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The Wide-Awake News

Prior to World War II there was no airfield on Ascension Island. In 1939 Ascension suddenly became very important as a HD/DF radio station covering all the important trade routes. Once America joined the war, an air strip was very soon on the cards, and was built using a US task force.

 

The following are extracts from "The Wide-Awake News" (the newspaper that was printed at the time for the troops) kindly provided by Clarence Douglass, (cfdouglass@snet.net) who was stationed there from August 1942 to April 1943 and who would welcome emails from anyone else who was stationed there during the war.

The original Wide-Awake News was turned out on mimeograph by an ordinary typewriter.

 

Unfortunately as the work being down on the island was top secret Clarence and none of the other US army rank and file staff were allowed cameras, hence the lack of pictures on this page

 

 

Wide-Awake News


On the 29th, March, 1942, a United States Task force, consisting of approximately 1,300 officers and men (with a medical contingent of 77 officers and men) under the command of Colonel Robert E Coughlin, U.S. Corps of engineers, landed with large quantities of road making machinery and equipment. The stars and stripes was hoisted at building No.55, the old Naval H.Q. in Georgetown and now the administrative office of the St. Helena government in Ascension. The British Colony Flag and the Union Jack (at Magistrates residence were flown as usual). The first U.S. camp to be established was the service detachment H.Q. the tents being pitched on the headland overlooking Georgetown. A signboard, marking this historic spot, has been placed on the mountain road, immediately north of the site.

For 14 days the main American force bivouacked on Long Beach and adjacent areas, but then moved to South West Plains, between Horseshoe Crater and South West Bay, where "Camp Casey" was established, adjacent to the site selected for the airport.
Immediately decision regarding the establishment of a U.S. Base in Ascension had been reached in London, Washington and London, the secretary of state for the Colonies appointed a St, Helena Government representative to the Ascension dependency. Colonel J.N.Tomlinson, Royal Engineers was therefore released from the British War Office, and charged with the drawing up of an Anglo-American draft agreement in collaboration with the local U.S.Commander. Colonel Tomlinson arrived in Ascension on the 10th of May 1942. The American construction program proceeded rapidly and on the 12th of June, the runway of the airport was sufficiently advanced for aeroplanes to land. Washington was informed.


On the 15th of June however, a British sea-plane made history as the first aeroplane to land on the Island. It was a swordfish plane,v.4653, piloted by Lieut.E.Dixon Child, R.N., accompanied by Sub.Lieut. P.Shaw,R.N. and P.O.W. Townson R.N. The plane from H.M.S. Archer was searching for survivors from the torpedoed S.S.Lyle Park, the pilot unaware of the American occupation, was endeavouring to drop a message for transmission to the Admiralty, but being unidentified, his plane was fired on by U.S. Coastal Machine guns. Landing on the runway was, however effected without casualty, and the plane returned to H.M.S. Archer three hours later. The first American plane from Accra, carrying a staff of ten inspecting officers arrived on the 10th of July, and left the next day for Natal. The first 14 American reinforcement planes reached the airport from Natal Brazil during the morning of the 20th of July, special arrangements having been made with the Admiral to provide a "Homing-Beam" to assist landing. This service was continued by the British wireless station in Ascension until the local U.S. Authorities had brought their own electrical radiation station into work.


Constructional work on improving and enlarging the Airport and it's ramifications, and the opening of hitherto inaccessible parts of the Island by strategical roads occupied the task force until the 14th of August, when U.S.Transports brought the main occupying force, commanded by Colonel Ross O Baldwin, composite force 8012 U.S. Army. Colonel Baldwin assumed supreme command of all American forces in Ascension on the 17th of August, with Colonel James A Ronis as commander of the Airport proper. On the 19th of August the original task force embarked for the Congo, having been detailed by the U.S. War department to construct an Airport at Leopoldville.

 


 

 

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