THE DEPRESSION YEARS AT NASGI

THE DEPRESSION YEARS

Like other reserve bases of the era, NRAB Grosse Ile grew slowly.  By the end of June 1930, the base had added Marine reserve squadron VO-7MR.  The two squadrons were known as "The Black Knights".  Their insignia (National Archives USN-462604) was a knight on a black horse.  This was used at least into the mid 1930's.

June 1930 Aircraft Assignment: 1  NY-2,  4  N2C-1.

The runways were still unpaved, but they did have the first automated runway lights.  The lights were controlled by a weather vane which turned on the lights to the runway most directly in the wind, which was one of the first of its kind.

December 1930 Aircraft Assignment:  3  N2C-1

Curtiss-Wright was still in business at Grosse Ile and had added gliders for training.

May 28, 1931, Lieutenant Walter E. Lees and Ensign Frederic A. Brossy of VN-9RD9 set a new world's endurance record of 84 hours 3 minutes over Jacksonville, FL.  Both men were on inactive duty and were test pilots for Packard.  The record was set in a Packard diesel powered Bellanca.  Brossy later went on active duty and became a flight instructor at NRAB Long Beach in the late 30's and after World War II, Ensign Brossy would return to Grosse Ile as Commander Brossy to serve as the base Executive Officer.  Lieutenant Lees would retire in 1948 as a full Commander.

On March 11, 1931, Marine Corps Service Company SS-2MR was commissioned at Grosse Ile.

VN-9RD9 and VO-7MR in June 1931 were assigned 4  N2C-1 and 3  O2C-1 aircraft.

Due to financial problems at Curtiss-Wright, the air station was able to acquire this site. This gave the base eleven more acres. By 1932 they were able to get the land between the two properties, including the balloon hanger. Grosse Ile now had a total of 375 acres of useable land and would it remain this size, until the expansion brought on by World War II.

The economy was in shambles by 1933, the world was in what was to be known as "The Great Depression".  President Roosevelt and the US government were taking desperate action, which included the closing of all banks to stave off disaster.  The Navy cut the reservist flying in half followed by a pay cut.  Even with these drawbacks the reserves stuck to their jobs through the depression.

1933 would see VO-7MR re-designated VF-5MR.

A government study conducted in 1934 recommended at least doubling the  of the Naval Air Reserve. At that time  Naval Air Reserve had only 251 officer pilots in 31 Fleet Reserve squadrons, plus 9 Marine Reserve squadrons.  This would result in NRAB Grosse Ile being designated a Primary Flight training base in 1935 for the Naval Aviation Cadet program. After the successful completion of the primary program cadet were transferred to NAS Pensacola for advanced training that would earn them their wings.  Arthur J. Schultz was one of these cadets.  He would eventually become Commanding Officer of the air station from 1961 to 1963.

The old Curtiss-Wright Property was now becoming the center of operations.  Meals were prepared and eaten in the Curtiss-Wright barracks which was now officers quarters.  Enlisted still lived in the barracks at the seaplane area of the base.  Aircraft were stored at the Curtiss-Wright hanger, but maintenance was still being performed at the seaplane hanger.

November 1934  Aircraft Assignment:  3  N2C-2,  6  O2C-1, 1  OL-9

Grosse Ile pilots flew about 100 hours a year in a wide variety of aircraft during the 30's including the Curtiss TS-1 fighter which had a reputation as a ground looper.

VF-5MR would once again be re-designated. Now they would be VO-5MR.

The Aviation Cadet Act of 1935 once more established a naval reserve program that would provide the experienced cadre on which naval aviation's wartime expansion would draw on. (from "The Naval Aviation Guide" edited by Lt. Cdr. Richard A. Burgess)

In 1935 NRAB Grosse Ile began the Elimination Training Program. The Elimination Course was a 30 day trial in which the student was given several hours of flight training to determine his fitness for future training at NAS Pensacola. The base would start full primary training in 1941 (This info furnished by M. L. Shettle).

In August 1935 while Grosse Ile was still getting use to the new role as a primary flight training base the station commander, Lieutenant  Williams received orders for a little known base in the Pacific. Very few people had ever heard of it, but in a few short years all Americans would know where Pearl Harbor was located.

Between Lieutenant Williams departure and the attack on Pearl Harbor, NRAB Grosse Ile would have three more skippers, Lieutenant C. F. Greber who would later command the USS Marcus Island, Lieutenant Commander M. E. Arnold and Lieutenant Commander R. C. Young.

November 1935 had  3 N2C-2, 6 O2C-1, 1 OL-9, 1 NY-1 and 1 SF-1 assigned to the air base.

1936 also saw Detroit city water brought to the island and base by a WPA works project. There was also some improvement to the Curtiss-Wright barracks which now also housed the cadet that were in the primary training program.

The June aircraft assignment was: 3 N2C-2, 6 O2C-1, 1 OL-9 (which would soon see duty at Isle Royale), 1 NY-3 and 2 FF-2.

In August 1936 Grosse Iles' OL-9 and 6 base personal were sent to Houghton, Michigan to assist in the control of forest fires on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, This would last until September.

The November 1936 aircraft assignment was: 3 N2C-2, 4 FF-2, 2 OJ-2, 1 O2C-1, 1 NY-3 and the OL-9.

Grosse Ile would respond again to humanitarian need of another kind.  On 28 January 1937 when the base OL-9 with Captain W.F. Marshall, FMCR as pilot and Rene Binsfield, S1c USNR as mechanic were sent to Memphis, TN to participate in rescue work during floods in the area.

June 1937 Aircraft Assignment: 3 N2C-2, 4 FF-2,  3 OJ-2, 1 NY-1, and 1 OL-9

In 1938 the original Navy squadron VN-9RD9 was re-designated VS-8R and Marine squadron VO-5MR now VMS-5R.

The NRAB aircraft assignment consisted of 3 OJ-2,  4 FF-2,  1 OL-9,  2 NY-3,  and 4 N3N-1

A young cadet by the name of Arthur J. Schultz finished his primary flight training in November 1939.  He was commissioned Ensign in October 1940.  Later in his career he would return as base commander.

The November 1939 aircraft assigned were: 4 SBC-4,  3 FF-2,  2 OJ-2,  4 N3N-1, and 1 J2F-4.

By late 1940 with war all over the world, action was needed for the future. The Curtiss-Wright barracks was expanded, work began on a new hanger, new barracks and other facilities, all located south of Groh Road.

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Revised: January 28, 2010