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WOR First Air Raid Drill in the United States

May 16, 1938

  • Preparations for a possible air attack were underway, and the first Air Raid Drill in America was scheduled to take place over the small Long Island town of Farmingdale, a rural community which was host to two aircraft plants. The night of the practice raid was set up for May 16th. Civil Defense workers and[...]

Preparations for a possible air attack were underway, and the first Air Raid Drill in America was scheduled to take place over the small Long Island town of Farmingdale, a rural community which was host to two aircraft plants. The night of the practice raid was set up for May 16, 1938. Civil Defense workers and Air Raid wardens were dispatched throughout the town to make sure, at the appointed hour, a black-out would take place, followed by two waves of bombers – one wave flying and 4,000 feet and the second wave flying at 15,000 feet. The object was to hit military targets, but pinpoint accuracy was far from developed at this point. So entire populated areas were warned to take cover as the action began.

With a carnival-like atmosphere, the town of Farmingdale followed instructions, while reporters from the radio networks gave breathless eyewitness accounts of the goings-on overhead and in the town below. The object of the exercise was to get America used to what would become a new kind of war and to kick the national Civil Defense Program into gear. There was no war to think about, yet – but most everyone agreed there was one looming.


In just a few moments, nine of Uncle Sam’s most powerful bombers will sweep out of the southeast in two separate flights, one at an altitude of 4,000 feet and the other at 15,000 feet, in simulated attack on military objectives in this vicinity.

This attack will be the climax of the most intensive aerial maneuvers ever undertaken by the United States Army Air Corps.

From our vantage point here at the Seversky Field, the Air Defense Headquarters of the 3rd Wing, under the command of Brigadier General Frederick L. Martin, the Special Fugitive Division of the Mutual Network, will bring you a description of the exciting events which are to take place in the next few minutes.

From the Defense Headquarters on the ground and from the giant bombers themselves, Mutual will show peacetime America how the civilian population can cooperate with the military in defense against enemy air raids.

A half mile away, the town of Farmingdale is a blaze of light, which although in the center of a rich farming area, in time of war would be a strategic military focal point for air raids because of two great aircraft factories which bordered this field.

However, at the first sound of the approaching enemy air fleet, sirens atop the firehouse in Farmingdale and the nearby New York State College of Agriculture will shriek a warning to the entire population.

The citizens have been drilling for this maneuver and been drilled by officers from the nearby General Headquarters Air Force Base at Mitchell Field and will immediately extinguish their lights, plunging the circular area within a diameter of five miles into complete darkness in an endeavor to save from destruction these two factories which manufacture planes for our Air Corps.

Following the maneuver, Farmingdale will be defended by the 36th Pursuit Squadron of the 3rd Wing.

Nine of these planes are now resting on the field before us and at the sound of the warning siren, they will take to the air from this inky black field with nothing but the light of the moon to guide the pilots.

Across the field, searchlight and anti-aircraft batteries of the 62nd Coast Artillery are in readiness to go into action to repeal the invading air fleet.

The scene therefore at Air Defense Headquarters is one of tense and watchful waiting.

And a half mile away, quiet civilian population goes into its usual, unusual evening activity.

Now here at 1032 is the warning order given by the Air Defense Commander, Brigadier General Frederick H. Martin of the 3rd Wing.

To all defense establishments in the air defense area, the following message.

Just received at Air Defense Headquarters from our warning net station at Lake Ronkonkoma.

Fly flying formation believed to be enemy bombers now passing over headed west.

All defense establishments on the alert.

All lights out in the air defense area.

Go into action when the enemy appears.

Pursuits take off at once.

And now we hear the siren coming from atop the fire station over in Farmingdale and we see the platoon of magnificent searchlights, 800 million candle power searchlights shining up in the air.

Given three beams telling the people in Farmingdale and in that five mile area to turn off their lights and get ready.

Now the planes are taking off.

Nine pursuit planes.

We’ve seen one, two, three.

Now here goes the fourth and the fifth.

These magnificent lights shining up in the air, meeting each other five miles overhead.

Now we see number six of the planes followed by number seven and the pursuit planes are quickly off in the air to defend this field.

I want to call to your attention that Farmingdale is not being defended, but the attack tonight will be on the area, the area housing these two great airplane factories.

Now we see the planes go up over above us.

Lights are all extinguished.

No lights any place within this whole section of the country.

And so now a real simulation, a real simulation of war as these planes go up overhead.

Tonight a beautiful and an ideal night for these maneuvers.

Just a short time ago, Brigadier General Martin told us that it was a perfect night, a fine night for flying.

And now we see the planes go up above, still flying with lights, getting ready now to meet the enemy.

The enemy planes flying higher overhead.

Now located on Serversky Field are the following air defense installments.

The 36th Pursuit Squadron, the 62nd Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft, and the Firing Battery and Searchlight Platoon.

Now the, now the pursuit plane flying overhead.

We can just barely see the light of one of them, and we see some of the bombers coming at a great distance, coming close for the battle.

Yes, flying at a great distance now coming, now coming from the east is one of the six bombers flying at the altitude of 4,000 feet.

And coming into us, and of course coming to the one main objective, the air factory 200 by 400 feet, and the attempt will be to drop upon this factory bombs of 600 pounds.

Now we see the planes getting ready to meet, and now with the maneuver well underway, to bring you a description of this raid from the enemy in the sky, we take you to an attacking bombing plane rumbling its way through the long island night.

This is Dan Fresco speaking from the navigator’s seat of one of the six B-18 Douglas bombers comprising this reconnaissance fleet flying at an altitude of 8,000 feet, over a mile and a half above the earth.

We’re four thousand feet above the plane carrying the flares, which are down below us.

The two pilots sitting at the control directly ahead of me are peering through the glass of the cockpit canopies, are scanning the target countryside below.

The problem of finding the objective, that is, Seversky Field, is complicated by the fact the community is situated in the midst of open field, normally dark.

The actual objective occupies but a minute portion of this blackout area with a diameter of five miles.

Flying above us at an altitude of 15,000 feet, more than two and a half miles above the earth, are the ships of the 7th Black Flagship Squadron, which tonight have flown down to their base in Hufford, Connecticut to represent the enemy.

Our task is to locate and illuminate the objective so that the bombers above us may take accurate strikes on the two aircraft’s back areas with the first-hand Grumman flash.

Of course, during this maneuver, hand-homes will be dropped, but high-speed Army cameras focused to the bombing site will reveal what would have happened during an actual raid.

The head-up to ground flare has exposed the objective.

The Black Shelfers reconnaissance group will drop powerful magnesium flares attached to small parachutes as soon as our navigators have the attached location.

These flares, floating down the air, will provide a brilliant boost to our performance of the drill range for a period of about five minutes.

Therefore, they haven’t dropped the flares, and we’re swinging away on to the north of the objective, which we spotted a moment ago.

We saw the lights of Farmingdale go off as yet when the warning red, warning signal of the air raid was sounded.

We’re off to the north of that dark area, which is surrounded by a fringe of lights representing motor cars and sightseers, perhaps, on the highways around Farmingdale.

A great throng of sightseers from New York and surrounding communities came out tonight to see this first air raid blackout drill in the history of the United States.

We’re still waiting to sight the flares, which will be dropped by the reconnaissance planes below us just as soon as they get near that particular spot that they want.

Our two great motors here are spitting out blue flame, and we’ve climbed up to our prescribed height of 8,000 feet.

We’ve been swimming along at about 220 miles an hour, circling over this area for about 15 or 20 minutes, waiting for our other planes to catch up to us.

As yet, no flares have been dropped.

We’re peering out of our window here in this navigator’s seat, looking out over the broad expanse of this wing and waiting to see this demonstration.

It was truly remarkable to see the lights snap out as one, and the searchlights of the 62nd Coast Guard artillery go into action and warn the citizens of Farmingdale that this air raid was officially on.

One can hardly imagine that this sort of thing is taking place in the United States, because, as we told you, it is the first time that such a maneuver has ever been held by the Army Air Corps, and it is the climax of these great maneuvers which have…

There goes the first flare now, dropped from a bomber over to our left.

They’re dropping down, several of them, and the parachutes are opening gently, and those flares are beginning to illuminate.

And down on the ground, I’m sure that they can see them coming down.

It looks like a whole building coming down.

They’re dropping out in twos, two flares at a time, as they’re spewed out of the belly of one of these bombers flying alongside of us at about half a mile away.

Now the string of lights stretches out to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, a double row of eight great magnesium flares which drop and will illuminate that ground like daylight when they all are released.

We can’t quite sight the plane because he’s flying without lights, but we can see the trail of huge flares going out behind it.

As yet, we haven’t seen the flashes of the…

There go the flashes of the anti-aircraft guns below down at Svirsky Field, and they are trying to take sight from these invisible planes flying without lights.

There go the flashes, and if you don’t think this looks like China or Spain, you’re crazy because it does.

My goodness, it is the United States.

There go more magnesium flares out of the bombers over to our left.

And high above us at 15,000 feet, 7,000 feet above our location, alert those tremendous bombers similar to the one in which we’re flying, which can drop 3,200 pounds of explosives on that objective, Svirsky Field and its surrounding plants.

These great planes weigh about 13 tons themselves and carry 3,200 pounds of explosives.

There goes a great string of lights down now, falling gently.

There’s hardly any wind tonight, and they’re dropping right over the town, and from here we can see the town begin to take shape at this great height of 8,000 feet.

Right off our wing now lies Farmingdale, a community which is on guard for this raid from the skies, and the great flares continue to spew out of those planes, dropping out of the giant belly underneath where bombs are normally carried.

There are some hundred flares to be dropped.

Just for a moment we’ve lost sight of the searchlights and the early aircraft batterers.

Now we do see them again.

And the whole ground is lighted up just as if they were giant searchlight planes from the air.

You can pick on that surrounding area very plainly, and I’m sure that the bombers high above us can take accurate sight through their bomb racks and take the photographs which will prove that the United States Army Air Corps is one of the most effective in the entire world.

And should it be called upon to do this sort of work, it could do it, and it could repel such an invasion just perhaps as these pursuit planes which took off from the field a few minutes ago could do.

What a picture of sight now as these flares begin to drop faster toward the earth as they burn out and great streamers of smoke trail off behind.

So far no one has tried to put a searchlight on us, but the batterers are hinging into action now.

It’s quite possible we’ll hardly be able to work part of the night for a raid at this time because at a later time we’d be pretty well ensnared up here.

But you can practically sight on your attention from a long distance, and for that reason there is a plan back for those flying up to the earth.

And that’s rather a picture.

There’s no more of the light.

And that’s just a map that concludes our description from up in the air.

The tactical mission of the Attacking Fleet has been completed.

And as these giant fighters swing away and vanish as quickly as they appeared, we conclude our broadcast from the sky.

Back to you through the shortwave relay broadcast transmitter at Station WOR.

We return you to Air Defense Headquarters for an official summary of the accomplishments of this raid, the first blackout and air raid drill in American history.

We’re back on the ground now with Defense Headquarters, and we’re looking at these searchlights following the enemy planes as they go overhead.

And they really have the spotlight on them, and the guns are shooting away at them.

And so now that it looks like the enemy is vanquished, we’re going to turn you over to the Chief of Staff of the GHQ Air Force, Colonel W.H.

Frank, and have him tell us of the lesson that he believes has been learned in these maneuvers.

Colonel Frank.

We believe that this first air raid drill, though conducted on a small scale, is a striking forward step in the national defense of this country.

Anti-aircraft defense for several years has been a real concern of many European peoples.

The tremendous advances in the range of aircraft in the last two years are at this very time making this problem of air defense a vital concern to us in this country.

Farmingdale has had the distinction and the privilege of being the site for the first test in the United States, where civil populations have cooperated with the military forces in working out all the details of both active and passive air defense.

Speaking for General Andrews, Commanding General of the GHQ Air Force, I wish to thank the citizens in this area, which has been blacked out tonight, for their wholehearted cooperation and enthusiastic support of our problem in these tests.

We have learned much.

We know now the proportions of these problems.

When once worked out and solved, they can be employed for the blackout of more extensive areas.

We were wise, I feel, in limiting the first test to a relatively small area and a comparatively limited population.

But the lessons learned can now be applied universally when need shall arise.

One thing we have learned is that radio is an indispensable medium for the transfer of intelligence and information over a large cross-section of the population.

Our warning signals were transmitted tonight by radio.

The split-second promptness with which widely separated organizations and peoples met that warning with an instantaneous response indicates the effectiveness of radio in situations such as this.

Our problem tonight concludes the GHQ maneuvers for the northeastern section of the United States for this year.

Tomorrow we have a concentration of all our widely scattered units, and on Wednesday morning we start back for our home stations.

We go in the knowledge that the two weeks’ training we have had in this area will be of lasting benefit to the nation’s air defense.

Our thanks to Colonel W.H.

Frank, Chief of Staff of the GHQ Air Force.

The lights of Farmingdale will soon begin to reappear and the population return to normal routine following the first practice air raid and drill staged by the General Headquarters Air Force as a climax to the extensive five-day maneuvers of the United States Air Corps.

The Mutual Network has described this exciting event from both land and sky.

This broadcast has been a presentation of the Special Features Division.

This is the Mutual Broadcasting System.

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