MA Aviation Historical Society Inc.
PO Box 457
Wakefield MA 01880-0957

Telephone: 781.662.1253


Massachusetts Naval Aviation Bases 1915-1920 

Note: The latitude and longitude for each site below are presented in the decimal entry format used by Google Earth ©           


Marblehead- Harbor: Naval Militia Patrol Base -1915-1917  
Lat/Long 42 29 54.57 N,  70 50 57.62 W

Godfrey Lowell Cabot, President of the Aero Club of New England, an aviator and an Ensign in the Naval Militia, organized an Independent Aviation Corps in late 1915 and advocated for the establishment of a formal aviation unit within the State Militia.  Congress in 1916 authorized a U.S. Air Reserve Flying Corps and Massachusetts followed up and organized an official Naval Militia aviation unit to be based in Marblehead.  Initially a Burgess Model U tractor seaplane was based at the Burgess Company dock in Marblehead and a Burgess Dunne pusher seaplane was sent up to Newburyport for temporary patrol duty. Later a floating seaplane hangar was built by Graves Yacht Yard and used to store and service both seaplanes which were now based back at Marblehead.

On April 14, 1917 the U.S. Navy accepted the offer of the loan of the Eastern Yacht Club property on Marblehead Neck for the establishment of the U.S. Naval Training Station for Aviation, Marblehead. The floating hangar and its two aircraft were then assigned to this new Naval Station across the harbor. The Navy also directed that the Rhode Island and Connecticut aviation units of their state’s Naval Militias to send all aircraft, equipment and personnel to USNTSA, Marblehead. These aircraft made coastal patrols and training flights from here until they were transferred to the new Naval Air Station Squantum; the U-2 was transferred on May 12 and the Burgess Dunne on June 15, 1917.

On June 22nd the Navy ordered the Marblehead training facility closed and the four student pilots and nearly all the Naval Militia volunteers were ordered transferred to the newly established Naval Air Station Squantum by July 6, 1917. On August 6, 1917 the Navy Department officially returned the former training station and patrol base to the Eastern Yacht Club.                                                                 

Beverly- Great Misery Island: 1916-1917
Naval Militia - Massachusetts State Militia Aviation Camp
Lat/Long 42 32 43.81 N,  70 47 57.99 W

Godfrey Cabot established a seaplane base on this island in Salem Sound where he built a hangar on the Western shore and housed his own Burgess Dunne Model BD “The Lark” as well those of other visitors. In the late summer of 1916 a Massachusetts State Militia Aviation Camp was established on the island and here the 9th and 10th Deck Divisions of the Naval Militia held a tour of duty from 16 to 30 September. Eight officers and 28 enlisted men took part. Five aeroplanes, including four Burgess-Dunnes and the Model U “The Prince”, were used in the exercises. Burgess pilot Clifford Webster did most of the flight instruction and provided orientation flights for the Naval Militia personnel.                                                                 

Quincy- Squantum: 1917- Naval Militia - Massachusetts School for Naval Air Service – NAS Squantum
Lat/Long 42 18 00 N,  71 02 05.89 W

On April 14, 1917 The Bay State’s Naval Militia began construction of the Massachusetts School for Naval Air Service at Squantum and advertised for volunteers and announced that they would be ready to begin training the first class of student pilots on May 1.The first class of 23 men who passed their physical exams were ordered to report on May 1 for flight training. The planned enrollment for 1917 was 180 students. A tent city for the students was established and the training regimen began. Shortly after this school started on April 17th the United States declared war on Germany and it was no surprise when on May 4th 1917 the U.S. Navy had taken over training school and NAS Squantum was formerly established on May 11, 1917. The next day Squantum received its first aircraft the familiar Burgess U-2 “The Prince” flown down from Marblehead. The Navy’s priority for 1917 was to expand the Naval Aviator Training Program and they based 13 trainers here, principally Curtiss N-9s and R-6 aircraft. Four months after it was commissioned NAS Squantum was decommissioned on September 30, 1917 primarily because Navy flight training was to be concentrated in the southern U.S. where the weather was mild and a year round training schedule was possible.                                                                  

Chatham-  NAS Chatham: 1918-1920
Lat/Long 41 42 58.06 N, 69 58 01.74 W

On August 22, 1917 construction started on 36 acre Nickerson Neck site  in North Chatham for this U.S.N. coastal patrol base to protect the sea lanes from Long Island to Maine from German U-Boats. Designed for exclusively Navy airships, seaplanes and flying boats it was an important link in the defense of the United Stated from an attack by sea and was key in protecting our coast and our convoy routes to our Allies overseas. Chatham was placed in commission on January 6, 1918. The base had 13 buildings including two large hangars: a dirigible hangar and seaplane hangar. There were no provisions for runways or for accommodating land aircraft.

The first two aircraft shipped to Chatham arrived in late January. These were two of the three Burgess Dunne flying wing seaplanes the Navy had purchased in 1914. These obsolete seaplanes were crated when received and were unfit for assembly and scrapped. The first four, state of the art, Curtiss R-9 seaplanes arrived in March 1918; four more arrived in April and the last four R-9s were received in May. The next aircraft complement were four Curtiss HS-1Ls delivered by rail in June. These aircraft were capable of covering a broader offshore search area, capable of four hour patrols at their cruising speed. The third aviation component at Chatham was the two B-class airships that arrived in crates by rail in March. They were assembled their ground crews, joined by their flight crews in May, and the airships made their first flight over Massachusetts Bay on May 22, 1918.  

NAS Chatham had the distinction of responding to the first direct attack of the United States mainland by Germany. The U-156 surfaced off Orleans on Sunday July 21, 1918 to attack a transiting tugboat and barges heading south along the Cape Cod shore. The U-Boat set the tug on fire and sank the four barges in tow. Shells, from the U-156 which was firing at these surface targets, in a number of instances landed on the Orleans beaches. There were no causalities on the beach but the tugboat crewmen were slightly wounded in the attack were able to reach the shore.  NAS Chatham was notified 19 minutes after the attack started and had only three aircraft available to respond to the attack. Only two were serviceable for flight a HL-1L flying boat and an R-9 seaplane, both took off to attack the U-156. Both aircraft aggressively attacked with Mark IV bombs at low and medium altitudes but unfortunately none of the bombs detonated due to chronically defective bomb fuses. The U-156 submerged after their attack and headed north looking for additional targets The bomb fuses were finally fixed by Navy ordinance specialists and shipped to operational units a few days after the failure of the attack on the U-156.

NAS Chatham was operational up to the end of WW1 and postwar it continued to training aviators and enlisted aviation specialists. It also, as the only major New England Naval air station, made public relations exhibition flights, supported a major Navy New England recruiting drive, participated in special civic events and serviced transient Navy aircraft and crews. This included repair work on the Curtiss NC- 4 flying boat on the first trans-Atlantic flight in 1919. NAS Chatham was placed in non operating status on May 15, 1920 and the base was finally closed on December 31, 1922. The U.S. Government held on to the property until it was finally sold at auction to private individuals on June 16, 1948.              

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