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Bayou Bombers over Texas: Finding a Bombing Range

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Part two (2) of the series exploring the Boykin Springs military range and cantonment near the Neches River. During World War II, over 40 Army Air Corps service members operated the isolated and critical “high altitude precision strategic bombing” proving ground used by hundreds of B-17 “Flying Fortress” aircrews stationed at Alexandria Army Airfield.

Bayou Bombers over Texas: Finding a Bombing Range

“Procurement of necessary land was delayed by several months by the reluctance of private individuals to relinquish fishing and hunting land.”- Lt Henry Tinnan (Boykin Springs range officer) Boykin Springs, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located within the Angelina Forest served as a much needed “high altitude precision strategic” bombing range for World War II bombers. Probably no other concept was more embraced and touted by the Army Air Corps than using four engine bombers (armed with machine guns for self-defense), flown at high altitude with a long range capability to soar above an enemy’s defenses. They believed that high altitude, precision bombing of an enemy’s military infrastructure would force a country to surrender. Starting in the 1930s and continuing through the Louisiana and East Texas maneuvers of 1941, this war fighting doctrine reigned supreme among American air power leaders. Before the bombing of Europe had even begun, Army Air Corps planners had calculated (or so they thought) the exact number of sorties and bombs required to destroy all the expected targets in Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the Army Air Corps underestimated the effects of the advanced German fighters such as the Focke Wolfe and Messerschmitt interceptors. Additionally, the German anti-aircraft surprisingly reached the higher altitudes of the bombers with devastating results - especially on the final bombing runs where an aircraft was forced to fly a predictable straight and level course to release its three-ton payload. Throughout the war, Army Air Corps leadership never wavered from its strategic doctrine, thus it was vital to obtain a bombing range for its war-bound B-17 aircrews. Initially, military planners struggled to find a suitable location for Alexandria Airfield based aircrews. The nearby Gulf of Mexico provided realistic overwater, long distance navigation training, but the airmen still need a location to implement (and score) high altitude precision bombing. Even though the Angelina Forest was ideal (cut over, remote and sparsely populated), East Texans held to a long cherished way of life - hunting and fishing.

According to Richard Donovan of Zavalla, the Angelina Forest had served as a much-needed breadbasket of wild game to the “Great Depression” generation and thus civilians were understandably reluctant to lose this resource. However, the ongoing world war and critical demands for trained B-17 aircrews allowed the military to control a crescent of land between the Neches and Angelina Rivers. Initially staffed by one officer and a single enlisted man, work began on the Boykin Springs cantonment (military housing) and ranges on 3 July 1943. Later with help from the US Forestry Service and an 11-man enlisted team they moved five-person, single-stove huts from the former CCC camp (Company 880) at Patroon, TX near present day Toledo Bend reservoir to Boykin Springs. By 7 August 1943 the desperately needed bomb range and detachment led by 2nd Lt Raymond C. Loomis was open for business. Soon thousands of American and Allied aviators would train, bailout and even crash in Angelina, Jasper and Tyler Counties as they prepared for the combat in Europe and the Pacific. Col Eddie Boxx, USAF (ret) is a writer for the Tyler County Heritage Village Museum and is currently authoring a book: “Bayou Bombers: The Untold Story of B-17 Aircrews over East Texas.” *Well-known conservationist and Piney Woods expert, Richard Donovan authored the seminal Paddling the Wild Neches.


Part one (1) of the series:

The following series explores the Boykin Springs military range and cantonment near the Neches River. During World War II, over 40 Army Air Corps service members operated the isolated “high altitude precision strategic bombing” proving ground used by hundreds of B-17 “Flying Fortress” aircrews stationed at Alexandria Army Airfield.

“The outer column raced through Beaumont, Texas and by noon on 26 September was near Woodville…”

The Battle for Shreveport - US Army Records 1941

Bayou Bombers over Texas: General Patton leads the way

General George Patton may have been the first to recognize the military training opportunities behind the Texas pine curtain. Besides large-scale land maneuvers, the Piney Woods were to play an important role in the training of B-17 bomber aircrews during the height of the war. In 1943, the US had just started bombing the German homeland in Europe, while in the Pacific, Army Air Force flyers were engaged in blocking the Japanese advance in New Guinea and Guadalcanal. To meet the demand for more aviators, the Army Air Corp established Alexandria Army Airfield in Louisiana to train B-17 “Flying Fortress” aviators. East Texas and central Louisiana were well known to military planners since the largest maneuvers ever executed (The Louisiana War Games) had taken place just a few years earlier in 1941. During the massive military operation, officers like then-Colonel David Eisenhower and General George Patton started to emerge as superb planners, innovators and leaders. Military exercise planners divided the state of Louisiana in half. The “Red Army” defended the northern part of the state (with Shreveport as its “capitol”) while the “Blue Army” (with Patton leading a newly minted “armored division”) anchored southern Louisiana. Initially, the Blue Team attempted to move north through central Louisiana, but the Red Team had “simulated” blown every bridge leading north and the Blue Team advance soon bogged down. Patton devised a high-speed operation that would take his tanks and vehicles around the stymied advance in Louisiana by turning west, then flanking north through East Texas. Far from the front lines, Patton’s newly organized 2nd Armored Division - after his engineers repaired an actual collapsed bridge - crossed the Sabine River near Orange, TX. Within 24 hours, he and his M3 light tanks raced up Highway 69’s “Sawmill Trail” passing through the towns of Village Mills,Warren, Woodville, Doucette and Colmesneil. Meanwhile, another motorized column moved through Jasper and the Angelina Forest. Patton’s men had secured much needed gas along the route to execute the “Hail Mary” run and successfully attacked and captured the Red Army’s capital of Shreveport. The speed of the advance spelled the end for the iconic symbols of the US army and cavalry - the mule and the horse (both animals used extensively during the war games as some army leaders still believed in their utility). After the exercise (known officially as the US Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941) Patton and other emerging leaders met in the basement of the Alexandria High School and plotted the end of the horse-centric cavalry with a new method of war fighting - the armored division centered on tanks and personnel carriers. Years later in December 1944 during the pivotal “Battle of the Bulge” when the storied 101st Airborne Division was surrounded by the German Army, now four-star General Patton would again wheel his forces 90 degrees and outflank the enemy; this time at the Belgium town of Bastogne. In a tactic first developed in East Texas, Patton’s armored divisions rescued the American forces and ultimately drove the German army across the Rhine River. The vastness, the sparsely populated region and for the most part, cooperating civilians of East Texas and central Louisiana enabled large scale training maneuvers such as Patton’s wide armored sweeps. Additionally the region would soon foster another emerging technology, “high altitude precision strategic bombing” by the four-engine B-17 bomber known as the “Queen of the Skies.” Airbases began to spring up in central Louisiana, but the Army Air Corp was in desperate need of a bombing range to train aircrews headed to the Pacific and European theaters. Soon Army Air Corps planners remembered a remote, former Civilian Conservation Corps camp from the 1941 war game. Ideally placed in a former cutover forest miles from cities and towns, Boykin Springs would soon prove critical to the war effort.

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