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AIRCRAFT WARNING SYSTEM HISTORY OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK




From Historic Resource Study 1983 Olympic National Park
By Gail E. H. Evans and T. Allan Comp
Cultural Resources Division
National Park Service

In addition to the beach patrol and lookout activities performed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1942 and 1943, several coast guard posts on the Olympic Peninsula coastline assisted with the Aircraft Warning Service operation. In the spring of 1943, several coast guard posts took responsibiity for sighting and reporting enemy aircraft. Aircraft Warning Service lookout posts were located at Tatoosh Island, Ozette, Cape Alava, Quillayute River, Kalaloch, Whale River and Destruction Island (FARC 1943, 8 March).

Under the direction of the U.S. Army, the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) was initiated in 1942 when the threat of enemy air attack on the West Coast loomed large in the minds of many military strategists. Small ground based observation posts were activated throughout the Pacific Northwest beginning that summer and continuing through the winter of 1942-1943. AWS work, which was accomplished primarily by trained civilians, required twenty-four hour reporting of all planes seen or heard. "Flash" messages (aircraft sighted) were transmitted from AWS observation posts by telephone and included information pertaining to the number and type of planes, the altitude, and the flight direction of the planes.

The army established AWS observation posts in more remote isolated coastal and mountainous areas in the Pacific Northwest where inadequate radar screens existed. In many instances the National Forest Service and the National Park Service administered such isolated lands and thus became involved in facilitating AWS activities. The National Forest Service, in fact, became the coordinating agency for the establishment of AWS observation posts. In addition, already constructed Forest Service fire lookouts were often pressed into service as AWS observation posts.


The fire lookout perched on the 6,000 foot summit of Blue Mountain above Deer Park, was called into service as an Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) lookout during World War II. The building has since been removed. (Courtesy of Ellis Studio and Post Card Co.)


On the Olympic Peninsula existing fire lookouts constructed by the Forest Service and located on both Forest Service land, and within the boundaries of the newly created Park, were often situated so as to afford unobstructed views out over the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca (NPS OLYM 1942, 9 January) In many instances new structures were constructed to add to the complement of already existing fire lookouts. Air warning stations within the 682,000 acre Park formed an important part of the defense system to protect the Puget Sound area.

During the winter of 1942-1943, a total of thirteen Aircraft Warning Service observation posts located in the present Olympic National Park provided twenty-four hour surveillance (NARS:RG 79 ca. 1944a, n.d.). Already existing structures called into service for AWS purposes included Dodger Point, Deer Park and Hurricane Ridge fire lookouts (NARS:RG 79 1943, 10 November; NPS OLYM 1942, n.d.) and the Enchanted Valley Chalet (NARS:RG 79 1943, n.d.). New structures used specifically for AWS observation were erected at Pyramid Peak, Warkum Point, Indian Pass and Geodetic Hill (NPS OLYM 1942, n.d.; NARS:RG 79 1942, 29 August). A rock pile located one-quarter mile west of Constance Pass indicates that another AWS lookout existed there (Olson 1983). Only two structures in the Park utilized by AWS personnel during World War II are extant in 1983: Dodger Point lookout and Pyramid Peak lookout.

The Park Service assisted with Aircraft Warning Service operations in myriad ways during the one and one-half years of AWS existence. In the early months of aircraft observation activity, the Park Service furnished cots, CCC trucks (and sometimes CCC enrollees), tractors, men, and maps showing the topography of the Park and surrounding areas on the Olympic Peninsula (NPS OLYM 1942, 9 January). Park Service personnel constructed and cleared roads and trails to provide AWS observers clear access to lookout posts. They laid and maintained telephone lines where none previously existed. In some cases, the Park constructed AWS lookout towers. The drain on the Park's manpower and fiscal resources was great during this period as evidenced in a 31 July 1942 memorandum from Superintendent Preston Macy:

In connection with the operation of our Aircraft Warning Service for the U.S. Army we have been instructed to establish a station on Geodetic Hill for year long occupancy which involves the erection of a small shake cabin which will cost approximately $700.00. It will also be necessary for us to build a few short access trails and stub telephone lines. Later on it may be necessary to erect additional stations. The total expenditures will no doubt far exceed $1,500.00. . . . The demands made upon this office by the Aircraft Warning Service are attaining serious proportions and the situation is such that we must act with considerable speed in order to afford the Army the service required (NARS:RG 79 1942b, 31 July).

The Park's ranger force often devoted much of their time to transporting supplies to remote lookouts in the interior of the Park. During the stormy winter months of 1942 and 1943, considerable effort was expended in this endeavor. In the waning months of 1942 the Park superintendent's monthly report described the Park's efforts to transport supplies to Hurricane Ridge lookout: "All supplies are tobogganed over three miles of difficult terrain to Hurricane Lookout. It required two days and six men to get all supplies in. Eight men back-packed 400 pounds of supplies six miles in order to establish observers on a distant lookout in the Park area" (NPS OLYM 1942, n.d.).

Dodger Point Lookout, built by the National Forest Service several years earlier for the purpose of siting forest fires, served as an Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) observation post during World War II. Dodger Point is one of only two remaining AWS lookouts in Olympic National Park. (Photo by M. Stupich, courtesy of National Park Service, Pacific NorthwestRegion)


While AWS observers kept their twenty-four hour vigil during January and February of 1943, airplane movements over the Olympic Peninsula were extremely active. The army, in cooperation with the Forest Service, contemplated expanding the Park's thirteen AWS lookouts to twenty-four, and initiating high frequency radio stations (NARS:RG 79 1943, 13 March). Apparently no new lookouts were constructed, but in August 1943 ultra-high frequency radio service went into effect, greatly facilitating communications of the AWS (NARS:RG 79 ca. 1945, n.d.).

Between August 1943 and May 1944, AWS stations continued to operate; however, they were apparently shut down at certain times during the winter months. In that ten month period, 12,819 army "flashes" were made by AWS observers in the Park. With continued U.S. military successes against the Japanese in the Pacific, defense measures on the Pacific Coast gradually relaxed. On 1 June 1944 the entire AWS system was abandoned along the Pacific Coast, and all personnel were laid off (NARS:RG 79 ca. 1945, n.d.).


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