History of Fort Kobbe/Howard AFB


History Howard Air Military Base (History of Fort Kobbe/Howard AFB) 

The only five star general in Air Force history, Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, played a prominent role in the history of Howard AFB and military aviation in Panama. As a captain, Arnold led the first air unit, the 7th Aero Squadron, to the Isthmus on March 29, 1917. Within a week, he left for Washington DC and more pressing duties there. When he returned to Panama in May 1939, he was a major general and chief of the Army Air Corps. The purpose of his visit was to select a site for a new air base. He chose what is now Howard AFB and even suggested the name Howard Field, in honor of Major Charles H. Howard, a personal friend and former subordinate who had served in Panama during the period 1926-1929 and who had been part of Arnold's crew on his famed flight of B-10 bombers to Alaska in 1934. Major Howard died in an air crash on Oct. 25, 1936. On Dec. 1, 1939 the new air base officially became Howard Field.

The first military installation at Fort Kobbe, which commands the Bay of Panama on the west bank of the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, was a small defense position established in 1918.

After seven years of negotiation the Bruja Point Military Reservation, named for a point in Panama Bay, was set apart by Executive Order No. 4947, dated 11 August 1928. It was made a permanent military post, designated Fort Bruja and incorporated as a sub-post of Fort Amador on 2 February 1929.

It was used for Coast Artillery emplacements utilized in the Harbor Defense of Balboa and supported by several positions which later became Anti-Aircraft Batteries. Fort Bruja was redesignated as Fort Kobbe on 15 April 1932 to honor Major General William A. Kobbe, an artillery officer who played a prominent role with the U.S. Forces during the Philippine Insurrection. General Kobbe, who started his military career as a drummer boy during the Civil War, passed away in 1932 at the age of 91.

In 1937 the necessity for an additional air field in the Canal Zone arose and the most suitable site was in the Venado River Valley, a part of Fort Kobbe. An airstrip, known as Bruja Point Air Base, was built and later redesignated as Howard Field, in honor of Major Charles H. Howard, U.S. Army Corps.

On 2 July 1941 Fort Kobbe was established as an independent post. The Base Commander of Howard Field, being the senior officer assigned, assumed the duties of Post Commander. Howard Field comprised the greater part of the Fort Kobbe reservation.

In October 1943 the Commanding General, Panama canal department, designated Fort Kobbe as a ground force post. The Commanding Officer was authorized to exercise control over the entire Military Reservation.

In August 1946 Howard Field and Fort Kobbe were separated. An arbitrary line was established which gave Howard Field control of the North end of the area and Fort Kobbe (under the control of Commanding Officer, Fort Amador) the South end of the Military Reservation.

After 1944 the concept of Coast artillery changed and these units were withdrawn from Fort Kobbe. The reservation functioned mainly as an airbase until late 1949 when all Air Corps units were withdrawn.

The 33rd Infantry Regiment was reactivated at Fort Kobbe 4 January 1950 and assumed responsibility for the entire post. Air Force installations were utilized by the 33rd Infantry. In addition to Canal guard duty, the Regiment assumed responsibility for operation of the U.S. Army’s only Jungle Warfare Training Center. In was inactivated and redesignated as the 20th Infantry at Fort Kobbe in May 1956.

The 1st Battle Group was implemented when the 20th Infantry was reorganized and redesignated 15 November 1957 as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battle Group, 20th Infantry. It was inactivated 8 August 1962 at Fort Kobbe.

The 193rd Infantry Brigade was activated on 8 August 1962 at Fort Kobbe, Canal Zone as a mobile force for swift intervention in case of trouble in Latin America. The brigade initially included three infantry battalions, one of which was an airborne unit. In 1968 the airborne battalion was replaced by an infantry battalion. Today the brigade consists of two infantry battalions (one company of one battalion remaining airborne), a field artillery battalion and a support battalion. Brigade headquarters is at Fort Clayton, Panama.

Written by Cassandra Newberry Anderson for the 1987 Fort Kobbe Reunion. Since that time all troops were removed from Fort Kobbe and FortKobbe was returned to the government of Panama.

The base was located 6 mi SW of Balboa, at the southern (Pacific) end of the Panama Canal. Most of the area around it was uninhabited (part of the Panama Canal Zonewatershed), though Panama City could be reached by crossing the nearby Bridge of the Americas.

For over 50 years, Howard Air Force Base was the bastion of United States air power in Central and South America. In its heyday, it was the center for counterdrug operations, military and humanitarian airlift, contingencies, joint-nation exercises, and search and rescue. It was the busy hub of Air Force operations in Latin America, Howard boasted fighters, cargo planes, tankers, airborne warning and control system planes, “executive” jets, and search and rescue helicopters. It was also home for a host of Army and Navy aircraft. Its people tracked drug traffickers out of South America. And its cargo planes provided airlift for US Southern Command contingencies, exercises, disaster relief and conducted search and rescue in the vast region. Yet, only the C-27 Spartan transports and executive jets belonged to the wing. The others were Guard and Reserve planes that rotated into the base.