In 1939, the Army Air Corps began an extensive search for suitable bombing practice sites. One of the more favorable sites was Wendover; it had accessible transportation via the Western Pacific Railroad and US 40;
there was a large portion of isolated land surrounding the area; it was located relatively far inland, making it secure from attack from the Pacific coast; and the weather conditions (300 clear days per year with little rain or snow) were perfect for bombing practice.
Construction began at the Wendover site in November of 1940 with workers constructing temporary barracks, two gravel runways, taxi strips and an aircraft parking area. In 1941, the construction of the permanent buildings was completed along with four paved runways,
four barracks which could hold 63 men each, a mess hall, officers quarters, an administrative building, a signal office, two ordinance warehouses, a dispensary, three amunition storehouses, a bombsight storage warehouse, a powerhouse and a theater.
The facilities were first occupied by a bombing and gunnery detachment of 12 men on August 12, 1941 as a sub-post of Fort Douglas. It did not become an official Army Air Base until March 28, 1942. By 1943, over 19,000 people were based in Wendover. By the end of the World War II,
facilities on the base included a 300-bed hospital, gymnasium, swimming pool, library, post exchange, chapel, cafeteria, bowling alley, two theaters, guard house, consolidated mess hall, and 361 housing units for married Army officers and citizens.
Wendover was one of only handful of bombing and gunnery ranges used by the Army Air Force. A mock city of salt was built for target practice and many bombardment groups were trained at Wendover before going to war. One of the more unique gunnery ranges located here was nicknamed the "Tokyo Trolley."
It consisted of three machine guns located in a moving rail car. The trainees shot these guns at other moving targets, which provided a simulation of aerial combat conditions for the men.
The most noted group to train in Wendover, however, was the 509th Composite Group under Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.
Although they were unaware of their actual mission, the crews of the 509th used Wendover as their training facility in preparation for the first nuclear bomb drop on Japan. Using the most extreme security measures, the US military was able to keep Operation Silverplate, the code name for the project,
one of the best kept secrets of the World War II. Special passes were required for entering and leaving the restricted areas of the base and the men stationed there were ordered not to discuss Wendover, their positions or their mission; any who violated this security code were immediately transferred to
outpost such as Alaska.
The 509th was activated in late 1944 and did most of their training at Wendover in B-29 Super Fortresses. After extensive training in Wendover the Group left for Tinian Island in the Marianas Islands in May of 1945. In early August, they dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.
After the 509th Composite Group left in the spring of 1945, activity at Wendover shifted to Weapons development. In late December of 1945, the jurisdiction of the base passed from Second Air to Air Technical (materials) Service. Starting in April of 1946, the base was used for testing and developing three
types of missiles, as well as examining German rockets. For a short period, the base was also a school for pilot training in remote control aircraft.
The facility was turned over to Strategic Air Command for low altitude bombing in 1947 and was deactivated in 1948. By 1949 it was termed "surplus" although in 1950
Hill Air Force Base conducted aerial gunnery practice there. From 1950-1954, the permanent crew at Wendover consisted of two military men and eleven firefighters. The Tactical Air Command used it as a gunnery and mobility staging area in the summer of 1954. They brought air-to-air and air-to-ground rocketry creating a need for new launching and landing facilities.
After 1957, the base was used periodically by the Utah Air National Guard for summer camp, while other troops used it for gunnery training and mock recoveries. It was also used as a range for testing supersonic X-15 aircraft. In 1960, the Air Force again put the base on an inactive caretaker status, under Hill Air Force Base.
Many of the old buildings are still standing or are in use. A self guided tour is available. For more information contact the West Wendover Tourism & Convention Bureau at 866-299-2489.