Air Detachment Pacific Fleet Established

Aviation formally became a part of the Pacific Fleet in Oct. 1919 when Air Detachment, Pacific Fleet, came into existence. Capt. James A. Tombs, commanding officer of the minelayer USS Aroostock became commander. The original organization was divided into three divisions: Landplane, Shipplane and Seaplane. Within a brief period, the three divisions evolved into Fighting, Spotting and Seaplane Patrol Squadrons, respectively. The Shipplane Division was the beginning of the Ship-Air units which would one day operate from the battleships and cruisers. The initial aircraft for outfitting the Air Detachment, Pacific Fleet, were six F-5-6, four Curtiss JNs, plus six scouts: two Hanroit, two Sopwith Camels and two Sopwith Strutters. The aims and purposes of the air detachment were attack on enemy aircraft, spotting gunfire for surface craft torpedo attack by torpedo planes, demolition, toxic gas and incendiary bomb attack, smoke and gas screen laying, mine and countermining; flare dropping; scouting reconnaissance, patrol and convoy duty; photography, mapping, detection of enemy coastal defenses and mail passenger service.

Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet

In June 1922, Air Detachment, Pacific Fleet was renamed Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet. This was part of a reorganization which would combine the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets into the U.S. Fleet, then designate the western part the Battle Fleet and the eastern part the Scouting Fleet. Fleet aviation was reorganized April 1, 1933 into two principal commands, each exercising type functions within his force: Commander, Aircraft Battle Force which served as type commander for the carriers, battleships, cruisers and type commander for tender-based aircraft - the patrol and nine utility squadron.

Establishment of Today's Command

The original existence of Commander, Air Pacific was a direct outgrowth of problems associated with the rapid expansion of the Navy and Naval Air Forces during World War II, the requirements of supporting air combat units widely deployed in the Pacific Ocean area and the increasing importance of aviation as an element of naval striking power. These were in the background of discussions in a letter from Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet in which Adm. Chester W. Nimitz reviewed the experience of the past months and outlined some of the requirements for carrying on the war in the Pacific. He reviewed the various commands which had been established to meet the expanded requirements of war, and th extent to which they and previously existing aviation commands were creating a cumbersome organization in which several commands had similar responsibilities for supporting different types of aviation units. He considered the consolidation of their administrative functions not only necessary for an efficient command structure but essential to the economical use of men and material and to their effective deployment.
To accomplish these ends, he recommended establishment of a new command, which he called Air Pacific Fleet, to function as a Type Commander for fleet aircraft, to prepare general policy and doctrine for the operation of aviation units, to recommend the types, characteristics and numbers of aircraft required, and, finally, to carry out the strategic distribution of all air units in the Pacific area. He further recommended that subordinate commands be established within smaller geographic areas, specifically on the West Coast, to assist in performing these tasks. The eventual structure of the new air command developed pretty much along the lines recommended.
On July 29, 1942, Adm. Ernst King approved the recommendation and ordered issuance of directives to establish it. He titled the new command Commander, U.S. Naval Air Forces, Pacific Fleet - COMNAVAIRPAC. The necessary Pacific Fleet directive was issued in August. It established the new command effective Sept.. 1, 1942, on which date the offices of Commander, Carriers, Pacific Fleet and Commander, Patrol Wings, Pacific Fleet, were abolished. In May 1949, Vice Adm. Harold B. Sallada and his staff moved their headquarters from Pearl Harbor to COMNAVAIRPAC's present location at Naval Air Station North Island.
The Chief of Naval Operations placed Type Commanders (TYCOM) in a "Lead-Follow" arrangement Oct. 2001. Under this arrangement, COMNAVAIRPAC became TYCOM for Air and assumed the additional title of Commander, Naval Air Forces (COMNAVAIRFOR).

To read more, please visit the Naval Historical Center-Naval Aviation Branch.