Visit to Wendover Airfield and Hall of Honor Museum
Photos were taken with permission, at Wendover Air Field and Hall of Honor Museum, Wendover, Utah, by WW2HQ staff.
Much of the historic Wendover Airfield has fallen into disrepair and ruin as our photos show. Since this is still a working airport, some of the more historic buildings are in restricted areas. So we arranged for an escorted tour that provided access to structures in the northern areas, but we were not able to visit the southern base.
Wendover Airfield was the single largest bomber-training base in the world during World War Two. The base was developed after France fell to the Germans in 1940, and enough crews were trained here to fill the 8th Air Force! At its peak about 20,000 personal were stationed here.
Most of the heavy bomber crews of World War II were trained at Wendover Airfield, including twenty-one heavy bomber groups and a P-47 squadron. On the base at this time, a bomb group generally consisted of 72 flight crews, divided into four squadrons. B-29 crews of the Enola Gay and Bock's Car, which flew the atomic bombing missions over Japan, trained for the atomic bombing missions at Wendover.
Colonel Paul Tibbits selected the base as the a training site for the atomic bombing missions, because of its remote location (for security), proximity to the atomic development at Los Alamos, and proximity to the designated practice bombing sites. The site still has vast open areas to the south as can be see in the photo of the bomb loading pit in the Group 1 images. Flight crews were trained for a single, high altitude bomb drop using test bombs over the Utah and California bomb ranges while the other units supported the day to day need of the entire group. Bombs were also assembled here and dropped for aerodynamic tests, as well as used for practice bombing runs.
Modifications were made to increase the speed and range of the B-29 bombers in preparation for the atomic bombing missions. Fifteen initial planes were used by the 509th Composite Group for the missions. A pit for loading the atomic bomb into the B-29s can still be seen3, and nearby is a gun butt structure, used to test fixed aircraft machine guns. The B-29 hanger for the base is in the process of being restored at this time. Squadron hangers (B-17 and B-24 size) still stand, with a squadron building between, which was used by the various bomb squadrons for briefings, training and de-briefings.
The Norden bombsight building with its storage vaults, can be visited on the tour. The Norden bombsight was a top secret invention at the time, used to calculate when to drop the bomb in order to accurately hit the target. It was believed that the Norden Bombsight was accurate enough to hit a 100 foot circle from an altitude of 21,000 feet (4 miles). The two story bomber trainer building is now used for the current airport fire station.
The control center for the flight training operations was the Ops building, which now houses the Hall of Honor Museum. This small museum houses displays and artifacts related to the historic Wendover Airfield. The hospital complex buildings still stand, but are in various levels of deterioration as are many of the other buildings from the airfield. During World War II the hospital complex included a mess hall, recreation building, nurses and visitors quarters, surgical buildings and wards, along with its 300 bed hospital which continued to provide medical care to the community long after WWII.
The south base area contains several storage bunkers for the munitions used in training. Other buildings in that area were used for the development of the atomic bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, as well as practice bombs called pumpkins. Although we were not allowed to visit this area, the buildings were visible in the distance during our tour.
The final building we visited was the officer's service club. During WW2, this building had a large kitchen with walk-in coolers, a gym, and a sixteen foot wide balcony around the main floor. It is currently being restored. Several other restoration projects are in process and others are planned as funds become available.
1Information for this article is based on museum and airfield signs.
2Group 3 photos, Gun Butt structure: The gun butt was used to sight machine guns on aircraft with fixed guns. Note slot for aircraft nose wheel.
3A total of five bomb loading pits were built for the atomic bombing missions: three at Wendover, one on Tinian and one on Iwo Jima. This is the only bomb loading pit from these missions that is still open.
B-29 escape tactics after atom bomb drop