New Mexico during World War II
Enlisted men drawing cameras to go up in a Beechcraft AT-11 on bomb-spotting missions at Roswell Army Flying School.
population531,818 (1940)
EventsThe Lordsburg Killings
– July 27, 1942
The Escape from Fort Stanton
– November 1–3, 1942
The Bat Bomb Incident
– May 15, 1943
The Santa Fe Riot
– March 12, 1945
The Trinity explosion
– July 16, 1945

The history of New Mexico during World War II was a period of dramatic change. After America's entry into World War II in 1941, New Mexico became a center for the development of nuclear weapons and an important base for the United States Army. The state's population grew significantly both during the war and in the decades afterwards, a period known as the "Boom Years" in New Mexican history. In 1940, there were just over 530,000 people living in New Mexico and by 1960 there was over 950,000. The development of modern military technology also created a unique relationship between New Mexico, the federal government, and the scientific community, which still exists today.[1][2][3]


Military personnel

World War II lasted nearly four years for the United States. During that time, 49,579 New Mexican men volunteered or were drafted into military service. New Mexico had both the highest volunteer rate and the highest casualty rate out of all of the forty-eight states which were then in the Union.[1]

Soldiers from New Mexico were some of the first Americans to see combat during the war. Hundreds of soldiers from the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard, were in the Philippines manning the anti-aircraft guns at Clark Field and Fort Stotsenburg when it was bombed by the Japanese aircraft just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The New Mexicans found their job frustrating because their shells could not hit high-flying Japanese bombers, although they did manage to shoot down a few fighters, which were flying at a low altitude. After the Japanese launched their main offensive to conquer the Philippines, the 200th Coast Artillery and New Mexico's 515th Coast Artillery covered the withdrawal of Filipino and American forces during the Battle of Bataan, which ended on April 9, 1942. The New Mexicans then took part in the Bataan Death March, in which thousands of Allied prisoners of war were killed during a forced march from the battlefield to camps at Balanga, where they remained until the end of the war. Of the 1,800 New Mexican troops serving in the Philippines, only 800 returned home.[1]

Many of the famed Navajo code talkers came from New Mexico. In need of a way to protect communications from Japanese eavesdroppers, the Marine Corps raised several outfits of Navajo radiomen who could use their native language as a code on the battlefield. The first group, which consisted of twenty-nine men, was recruited by Philip Johnston, a World War I veteran who was fluent in the Navajo language. Johnston and the "original twenty-nine," as they were known, are credited with developing the code, however, it was modified and improved by others as the war progressed. At least 540 Navajos served in the Marine Corps during World War II, about 400 of whom were trained as code talkers. Because many of them lacked birth certificates, it was impossible to verify the age of some recruits. After the war it was revealed that boys as young as fifteen had enlisted. Navajo code talkers fought in every major campaign of the Pacific Theater between 1942 and 1945; from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. They saved countless lives with their simple transmissions and also helped hasten the war's end. Their code was never broken and continued to be used by American forces during the Korean War and at the beginning of the Vietnam War.[1][4][5][6][7]

Military installations

See also: New Mexico World War II Army Airfields

Alamogordo Army Airfield in 1944.
German internees working in their garden at Fort Stanton.
German internees working in their garden at Fort Stanton.

Several military installations were built in New Mexico just after the war began, including airbases, prisoner of war camps and internment camps. Among the most prominent of the new bases was Kirtland Field, in Albuquerque. Kirtland was originally an advanced flight school for Air Corps pilots, but it was converted into a major base shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1945, 1,750 B-24 crewmen had trained there, as well B-29 pilots, AT-11 pilots, glider pilots, aviation mechanics, navigators, and others. In May 1942, the army built the Albuquerque Air Depot Training Station just east of Kirtland for specializing in training in aircraft service, repair, and maintenance. It was, however, transformed into an airbase shortly thereafter and used as a convalescence station for wounded soldiers returning from battle. In 1945, the facility was renamed Sandia Army Airfield and eventually merged with Kirtland. Other major bases were located at Clovis, Alamogordo, and Roswell, along with temporary war-time airfields at Hobbs, Deming, Fort Sumner, and the White Sands Proving Ground.[1]

The prisoner of war camps and internment in New Mexico were among the largest in the United States during World War II. Most of the prisoners were Germans that had been captured during the North Africa Campaign, although there were also some Italian soldiers. Camp Roswell, located next to Walker Army Airfield, was home to 4,800 Germans and Italians. Camp Lordsburg, located near the town of Lordsburg, also had Germans and Italians, as well as some 600 Japanese internees. Another 1,900 Japanese internees were housed at Camp Santa Fe, which was located near the capital city of Santa Fe.[1][8][9]

Life at the camps was mostly peaceful and unexciting, however, there was an incident in 1942 involving the shooting deaths of two Japanese internees at Camp Lordsburg, and a "small riot" at Camp Santa Fe in 1945. There was also at least one notable escape attempt. Four sailors, who had been captured aboard the SS Columbus in 1939, slipped out of the German internment camp at Fort Stanton on the night of November 1, 1942. Heading south towards the border with Mexico, the Germans made only fourteen miles before being recaptured by a posse of locals after a brief firefight inside the Lincoln National Forest.[8][10][11]

Military installations Total
Major Airbases 8
Dispersal Bases 5
Bombing & Gunnery Ranges 13
Army Hospitals 4
Camps 2
National Cemeteries 3
POW Camps 3
Branch POW Camps 19
National Guard Armories 11
Colleges & Universities 7
Specialized Military Locations 7


Military technology

See also: Technology during World War II

The Trinity explosion, which took place in New Mexico at what is now White Sands Proving Ground on July 16, 1945, marked the beginning of the Atomic Age.[1]
The Trinity explosion, which took place in New Mexico at what is now White Sands Proving Ground on July 16, 1945, marked the beginning of the Atomic Age.[1]

New Mexico became a center for the advancement of top secret military technology during the war. Two very important technological important breakthroughs occurred within the state, along with one comical, but interesting, incident involving the use of Mexican free-tailed bats as a weapon. The Bat Bomb Incident, as it is known, occurred in 1943 and was the result of a project by Dr. Lytle S. Adams to attach tiny explosive devices to bats in order to use them as a type of bomb against Japanese cities. While testing the "weapon" at the Carlsbad Army Airfield, some of the bats accidentally escaped and roosted underneath a fuel truck. The ensuing explosions "incinerated the test range" and set some buildings on fire, but apparently no one was harmed.[1][12]

The proximity fuse was a type of fuse attached to artillery shells, making them explode within the proximity of a target, rather than on impact. Testing of the proximity fused anti-aircraft shells was carried out from Kirtland Field as early as 1943. On a certain desert mesa nearby, the army suspended aircraft with "the tallest wooden towers in the world" to fire the shells at them. The fuses proved to be a major success not only in the Pacific Theater, where they were used with devastating effect against Japanese aircraft, but in the Ardennes during the Siege of Bastogne.[2]

The most important of all the secret weapons programs in New Mexico was the Manhattan Project, which was the codename for the nuclear weapons experiments taking place across the United States, Canada, and Britain. It began in 1942 after Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer assembled "the greatest concentration of scientific resources and brainpower in history" to build the world's first atomic bomb. To do this, the government had the army construct the giant Los Alamos National Laboratory twenty miles northwest of Santa Fe in 1943 and then sealed off the entire area to keep it secret. By the war's end in 1945, some 5,000 people lived at Los Alamos, which led to the founding of the present-day town.[1][13][14]


Army and Air Forces
County Killed in Action (KIA) Died of Wounds (DOW) Died of Injuries (DOI) Died, Non-Battle (DNB) Finding of Death (FOD) Missing in Action (MIA) Total
Bernalillo 160 12 1 163 17 1 354
Catron 6 2 4 2 14
Chaves 58 4 23 7 1 93
Colfax 27 4 25 5 61
Curry 29 5 43 5 2 84
De Baca 7 3 7 1 18
Dona Ana 53 3 1 28 12 1 98
Eddy 54 6 53 3 116
Grant 55 5 43 3 2 108
Guadalupe 15 4 10 29
Harding 8 2 3 13
Hidalgo 9 1 4 14
Lea 27 5 29 4 65
Lincoln 21 12 1 34
Luna 26 4 1 21 5 1 58
McKinley 51 6 41 5 103
Mora 29 3 9 41
Otero 19 1 15 2 37
Quay 12 4 7 1 24
Rio Arriba 32 1 20 7 60
Roosevelt 22 3 17 3 45
Sandoval 21 4 15 1 41
San Juan 22 6 14 3 45
San Miguel 42 5 22 2 71
Santa Fe 59 6 47 5 117
Sierra 14 1 7 3 25
Socorro 23 4 9 36
Taos 36 6 26 1 69
Torrance 17 4 10 2 33
Union 16 1 10 4 31
Valencia 46 5 31 82
State at Large 7 3 2 1 13
Total 1,023 120 3 771 105 10 2032


Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard
Type Total
Killed in Action (KIA) 219
Killed in Prison Camps 5
Missing in Action (MIA) 7
Wounded in Action (WIA) 330
Released from Prison Camps 19
Total 580



See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Roberts, Susan A.; Calvin A. Roberts (2006). New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0826340030.
  2. ^ a b c "World War II From a New Mexican Perspective" (PDF). Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  3. ^ "" (PDF). Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  4. ^ "Official Site of the Navajo Code Talkers". Archived from the original on November 12, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  5. ^ "Native American Indian Heritage Month". Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  6. ^ "Navajo Code Talkers cryptology". Archived from the original on May 15, 2011. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  7. ^ "Navajo Code Talkers". Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Japanese Americans in New Mexico" (PDF). Andrew B. Russel. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  9. ^ "Roswell Web Magazine: Lifestyle Issue 02". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  10. ^ "The Motreal Gazette – Google News Archive Search". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  11. ^ "German Sailors On the High Desert: A World War II German Detainment Camp At Fort Stanton" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 9, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  12. ^ "The Bat Bombers". Archived from the original on April 24, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  13. ^ "Event/Exhibition Details Museum of New Mexico Media Center :: Events Calendar :: Events Details". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  14. ^ "Los Alamos History of the Manhattan Project". Archived from the original on December 27, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  15. ^ "Total Losses for New Mexico World War II Casualties Army and Air Force". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  16. ^ "World War II Army Casualties: New Mexico". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  17. ^ "World War II Casualties: New Mexico". Retrieved November 28, 2012.