Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kenneth Charles Robbins, Husband of Blogger Linda Robbins: His Experiences in the US Air Force at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, 1955

Kenneth Charles Robbins was in the US Air Force between 1953-1955. He enlisted in the US Air Force because otherwise he was going to be drafted into the US Army by his hometown Islip, NY draft board after his first two years of college in Agricultural Economics at The University of Vermont.

From March-May, 1955 he was stationed with the US Air Force at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada serving as a loadmaster on a C-124 Globemaster, the “Mickey Mouse nose cargo airplane”. The Third Troop Carrier Squadron was his unit. During his time, his airplane only flew equipment to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada from Greenville, South Carolina, Donaldson Air Force Base. His airplane carried equipment for the construction of the DEW Line. The airplane carried one D-8 Caterpillar bulldozer and enough barrels of fuel (gasoline, diesel) to fill the airplane. Another material was enough cement in small waterproof steel cans for a full airplane load during a side trip to Three Rivers, Quebec, Canada. A third kind of material was enough parts of prefabricated buildings to fill the airplane and to deliver to locations on the DEW Line. Then they flew many trips to many locations along the DEW line.

Ken described that he would climb into an airplane, bring it to life by starting the auxiliary power unit to operate the hydraulic system, open the doors, put the ramps down, and load or unload the cargo. Every two or three days his C-124 Globemaster would fly equipment to locations on the DEW Line, unload their cargo, and return to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Each time his C-124 Globemaster was loaded and ready to fly, the plane and crew would depart. When the plane landed, the captain and the crew would leave. The loadmaster’s job was to stay with the plane unload it, with or without help, until the job was completed, even if the hours were past the rest of the crew’s normal hours. A similar occurrence was to load the plane, with or without other crewmembers’ help. The plane did not fly until the captain and the loadmaster agreed that it was safe with balance and weight calculated correctly.

“Churchill airport was constructed in 1942 by the United States Air Force, which chose the site because of its strategic position on their intercontinental air routes. The route, sometimes known as the Crimson Route, ran from the rich industrial areas of northern California across Hudson's Bay, southern Baffin Island, Greenland, and Iceland to the United Kingdom. Even the longest flight leg would be relatively short using the great circle route. Canada displayed little enthusiasm for the project because of doubts that the route would ever be used as proposed. However, it was built nevertheless with some Canadian aid. While Canada constructed the airport at The Pas, the Americans (with Canadian approval) built the airports at Churchill, Coral Harbour, Fort Chimo, and Frobisher.
Nothing came of this venture from a purely military point of view, but the airports built in Canada played an important part during the construction of the DEW Line in 1955 and in the subsequent development of the Arctic. Despite its lack of enthusiasm for the route, Canada did not want to leave any loopholes for the American legislators to claim property or any other special rights in Canada after the war, and therefore decided at an early date to pay the US for its Canadian installations. It cost over $27 million to buy the Crimson Route facilities, but this was a comparatively small price paid to ensure Canadian sovereignty and avoid any future misunderstanding.
The US Air Force operated and maintained the airport until the end of the war.
Updated: December 18, 2004”

U.S. Air Force personnel unload this U.S. Army truck from a 62d MAW C-124 at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

“This map shows modern and historical Inuit settlements in Canada. It identifies Inuit communities of the four Inuit regions: Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut. Modern names are given, with some historic names shown in parenthesis. The map also traces the D.E.W. line and shows other locations around Inuit communities.”

The map also shows Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on the Southwest shore of Hudson Bay where my husband was stationed in the US Air Force from March-May, 1955 during the construction of the DEW Line.