-- OPERATION BLUE-JAY. - Thuleforum

 

 

 

Operation Blue-J.....

 

Operation Blue-J.....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The construction of the Thule Air Base.

 

Because of the harsh artic environment in which it was built, consideration into both the material used to build the airbase and the preparation of the earth upon which it was built had to be given. Various contractors had to witness the manufacturer of material used in the airbase construction. While at Thule the amount of earth preparation, the work site required before construction could begin.

 

In addition there was the massive logistical operation needed for Blue Jay.

 

Operation Blue Jay goes back to 1949 when communist aggression was in full flight in Indo-China and against United Nations forces in Korea and President Harry S. Truman declared a national emergency. In Washington a secret meeting was held in the office of the Chief of Engineers. Present at this meeting were:

 

 

  • Lieutenant General Lewis A. Pick, then major general, Chief of Engineers;
  • Brigadier General Noland, Deputy Chief of Engineers

  • Peter Kuwin builder of airfields, and large dams.

  • S.J. Groves one of the builders of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpike, and

  • Joe Green construction expert.

 

The job was to be approximately 900 miles north of the Artic Circle far beyond any shipping lane. The job was to build a great airbase for America's long range bombers high on the northwest coast of Greenland at the tiny settlement called Thule, and built with the permission of the Danish Government. The base would push America's defence line 2,000 miles to the north. Blue Jays strategic location was ideal, but its construction in only four short months seemed impossible.

 

The impossible was just a challenge to American resourcefulness. Industry and the Armed Forces joined hands to put across Blue Jay on time. Industry developed new designs that would stand-up to the sever strains of the artic winter.

 

Clements panels used for refrigerator walls were adapted to buildings and hanger. More than 300-thousand were used at Blue Jay. Over 11-million board feet of lumber would be needed for housing and storage. Steel for hanger trusses to stand a hurricane blast of the artic winter was fabricated. And steel for the water distillation and giant fuel tanks each 200 tons were needed. Lacking port facilities at Thule eight old LST unloading docks were improvised.

 

Their superstructures were chopped off at deck level to provide a smooth unobstructed dock surface now called "dumb barges" they would be towed to Thule and anchored as permanent piers. Throughout the spring of 1951 a tidal wave of equipment rolled into the Army base at Norfolk, Virginia, the prime staging area for Blue Jay. A 6-million tons of cargo moved to Norfolk. At the same time at Rosemont, Minnesota, another procurement program was underway for men.

 

Here in the upper Midwest was to be found a pool of workers experienced in cold weather construction. These men are being tested and given work trials. And they are also getting survival training. An advance party of these men were sent to Thule to prepare the worksite for the main body due to arrive by ship in June. Sites for hangers, barracks, roads, and quarries were staked out by-the Deputy District Engineer for the Northwest District.

 

Temporary shelters were put up. The Atwell Hut for example is shipped as a compete building in a single package. Soil samples are being taken and the beach being cleared. Back at Norfolk supply yards were jammed by early. Shovels, bulldozers, asphalt plants, graders, and rock crushers were all loaded onto ships.

 

Rolling stock is being loaded and trucks are being sea proofed for the voyage. DUKW' scrolled onboard by the score loaded with fuel and other vital cargo so they could dash ashore as soon as the ships reached their destination. Embarking also were 3,000 men of the engineers, signal and transportation corps plus other military specialists plus the bulk of the civilian workmen. On June 6, 1951 this armada steamed out of Norfolk and headed north. 82 ships carried a cargo valued at $125-million.

 

The ships are churning their way through ice with icebergs and pack ice. The convoy halted and held fast in an ice pack. And a Coast Guard icebreaker is breaking a path through the ice for the ships.

 

Finally on July 9 the fleet steamed into North Star Bay at Thule. Their two-week voyage took twice that long and which meant that two weeks were lost. This time had to be made up some how. Ships had hardly anchored when the control headquarters' ship Monrovia raced into high gear to get the convoy unloaded. Cargo was loaded into landing craft manned by 1,000 seamen.

 

Eventually 153-thousand long tons of cargo were unloaded onto the beach. Work crews 4,000 strong were ferried to shore from their quarters on five personnel carriers. They operated in two shifts, 60% on first or day shift and 40% on the second shift. As soon as earth-moving equipment disembarked from LST's they went to work around the clock in good as well as bad weather seven days a week.

The first objective was the giant airstrip with its runway, which is being prepared. The newly completed airstrip received two key visitors on August 8, when Lieutenant General Hoyt Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff and General Pick arrived to check on construction progress at Thule. At this time there was only 2 months left to work.

The fuel tanks are being constructed and the welders are working night and day on them. Also under construction is the pipeline as it was being rigged and would run out over a mile from the fuel tanks to the tankers. There are also preparations of the land, needed to support this construction.

 

On August 30, Secretary of the Air Force, made an inspection visit and with less than two months left, found the work is ahead of schedule. Barracks were under construction, and as soon as they were completed the workmen moved ashore and ships departed for home.

 

On October 1, Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay, Chief of the Strategic Air Command, visited Thule, and was briefed by Colonel Clarence Renshaw, Northeast District Engineer. A snow and sleet storm is lashing the worksite. At the first break in the weather the work crews checked out for a flight home. In only 104 days Blue Jay was operational. A year later the new base had the benefit of another work season.

 

The military value of Greenland was not generally recognized until World War II, when weather stations and airfields were constructed at various places in Greenland by agencies of the United States. In August 1943 the Army Air Forces established a weather station at Thule to be operated by Danish personnel. This was accomplished on a verbal contract, which was confirmed in October 1945.

 

In 1946 the United States and Denmark agreed to expand the work of the station at Thule, and personnel of the U.S. Weather Bureau joined the Danes in operating the weather station. New buildings, a radio station, and a gravel airstrip were constructed in 1946 by the Army Air Forces, operating as a part of a joint military task force. The airstrip was prepared between July and September 1946, and the first Air Transport Command aircraft landed on 9 September. Thule became a resupply point for other arctic weather stations, and the airstrip was also utilized for polar reconnaissance flights.

 

U.S. - Danish memorandums of 1947 and 1949 continued former agreements, and in 1949 both nations were linked in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A new bilateral agreement for the defense of Greenland was signed in April 1951, and soon thereafter the construction of Thule Air Base began. It was initially designed as a forward base for staging bombers and tankers of the Strategic Air Command, and this mission accounted for the urgency associated with construction efforts.

 

In December 1950 the Department of Defense directed the Army Corps of Engineers to construct Thule Air Base as soon as diplomatic arrangements were confirmed. The Army engaged a commercial firm, the North Atlantic Constructors, for this task. Hiring was accomplished in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Norfolk, Virginia, was designated the port for shipment of material in surface vessels, and Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, was used as a marshalling point for airborne shipments of freight and passengers.

 

A reconnaissance party arrived at Thule in the middle of February 1951, landing on the gravel strip constructed in 1946. A United States Air Force (USAF) detachment reached Thule on 10 March 1951, and a naval task force arrived with equipment, personnel, and supplies on 9 July. More than 4,400 passengers were airlifted to Thule during 1951, and more than 1,000 passengers and about 300,000 tons of cargo arrived on surface vessels. Until adequate barracks were available, the bulk of the construction force was housed aboard ships furnished by the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). During the winter of 1951-52 the construction force was reduced to the minimum number of men required to perform inside work and maintain the construction camp, but the workmen returned in the spring of 1952, and again in the spring of 1953, to finish the initial effort.

 

By October 1953 the vast construction program was substantially completed, and most of the buildings on the base had been accepted by the base commander. The runway, 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide, was capable of supporting heavy aircraft, and the field was equipped with navigational aids. There were seven large hangars plus several smaller ones for fighter aircraft on alert. Near the center of the base there were 125 barracks, 6 mess halls, a gymnasium, service club, hobby shop, library, base exchange, post office, theater, chapel, and hospital. There were also 63 warehouses, a laundry, a bakery, and plants for generating heat and power.

 

Water was obtained from an adjacent lake, and an auxiliary supply, used principally by the base laundry, was obtained by distilling sea water. There was a 1,000 foot dock, constructed from barges which had been towed from the Gulf of Mexico, placed on caissons, and stabilized alongside a rock-filled causeway. Eighty-nine miles of road interlaced the base and ran to off-base installations. Hosted tank trucks supplied water and removed wastes until 1960, when heated and insulated pipe lines, built above the ground, were completed.

 

 

Some of the ships used in Operaton Blue-J:

 

  • USCGC Adak
  • USS Arneb (AKA-56)
  • USS Ashland
  • USS Casa Grande
  • USS Chipola (AO63)
  • USS Deuel (APA-160)
  • USCGC Eastwind
  • USS Earl B. Hall (APD 107)
  • USS EDISTO (AGB-2)
  • USS Fort Leonard Wood
  • G.W.Codrington. Charted and operated by Moran T&T of New York.
  • USS General A. W. Greely, AP-141
  • USS General Elterg
  • USS General Eltuge
  • USS General LeRoy Eltinge (AP-154)
  • USNS General M. L. Hersey T-AP 148
  • USNS General Stuart Heintzelman T-AP 159
  • USNS General W.G. Haan T-AP 158
  • USS Krishna, ARL 38.
  • USS Lindenwald (LSD-6)
  • USS LSM 397
  • USNS LST 287
  • USNS LST 325
  • USS LST 509
  • USSLST 525
  • USS LST 601
  • USS LST 980
  • USSLST 1041
  • USNS Mahnomen County LST-912
  • USNS Mayfield Victory
  • USS Monrovia APA 31
  • USS Norton Sound AV-11
  • USS Oak Hill (LSD-7)
  • USS Piconic
  • USNS Sappa Creek
  • USS Shadwell LSD-15
  • USS Sublette County (LST 1144)
  • USS Talbot County(LST 1153)
  • USS Taumer
  • USS Vermilion (AKA-107)
  • USS Whitewood (AG129)
  • USS Wyandot (AKA 92)

 

These men, they were part of operation Blue-J:

 


Name.

workplace.

Year.

Bld. #.

@

Story from Bill Macdowell...    Bill Macdowell

initial power plant

in 1949

USS Wyandot AKA 92

Email to: Bill Macdowell
Andrew D. Greenwell

USNS LST 287

June 1951 to July 1951

USNS LST 287

Email to: Andrew D. Greenwell
Capt. John Blackmore

"MS J.H. Blackmore"

1943 - 1945

on board

R Klinestever

USS Monrovia APA31

06/51 to 09/51

on board the ship

Email to:
Bernie Kessler

373d TMP- Cargo Ships

July-August 1951

USS Monrovia

Email to: Bernie Kessler
John Moore


25 may 51 - 31 aug 51


William Lagarde

On G.W.Codrington, charted and operated by Moran T&T of New York, for Operation Blue-Jay...

june/july 1951


Email to: William Lagarde
Ralph J. Weidner

aboard the USS Casa Grande



Email to: Ralph J. Weidner
Earl (Bill) Stokes

Next to the air strip

May 51 to Aug. 51

746 Eng.Heavy Shop Co. Lived in Tents

Email to:
Leonard Whitmore

Radioman Working MSTS ships

0551-0951 & 0552-0952

Aboard Icebreaker USCGC Eastwind

Email to: Leonard Whitmore
Charlie Lawrence

Capt's office yeoman

June 51 to Aug 51

USS Deuel(APA-160)anchored

Email to: Charlie Lawrence
Frank Chistolini

was on LST 521 delivering heavy equipment and LCT.

1951

LST 521

Email to: Frank Chistolini
Bill Hagen

USN - Unloading Supplies

July - August, 1951

LSD 15 Shadwell

Email to:
Charles A. Narwicz

Beached over 200 times with materials

About June 1950 to August 1950

USS LSM 397

Email to:
Allan MacPherson

A&E Metcalf & Eddy

June 1951 to Feb. 1953


Email to:
Tom Boyle

served aboard LST 1144

May/August 1951


Email to: Tom Boyle
Story from Shannon Floyd Moser...    Floyd Moser

Thule Bay cargo haulers

7/9 1951 to 8/30/51

USS Arneb (AKA-56)

Email to:
Ron Nelson

The weather station

Blue-J for 3 months (summer) 1951.


Email to: Ron Nelson
Herman Hoerrle

LST519

1952


Frank Machata

Infirmary

1950

on stilts

Email to:
Gerry Guild

Metcalf & Eddy (Badge #90)

0651 to 1051

Atwell hut (No barracks built)

Email to:
Charles Pat Jungmann

Thule AB

April-May-June-Jule 1951

wanigans

Email to: Charles Pat Jungmann
Dick Leahy

Retired Engineer

Summer of 1952

USS Taconic in North Star Bay

Email to: Dick Leahy
Edwin Popevich

USS Hershey

two weeks in July 1951

Lived on USS Hershey

Email to: Edwin Popevich
Warren J. Brown, MD

1st convoy to Thule, 1951

June-September 1951

USS Stuart Heintzelman

Email to: Warren J. Brown, MD
Bill Motlow

MM3 USS Lindenwald LSD 6

Summer of 51

? ship, I think

Email to: Bill Motlow
Don Gilliamsen

Transient USN FLIGHT CREW

1951 - 1953, 1956, 1957, 1962 - 1964

Tents 51-52 various barracks after that.

Email to: Don Gilliamsen
Joseph Reeves (Joe)

Pilot, VR-6 at Westover AFB

Sping of 1951 to summer of \'52

transit quarters

Email to:  Joseph Reeves (Joe)

 

 

Snowflake

 

 

 

 

Updated at december 21, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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