The History and Missions of CAP
Initially chartered just days before Pearl Harbor, the original mission of the Civil Air Patrol was to find, chase, and even sink German submarines patrolling off the Atlantic coast. These submarines were responsible for sinking many commercial ships and thus impeding the war effort. As they began, the only means of attack was to buzz the subs and try to force them to break off their attack. As the war effort increased, these private aircraft were fitted with bombs and depth charges.
In addition to hunting subs, a natural part of the flights became search and rescue. Pilots would frequently locate crews from sunken commercial ships and then radio to shore to send rescue ships to pick up survivors. Atlantic City's first CAP flight was in the air just 15 minutes when they encountered survivors of the tanker Gulf Trade approximately three miles off Barnegat Light. By the end of the war, CAP planes had flown over a quarter million hours of coastal patrol, spotted 171 submarines and sank 2. Throughout this time, 59 of these civilian volunteers died while in service to their country.
As the need for coastal patrol decreased, CAP began providing other services to their country. Some pilots towed targets for ground gunners to practice shooting. Others served as targets at night for troops learning to use searchlights. Still others flew liaison flights between military bases and defense plants. All of these services were necessary to the war effort as most military aircraft were engaged in combat activities.
CAP was responsible for the building of 81 civilian airports during the war, improved 108 others, and managed 215. They also participated in mock air raids up to the point of even dropping thousands of small paper bombs.
The earliest of our current missions had its beginnings back in World War II as well. CAP began performing search and rescue missions to help recover individuals lost in domestic military flights as well as ferry flights. Due to some of the western terrain, it was even necessary for ground crews to go in on horseback to rescue survivors.