Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Engineers Secret Mission ...

  Building Wideawake Field out of solid volcanic rock on Ascension Island was quite a job.

(Continued from the previous post: excerpted from "Engineer's Top Secret Mission" by my father, Colonel William Ashley Chapman, from the book World War II Reminiscences by Colonel John H. Roush)

"We were tasked to complete the mission in 90 days, which required a maximum effort from all personnel.  The work went on day and night, with men working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, until the job was completed.  Living conditions were harsh physically and psychologically.  Our water supply was extremely limited, with none for hygiene and barely enough to drink.  There was no recreation, nothing but a routine of work, and time for eating and sleep.  We were completely isolated with no personal communications with the outside world.

With the help of 75 tons of dynamite we blasted the hard rock into shape, and the the first plane landed about June 15 on the partially completed runway.

It was a British Fairey Swordfish biplane from the British carrier H.M.S. Archer cruising over the horizon nearby.  When the Swordfish buzzed the settlement the American anti-aircraft battery, part of our Task Force 4612 equipped with 37 mm and .50 cal. AA guns, failed to identify the intruder, therefore opened fire and hit the plane.

As it came around the second time the markings were seen to be British, and the plane landed.  Out of it a very angry pilot emerged waving a pistol ..." (to be continued).

Col. Chapman, on Long Beach, Ascension Island, forty years after his assignment there was successfully completed during World War II.

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