Marine Corps Air Station


Marine Corps Air Station

When the US became a combatant in World War II, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, it became necessary to establish several Marine Corps air bases along the West Coast. Thus the newly constructed Santa Barbara Municipal Airport was leased to the US Government in February 1942, the same month one of seven Japanese submarines patrolling the west coast bombed the Ellwood Oil Field just west of Santa Barbara. Government acquisition of additional surrounding lands began immediately. The first Marines arrived in June 1942 and in December ‘Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Barbara’ was commissioned. By the middle of 1943 over a hundred new buildings had been erected and the footprint had grown from the Airport’s original 580 acres to 1490 acres. The station now had everything it needed to serve as a training base for pilots and aerial gunners. In effect it became a small city, with a population greater than Goleta’s and capable of housing and feeding a few thousand Marines.

Pilots who arrived here had already earned their wings as Naval Aviators, principally at Pensacola or Corpus Christi Naval Air Stations. Familiarization training in specific airplane types (e.g., fighter, bomber, transport) had already taken place at the Marine Corps’ east coast bases. Santa Barbara, now one of four Marine Corps Air Stations out west (along with Mojave, El Centro and El Toro), was to be the last stop for squadrons heading to combat in the Pacific. Here aircrews spent 6 to 9 months learning advanced combat flying tactics and other skills from seasoned veterans. Squadrons sent to “MCAS, Santa Barbara” comprised a mix of combat veterans, newer pilots, and those who had been flying aircraft transport missions in the states. Here they learned to fight as a coherent combat unit. Towards the war’s end and in anticipation of the final assault on Japan’s home islands, a unique command structure was put in place at Santa Barbara to train Marine aviators for the arduous task of flying (take-offs and landings) from small aircraft carriers in the ocean to support Marines invading enemy-held lands from ships.

After the Japanese surrendered, the Department of the Navy wanted to make Santa Barbara Airport a permanent base because they had invested so much money in it. However pleadings from the City of Santa Barbara eventually persuaded the U.S. Government to abandon the Marine base and all its buildings and quitclaim deed the surrounding lands to Santa Barbara and the University of California at Santa Barbara. In February 1946 the base was decommissioned and shortly thereafter it was placed on caretaker status. The remaining personnel were transferred to El Toro.

All told, 19 fighter squadrons (most flew the F4U Corsair), eleven torpedo bombing squadrons (principally the TBF/TBM Avenger), and three Scout bombing squadrons (with the SBD Dauntless) trained here.

When the U.S. Government gave up the land, Santa Barbara Airport received 928 acres and the Regents of the University of California at Santa Barbara received over 400 acres. Many of the WWII Marine Corps’ Air Station buildings are still in local use today as office buildings and college dormitories.

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