Montana’s ‘City of Stone’ Once Hosted B-17 Bomber Training Crews
Big bombers in Big Sky Country.
On Monday (12/5) the National Park Service announced the designation of 18 new communities across the United States as American World War II Heritage Cities. The program was launched with the first city inducted in 2020 (Wilmington, NC). The National Park Service says the program,
...honors the contributions of local towns, cities, counties and their citizens who stepped into the workforce to support America's war effort during World War II.
Only one city in each state or US territory can receive the honor. This week, Lewistown, MT (nicknamed the City of Stone) was added to the list.
Montana was the perfect place to train.
Lewistown (pop. around 6,000) is located near the geographical center of the state, surrounded by hundreds of miles of sparsely populated prairies and mountains. As the Boeing company began cranking out 12,000 B-17 "Flying Fortress" Bombers for the war effort, the US government needed training bases. Montana provided an ideal landscape.
Malmstrom AFB... and its three little friends.
We're all familiar with Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, which was built in 1942 by the US Army and served as a northern-tier location for heavy bomber training. At that same time, three smaller military airfields were installed in Cut Bank, Glasgow, and Lewistown. HistoryNet.com notes that the location of the three bases creates "a rough triangle with a 300-mile hypotenuse."
Lewistown's Top Secret secret.
Here's an interesting fact about the Lewistown airbase that helped train nearly one thousand airmen during its brief, 12-month lifespan. The facility included a top-secret storage facility for a new piece of technology called the Norden bombsight. The National Museum of the US Air Force describes the sight,
The Norden bombsight was crucial to the success of the U.S. Army Air Forces' daylight bombing campaign during World War II. Initially developed by Carl Norden for the U.S. Navy, the Army Air Corps acquired its first Norden bombsight in 1932. Highly classified, it gave American forces bombing accuracy unmatched by any other nation at the time.
The National Park Service notes,
The Norden Bombsight was stored in a small one-story building constructed of poured concrete. Divided into two vaults, the Norden device was only accessible through bank vault doors.
With the exception of a guardhouse at the southern edge of the property, all of the original buildings from the discarded base remain at what is now the municipal airport in Lewistown.