HISTORY of the 58th STRATEGIC WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON,
By C .R .Layton 2008
I keep changing this history because I'm still learning more about the 58th WRS. I have tried to find everything I can on the internet and have talked to and have been acquainted with over 250 guys that served in the 58th. I;m more inclined to believe what I'm told by the guys than what I have read.
This is an interesting article sent to me by Don Mattox that served as a 1/LT Weather Officer at Eielson during 1955 and 1956. Don found this information on e-Bay Auction . C. R .L.
The Army Air Corps 58th Reconnaissance Weather Squadron existed briefly around August 1945 at the Rapid City Army Air base (later Ellison AFB), Rapid City, ND. From a letter about a black spider insignia for the unit signed by Capt. Ray J. Binder, 1 November 1945. The proposed insignia had a thermometer on the spider's back a camera on one leg, a telescope on another leg and a radar antenna on another leg. This drawing and letters were up for sale on eBay on 3/30/07. Apparently they were going to fly P-61Cs. The P-61 was called the "Black Widow" since it was designed specifically to hunt other aircraft in WWII. The P-61 was heavily involved in the Thunderstorm Project (1946-1949) that was a landmark program dedicated to gathering data on thunderstorm activity. For recon work the P-61 was also designated the RF-5, F-15, and TR-3.
The Air Force first began probing weather-in Alaska in 1946 when the 59th Reconnaissance Squadron initiated the "Stork Baker" route from Merced, California to Anchorage, Alaska. In 1948 when that mission was given to the 374 Recon Squadron over 600 missions had been completed.
On the 7th of May 1947, a detachment of men from the 59th Recon Squadron arrived at Ladd AFB to set up weather reconnaissance operations. On March 17th, the first official "Ptarmigan" flight was made to the North Pole. In October 1947, the 59th was deactivated and the 375th Reconnaissance Squadron took over the vital task of collecting weather data in the northland,
All routes flown by Air weather Service "flying laboratories" are named after birds common to their area. Flights over the Bering Sea have been dubbed "Loon": the trip over the Arctic waste to the top of the world is named after the hardy "Ptarmigan" which inhabits snow country.
In September 1948 the "Loon Baker" track was opened. It covered a path from Fairbanks to Skull Cliff, then to Nome, and on to Shemia at the end of the Aleutian Chain. It was on one of these Loon Baker missions that the first fatal accident occurred in the Alaskan operations. On September 28th, a WB-29 crashed upon landing at Shemia killing Three officers and one airman.
On august 14, 1946, an enormous mass of floating ice, vastly thicker that the ice pack and more than 200 miles in area, was discovered less that 300 miles north of Point Barrow.by the 46 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Photo). This island was designated Target X or T-1. Its existence was classified a military secret and speculation began as to its possible origin and probable future. during the next three years, T-1 was spotted many times by crews of the 46th and crews of the 375th Squadrons.
Beginning late in May 1950, crews of the 58th Recon Squadron under the direction of Lt Colonel Joseph O. Fletcher began a concerted effort to locate other ice islands along the Ptarmigan tract using radar as the primary tool for search.. during this time many likely prospects were sighted but there was no opportunity for visual observation. Then on July 20th this effort was rewarded by the discovery of a second island, designated T-2, similar to shape and size as T-1. On July 29th a third island , designated T-3 was discovered by radar and verified by sight August 31th..
The 58th is one of six weather reconnaissance squadrons in Air Weather service. The combined routes these squadrons cover most of the northern hemisphere. Prior to the use of weather recon aircraft forecasting efforts were hampered by lack of information from uninhabited regions. The advent of the red-tailed flying laboratories filled that void.
This is what Wikipedia on the internet says about the 58th:.
*Constituted 400th Fighter Squadron on May 26, 1943
*Activated on August 1, 1943
* Redesignated: 400th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on April 5, 1944
* Redesignated: 400th Fighter Squadron on June 5, 1944
* Redesignated: 58th Reconnaissance Squadron (Weather) on July7, 1945
I think this is somewhat correct but some where between 1945 and 1947 it became the 375 WRS I noticed that Wikipedia totally left out the 375th WRS. My friend Lt Col Bernie Barris say it was the 59th rather that the 58th. I am inclined to agree with Bernie.
This is what I know to be fact from talking to guys that served and seeing factual orders and articles about this squadron. Before the 58th it was the 375th Weather Reconnaissance (*VLR). I don’t have a lot of knowledge about them but have conversed with a few guys that served in it and what I have read in a few articles that refer to the 375th. I don’t have dates as to the beginning of the 375th but in 1947 the 375th was a divided squadron stationed at Ladd AFB, Fairbanks, AK flying the Ptarmigam mission and flying the Loon Charlie mission from Shemya to Osaka Japan and later to Yokota, Japan. Shemya is an Island located at the far West end of the Aleutians. I’ve been told that they won the 47-48 Basketball Championship at Ladd AFB. It was called the Midnight Sun League. My friend Wally Ahborn played on that team.
March 6, 1949 the 375th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first operational squadron assigned to Eielson AFB. It was one of these Loon missions that made the first discovery of The Soviet Union’s nuclear explosion experiments in August of 1949. Bob Mann has written a very complete article that can be found on the AWRA web page. http:// www.awra.us. (Just added Dec 2014) I just recently learned that this A/C was # 4462214 the WB-29 that I was crew chief of at Eielson AFB. THe discovery was made by Jack Waid A Federal Government who is the Historian at Eielson this year. They done a dive on August 1, 2014 to try an determine if the "Lady of the Lake" was actually # 214 which I had written of in one of my stories about my #214. It turn out by data plates to be #214 and in Jack's ongoing probe it was discovered it was also the first discovery aircraft . I logged many hours in that A/C.
February 21, 1951 the 58th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium Weather) replaced the 375th. The 58th flew two routine missions daily, the Ptarmigan and Loon Echo with “Special Missions” when necessary.
When I first arrived at the 58th in 1953 it was called the 58th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, Weather. In June of 1954 the name was changed to 58th Weather Reconaissance Squadron.
"WB-29 aircraft were used until late September 1956. At that time the Squadron flew the 1,956th Ptarmigan Mission and ended the WB-29 Flights. The Sqdn. had started flying missions with the WB-50s in May of 1956 as well." (quote from Bernie Barris) I was a Crew Chief/Scanner on Major George Cambridge's crew . In June or July of 1955 our crew was picked to go to Riverside AFB in California to train on the B-50s to be the training crew for all the squadron. A month or so later our crew went to McClellan AFB to pick up the TB-50 that we would use to train all other crews. I rotated in November of 1955 and never got to fly a mission on the 50s . The 58th continued to operate until June 1958 at which time the squadron was de-activated and personnel was sent to the 55th WRS at McClellan AFB in Sacramento, CA. and part to McCord AFB in Tacoma, WA. I'm told that a few went to Guam.
On April 15, 1963 the 58th was reactivated and organized at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico and assigned to the 9th Weather Group under MATS. I'm not sure just what aircraft they were flying, probably WB-47's. In 1964 switched over to the WB-57Canberras. They were flying a high altitude program. They were deployed through out the world testing the atmosphere for nuclear debris. In 1974 the program was transferred over to NASA where it was called NASA 926 program operating out of Ellington Field, Houston, TX It practically shut down in 1982 and only have a couple of WB57 still flying today.
I have a list of all the 58th Commanding Officers that run from 5 Aug 43 to 4 Apr 69, also an article showing that there were 3 different emblems for the 58th. As follows: 5 Aug 43 Capt Robert C. Rogers, Mar 44 Capt William Paule, 19 Oct 44 Capt Everette Maarcum, 16 Nov 44 Maj Robert C. Fletcher, 12 Feb 45 Maj Max R. Wiecks, 11 JUl 45 Maj Joseph D. Hornsby, 18 Jul 45 Capt Harold Olsen, 23 Jul 45 Maj Robert W. Vanderveld, 6 Sep 45 Capt Ray J. Bindar, 21 Feb 51 Lt Col Joseph O. Fletcher, 22 Dec 51 Maj Clarence N Chamberlin Jr., 1 Feb 52 Aubrey D. Taylor, 5 Dec 53 Lt Col Fort W. Lipe, 6 Jul 55 Lt Col Carl H. Morales, 26 Aug 57 Lt Col John N. Highley, Jan 58 Lt Col Harvey P. Hall, 8 Jun 63 Lt Col Robert Mueller, Jul 66 Col Donald Wolfe, Jul 66 Lt Col Douglas Camphell, Jul 71 Lt Col Jack Reedy, 30 Jul 71 Col Click Smith, 18 Sep 73 Col Thomas Strohl. I served under three Commanding Officers, Col. Aubrey D. taylor, Lt. Col Fort W. Lipe and Lt. Col. Carl H. Morales. All great men.
The FIRST EMBLEM: approved was for the 400th Fighter Squadron (SE) SIGNIFICANCE: This is not weather oriented but was used by the 58th Reconnaissance Squadron until and its successors from 7 July 1945 until a new approved in 1952. I have no illustration of this emblem.
The SECOND EMBLEM: was approved January 1952 for the 58th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium Weather) SIGNIFICANCE: The polar bear, symbol of endurance, strength and accomplishment, symbolizes the significant historical accomplishment of the unit in the North Pole "Ptarmigan" flight. The aurora borealis symbolizes the unit's mission and accomplishment in exploring areas of the heretofore unknown places of the earth. The aircraft represents successfully accomplishing the air mission of the organization over the North Pole and other frozen areas. This emblem is shown and was used while I served in the 58ht, you see it when you click onto my web page along with "Willy Weatherbee the 55th emblem.
THIRD EMBLEM: Approved on 26 July 1965 for 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. SIGNIFICANCE: Against the background of blue depicting the sky, the primary theater of the Air force operations. The zia symbol refers to the four points of the compass and the globe in its center represents the unit's worldwide capabilities. The wings conjoined allude to the squadron's World War !! training mission and the star commemorates their service in the American Theater. The Aircraft flying over the aurora borealis symbolizes the unit's accomplishments in exploring unknown areas and their historical achievement in the North Pole "Ptarmigan" flight. The rain cloud, and lightning bolt refer to the unit's quick reaction and response in all weather reconnaissance. The nuclear cloud with atomic nucleus and its escaping particles of gauges represent the squadron's primary mission of air testing "bot" sampling after nuclear explosions and providing the invaluable data required The emblem bears the Air Force colors of golden yellow and ultramarine blue and the national colors of red, white and blue to indicate the patriotism of the personal and identify the squadron as a member of the U.S. Air Force.
AWARDS: Service Streamer, American Theater World War II 7 Dec 1941-- 6 Nov 1945. Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for 1 Jul 1967--30 Jun 1968. 1 Jan 19071--Dec 1971. If you read this and can add to or correct something, please contact me.
* (VLR) = Very Long Range
HISTORY of the 55th Strategic. Weather Reconnaissance. Squadron.
By C. R. Layton
In October 1952 when I was assigned to the 55th Strategic Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, based at McClellan AFB Sacramento, CA. The Commanding Officer of the 55th was Lt. Col. Kenneth A. Linder. We were still flying the WB-29s at that time. They later changed over to the WB-50, anf later the WB-47. the WC130 and WC135.
The earliest I have heard of the 55th is 1944. Three men have told me that they served in the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. at Guam, two from 1944-45 flying weather missions for the B-29 Bombers flying out of Siapan and Tinian .to bomb Japan Both said they were flying B-24 Liberators. Omer Ross told me he was a Flt Engineer- Gunner on the B-24’s. Edwin Pathis was a Mechanic on the B-24’s. Robert Brewer served there from 1946-47 as a Radio Operator. A lot of years have past since then. A lot of different aircraft have been used and a big difference in the purpose of mission.
The latest is 1985. Several have told me that they served in the 55th at McClellan AFB, Sacramento, CA.. Frank Yerkes, Lew Newhard and Michael Lyons were all pilots from 1982-85 flying the C-135’s. Trying to fill in all the blanks is quite a problem, but I’m going to try. The best information I’ve found is on the AWRA web page. Thanks to Lt. Col. Bernie Barris, I have permission to use it. There are several photos from Air Force Weather History Office which cannot be used for commercial purposes.
Members of the 655th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, Weather Reconnaissance This photo was taken during training at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma Official USAF Photo, courtesy of the Air Force
The 55th WRS was originally designated the 655 Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, Weather Reconnaissance. Activated at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma on 21 August, 1944. The squadron was assigned brand new B-24 Liberators built for long range weather reconnaissance missions. The forward Bomb bay housed fuel tanks for the long missions. The aft bomb bay had accommodations for the weather officer. The first commander, Capt Raymond A Walker headed the squadron for two weeks until Lt Col Nicholas H. Chavasse arrived to take over. This group trained flying weather missions over the Gulf of Mexico In March they moved to Fort Lawton, Washington then on to Hamon Field, Guam on 8 March with the first four aircraft. They soon began flying their long range missions over Japanese territory. The squadron soon grew to 21 aircraft, 25 aircrews and between 700-800 personnel. They were assigned to the 20th Air Force under XXI Bomber Command effective April 11, 1945. This unit provided critical meteorologic data to the strategic bombing campaign planners.
On 16 February 1945, shortly before leaving Will Rogers Field, the 655th received approval for their Emblem seen when you clicked on . The likeness of Willie Weatherbee symbolizes the squadrons readiness to carry out its assigned task under all climatic Conditions. This emblem would endure through and after the war, the only weather reconnaissance Emblem to do so. It remained the symbol of the 55th WRS until July 3,1967.The nickname “Willie” Most likely came from the Army Air Field where the 655th trained. The 55th Strategic Weather Reconnaissance Squadron had this emblem in front of the Orderly Room At McClellan AFB in Sacramento, CA when I served there in 1952-53. The sign stood about 10 feet tall.
In May 1945, the 655th started staging missions through Iwo Jima, by the end of May they had a flight of four aircraft, with aircrews and mechanics at Iwo supporting the VII Fighter Command. The B-24s scouted target and enroute weather for the forward based P-47s and P-51s .
On 16 June 45 the unit was re-designated the 55th Reconnaissance Squadron, Long Range Weather.. The 55th’s operational life ended after September 1945 when equipment was turned in and aircraft and crews came back to the U. S. In its last month the squadron found and tracked nine typhoons. In its short life in the Pacific They flew more that 508 missions and logged more than 5, 000 flying hours.
Crew No. 5 of 55th Reconnaissance Squadron (LR) Weather This crew consisted of: Kenneth Krig , Pilot; Lloyd Fraley, Copilot; Einar Hendrickson, Navigator; Robert Pruitt, Weather Officer; George Conner, Flight Engineer; Marion Smith, Radio Operator; Pat Farris, Radar Operator; Kenneth Black, Arm.Gunner; Philip Roewe, Nose Gunner; and Robert Hansen, Tail Gunner
Official USAF Photo, courtesy of the Air Force Weather History Office May not be used for commercial purposes
Unlike many Army Air Force units, the 55th’s mission did not end when hostilities with Japan were over. The 55th reconstituted back on Guam and continued to fly synoptic weather reconnaissance . They also gathered peripheral data on tropical storms that threatened the western Pacific most of the year. On 27 Nov 1945 the squadron was assigned to the 311th Reconnaissance Wing. The 55th continued their weather support until April of 1945 when the unit was essentially reduced to a “paper” squadron and Colonel Chavasse turned command over to Capt. Fred M. Barricklow.
Crew of the 55th R S (LR) Wea B-24L Beaufort Belle
Front L to R S/Sgt Walter S. Pula, Turret: Capt William A Wilcox, Weather Officer: T/Sgt James F. Scouler, Radar Observer: 1st Lt Stanley W. Smith, Co-pilot: S/Sgt William B. Shields, Tail Gunner: Rear L to R 1st Lt Francesco S. rRssi, Navagator: 1st Lt Francis R. Schwend, Pilot: T/Sgt Dale A. Lauzenheizer, Radio Op: S/Sgt Robert A Givens. Flt Eng: S/Sgt Albert J.Riley, Turret
Photo Courtesy of Helmet Eric Nimke, 55th RS Historian
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved
The Pole Vaulter patch was approved on July 3, 1967 and was worn until the 55th WRS was inactivated in 1992.
I am still adding to this story, I seem to learn things that I’ve never known. If any of you readers can add or correct anything, I’ll be glad to listen.
Funny thing, I had a guy a while back called me. He said he saw my web page and wanted me to add him to our roster. He said H was one the original "Pole Vaulters" . I told him did you see the 58th Logo when you clicked onto my page, that was the patch that the 58th wore in 1951.