Civil Air Patrol helped with training during and after WWII
By JOE CRESS | The Sentinel | Published: November 24, 2018
CARLISLE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — The Cold War was starting to chill over when Carlisle found itself under the threat of an assault by enemy paratroopers.
Reports came in that hostile forces had landed in fields along the Boiling Springs Road about two miles outside town.
The date was Sunday, Nov. 21, 1948, and Civil Air Patrol pilots and ground crews were ready to take on two platoons of the 82nd Airborne Division in a training exercise.
“The problem was one of the most elaborate ever worked out by the CAP in conjunction with the Civilian Defense Board in Washington,” The Sentinel reported the next day. Every airport from Carlisle east to Harrisburg had a part in the maneuvers.
The simulated assault began with the air-drop of paratroopers from two C-82 Packet transport planes. This triggered a response by civilian aircraft playing the role of “fighters” and “bombers” stationed at the Taylor Aviation field near New Kingstown.
The newspapers described how the “fighters” swooped in to “strafe” the paratroopers as they tried to assemble. Meanwhile, the “bombers” came over to drop small sacks of flour instead of high explosives to break up the attack.
Planes based at Carlisle Airport worked the evacuation angle of the operation by organizing an airlift of wounded civilians from the simulated battle zone. This phase of the exercise also involved the civilian aircraft bringing in medical and other supplies.
The “evacuees” were taken to Harrisburg Airport, along with an estimated 15,000 pounds of supplies within a one-hour window of time. Carlisle Barracks did its part by dispatching first aide squads, ambulances and fire trucks to the airports to provide support in case of a crash.
“Fortunately they were not required to go into action because there were no mishaps among the civilian pilots,” The Sentinel reported. “The maneuvers were described by officers as a successful operation, which might establish a pattern for use in other states.”
The training exercise was monitored by a board of referees who concluded that elements of the 31st Pennsylvania Wing of the Civil Air Patrol had the edge over the airborne troops and had stopped them from capturing Carlisle.
Gen. Lucas V. Beau, national commander of CAP, was on hand to witness the maneuvers along with six members of the Civil Defense Commander under Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. Units from Beaver County, Pittsburgh and Oil City were based at Carlisle Airport, and the entire operation was coordinated by two-way radio.
There can be no doubt experience played a role in the defense of Carlisle. “All of the pilots and personnel taking part were members of the CAP and nearly all were veterans of World War II,” The Sentinel reported. But not every training exercise went off so smoothly.
During World War II, locally based CAP planes were routinely used to simulate air attacks on Army personnel being trained at the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks. One such plane came up from the Penn-Harris Airport near Harrisburg on Monday afternoon, Nov. 1, 1943. Its mission was to drop half-pound bags of flour on a column of medical officers.
As the plane was banking to swoop low, either its wing or tail assembly struck a power line, causing it to veer out of control, The Sentinel reported on Nov. 2. “Its nose dived to the soft earth of a wheat field, turned over and then righted itself.” The crash location was about 1.5 miles east of Carlisle along a road connecting present-day Route 11 and Claremont Road.
The pilot was a 40-year-old Harrisburg man named W.R. Simpson. He suffered from shock and a fractured right ankle. The co-pilot was a 17-year-old boy from Campbelltown, Lebanon County, named Charles W. Jamison. He was in the seat beside Simpson.
The Sentinel reported how Jamison was thrown clear of the cockpit as the plane skidded along the ground. He escaped with only bruises. Both men were taken by ambulance to the post hospital at Carlisle Barracks where they stayed overnight. The irony was the ambulance was in the same column of medical officers the plane was assigned to bomb with bags of flour.
Authorities launched an investigation into the cause of the plane crash. “A two-foot section of a wing was found 75 yards from the plane which was badly damaged,” the newspaper story reads. “Both wheels were ripped off and the wings crumbled.”
Ready for duty
The Civil Air Patrol in Pennsylvania was involved in home front defense almost from day one. Three weeks after the U.S. declared war on Japan, The Sentinel published a United Press article on Dec. 29, 1941, calling on the state’s 8,000 civilian pilots and student flyers to volunteer and do their part in service squadrons that were being organized.
Charles W. Anderson, a Carlisle banker and civilian pilot, was appointed Civil Air Patrol group commander for south-central Pennsylvania on Jan. 27, 1942. Six of his seven staff officers had direct connections to Cumberland County.
The six men were executive officer and adjutant, W.F. Taylor, of Carlisle: personnel and medical officer, Dr. Joe Green Jr., of Carlisle; training and operations officer, John Betz, of New Kingstown; equipment officer, Charles B. Strayer, of Carlisle; administrative officer, R.T. Shearer, of Carlisle; and communications officer, Hoke Franciscus, of Carlisle. Public relations officer Russ Brinkley was from Harrisburg.
Four months later, on May 30, 1942, Anderson led “an armada” of 42 planes from his group to an assembly of several groups at the Black Moshannon Airport about 80 miles away near State College. There the CAP pilots were treated to an exhibition of acrobatic flying by Frank Wilson, operator of the Wilson’s Flying Service at New Kingstown and a prominent air instructor.
In mid-January 1943, the south-central group was among the CAP units to participate in a statewide training exercise that stimulated an enemy invasion of Pennsylvania. For that maneuver, the state wing mobilized 1,000 men with 112 planes at 80 airports, according to The Sentinel. Their task was to fly doctors and nurses on relief missions to “bombed” areas.