Harbor Field Was Maryland Air Guard's First Post-War Home

  • Published
  • By Capt. Wayde Minami
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
The Maryland Air National Guard has had a number of homes over the years, including Logan Field (now the neighborhood of Logan Village in Dundalk), Detrick Army Airfield near Frederick and its present home, Warfield Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport.

But from 1946 to 1960, the Maryland Air Guard was based at a place called Harbor Field.

Harbor Field was originally known as Baltimore Municipal Airport. It was intended as a replacement for nearby Logan Field, and the design included such modern facilities as a seaplane port and longer runways capable of handling larger, more powerful aircraft.

The city of Baltimore began construction on the new site in 1929, and by 1932, the seaplane ramp had been completed. It was soon followed by a terminal with hangar facilities, passenger lounge, and other amenities. But as more runways were constructed around the country, seaplane use faded. By the end of the 1940s, the seaplane facilities had fallen into disuse.

Construction of facilities for land-based aircraft met with unexpected difficulties, however. At the time, a harbor dredging effort was underway, and the silt was used to construct an artificial peninsula on which the field's runways were to be built. The use of harbor silt as fill turned out to be problematic. The ground took much longer to dry than expected, leading to years of construction delays and cost overruns. Even after construction was completed in 1940, settling fill continued to cause problems with the runways it supported.

The new airport wasn't dedicated until Nov. 16, 1941 - just in time for World War II.

Although the federal Work Projects Administration had funded the construction of a new hangar for the Maryland National Guard as part of the airport, by the time the airport opened the unit had been mobilized and was stationed Detrick Field.

The field's first significant military occupant was the headquarters of the 353rd Fighter Group, which moved into the facility in October 1942. The headquarters oversaw subordinate squadrons based at Langley Army Airfield, Richmond Army Airfield and Norfolk Municipal Airport, all in Virginia. The 353rd flew P-40 Warhawks - later augmented by a small number of P-47 Thunderbolts - out of the base until being sent to fight in Europe in mid-1943.

Baltimore Municipal Airport remained under the control of the War Department for the duration of the war, but was then returned to civilian control. By 1946, the airport was handling 136,000 airline passengers a year. P-47s returned to Baltimore Municipal Airport the same year, when the Maryland National Guard's 104th Fighter Squadron was reactivated there on Aug. 17.

With heavy civilian use and no room for expansion, it quickly became clear that the base would not be the Guard's permanent home. Moreover, the Maryland National Guard only held a 15-year lease on the hangar, with the city due to take control at the end of that period. But in 1950, Friendship Airport opened in Anne Arundel County with runways and facilities capable of handling jet aircraft. Civilian airlines almost immediately transferred their operations there and Baltimore Municipal Airport was renamed Harbor Field the same year.

While the airlines' departure created more space for the Air Guard at Harbor Field, the base's short runways - it's longest was only 4,520 feet - would be inadequate once the unit converted to jet operations. In fact, an F-84C sent there for jet familiarization training had to circle the field burning off fuel before it could land and still had great difficulty stopping on the short runway.

Beginning in 1953, Guard officials began looking in earnest for a new home for the unit, but with little success. As it seemed likely that the fighter unit would be forced to close, it seemed logical to find a new mission, and on Sept. 10, 1955, a second flying unit, the 135th Air Resupply Group, was activated at Harbor Field.

But by the time the new unit stood up, a solution had been found to the 104th's dilemma. In July 1955, the Martin Company offered space on a 25-acre tract on the north side of its airfield in Middle River, Md., and construction began in early 1956.

The 104th was able to temporarily base T-33 trainers at Friendship and F-86 fighters at Andrews Air Force Base while it continued to fly piston-powered fighters out of Harbor Field. In July 1957, the squadron consolidated all its flying operations at the new Martin facility.

In November 1958 the Maryland Port Authority purchased Harbor Field for $4.1 million with plans to convert it to a port facility. The field remained active until December 1960, when the 135th also relocated to Martin.

The Dundalk Marine Terminal now occupies what was once Harbor Field. A number of the original buildings remain, but have been converted to other uses.