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Bluie West One

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Bluie West One

Secret Mission to Greenland, July 1941

The Building of an American Air Force Base
  • by William Kray
    • Merriam Press Military Monograph Series
    • Fourth Edition 2012
    • 96 6x9 inch pages
    • 54 photos from author's personal collection
In 1940 a decision was made between the U.S. and Great Britain to build an air base in Greenland. The mission for the airbase was to patrol the North Atlantic shipping lanes, to protect the cryolite mines at Ivigtut, Greenland, from German occupation. (Cryolite is a flux used in the refining of aluminum-the only known source in the world), and to act as a rescue station for any Allied planes that encountered trouble along the route.
 
This is the story of the building of that airbase—codenamed Bluie West One—by 2nd Lt. William Kray, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Aviation Engineer Regiment, which was tasked with building the base.
 
The trials and tribulations of unloading the ships bringing the supplies and materiel was a mission in itself. The inability to build an unloading dock required a crude but effective improvisation. The problem was sufficiently grave to force the War Department to send a civilian contractor with the proper equipment for the task.
 
The discovery of the misrepresentation of the so-called gravel surface for the initial runway was a further stunning blow. The original survey stated the surface was gravel. They were told just grade it, lay a surface of Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) and they would be home in three months. The magnitude of the problem is difficult to describe. The gravel turned out to be sprinkled with boulders three to twenty feet in diameter. How they combated this problem is a story of untold heartache and depression. In addition, they simultaneously had to build quarters for themselves and the occupying personnel.
 
Other projects were added including building a roadway up the mountain to erect a radar station. They were also ordered to build a radio direction finder station on the island of Simiutak, at the mouth of the fjord. Later they were ordered to build emplacements for 16-inch naval guns ten miles down the fjord at a bend, to protect the base from ships sailing up the fjord.
 
Contents
  • Introduction
  • Greenland Prologue
  • Greenland
  • Unloading
  • First Storm
  • Psychology of Personnel
  • Flight to the East Coast
  • December 7th
  • Mountain Road
  • Radio
  • Work and Life at Bluie West
  • Final Chapter
    Reviews and Testimonials
     
    I have just today received the book I ordered from you a short time ago. Very nicely packed, quickly posted and well shipped. Thank you. I am very happy with the book. But one question - do you have any idea if the author is still alive? If so, do you have his address (e-mail), because I am very interested in getting in touch with him. I have a lot of questions for him, and maybe some info he might find interesting. I have salvaged the AT-6 he tells a story about, and have pictures of in the book. The aircraft crash-landed in 1942 and was wrecked. I took the wreck out in 2000, and brought it to Denmark for rebuild here.
    —Otto Leth, Denmark

    Very good documentary. A very interesting report on the building of the first U.S. airbase - and the very first airport - in Greenland during the war in 1941 told by the author, who was there.
    —G. Nielsen Vilholmon

    I expected a lot more information than written, but it was still more than I had known about BW1 as I was interested in how it all came to be.
    —John E. Swansonon
     
    The Author
     
    William Kray graduated from the University of Illinois in Engineering and received his Reserve commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He spent some time as Assistant Commander of one of the CCC camps.
         He was called to active duty in the Corps of Engineers and assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Aviation Engineer Regiment at Langley Field, Virginia.
         After Bluie West he was sent to England where he helped build an airbase for the Eighth Air Force at Stansted Mt. Fitchett which is now the third airport for London.
         He was assigned as Director of Training for the School of Military Engineers in England prior to the Normandy invasion. He helped build the first airstrip on the Normandy beachhead on D-plus-25.
         He fought across France and Germany, building airstrips for the Ninth Air Force. He was discharged from the service with the rank of Major in 1946.
         He married his college sweetheart in 1938 and had three children, two girls and a boy, plus six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His son died from cancer after serving in Vietnam.
         As a civilian, he has been in the construction business all his life. He is now retired and living in Arizona. He celebrated 62 years of married bliss in April 2000.

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