Gill Robb Wilson was engaging in activities that led to the establishment of the Civil Air Patrol prior to WWII.
The idea of unitizing civilian pilots and aircraft in the defense of the United States came from Gill Robb Wilson long before the entry of the United States in WWII on 7 December 1941. Wilson, a fighter pilot in World War I, became the Director of Aviation for the State of New Jersey. Subsequently, he was elected President of the National Aeronautic Association and served in both positions for several years. He was well aware of the aviation professionals and facilities across the United States, especially in New Jersey.
Wilson studied the technical aspects of airships and was a frequent visitor at the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, N.J. In 1936, he flew to Germany aboard the most advanced Airship in the world; the German “Hindenburg” to gain knowledge of German aviation rearmament since the end of World War I.
The German military had secretly increased their air power since losing the First World War, not always with the German government s sanction. However, beginning in 1933, the new Nazi government supported the secret rearmament programs. In 1935, the Nazis lifted the secrecy and wanted to show off their new air power and use the threat of it for diplomatic advantage.
(here list Wilson’s positions….
Because of his aeronautical positions and the desire of the Nazis to intimidate aviation officials of the allied nations with their air supremacy, the crew of the Hindenburg gave Wilson run of the ship on the flight to Germany.
Upon arriving in Germany, he was treated as a dignitary and a German Army Major was assigned to travel with Wilson to arrange visits to aircraft plants, airports, and interviews with aviation officials. The Nazis wanted to impress Wilson with their aeronautical achievements and the power of the German Air Force. (Luftwaffe)
The German Major told Wilson that he had been a submarine officer during World War I and had sailed along the eastern seaboard of the United States. The Major told Wilson how he would leave the submarine at night, go ashore at Atlantic City, New Jersey, walk along the boardwalk unnoticed, and buy white bread for his crew. He thought the eastern coast of the United States could become the best submarine hunting ground in the world.
When Wilson returned from Germany, he was convinced that a European war was inevitable and that events would drag the United States into the conflict as it was in the First World War. He was very knowledgeable of the American aircraft, civilian and military, pilot training programs and aviation resources. He knew that German aviation development was far ahead of other nations. He understood that the United States would need time to develop and manufacture modern aircraft. He was especially concerned that the military would recognized the country’s civil aviation assets of aircraft and pilots as valuable resources to provide defense during the initial phase of hostilities while the U.S. military were being trained and equipped.
Wilson started making speeches warning of the Nazi threat and calling for American rearmament and a plan to use civil aviation in the defense of the nation. His speeches were not well received. He was called a warmonger.
German military aggression against Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, France, and Russia had not started. People thought that a civilized country such as Germany would not start a war. Wilson discontinued trying to persuade public opinion; instead, he started to list the number of available civilian pilots, aircraft, mechanics, and aviation facilities in his home State of New Jersey that would be useful as a first line of defense.
He asked his National Aeronautic Association and Defense Council colleagues in a letter dated
“If you think there is merit in what I suggest, it is then your responsibility to clear this matter trough he service channels and secure their approval. If this approval is secured, I will then, as president of the National Aeronautic Association, call in the key man from the various Sates have them go to work establishing assistance as the various Sate Defense Councils would desire, and I can assure you that within a space of three months we can have a program set up in every state in
Wilson again attempted to persuade public opinion toward his objective of using civilian pilots and their
airplanes in the national defense. As president of the National Aeronautic Association, he traveled
across the country addressing Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc, and other civic organizations. He set up
breakfast meetings for members of congress in Washington. Breakfast was served at 7 am and the
meeting was over by 8:45 in time for attendees to be in their offices by 9 o clock. There were no
speeches at these gatherings; Wilson only answered questions. Two hundred people attended these
popular meetings; members of congress, the press, and on occasion, Mrs. Roosevelt. Wilson’s foresight
was finally becoming recognized. Fewer people were calling him a warmonger. The importance of civil
aviation in the national defense began to be accepted by higher-level officials.
Wilson and his civil aviation colleagues continued to refine their preliminary civil aviation organization
efforts. They envisioned local Flight Units with between 3 and 8 airplanes and with between 3 and 15
pilots. Squadrons would contain 2 to 4 Flights and Groups would contain 2 to 5 Squadrons. All Groups
within each state would be subordinate to a Wing. Each state and territory would have one Wing.
On May 20, 1941, President Roosevelt, by Executive Order, established the Office of Civilian Defense.
Fiorello La Guardia was appointed Director. (LaGuardia, a friend of Wilson s since World War I, served without salary. He was one of the 11 million war effort volunteers as was the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.)
Wilson had a copy of General Arnold s July 28, 1941 letter to the Office of Civilian Defense approving
the establishment of a civil air cadre for emergency services. In his letter, General Arnold wrote:
The organization of existing private flying resources is highly desirable from a National Defense standpoint.
On October 6, 1941 the Navy department approved the general plan for utilizing civilian aviation and the
War and Commerce Departments approved on October7th. (The War Department was the predecessor
of the Department of Defense.)
Civilian aviation was ready to organize and to start training but could only be mobilized by direction from
the President. Wilson had drafted such an order and sent it to the White House; but the president did not take action.
Efforts of the President s son James, who was sympathetic to Wilson s proposal, did not achieve the
Frank Gannett, who would later become the first Maine Wing Commander of the Civil Air Patrol, telephoned Wilson that the president’s wife, Mrs. Roosevelt was about to visit Maine. (Mrs. Roosevelt served as an assistant to the Director of the Office of Civilian Defense; she was another one of those 11 million volunteers.) Gannett asked Wilson for a
briefing on exactly what was wanted and said he would ask for Mrs. Roosevelt s intervention with the
Soon after Mrs. Roosevelt s trip to Maine, La Guardia received authorization to organize civilian aviation
under the Office of Civilian Defense. He appointed Gannett and Wilson to a committee to complete the
planning and to activate the organization. They decided on the name of Civil Air Patrol and provided LaGuardia with an organization chart and designation of Wing Commanders, by name for each of the then 48 states. Gill Robb Wilson was appointed Executive Director of the Civil Air Patrol; and, was also appointed as Commander of the region that would become the Northeast Region.
On 1 December, 1941, one week before the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor, the Civil Air Patrol
was formally established by the Director of the office of Civilian Defense. LaGuardia wrote:
“To the end that opportunity for voluntary service by especially qualified citizens may be provided, in line
with the traditions of this Nation, and pursuant to the authority conferred upon me as the United States
Director of Civilian Defense, by Executive order of the President of the United States, I do hereby order
established under the Office of Civilian Defense, the Civil Air Patrol.”