Army Air Corps facility.
In December 1940, the Army Corps of Engineers leased 83 acres south of the airport. Construction started right away and by March 1941 the base was ready for personnel. Col. C. W. Howard was the first Commanding Officer and Capt. Elliott White Springs was recalled to active duty to be the Executive Officer. Capt. Springs, the President of Springs Textile Mills in Ft. Mill, SC, was a World War I Ace who downed 11 enemy aircraft in combat over France. The hangers and aircraft parking areas were completed by May 1941, eight months before Pearl Harbor, and the 29 th Air Base General Headquarters Group, U.S. Army Air Force, arrived to set up operations.
The Charlotte Army Air Base was officially dedicated April 21, 1941 with New York Mayor LaGuardia the principal speaker and high ranging Charlotte officials and military officers in attendance. In choosing a name for the air base, the Air Corps asked local civic organizations for recommendations. Charlotte unanimously recommended 2 nd Lt. James H. Sykes. He was the first Mecklenburg County airman killed in WW I. In spite of this recommendation, in January 1942, the air base was named “Morris Field” in memory of the late Maj. William Col. Morris, of Concord, NC. At the time of his death, he was on the staff of the Chief of the Air Corps.
Initially, Morris Field was a small operation, a tent city, with only two short runways. It eventually grew to several hundred acres, more than one hundred buildings, a control tower and the infrastructure to house and train thousands of combat ready service men and women. In addition to officer and enlisted quarters, there was a hospital, quartermaster warehouses, and aircraft operations maintenance facilities. The aircraft maintenance facility employed many Charlotte women to work on the aircraft.
Major air operations started in late 1941 when the air base was involved in a large-scale air war game conducted over the southeastern states by the Third Air Force Interceptor Command. The 56 th Pursuit Group, permanently based at Morris Field flying the P-40 fighters, took part in the war games.
Image - Map of WWII Morris Field - Click to see larger image.
On Sunday, December 7 th, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Morris Field took on all the formalities of warfare. All personnel were recalled to their post, civilian clothes were ruled out, visitors were restricted, blackout precautions taken and aircraft ordered into readiness. During the approximately five years Morris Field operated on a wartime basis it was a primary flight and gunnery training and aircraft maintenance and repair facility. In addition to the 56 th Pursuit Group, the 46 th and 47 th Bombardment Groups trained combat air crews in flying the Douglas A-20 “Havoc” light bomber and the North American B-25 “Mitchell” medium bomber.
Some other aircraft that operated out of Morris Field were the P-39 pursuit, the B-17 bomber and the C-47 cargo planes. Interestingly, commercial flights continued to operate at the airfield.
Poignantly, Lt. Budd Harris Andrews was killed April 12, 1945 when he crashed his A-20 bomber near Morningside Drive in East Charlotte. The plane’s engine was on fire when he passed over the Morningside Drive houses and crashed on the bank of Brier Creek. Part of the wing fell through the roof of 1300 Morningside Drive. Lt. Andrews had maneuvered the plane past the houses in his path giving up his life to save the residents of the neighborhood. The city of Charlotte dedicated the Budd Andrews Athletic Field at Veterans Park on McClintock Road in his memory.
Morris Field was turned back to Charlotte officials on May 14, 1946 after investing more than six (6) million dollars and renamed the Charlotte Municipal Airport. Some barracks and other structures were turned into apartments to help relieve postwar housing shortages in the area. The Chapel dedicated in September 1941, located on Airport Drive, now serves as a child development center.
The Carolinas Aviation Museum is home to one of the other remaining buildings from the Army’s presence at the airport during the war years. The Thomas Ferebee Building is named in honor of the late Mockville, North Carolina, native Tom Ferebee, the bombardier on the B-29 “Enola Gay” and long-timed museum supporter. Prior to being moved to the museum in 2003, this building served as an annex to the Berryhill Baptist Church.