World War II introduced Florida to soldiers from all over the United States. The year-round warm weather made Florida an ideal training area for enlistees, and the War Department built many installations in Florida and other southern states.
Personnel at the station had the duty of patrolling the Atlantic Coast for possible German submarines. The Gulf Stream was used for transportation of vital fuels from Texas to New Jersey. This made those ships a target. This made those ships a target. The cape’s deep water close to shore allows for a submarine to get a better view of possible shoreline targets. German submarines notoriously targeted American ships as well as others in the channel. Witnesses could see the ships burning along the coast as near as one could see a shrimp boat fishing along the coast today. Seven freighter or tankers were sunk off the coast of Cape Canaveral during the WWII era.
Another close by base was Naval Air Station Daytona. Daytona Beach city commissioners convinced Jacksonville naval personnel that a training facility would be a good idea for Daytona in hopes of boosting the economy after a national economic depression had occurred years earlier. Soon after in May 1942, the Daytona Beach airport transitioned into a training facility and was named Daytona Beach Naval Air Station.
Field trainers that were recruited from those that served in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea. Both required the service of dive bomber pilots. A few to name were Lt. William E. Hall who won the medal of honor at the Battle of the Coral Sea and Commander Maxwell F. Leslie a hero at the Battle of Midway who took charge of the training facility.
Dive bomber pilots began training in 1942 along what is now Canaveral National Seashore coastline. Two field facilities were set up in New Smyrna Beach (NSB). An air-to-sea rescue crash boat facility was situated at the New Smyrna Beach Yacht Club and a naval auxillary gunnary field at the NSB airport that included launch catapult training. The pilot and the aircrewmen had to learn to work together to site the target and monitor altitude with the limited technology of the time. Many of the Douglass SBD Dauntless dive bomber planes used for training had already seen battle and were tattered. Japanese flags were painted on them as proof.
Two training targets were constructed within the now Canaveral National Seashore boundary. One was bombing target “Tokyo,” which was a ring of palmetto log pilings driven into the bottom of the lagoon. The other was a strafing target called “Nagoya,” an airplane fuselage filled with concrete.
In 1944 they went from training 832 dive bombers to training 560 fighter pilots to combat the then new occurrence of kamikazi pilots. Fighter pilots trained in F4F Wildcat planes and eventually F6F Hellcats. WAVES (women accepted for voluntary emergency services) came in to train as intercept directors. Intercept directors guided planes to the target. The Daytona Training Facility was closed down in 1945.
Over 195,000 flight hours were logged at the short lived training facility. Both field training sites Nagoya and Tokyo were abandoned at the end of WWII. Remnants of the strafing target, a boulder size chunk of the concrete with attached bits of metal from the fuselage, is a landmark to local residents known as Target Rock. This is located in an area closed to the public on NASA property.
Numerous wildfires resulted from the bombing activity, with one fire in 1940 or 1941 burning the entire length of the future Seashore’s barrier island from New Smyrna Beach to the Cape Canaveral.
By the end of WWII the Soviet Union had emerged as a new enemy. With this came the race to develop new technologies such as jet aircraft, ballistic missiles, and unmanned rockets. The space race emerged. In 1948 the Banana River Naval Air Station was transferred to the Air Force and became a long range missile proving ground (LRPG).
Brady, Tim. “The Daytona Beach International Airport in Uniform.” Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, 2008, commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1445&context=jaaer .
Parker, Susan. “Canaveral National Seashore History Resource Study.” IRMA, 2008, irma.nps.gov/DataStore/DownloadFile/458702.
Coles, D. J. (2000). Florida World War II Heritage Trail. Retrieved 2020, from https://dos.myflorida.com/media/32351/worldwariiheritagetrail.pdf