Typical Aircraft Warning Service spotter's shack of the era circa 1941
AWS Observer's Cap
Eyes Aloft Article from August 15 1942
Typical Aircraft Spotter Silhouette employed by the AWS
The official Fourth Air Force emblem
IV Fighter Command Service Pin circa 1942
Spot ad promoting the AWS and the Eyes Aloft program from Aug 5 1943
Civil Defense 'Sniff Kit'
Civil Defense and Air Raid reminders of the era
Eyes, Aloft! remains a fascinating time capsule reflecting the national hysteria following the infamous Pearl Harbor Attacks of December 7, 1941. The hysteria was most attenuated throughout the West Coast of The United States, where the IV Fighter Command was based and was tasked to defend.
A brief explanation of the IV Fighter Command is probably in order at this point. It should be noted that all references to the 4th Fighter Command throughout Eyes, Aloft! refers to the unit designated IV Fighter Command. It's an important distinction, since the designation of this relatively short-lived command was significantly 'civilianized' for both the Eyes, Aloft! programs and the volunteer force that comprised the Ground Observation Corps and the Aircraft Warning Service units.
IV Fighter Command History:
- Constituted as IV Interceptor Command on 26 May 1941
- Activated on 8 Jul 1941
- Redesignated as IV Fighter Command in May 1942
- Disbanded on 31 Mar 1944.
For anyone with either a USAAF or USAF background, the unit designations may not seem intuitive. The IV Fighter Command's parent command was actually The 4th Air Force. The 4th Air Force's World War II history was as follows:
- Established as Southwest Air District on October 19, 1940
- Activated on December 18, 1940
- Redesignated: 4 Air Force on March 26, 1941
- Redesignated; Fourth Air Force on September 18, 1942
The 4th Air Force's region of responsibility was as shown below:
The 4th Air Force Region encompassed California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma during most of World War II
During most of World War II, the 4th Air Force was the primary Air Defense Command for the West Coast. The command was also tasked with antisubmarine patrols along coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico from the period immediately following the attacks on Pearl Harbor until approximately October 1942.
After October 1942, the antisubmarine patrols were released to the Coast Guard and other agencies. The command was thereafter engaged in training replacements for combat units. It supported Army Air Forces Training Command's mission--headquartered at March Field near San Bernardino, Calfornia--of training units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations.
By 1944, most of the Numbered Air Forces of the USAAF were actively engaged as operational fighting units in various parts of the world. The two primary examples were the Eighth Air Force in Europe and the Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific. The Eighth Air Force and the Twentieth Air Force were supported by four numbered air forces located within the continental United States (known as the Zone of the Interior, or "ZI".)
On December 13, 1944, the First, Second, Third and Fourth Air Forces were ultimately placed under the Unified Command of the Continental Air Forces, the progenitor of the later established Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Defense Command, which were all established as a consequence of the National Security Act of 26 July 1947, which officially authorized the United States Air Force as well as The Central Intelligence Agency.
The Ground Observation Corps and Aircraft Warning Service
There were understandably important distinctions in the desiginations employed by both the Eyes, Aloft! programs and the all-volunteer Ground Observation Corps that evolved into the volunteer force which was ultimately designated the Aircraft Warning Service of The United States Army Air Forces (or Army Air Corps). Ostensibly sponsored by 'the 4th Fighter Command', there was indeed no such official designation. As indicated above, the official designation for this unit was IV Fighter Command, the unit based--and headquartered--at Oakland Airport, California.
But at the same time, it should be noted that the actual force structure and unit designations of the Army Air Forces components--and their missions--were very much matters of the highest security, as well as information that our enemies were quite willing to kill to obtain. As such, it's entirely understandable that the actual missions and component details of the War Department's force structure should be withheld from America's civilians--whether they were directly involved in volunteer Civil Defense units or not.
IV Fighter Command's subordinate units were based as follows:
- March Field, California, 8 Jul 1941
- Riverside Municipal Airport, California, c. Jul 1941
- Oakland Airport, California, Jun 1942-31 Mar 1944.
The references to Hammer Field in some of the Eyes, Aloft! episodes refer to Fresno Air Terminal, now known as Fresno Yosemite International Airport. During the early years of World War II, Hammer Field was employed as a training base in support of The 4th Air Force described above.
The IV Fighter Command's components were as follows:
- Los Angeles Fighter Wing: 1942-1944
- Seattle Fighter Wing: 1942-1944
- San Diego Fighter Wing: 1942-1944
- San Francisco Fighter Wing: 1942-1944.
As indicated above, in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks, the responsibility for West Coast civilian air defense fell initially to IV Interceptor Command, then to the redesignated IV Fighter Command. It was during the IV Fighter Command's constitution that Eyes, Aloft! was produced and broadcast.
Eyes, Aloft! was conceived to address three major initiatives:
- to further alert the West Coast civilian population--and later the national population--to the immediate need for volunteers for the Aircraft Warning Service
- to alert the population at large to the need to comply with both local Civil Defense and Air Warning Service regulations
- as a means of recognizing the existing and newly formed Air Warning Service component units that were actively engaged in ground observer activities throughout the U.S..
Recognition of these units was a major element of each Eyes, Aloft! program. The IV Fighter Command and the National Broadcasting Company jointly inaugurated the weekly National Broadcasting Company Eyes Aloft Gold Trophy Award. At the close of each broadcast, an individual volunteer or AWS regional unit would be formally recognized for their efforts with NBC's Eyes Aloft Gold Trophy Award for that week.
From the May 14, 1943 editioin of the Bakersfield Californian:
Sam Hayes to Appear Here Next Monday
PROMINENT NEWSCASTER HELPS RECRUIT FILTER CENTER VOLUNTEERS
A modern minute man who flies through the air with the greatest of speed Is Sam Hayes, well-known radio commentator who will speak before several local groups on Monday afternoon, fly to Los Angeles to keep a radio broadcast engagement and return here the same evening by air to appear on the stage of the local theaters.
His modern Paul Revere message is the danger of the air enemy and the emergency value of the aircraft warning service that needs both men and women to staff the filter centers and the observation posts.
Captain D. R. Buford, in charge of the local air filter station, has made arrangements for the local series of talks on Monday with the Bakersfield and Kern county chambers of commerce assisting him.
Mr. Hayes will arrive in Bakersfield at 11:30 o'clock Monday morning and will immediately begin his whirlwind round of appearances. He will talk over KERN at 12:25; he will be guest speaker at the Kiwanis Club at 12:45 and before the Bakersfield Woman's Club Bible section at 2 p. m.
A big meeting of Bakersfield women will be held at 2:30 p. m. at the Washington School auditorium. Present filter station and observation post workers will attend and each worker is asked to bring two friends with an idea of possible
enlistment in the service. Mr. Hayes will then fly back to Los Angeles for his weekly "Eyes Aloft" network radio program under the auspices of the Fourth Fighter Command, and then he will fly back to Bakersfield and appear on the stage at the Fox theater between 8:30 and 9:15 p. m. and later at the Nile theater at 9:30 o'clock.
Mr. Hayes has told local workers that the fourth fighter command is particularly interested in Bakersfield and the San Joaquin valley area because of the large number of daily airplane flights.
Filter Workers Needed
"We hope to recruit more men and women for the vital positions of filter center workers and ground observers in Bakersfield," Mr. Hayes said, "and at the same time we intend to pay tribute to those volunteers who are now serving in this essential activity."
After each of Mr. Hayes' appearances, men and women who wish to volunteer for filter center work may make their application immediately.
Emphasizing the importance of the aircraft warning service, Mr. Hayes pointed out that because of this organization, the army air forces are constantly posted on the whereabouts of all planes in the air, and likewise can be warned immediately on the presence of enemy planes.
This is made possible when ground observer crews, constantly scanning the skies, telephone all reports into local filter centers where the movement of every plane is minutely plotted. Plots of every flight are made, and if the flights are not identified, the plane is called an unidentified target and is treated as such until it is recognized.
"This system," Mr. Hayes reports, "has saved the lives of many fliers who have met with a sudden accident in the air, or were lost because of poor flying conditions or a mechanical defect."
The message component of each broadcast was usually a cautionary tale of either examples of ground observer success stories, or a dramatic illustration of the continuing need for the Aircraft Warning Service itself. A key element of the prologue to each episode was the announcement that its script had been cleared by G-2, or the Intelligence component of the Army Air Forces. This further underscored both the gravity of the subject matter, as well as further impressing upon the civilian audience that these were serious intelligence issues of the highest order.
If this seems overkill in retrospect of the prism of history, one can be forgiven the cynicism. This was a period of great civil unrest on both coasts, along the entire Gulf of Mexico, and along the mainland borders--north and south--of the continental United States. But in point of fact, history would later demonstrate the virtual impossibilty of long-range bombers from any of the Axis Powers reaching the continental United States, let alone enemy fighter attacks.
Indeed, this period was at once one of America's shining moments and most shameful moments in the history of World War II--or any conflict before or since for that matter. On the commendable side was the immediate surge in volunteerism and cooperation between all levels of township, city, and state Civil Defense agencies, units of the Red Cross, and the above referenced Air Warning Service. These volunteers were almost universally acting in selfless, patriotic support of their Nation in any way in which they might help protect it.
On the flip side of the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks, the more fascist Conservative elements of American society found no problem with rounding up hundreds of thousands of unquestionably loyal American citizens of foreign birth and confining them in Concentration Camps throughout both the continental United States and its territories for the duration of World War II. This was, by any moral society's measure, a national disgrace of the highest order.
All of the above being said, there's no question that this fascinating, 61-episode series met its stated goals. The programs both encouraged the existing base of AWS Observers and Filter Center volunteers and informed the public at large regarding the activities of the Air Warning Service and the perceived dangers of the era. That none of those 'dangers' ever truly presented themselves is moot. Irrespective of the effectiveness--or underlying need--of the Air Warning Service, the continuing and very real 'fifth column' element throughout the continental U.S. during World War II demanded dramatically increased security from both civilians and Civil Defense officials alike. This program and others similar to it met that need.
In the process, a troubled, anxious society found a measure of reassurance in the wake of the December 7th period, while at the same time stiffening their resolve that the U.S. would ultimately prevail against its enemies. If the AWS accomplished nothing other than serving to reassure American Society, it more than met its stated goals. But indeed, in the process, the AWS empowered an even greater sense of volunteerism throughout America, while creating a heightened awareness of the need for both increased security and compliance with prudent Civil Defense precautions.
In the course of our research for this article, we discovered the following fascinating websites for further exploration and study:
The State of Oregon's Life on the Home Front Exhibit
Women's Army Corps: A Commeroration Of World War II Service
Air Fronts Document Repository
The Toons At War blogspot
The Women's Army Corps
WWII Recognition Models