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Drew Army Airfield

Third Air Force - World War II.png

Part of Third Air Force
Located near: Tampa, Florida

Drew field tampa 11-060p.jpg
Drew Field in 1948, still showing its World War II military configuration

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Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1939
In use 1939-1946
United States Army Air Forces
Controlled by Third Air Force
See: Tampa International Airport for the civil use after 1946

Drew Army Airfield was a World War II United States Army Air Forces base. It was the headquarters of Third Air Force and was primarily used for advanced combat training of fighter and bomber units prior to their deployment to combat theaters overseas.

It was inactivated during the summer of 1946, and returned to the city of Tampa for civil use as Drew Field Municipal Airport, which became Tampa International Airport in 1950.



Drew Field Municipal Airport opened in 1928 on land previously owned by land developer, John H. Drew. With the prospect of war, the U.S. Government leased the field for use as a sub post to MacDill Army Airfield. With the completion of MacDill, Drew became a separate base and headquarters for the Third Air Force, III Fighter Command.[1]

Lt. Henry M. Sallery, Engineer Corps, was ordered from MacDill Field, Dec. 1, 1940 to supervise the preparation of the civilian airfield for military use. Under his supervision, administrative buildings and barracks were erected. Jan. 16, 1941, Capt. James C. Hardwick, Air Corps, arrived, attached to the 27th Air Base Squadron and assigned to command of Base Detachment, Drew Field. He was accompanied by a force of 31 men, half of whom were detailed for guard duty. On August 18 of the same year, ceremonies celebrating the starting of work on the $663,700 runways were held. The runways consisted of three main landing strips, 7000x150(N/S), 7000x150(E/W) and 7000x150(NW/SE). In addition to the main airfield, the following sub-bases and auxiliaries were used:[2]

By the end of the war, Drew AAF would encompass fifteen square miles and hosting a complement of as many as 25,000 personnel, this facility provided large-scale combat aircrew training for fighters and heavy bomber crews. One thousand ten-man combat bombing crews trained at Drew during the war. It also performed signal air-warning training and engineering aviation training.[3]

Besides the training mission, Drew Army Airfield was a command and control base. It was the headquarters of the Southeast Air District (Later designated Third Air Force), and was the headquarters of its fighter arm, the III Fighter Command. Across Tampa, at neighboring MacDill Army Airfield, was III Bomber Command, the bombardment wing of 3d Air Force. Close coordination was made with subordinate airfields throughout the southeast that were under the jurisdiction of 3d Air Force.[4]

Training Mission[]

World War II postcard from Drew Army Airfield

The initial assignment for III Fighter Command, however, was the establishment of the Army Aircraft Warning Training Center at Drew in June 1941, while the runways were still under construction. The early Air Defense network in the United States consisted of a mixture of civilian Ground Observers, with Army ground units operating primitive early warning RADAR radio detection and ranging) technology which had been developed in the late 1930s. The mission of III FC was the organization and training of civilian and military Aircraft Warning Units, and to provide trained cadres of personnel to the Ground Observer and RADAR units activated. This mission continued throughout the war, with SCR-270 (mobile) and the SCR-271 (fixed) radars, with ground control intercept radar (SCR-588) being added during 1943 for close-in coverage (up to 50 miles) for tracking and controlling fighters from the ground. During the war, Ground Observer posts in the United States were established ss part of the civil air defense network. The Aircraft Warning Training Center at Drew (Eventually designated as the 343d Army Air Force Base Unit) ended in February 1945, the mission being transferred to Fourth Air Force at Hamilton Army Airfield, California.[5][6][7][8]

Operationally, once enough construction was completed, the first operational mission assigned to the new base was the training and equipping of the Ninth Air Force IX Fighter Command which began in July 1942. IX Fighter Command's planned mission was the reinforcement of the British Desert Air Force in Egypt, under the U.S. Army Middle East Air Force (USAMEAF). P-40 Warhawk fighter Operational Unit training was begun at Drew under the 337th Fighter Group. The 8th and 9th Fighter Wings were formed at Drew in late July and both Wings subordinate units were equipped and trained under III Fighter Command in the Southeast. The Ninth Air Force combat units were deployed in late October and November 1942 overseas. P-40 training at Drew ended at the end of December.[4][6][9]

Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command used the airfield to conduct reconnaissance over the Gulf of Mexico, looking for Nazi U-Boats. The 26th Anti-Submarine Wing, based in Miami deployed the 15th and 3d Antisubmarine Squadrons to the field beginning in December 1942. O-47 light observation aircraft, along with B-25 Mitchell and B-34 Lexington medium bombers equipped with antisubmarine radar were used to fly anti-sub patrols over the eastern Gulf. The antisubmarine mission was taken over by the Navy in mid-1943 and the aircraft were withdrawn.

The next training unit at Drew was the 53d Fighter Group, which arrived from Dale Mabry Army Airfield near Tallahassee in early January 1943. The 53d was a former VI Fighter Command unit which has returned from duty in the Panama Canal Zone and was pressed into service as a P-47 Thunderbolt Operational Training Unit (OTU). At Drew, the group was equipped and went through transition training to the Thunderbolt, then was transferred to Fort Myers Army Airfield for unit training at the end of the month.[4][6]

The major training mission at Drew in 1943, however, was the training of ground support pilots. Initially using the A-24 Dauntless Dive Bomber (an Army conversion of the Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless), the 84th Bombardment Group was the first USAAF squadron expressly designated for dive bombing. Shortcomings in the A-24 were found in the training mission and the 84th was converted to P-39 Aircobra training for units in the Pacific Theater and was reassigned to Harding Field, Louisiana. Dive bomber training continued at Drew with the arrival of the 408th Fighter-Bomber Group OTU in September, which was equipped with the new A-36 Apache dive bomber, a derivative of the P-51C Mustang fighter.[4][6]

The 408th moved out to Abilene Army Airfield, Texas in November, being replaced by the 46th Bombardment Group in October. The 46th was an experienced A-20 Havoc medium bombardment OTU, being transferred from II Bomber Command when Second Air Force was transitioning to B-29 Superfortress training in late 1943. Fighter pilot replacement training was transferred to Hillsborough Army Airfield, a sub-base of Drew, where the 42d Fighter Squadron was moved with P-51B Mustangs.

The A-20s, however, only remained at Drew for a month when the II Bomber Command 396th Bombardment Group (Heavy) B-17 Flying Fortress Replacement Training Unit (RTU) moved to Drew from Moses Lake Army Air Base, Washington, with the 46th being moved to Morris Army Airfield, North Carolina. The reason for the switch from medium to heavy bomber training was the proximity of Drew to MacDill AAF, which had been conducting B-17 heavy bombardment training since 1942. Four squadrons of B-17s (592d, 593d, 594th and 595th) were transferred to Drew from Washington State and B-17 training of replacement personnel begin in late November 1943.[4][6] In an administrative reorganization by HQ Army Air Force, on 1 May 1944, numbered training units in the Zone of the Interior (ZI) (Continental United States) were re-designated as "Army Air Force Base Units". At Drew, the Aircraft Warning Training Center was re-designated as the 343d AAF Base Unit, and the 396th Bombardment Group was re-designated as the 327th AAFBU. The operational squadrons of the 396th were also re-designated as "CT", "CU", "CY", and "CZ". The training missions continued under these new designations.

In August 1944, German POWs arrived at Drew from Camp Blanding to work in quartermaster workshops, kitchens, canteens and warehouses. This camp, three miles from Drew Field, held 395 Germans between August 1944 and March 1946. Internal conflicts resulted within the camp as a result of the unusually high Nazi spirit among the prisoners.[6]


With the imminent end of the war in Europe, on 1 April 1945 Drew Field was informed by HQ Third Air Force that its training mission was to be ended and it was to be placed on standby status pending reorganization and receipt of the revised table of organization which would reduce base strength. The Aircraft Warning Training had already ended in February, and with B-17s being used almost exclusively in Europe, the need for replacement personnel by Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force was ended. The Hillsborough Auxiliary field was to be closed on 23 May; the Brooksville field was to be activated on 30 June.[10] With the war in the Pacific still ongoing, however, it was decided to keep the B-17 replacement crew training mission active, albeit on a reduced scale.[6] On 24 June 1945, a hurricane hit the Tampa area, and the B-17 aircraft were evacuated to Vichy Army Airfield, Missouri. Drew's B-17 mission however ended with the Japanese surrender in August, and the 327th AAFBU was inactivated on 31 August 1945.

With the end of the war, Drew Field became a separation center for personnel demobilized and returning to civilian life. The 301st Army Air Forces Base Unit (Separation Station) was activated on 1 September 1945 with that mission.[11] However, beginning in early July, Drew became a part of the Army Service Forces receiving returning aircraft from Europe, processing them and having ferrying pilots fly them to storage depots or reclamation centers. Thousands of B-17 and B-24 Liberator bombers were flown from Europe along the South Atlantic Ferry Route via West Africa and Brazil, before arriving at Drew. Units were assigned administratively at Drew with the personnel either being separated or reassigned to other units. The first unit, the B-17-equipped 91st Bombardment Group, arrived in early July 1945 from England to prepare for B-29 tradition training and transfer to the Pacific Theater, but many members had been transferred to other units and no further training was conducted before the war ended. The group was inactivated on 7 November 1945. The last unit, the 404th Fighter Group, returned from a brief period of occupation duty in Germany on 1 September 1945, its remaining personnel being demobilized, and the unit was inactivated on 9 November.[4]

As part of the closure of the base, HQ III Fighter Command was moved to MacDill Field on 1 December 1945. Jurisdiction of the field was transferred to Air Technical Service Command (ATSC), whose mission was the transfer of any useful military equipment to other bases around the country. The base was officially closed on 31 January 1946 and being put into an inactive status, declared as surplus and turned over to the War Assets Administration (WAA) for disposal and return to civil use.

Tampa International Airport / sports facilities[]

Drew Army Airfield was returned to the city of Tampa for civil use as Drew Field Municipal Airport in 1946.[12] In 1950, Trans Canada Airlines inaugurated international flights to Tampa, prompting the city to rename the municipal airfield Tampa International Airport.

In the decades since, TIA's facilities have been extensively expanded and modernized, and none of the original structures are in use. However, the basic L-shaped footprint of Drew Field can still be seen in the outline of the current airport.

A undeveloped 720-acre lot on the perimeter of Drew Field was purchased by the city of Tampa from the federal government in 1949.[13] Al Lopez Field and Tampa Stadium were opened on this land in 1955 and 1967, respectively. Both were later demolished, and Raymond James Stadium was completed on the same site in 1998.

Major units assigned[]

The major units assigned to Drew Army Airfield were:

III Bomber Command, September 1941 (Moved to MacDill Field)
III Air Support Command, 1–16 March 1942 (Antisubmarine Patrols)
III Fighter Command, 1941-1 December 1945
  • Ninth Air Force (Organization, deployed to Egypt)
IX Fighter Command, July–August 1942
8th Fighter Wing, 24 July-28 October 1942
9th Fighter Wing, 24 July-13 December 1942
  • 301st Army Air Forces Base Unit (Separation Station) 1 September 1945 – 31 January 1946
Separation activities transferred to MacDill Field, Drew AAF Closed 31 Jan 1946.

Training Units[]

Replacement training (RTU), re-assigned from II Bomber Command
Re-designated: Drew Field Replacement Training Unit (Heavy Bombardment)
327th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Squadrons CT CU,CY, CZ) (1 May 1944-31 August 1945)
  • III Fighter Command Airplane and Engine School, 19 October 1942 – 14 October 1944
  • Aircraft Warning Training Center, 23 June 1941 – 1 May 1944
Organized Aircraft Warning Units (RADAR), trained civilian and military personnel in its operation and provided experienced cadres to units activated during the War. Numerous units assigned for training, assignment dates to Drew AAF undetermined
Re-designated 343d Army Air Force Base Unit, 1 May 1944-10 February 1945. Personnel and equipment reassigned to Fourth Air Force.

Other units[]

Units organized by Third Air Force General Assembly and Processing Station:

Operated from: Amchitka Army Airfield, Alaska Territory, Jul-Aug 1943

Army Service Forces[]

Administratively assigned for units returning from ETO for demobilization and inactivation (1945)

See also[]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

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