Montauk AFS History

Camp Hero was the site of a USAF air defense radar, and a part of it later became Montauk AFS. The eastern perimeter of Camp Hero is a few hundred yards west of the Montauk Point lighthouse, on the southern tip of Long Island. It was established in 1942 as a Coast Artillery station, as part of the Harbor Defenses of Long Island Sound, and named in honor of Maj. Gen. Andrew Hero, Jr.,1 who was the Chief of Coast Artillery from 20 March 1926 until 21 March 1930.2 The main armament was four 16-inch guns in two bunkers. It was a sub-post of Ft. H.G. Wright on Fishers Island, NY. The Army built Camp Hero to look like a New England village from the air.3 These buildings continued in use by the Air Force, with more utilitarian structures--including a barracks, mess hall and operations building--added later. The Army post was inactivated in 19474and one year later a USAF AC&W detachment reporting to Roslyn was established there. The det was replaced by the 773rd AC&WS in 1950 and the USAF portion of Camp Hero later became Montauk AFS. The remaining portion of Camp Hero was activated in 1951 as an AAA site. It closed in 1957 as part of "Operation Changeover" which saw the mission of AAA batteries in the New York area taken over by Nike sites. The last Army personnel left Camp Hero on December 5, 1957.5 All of the land became part of Montauk AFS. The property today is called Camp Hero State Park, and is undeveloped and closed to the public.

The post-war radar site at Montauk--on Camp Hero--was one of the first three post-war air defense radar sites in the northeast. (The other two were at Palermo and Twin Lights, both in New Jersey. Each site had been used for the same purpose during WW II and contained some facilities that could be rehabilitated and used by the USAF personnel.)6 The radar station at Montauk became operable on 5 July 1948.7 The site was established as Air Warning Station #3 on 26 July 1948 with 24 enlisted men and one officer. It was a component of the 646th AC&WS at the Roslyn Control Center. (The 646th had been activated on 30 April 1948 to install, operate and maintain these sites under the 503rd AC&W Group, also at Roslyn. The new squadron was only given until 15 July 1948 to begin operating at the three sites.)8

The 646th AC&WS later moved from the Roslyn Control Center to Twin Lights and is shown there in the July 15, 1950 First Air Force Station List. While at Twin Lights, the squadron continued to report to the

--- 1Dyson, Verne. Anecdotes and Events in Long Island History. Empire State Historical Publications Series No. 79 (Port Washington, N.Y.: Ira J. Friedman, Inc., 1969). 131-32.
2The Army Almanac. 271.
6History, 646th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. 4 May-30 June 1948.

503rd AC&W Group at Roslyn Control Center (later Roslyn AFS, Roslyn AGS) and maintained three deatchments: Det. 1 at Montauk Point; Det. 2 at Santini (Mitchel AFB); and Det. 3 at Palermo, NJ.9

In January 1951 the 646th's dets were replaced by AC&W squadrons, with the 773th AC&WS activated at Montauk. Early documents originated by the squadron give its location as Camp Hero. A portion of Camp Hero soon became Montauk AFS, with the Air Force eventually taking over the entire Camp Hero reservation.

The 773rd AC&WS (later 733rd Radar Squadron (SAGE), 733rd Radar Squadron) inactivated in March 1981. Dets: (1) Chilmark, Mass, (2) Manorville, NY, (3) Middletown, CT. FAA/JSS (J-52) OLAA/NEADS.

( The c.WWI NAS Montauk, an ASW fixed wing and dirigible facility, was located a few miles to the west on Fort Pond in what is now the village of Montauk. Float planes flew from Fort Pond and the officers were quartered in a nearby rooming house. NAS Montauk was commanded by Marc Mitscher. The Magnificent Mitscher by T. Taylor, 1991 (In that day non-rigid airships were also called dirigibles. The two at NAS Montauk were non-rigid. By the end of the war there were about 12 float planes at the NAS. There is no trace left of NAS Montauk. There was a World War II Navy base, a torpedo station, to the north on Ft. Pond Bay. It closed sometime in the 1950s. The land is now used by a condo development called Rough Rider Landing. The Navy pier, the perimeter fence separating the base from the L.I. Railroad Station and several buildings, including a barracks that was converted to apartments in 1992, remain. (The Rough Riders were quarantined in the virtually uninhabited Montauk area when they returned from Cuba. The site was chosen for its isolation and easy access - the deep water harbor at Ft. Pond Bay and a terminus of the Long Island Railroad (built to exploit the harbor - an unssucessful enterprise). The encampment, which sprawled over several miles, was called Camp Wyckoff.)

  • Montauk AFS was later an FAA/JSS OL/NEADS site. The GATR was used after the radar site was
    closed down. All operations had ended by 1982 or 83.

  • The FAA/JSS facility was installed in 1979-80 by the 213th Electronic Installation Squadron, Roslyn ANG Station.10
  • Supremacy radar site. All 13 Supremacy sites were established in 1947-48.
  • 733rd ACWS activated November 1950. Assigned to the Eastern Air Defense Force until Feb 6, 1952 when it was assigned to the 26th AD.
  • Camp Hero was established as a c. WWII Coast Artillery installation, reporting to Fort H.G. Wright on Fisher's Islnd. It had four casemated 16-inch guns mounted in two large emplacements, and smaller artillery. One of the casemates was used as a work area by the Air Force; USAF personnel and area residents also used it as a hurricane shelter and perhaps would have used it as a shelter in case of an enemy attack on the radar site. The possibility of enemy air attack was on the minds of the designers of the Air Force facilities. It was built to confuse enemy fliers with the buildings designed to appear as homes and laid out to resemble a village. Some of the Cape Cod house-appearing structures were solid concrete; the gym was built to resemble a church.
  • Montauk AFS occupied 278 acres.11 The GATR site occupied 6.7 acres and was bordered on three sides by Montauk County Park12, which now owns the property.
--- 9First Air Force Station List (Headquarters First Air Force, Mitchel AFB, 15 July 1950).
10Roslyn Air National Guard Station: Newcomers Guide. n.d. (current 1993). The unit, which in 1993 is part of the AFCC, may have had a different name in 1979-80.
11"Senate Votes to Save Air Station," East Hampton Star, May 3, 1984. When the base closed, federal policy was sell surplus property to the highest bidder rather than give it to the community. The high bid for Montauk AFS was $1.9 million from Joshua Sundance, Inc., of Brooklyn.

According to a squadron fact sheet that appeared in a local Montauk publication, the 773rd AC&WS was activated on November 27, 1950. "The 773d was assigned to the Eastern Air Defense Force until 6 February 1952. From 1952 until October 1958, the squadron operated as an Air Defense Direction Center, providing us with surveillance, dtection, identification, and interception of aircraft entering our area of responsibility. In 1958, the installation of the SAGE System caused a change in our mission and the squadron was redesignated (as the 773rd Radar Squadron {SAGE} from the 773rd AC&WS). From 1958 until the present time, our basic mission has remained the same. "The mission of Montauk Air Force Station is to provide radar surveillance data, aircraft height determination, and Mark X IFF/SIF identidfication data, and to accomplish radar mapping prior to transmittal of such data to Air Defense SAGE units. The 773rd RS provides this surveillance data to the 21st NORAD Region Control Center." The squadron's motto was Strength-Vigilance-Security.13 -According to the October 1, 1962, New York Times, the AN/FPS-35 was produced by Sperry Gyroscope Company. The 40-foot, 80,000 pound antenna at Montauk is almost half the size of a football field and can withstand 100-mile-an-hour winds. The concrete tower in 85 feet high. The AN/FPS-35 at Montauk AFS began furnishing data to the New York Air Defense Sector, a SAGE direction center, at McGuire AFB in 1961. The Times reported that FAA began receiving data from Montauk "at noon today," filling a gap in air traffic control radar coverage between New York and Boston as well as supplying "information on transoceanic flights while still far out over the Atlantic." Radar data was fed to the Air Route Traffic Control Center at Idelwild Airport14(this facility was replaced by one at MacArthur Airport in Islip, Long Island, before 1965). --- However, residents obtained an injunction to stop the sale. The story reports a senate wish that the property be given to the state rather than sold for commercial development. The July 11, 1984 edition of Suffolk Life reported that the GSA agreed to exchange the Montauk AFS site for 125 state-owned acres at Fire Island. The September 20, 1984, edition of the weekly Star reported the "Air Base Transfer" from the GSA to the State of New York. The familiy housing--27 single family homes on 30 adjacent acres--were transferred to the Town of East Hampton by GSA for $81,000 in 1983. According to the June 20, 1984, edition of Suffolk Life, the homes were sold to middle income families for $41,500 each. The June 17, 1984, edition of Newsday said that the rehabilitated homes were offered by lottery and were sold at about half their fair market value due to a federal subsidy. The homes had to be used as a primary residence by the new owners, who must never have owned a home before. They were not allowed to rent them for the life of the 30-year mortgage. Evidently restrictions on resale also applied.

12"Son of Air Base," East Hampton Star, c. 1984. The story reported federal plans to sell the GATR site land for private development.
13Holden, Albert R., A Pictorial History of Montauk. Montauk: Holden's Publications, 1983. Second Edition. 110.
14"New F.A.A. Long-Range Radar Begins Covering Flights Today," New York Times, October 1, 1962. 61.