SHORTLY AFTER THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR on Dec. 7, 1941, Capt. C.H. Dutch Schildhauer foresaw a driving need for the transport of vital equipment and personnel to the various far flung naval commands to keep up with and support the needs of our fighting Naval personnel. This would bolster the United States growing ability to stop the spread of nazism and the imperialistic ideas of the Japanese Empire.
PLANS were formulated to procure the necessary aircraft and personnel to support the plan for the NAVAL AIR TRANSPORT SERVICE (NATS). Having no cadre of qualified personnel for such an undertaking, this initial influx of aircraft and equipment was necessarily drawn from the commercial airlines. The first NATS squadron - Air Transport Squadron One (VR-1) was commissioned on Mar. 9, 1942 at NAS Norfolk, VA. with the DC-3 re-designated R4D by the Navy. It's complement consisted of 5 aircraft, 27 Officers and 150 men. This initial complement grew to a total of 431 aircraft and 13 squadrons whose principle task was delivering vital cargo, personnel and mail to the fleet and ground forces in forward areas, in hours instead of weeks by surface transportation.
In the formative stages, three squadrons were commissioned. These were Air Transport squadron One (VR-1) at NAS Norfolk VA. for service across the Atlantic, VR-2 at NAS Alameda CA.. serving the west coast and and Pacific area and VR-3 at NAS Olathe linking with their East and West coast counterparts. These units then began expanding this high speed transportation system to far flung regions of the world such as Alaska, the Caribbean, and South Pacific including Australia. By the end of 1943, it had expanded to include four wings and three ferry squadrons. The fleet of aircraft grew to 200, including the land based Douglas Skytrain R4D and Skymaster R5D and flying boats such as the Martin Mariner JRM and Consolidated Coronado PB2Y. VR-6 (Operational) Miami, FL; VR-7 Operational (South America) VR-8 (Operational) and Training) Patuxent River MD; VR-10 (Maintenance) Honolulu, HI; VR-11 (Operational) Honolulu Trans-Pacific. In 1944, three more squadrons were added; VR-9 maintenance Olathe, KS; VR-12 (Headquarters) Pacific and VR-13 (Operational) Manus Island.
In 1944, equipped with the four engine Douglas R5D the Navy Squadrons were called upon to support the invasion of France. This required a huge airlift of minesweeping equipment to the United Kingdom. The flight crews were drawn from all NATS squadrons. In the Pacific, as the Japanese were driven deeper and deeper back into the Pacific Ocean, a major organizational change was made, with the establishment of NATS as a flag command of the U.S. Fleet.
At wars end, NATS personnel numbered 26,000. Officers and men were working around the clock to carry the burden of rush cargo. Aircraft and men were being utilized to their utmost while maintaining a spirit of "CAN DO" that would match any organization in the military.
In a few years, the NAVAL AIR TRANSPORT SERVICE would undergo another far reaching change and split the Naval Air Forces into a divided command. Click on MATS in directory to continue our history.