The Greater America


PBY Catalina at Bluie West One
PBY Catalina amphibious patrol bomber on the steel-mat runway at Bluie West One, with Quonset huts in the background, in 1943 or 1944.


Cover of BW-1 BW-1 was a U.S. Army airfield from 1941 to 1947, and as Narsarsuaq Airbase a U.S. Air Force installation from 1947 to 1958, when it was turned over to the Danish government of Greenland. I was enchanted by the name (why One? why West? and above all, why Bluie?) from the day I first heard it. So in August 2005 I flew to Reykjavik in Iceland, thence to Narsarsuaq in Greenland, to investigate the place for myself. This is what I found out. Read the story as an e-book for Amazon's elegant Kindle reader or on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. A $2.99 download from Amazon stores in the United States and other countries. (The link will take you to the right store for your region. Prices may be higher outside the U.S. because of sales taxes and other boneheaded government policies.) Also for sale on Apple - Barnes & Noble - Inktera - Kobo - Scribd.

Remembering Bluie West One (the article)
The legend of Hospital Valley
'Phooey on Bluie' (the poem)
Rescue on the Greenland ice cap (James Robinson)

In the nature of things, I no longer receive email from men who served at BW-1 during the Second World War. But the other week I got email from Harold Patton, who was an air policemen there in 1952-53:

"Several of us would hike behind the hospital area and thru the saddle area thru what looked like a very old river bed to the mountains. We had hikes summer and winter. Each had their places you could go and should not go. The Air Police was involved in the investigation of two Newfies [civilian workers from New Foundland] who made a hike in the wintertime and fell threw the ice and died. Explosives were used to break up the ice and they were found with grappling hooks. I understood they were kept in the frozen state for transportation back home.

"We went swimming in a pond atop a mountain overlooking the glacier behind the base. The water was crystal clear and very cold. There was a very large rock jutting out into the water and we would dive off of it and immediately swim to shore, lay out in the sun to warm up and dry. I never knew the name of the glacier behind that mountain.... Although I never went into it, I was told that the Base telephone office was in a cave on base but I never cared to go in. I drove past it and rode the base bus by it."

I saw that cave when I explored Narsarsuak in 2005. It was to the south of the runway, a presumably blast-proof steel door set into a cliff. (The mountains press so close to the runway that, if you are in the window seat of your Air Iceland Bombardier, you can't help wondering if the wingtip is going to scrape on the rock.)

An update: Harold Case has more information on that cave: "I was stationed at BW1 55-56 as a photographer (lab man) in the cave you mentioned. It was the communication center for phones when I arrived, then everything was removed to a different location. The photo lab was sole occupant after that." Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

Layout of Bluie West One
Here is Bluie West One at the height of its powers, with the east-west runway now hard-surfaced, a secondary runway at an angle to it, and a full quota of buildings. Not visible is Hospital Valley, off the top of the photo beyond the the end of Runway 27. This photo would have been taken about 1950.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Flying Tigers
3rd edition

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