By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, June 7, Milford Museum sponsored a presentation by Everett Bennett about the Civil Air Patrol and their service during World War II. Mr. Bennett served in the Civil Air Patrol as a Mission Pilot, Observer, Scanner as well as a Flight Instructor and Check Pilot. He created a display about the Civil Air Patrol and their missions from Rehoboth Beach Airfield during World War II. His talk at the Century Club in Milford was to provide information to those in attendance who may not have been aware of the service the volunteer pilots provided.
“In 1941, the Delaware Bay needed protection and this was the primary purpose for the construction of Fort Saulsbury,” Mr. Bennett said. “World War I ended before the fort was completed in 1917 but Fort Miles was built at Cape Henlopen in an effort to keep enemy ships from entering the Delaware Bay. On December 1, 1941, President Roosevelt founded the Civil Air Patrol under the authority of the Civil Defense Agency. Six days later, the United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”
In an effort to keep German U-Boats out of the bay, the armed forces used several methods. One of the methods was to require “blackouts.” Residents and businesses were asked to either turn lights off in their homes or to install blackout shades. This was especially important along the shoreline as it helped friendly ships navigate waters without being seen. With the lights on shore illuminating the water, ships were easy targets so blackouts kept them hidden. In addition, searchlights, anti-submarine nets, magnetic sensing devices and mines were used to protect the shoreline.
“Vineyard Shipyards provided assistance as well,” Mr. Bennett said. “They built wooden subchasers, which became known as ‘splinter ships,’ that were designed specifically to look for subs. There were 14 of them built in Milford.”
Mr. Bennett explained that the Civil Air Patrol became known as the Flying Minute Men. Their primary purpose was to go on sub-chasing missions. They would fly over the water where they could see the shadow of a submarine beneath the surface. They carried ordinances despite the fact that the planes they used were not designed for the weight of the bombs. There was a pull-cable in the plane that released the bomb which Mr. Bennett said was very primitive.
“This was an all-volunteer service,” Mr. Bennett said. “The pilots used their own planes for the missions. Many of them were unqualified for military service, so this was a way for them to give to the war effort.”
When one of the planes went down in the water, which happened occasionally, surviving members of the crew were inducted into the Duck Club. Logan Grier, who eventually became the Mayor of Milford, was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and was the last member of the Duck Club after his plane went down off the coast of New Jersey on a mission.
Overall, the Civil Air Patrol sighted 173 U-boats and 57 of them were attached. The group dropped 83 bombs or depth charges in protection of the shore. There were 26 members who died in service, four of them based in Rehoboth. There is a plaque in Rehoboth with the names of Delmont Garrett, Charles Sheffers, O. Swift and Paul Towne, all who died while serving in the Civil Air Patrol and all based in Rehoboth. Mr. Bennett said there were 90 aircraft lost during the service.
“The service ended in 1943 because they were no longer needed as the German’s had been driven away from the shore,” Mr. Bennet said. “The Rehoboth group alone flew over one million miles over water, which every pilot knows is difficult. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is mostly used for search and rescue.”
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