Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 and WWII

By Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist, State Archives of North Carolina

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) official began operating through its North Carolina Wing the last Coastal Patrol Base in the United States — Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 — in Beaufort, North Carolina. Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 was authorized by officials in Washington, D.C., on September 2, 1942, with the Coastal Patrol Base’s first organized aerial patrol beginning on September 30, 1942.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank E. Dawson, commander of the North Carolina Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, worked to assemble a volunteer staff for the new CAP facility in Beaufort. He secured the necessary aircraft, materials to construct CAP patrol base buildings. Initially, 75 CAP volunteers from North Carolina traveled to Beaufort in order to serve at Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21. The base had acquired a field to be used as an airfield for the new operations. The field — originally used as an airport — had been unused for years, and was located in waist-high swamp grass and covered in stump pine. Around half of the “field” was under water during high tide. A pre-existing small, two-room house — known as Emmett Russell’s cottage — on the property was moved and refitted to serve as the Base Operations Office. The field was cleared to create two uneven runways for the base aircraft.

The first CAP organized patrol at Base No. 21 took off on September 30, 1942. Patrols were conducted daily from Beaufort, though through the use of small aircraft — as military aircraft would be unable to land on the runways at the base. Apart from the headquarters building, Base No. 21 featured no other structures; all of the structures — including hangars — were built by the CAP volunteers. There were no hotels or housing for the volunteers either near the base. All of the Beaufort CAP volunteers had to find their own means of housing and locations to sleep while working at the base. Most of the volunteers’ time at the base was involved in construction, leveling the field and filling in holes on the runways, and constructing a radio tower.

Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 was closed on August 31, 1943, once the German U-boat menace began to subside. There were a total number of 3,194 patrol missions flown from Base No. 21. 8,447 hours were flown total from the facility. The CAP base rescued 45 individuals from ship or plane wrecks in the waters within the base’s patrolling zone. The base came to have 80 individuals working at it as CAP volunteers.

Planes flown at Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 included the following: Stinson Voyagers; Stinson Reliance; Fairchilds; Waco; Curtis Robin; Monocoach; and Cessna. After the Beaufort base was closed, 60 of its male and female CAP volunteers were transferred on December 20, 1943, to Monogram Field in Driver, Virginia, where they assisted the U.S. Army Air Force with various responsibilities.

On July 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed into law Public Law 476, incorporating the Civil Air Patrol as a benevolent, nonprofit organization. On May 26, 1948, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 557, which permanently established the Civil Air Patrol as the auxiliary of the new U.S. Air Force, which had been created out of the U.S. Army Air Force in 1947.

You can learn more about the Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21’s history by reading the writing of the former Civil Air Patrol National Historian Frank A. Blazich Jr. of North Carolina, who is presently the lead military curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and present director of the Col Louisa S. Morse Center for CAP History. Blazich has pioneered researching and writing the history of the Civil Air Patrol in North Carolina. His article is available here. His book, “An Honorable Place in American Air Power”: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol Operations, 1942–1943, is available to read online here.

The original Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 unit history book is available online to view in the digital WWII collection of the North Carolina Digital Collections, a joint effort of the State Archives of North Carolina and State Library of North Carolina.

Resources

  1. Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 History, WWII 32, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.
  2. Jordan K. Rouse Papers, 1943–1945, PC.1774.1, Private Collections, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C. This collection contains a lot of photographs of the Coastal Air Patrol Base No. 21 from someone who was stationed there. Finding aid online at https://axaem.archives.ncdcr.gov/findingaids/PC_1774_1_Jordan_K__Rouse_Papers.html
  3. Frank Blazich Jr., “An Honorable Place in American Air Power”: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol Operations, 1942–1943, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama : Air University Press, 2020. Viewed online through the Air University Press at https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/AUPress/Display/Article/2440096/an-honorable-place-in-american-air-power-civil-air-patrol-coastal-patrol-operat/
  4. Frank Blazich Jr., “CAP’s Coastal Patrol Bases №16 and 21: A Brief History,” November 6, 2017, Civil Air Patrol North Carolina Wing website, viewed at https://www.ncwgcap.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=article.display&articleID=684

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