Known as “Trinidad” or the “Klamath River” station, Radar Station B-71 was built between 1942 and 1943 in response to Japanese attacks on U.S. soil during World War II.
In total, the Army built 65 stations spanning from the Canadian border and into Mexico. But this particular one, located in the coastal bluffs south of Klamath, is different from all the others – it looked like a barn.
However, there were no tractors or cows on this farm, jus’ 50-caliber machine guns, armed soldiers and military police with guard dogs to protect the property. It took 35 Army Air Corps men working in shifts to cover 24 hours.
Many people believe the U.S. was attacked by the Japanese in World War only once, on December 7th, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. The fact is the West Coast was attacked a number of times and even invaded once in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands.
The Japanese struck oil refineries and tankers – including the S.S. Emidio off the coast of Del Norte County. Many of the attacks came from torpedoes shot by Japanese submarines, but other attacks came from above, including an incendiary bomb dropped from a plane between Smith River, California and Brookings, Oregon.
The Aircraft Warning Service oversaw the network of radar stations, including B-71. According to the 1942 Signal Corp Field Manual, Aircraft Warning Service, its mission was to “observe the movement of aircraft and to collect and exhibit the information obtained” in order to protect the nation’s coasts and adjacent territories and bases against enemy attack by land or by sea.
Its functions included: organizing and training military observation posts and non military observers; installing, operating and maintaining observation posts; providing “suitable signal communications equipment for the transmission of information and orders”; providing information centers; and coordinating the activities of the Aircraft Warning Service with other military agencies.
In addition to its general defensive mission, the defense command had to coordinate with the adjacent country’s military, such as in the West where the defense command had liaisons with the Canadian military and naval authorities as well as Mexican commanders of military areas and garrisons. In December 1941, the Western Defense Command was established with headquarters in San Francisco.
It oversaw nine western states as well as Alaska and the Aleutians. There were also three associated Air Forces: Fourth Air Force, Second Air Force, and the Alaskan Air Force.
The best descriptive information about the station comes from the recollections of First Lieutenant Dale Birdsall, who was Station Commander for a time during World War II. He commanded the radar station until September 1943 when he left for the 653rd Signal, AW Company, Hamilton Field, California and spoke to National Park representatives in 1988 about his time at the station.
Birdsall recounted, “I took command of the unit which was transferred from Santa Rosa Island very shortly after they arrived at Klamath. The exact dates I do not make available but I assumed command early in June 1943.”
At the time of Birdsall’s command, the radar crew consisted of forty-one enlisted men from the Army Air Corps and two officers, with a National Guard unit attached to the station for security. Although the local residents knew the purpose of the station, “a real effort was made to keep station activities and mission as secret as possible.
Personnel “originally lived in the old Klamath Grange hall in the center of the town of Klamath,” located to the east of the station, but by personnel lived in newly constructed barracks located to the south of town. During their off duty hours, the men frequented Klamath’s bars, gambled, fished, and attended movies at the local movie theater.
Several structures and features that were once vital parts of Radar Station B-71’s operation have since disappeared. There was a guard post at the entrance located near what is now the Coastal Drive and the trail that leads down to the terrace on which the station is located, whose task “was mainly to verify a person’s authority to enter.”
A National Guard unit, consisting of eight to twenty personnel and one officer, not only manned the post, but also filled the roving guard position. For protection, there were also three machine gun emplacements described as measuring 12′ in diameter and holding 50 caliber machine guns on anti-aircraft mounts which contradicts Birdsall’s recollection.
Birdsall said there were two 50-caliber water-cooled anti-aircraft machine guns and 45 caliber Thompson sub-machine guns. The enlisted men also provided security since they were armed with one M-l or Enfield 30-06, while each officer had one 45-caliber automatic pistol.
While B-71 did not see action, one event does stand out. During mid-July 1943, around 2 a.m., the station received a call from the San Francisco Information Center from a Radar Officer saying they had just been notified by the Coast Guard their patrol in Crescent City had reported that the ‘enemy’ was landing in large numbers on Crescent Beach and they should take any steps necessary to protect their situation.
Jus’ the day before, the station had received it’s 50 caliber machine guns, shipped in boxes and covered with Cosmoline, a very heavy protective grease that could only be removed in boiling water.” The station was in an uproar as personnel tried to arm themselves and work out a ‘defense’ plan because they only had plans for cases of sabotage.
Two hours later, the San Francisco Information Center called again stating “the Coast Guard patrol had sent the wrong coded message.” Instead of an imminent enemy landing, the Coast Guard had meant to report “lights had been sighted at sea.”
In July of 1944, Radar Station B-71 no longer searched for enemy crafts and was instead used as an emergency rescue station through the end of the war. At first, the detachment to the radar station was assigned to Company 653rd Signal Aircraft Warning to 4th Air Force and later to Squadron 411th AAF Base Unit of the 4th Air Force.
Following the war’s end, the station was abandoned and ownership reverted back to E.H. & A. Chapman, from whom the War Department had leased the land. On April 14, 1978, Station B-71 was registered on the National Register of Historic Places.