AVIATION TRAINING AND OPERATIONS
From an aviation perspective South Florida was critically important. It was an ideal environment for learning to fly. Navy fighter training had huge installations at Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station and Miami Naval Air Station. Gunners trained at Hollywood Ball Gunners School. In addition to the fine weather South Florida was the ideal location from which to launch the Airlift campaign supplying US Forces overseas. From three South Florida bases, Morrison Army Airfield (Palm Beach International Airport), Miami Army Airfield (Miami International Airport), and Homestead Army Airfield was launched a non-stop stream of cargo planes, flying down the Caribbean to Brazil, then across the Atlantic to Africa. From there the planes went north to the European Theater, or continued east to the China-Burma-India Theater.
15 miles south of Miami, in 1942 NAS Richmond was built as a Navy blimp base to control the Florida Straits. The blimps were excellent weapons for combating the U-boat attacks. This is because the blimps could remain on station indefinitely. Each airship had a ten-man crew and were armed with radar, sonar array, 4 bombs and a machine gun. Because they could hover over important sea passages, they forced the enemy to stay submerged to escape detection. This made life difficult for the enemy as the longer they stayed underwater to more oxygen they used up. With a blimp overhead, the U-boat had either to leave the area or be detected. The Nazi U-boats made every effort to close the shipping of South Florida. All shipping going into the Mississippi River or departing from it had to pass by Florida. U-Boat attacks sank almost a hundred ships in the region. Forty-Two ships were torpedoed directly off the coast of Florida. This area was one of the few active battle campaigns in the Western Hemisphere.
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