Blythe Army Airfield

Blythe Army Airfield, California UPL 62887 UPL 62887 Desert Training Center, The California/Arizona Maneuver Area in World War II
Blythe Army Airfield Frank Charles Frantzen

Object Number - UPL 62887 - Desert Training Center, The California/Arizona Maneuver Area in World War II

Blythe Army Air Base was first used in May, 1942 when it was transferred to the 4th Air Force as part of the Desert Training Center. For the next six months, Blythe AAB was the only Army airfield that gave air support to infantry and armored troops in training maneuvers. During this time, the 46th and 85th Bombardment Groups occupied the airfield and flew the Douglas A-20 Havoc, Vultee A-31 Vengeance and North American A-36 Apache aircraft to support DTC divisions. By the end of 1942, three new airfields (Thermal, Rice and Desert Center Army Airfields) were built to support the Desert Training Center  desert maneuvers, and Blythe AAB wasn't needed for the Army's desert exercises. Blythe's new role was changed to the training of heavy bombardment combat crews before they were deployed overseas.

In 1943, the base had over 7,500 personnel, 75 heavy bombers and 650 buildings.  The 34th and 398 Heavy Bomb Groups flew the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator while training at Blythe AAB. Both Bomb Groups were the last to occupy Blythe AAB before being deployed overseas, and the base was declared surplus in July, 1944.

After the war, the airbase was made into a civilian airport, which is still in use today. All of the buildings, except for the main hangar, were dismantled or torn down. Very few building foundations and traces of the WWII airbase exist due to extensive farming done after the war.

Air Groups assigned to Blythe Army Airfield were:

-46th Bombardment Group (Light) May 1942-November 1942- A-20 Havoc

-85th Bombardment Group (Light) May 1942-November 1942- A-20 Havoc

-85th Bombardment Group (Dive) November-11 December 1942- A-24 Dauntlesses

-34th Bombardment Group (Heavy) December 1942-April 1944- B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators

-398th Bombardment Group (Heavy) April 1943 B-17 Flying Fortresses


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Detailed History

Also known as Blythe Army Air Base, this field was located 7 miles west of the town of Blythe on what is now Interstate Highway 10. The field was built for the I Troop Carrier Command but was given up by that command, without ever occupying it, to the 4th Air Force as a California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA) training field. The 46th Bomb Group and later the 34th Bomb Group occupied the field during the CAMA days and flew a variety of planes including B-17s, B-24s, A-31s and A-36s. Blythe Army Air Field later became a sub-base of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) and after the war it became Blythe's local airport.

There was another airfield in Blythe, Gary Field, near the present-day golf course, which had a private pilot training school known as the Morton Air Academy. The school was contracted by the Army Air Corps early in the war to give primary training to Air Corps cadets. Gary Field had a total of three auxiliary airfields during World War II:

A-1 Ripley #1 (10 miles south)

A-2 Ripley #2 (8 miles south)

A-4 (which was located a mere half mile to the west).

The Primary Flying School at Gary used the Stearman PT-17. The contract flying schools were mostly staffed by civilian instructors. The Commanding Officer was an Army Air Forces officer, and usually there were Army Air Forces check pilots who made sure the students were qualified. The Commander at Gary was Major Frank Fuller of the Fuller Paint Company fame. The civilian head was Roger Pryor, who was a musical director for one of the Hollywood film studios.


Frank C. Frantzen Passport Photo
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 44th Bomb Group 68th Bomb Squadron
  • Service Numbers: 32887729
  • Highest Rank: Sergeant
  • Role/Job: Tail Gunner

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