Fact Friday 383 - Charlotte's Role During WWII
During World War II, Charlotte, North Carolina played a significant role in the war effort. The city was home to several military bases and industrial facilities that played a critical role.
One of the most significant military installations in Charlotte during the war was the Morris Field Army Air Corps Base. When World War II started, the small airport Charlotteans formerly called Douglas Municipal Airport, was renamed the Charlotte Army Air Base. It had been taken over by the Army in April 1941, months before Pearl Harbor. It became a major part of the county’s war effort as well as the economic and social structure of the communities.
The airport was dedicated on April 21, 1941 by a number of dignitaries. North Carolina Governor James M. Broughton introduced Fiorello H. La Guardia, Mayor of New York City. After viewing a mile long parade, which included the Central High School band that marched down West Trade Street in Charlotte, La Guardia told about 10,000 visitors to the Charlotte Air Base that “we are challenged by Adolf Hitler now.” This was a foreshadowing of what was to come for the base and its service men within the next eight months.
On January 22, 1942, the name of the airport was changed to Morris Field, in honor of the late Major William Colb Morris. Morris was born on August 4, 1891 in Harrisburg, NC and became a WW I veteran flier and instructor. He was at West Point when World War I broke out. Although he had originally served in the Canadian Air Force, he transferred to the United States Air Corp when America joined the war in 1917.
Morris Field was initially a small operation. It had two short runways, but eventually grew to several hundred acres, more than 100 buildings, a control tower, water, sewer and electric systems to house and train combat ready service men.
The base was put on wartime restrictions of news so that news stories of military and non-military events had to be published with permission of the base intelligence officer. A fence was erected around the perimeter. The friendly, hometown airport had drastically changed.
The base was used to train pilots, mechanics, and other personnel for the U.S. Army Air Forces. The base also served as a transport hub for troops and supplies.
One of the groups that trained at the base was the 29th Air Base Group.
In order to “Keep ‘Em Flying,” crews worked around the clock in structures with black out cloths over the windows. Nine o’clock was “lights out” for the day crews. This constant shifting of day and night crews was done with precision in order to protect the workers and the security of their mission. Wounded veterans, mechanics and women repaired about 100 planes a month.
- Officers’ Quarters.
- Hospital Section.
- Mess Hall for enlisted men.
- Enlisted men’s barracks and day rooms.
- Fire Station.
- Foreground are the quartermaster corps warehouses, repair shop, supply rooms. On the other side of old Dixie Road are administration buildings occupied by construction companies.
- Plane parking area, which is being poured by WPA labor.
The federal government spent $6 million dollars to turn it into a pilot training base and keep it operational for five years before turning it back to local officials on May 14, 1946 . Some barracks and other structures were turned into apartments to help relieve the postwar housing shortage in the area.
The Charlotte Housing Authority built the Stonewall Jackson Homes, which today is located southeast of the airport and runways.
When the airport was returned to the local people, it was renamed the Charlotte Municipal Airport. It is known today as the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.
Charlotte's industrial facilities also major impact when it came to critical supplies and infrastructure. The city was home to several factories that produced essential materials such as steel, textiles, and chemicals. Many of these factories were converted to produce military equipment, including munitions, aircraft parts, and other essential supplies.
One of the most notable industrial facilities in Charlotte during the war was the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, which produced the C-47 Skytrain transport plane, one of the most important aircraft of the war. The plant employed thousands of workers and operated around the clock to meet the demand for military aircraft.
Charlotte's role in the war effort extended beyond military installations and industrial facilities. The city was also home to a significant number of soldiers and their families who were stationed at Morris Field and other nearby military bases. The city's residents also contributed to the war effort through volunteer work, bond drives, and other initiatives.
- Morris Field Map - This map was donated by Frank Newton, Charlotte, NC. It was made by the Post Engineer and is dated January 1, 1945. It shows "All the Locations at Morris Field"
- Map of Charlotte, Map of Mecklenburg County - These two maps from the 1940s show the surroundings in which Morris Field was placed
CMStory.org, "Morris Field," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.
Email email@example.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin