by Helen Nelson | Oct 29, 2019 | Units
The 703d Bombardment Squadron was activated 1 April 1943 at Gowen Field in Idaho, where initial organization took place while key personnel traveled to Orlando AAB, Florida for training with the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics. Both elements met at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah on 8 June 1943, where initial training with the Consolidated B-24 Liberator took place. The squadron moved to Sioux City Army Air Base, Iowa in July 1943 to complete training. At Sioux City, Iowa, actor Jimmy Stewart was assigned as the squadron’s operations officer. Capt Stewart then became the squadron commander. In September the squadron began to receive B-24H aircraft, the model of the Liberator they would fly in combat.
On 20 October 1943 the ground echelon moved to Camp Shanks, New York and embarked on the RMS Queen Mary on 26 October 1943, sailing next day. The unit arrived in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland on 2 November 1943 and disembarked at Gourock. The air echelon departed Sioux City late in October 1943 and flew to the United Kingdom via the southern route: Florida, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and West Africa. Upon arrival, the squadron was stationed at RAF Tibenham as part of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing. The squadron was initially given a fuselage code of RN.
The 703d entered combat on 13 December 1943 by attacking U-boat installations at Kiel. The unit operated primarily as a strategic bombardment organization until the war ended, striking such targets as industries in Osnabrück, synthetic oil plants in Lutzendorf, chemical works in Ludwigshafen, marshalling yards at Hamm, an airfield at Munich, an ammunition plant at Duneberg, underground oil storage facilities at Ehmen, and factories at Münster.
The squadron participated in the Allied campaign against the German aircraft industry during Big Week, from 20 to 25 February 1944, being awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for attacking a Bf 110 aircraft assembly plant at Gotha on 24 February. This was the longest running continuous air battle of World War II – some two and a half hours of fighter attacks and flak en route and leaving the target area. Bomb damage assessment photographs showed that the plant was knocked out of production indefinitely.
The unit occasionally flew air interdiction and air support missions. It helped to prepare for the invasion of Normandy by bombing airfields, V-1 and V-2 launch sites, and other targets. It attacked shore installations on D-Day, 6 June 1944. and supported ground forces at Saint-Lô by striking enemy defenses in July 1944. During the Battle of the Bulge, between December 1944 and January 1945 it bombed German communications. Early on 24 March 1945 the 703d dropped food, medical supplies, and ammunition to troops that landed near Wesel during the airborne assault across the Rhine and that afternoon flew a bombing mission to the same area, hitting a landing ground at Stormede.
On occasion the unit dropped propaganda leaflets and hauled fuel to France. It was awarded the Croix de guerre with Palm by the French government for operations in the theater from December 1943 to February 1945 supplying the resistance.
By far, the 703d’s most tragic mission is the attack on Kassel of 27 September 1944. In cloud, the navigator of the lead bomber of the 445th Bombardment Group miscalculated and the 35 planes of the 703d and the other squadrons of the group left the bomber stream of the 2d Air Division and proceeded to Göttingen some 35 miles (56 km) from the primary target. After the bomb run, the group was alone in the skies and was attacked from the rear by an estimated 150 Luftwaffe planes, resulting in the most concentrated air battle in history. The Luftwaffe unit was a Sturmgruppe, a special unit intended to attack bombers by flying in tight formations of up to ten fighters in line abreast. This was intended to break the bomber formation at a single pass. The 361st Fighter Group intervened, preventing complete destruction of the group. Twenty-nine German and 25 American planes went down in a 15-mile (24 km) radius. Only four of the 445th group’s planes made it back to the base – two crashing in France, one in Belgium, another at RAF Old Buckenham. Two landed at RAF Manston. Only one of the 35 attacking aircraft was fit to fly next day.
After the end of the air war in Europe, the 703d flew low level Trolley missions over Germany carrying ground personnel so they could see the result of their efforts during the war. The group’s air echelon departed Tibenham on 17 May 1945, and departed the United Kingdom on 20 May 1945. The 700th ground echelon sailed on the USAT Cristobal from Bristol. The ship arrived at New York on 8 June 1945. Personnel were given 30 days R&R. The squadron reestablished at Fort Dix, New Jersey, with the exception of the air echelon, which had flown to Sioux Falls Army Air Field, South Dakota. Most personnel were discharged or transferred to other units, and only a handful were left when the unit was inactivated on 12 September 1945.
by Helen Nelson | Oct 28, 2019 | Units
Fighting Squadron 72 or VF-72 was an aviation unit of the U.S. Navy, originally established as VF-7 on 1 July 1939, it was redesignated as VF-72 on 19 November 1940 and disestablished on 29 March 1943.
VF-7 was originally equipped with Grumman F2F and Grumman F3F aircraft. It was reequipped with the F4F-3 Wildcat in December 1940 and deployed as part of Carrier Air Group 7 (CVG-7) aboard the USS Wasp.
From January to March 1942 VF-72 was deployed on USS Ranger in the Atlantic Fleet. In April 1942, VF-72 was based ashore at Naval Station Norfolk and then transferred to the USS Wasp. In early June 1942, VF-72 had reequipped with the F4F-4 at NAS Alameda and from mid-June through July was shore-based at Naval Station Pearl Harbor. In August VF-72 was deployed on USS Hornet.
Artist Thomas C. Lea III depicted VF-72’s executive officer, Lt A. C. “Silver” Emerson in action during the Solomon Islands campaign in his painting “Defending the Ship.”
Following the sinking of the USS Hornet on 26 October 1942, VF-72 was deployed on USS Nassau from January until March 1943 when it was disembarked at Pearl Harbour.
by Helen Nelson | Oct 28, 2019 | Units
Activated on 15 November 1942 at Hamilton Field, California, initially equipped with P-39 Airacobras and assigned to IV Fighter Command for training. Moved to several bases in California and Nevada then to Portland Army Air Base, Oregon in June 1943 and re-equipped with new North American P-51B Mustangs. Transitioned to the Mustang throughout the summer of 1943 the deployed to the European Theater of Operations, being assigned to IX Fighter Command in England.
In late 1943, the strategic bombardment campaign over Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany being conducted by VIII Bomber Command was taking heavy losses in aircraft and flight crews as the VIII Fighter Command’s Lockheed P-38 Lightnings and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts lacked the range to escort the heavy B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers deep into Germany to attack industrial and military targets. The P-51 had the range to perform the escort duties and the unit’s operational control was transferred to Headquarters, Eighth Air Force to perform escort missions. From its base at RAF Boxted, the unit flew long-range strategic escort missions with VIII Bomber Command groups, escorting the heavy bombers to targets such as Frankfurt, Leipzig, Augsburg, and Schweinfurt, engaging Luftwaffe day interceptors frequently, with the P-51s outperforming the German Bf 109 and Fw 190 interceptors, causing heavy losses to the Luftwaffe. Remained under operational control of Eighth Air Force until April 1944, when sufficient numbers of P-51D Mustangs and arrived from the United States and were assigned to VIII Fighter Command units for escort duty.
They were relieved from escort duty and were re-equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts, and reassigned to RAF Lashenden on the southern coast of England. The mission was redefined to provide tactical air support for the forthcoming invasion of France, to support the Third, and later Ninth United States Armies. They flew fighter sweeps over Normandy and along the English Channel coast of France and the Low Countries, April–June 1944, then engaged in heavy tactical bombing of enemy military targets as well as roads, railroads and bridges in the Normandy area to support ground forces in the immediate aftermath of D-Day.
by Helen Nelson | Oct 28, 2019 | Women of War
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) (also Women’s Army Service Pilots or Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots) was a civilian women pilots’ organization, whose members were United States federal civil service employees. Members of WASP became trained pilots who tested aircraft, ferried aircraft and trained other pilots. Their purpose was to free male pilots for combat roles during World War II. Despite various members of the armed forces being involved in the creation of the program, the WASP and its members had no military standing.
WASP was preceded by the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Both were organized separately in September 1942. They were pioneering organizations of civilian women pilots, who were attached to the United States Army Air Forces to fly military aircraft during World War II. On August 5, 1943, the WFTD and WAFS merged to create the WASP organization.
The WASP arrangement with the US Army Air Forces ended on December 20, 1944. During its period of operation, each member’s service had freed a male pilot for military combat or other duties. They flew over 60 million miles; transported every type of military aircraft; towed targets for live anti-aircraft gun practice; simulated strafing missions and transported cargo. Thirty-eight WASP members lost their lives and one disappeared while on a ferry mission, her fate still unknown as of 2019. In 1977, for their World War II service, the members were granted veteran status, and in 2009 awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
by Helen Nelson | Oct 28, 2019 | Animal Heroes
During WWII dogs were trained in all branches of the military for various purposes.
The first of the Army’s canine members were trained for sentry duty. This was deemed the most pressing need since German and Japanese submarine activity off both coasts raised concerns about the potential landing of saboteurs who might be able to gain access to military facilities and important war industries. In response to this threat, dogs were trained to alert their handlers to any strangers in their vicinity, and on command, to attack those intruders. One of the most vital missions performed by these early sentry dogs was the patrol of America’s coastlines. For this task, the QMC-trained dogs were assigned to Coast Guard handlers who used the dogs’ keen senses to patrol the beaches and other areas along the coast. Within a year, more than 1,800 dog teams patrolled the coastlines. By the end of the war, the QMC would assign 3,174 dogs to the Coast Guard.
The first Marine Dog Platoon was attached to the Second Marine Raider Regiment and deployed to Bougainville in the fall of 1943. The war dog platoon consisted of 55 men and 24 dogs, three of which were German shepherds, the rest Doberman Pinschers—these dogs would forever after be known as Devil Dogs. Of the platoon members who deployed and served on Bougainville until January 23, 1944, only four did not return—two dogs and two handlers.
In a report to his superiors, the commanding officer of the Marine Raider Regiment wrote that the war dog platoon had been an “unqualified success.” First on the list of the successes he recounted was: “Not one marine was killed while in a marine patrol led by a dog.” Among others were how the dogs made it impossible for the enemy to make surprise attacks at night or infiltrate their camps undetected; how the scout dogs had “alerted to enemy ambushes and snipers”; and how they were so trusted by the Marine Raiders that these men “vied nightly to dig foxholes for the handlers in order to get the handlers and their dogs to bunk down with them.”
Other important tasks performed by canine units included bomb detection, delivering messages, enemy detection (especially in poor weather conditions), and so much more!
Following the war, many dogs were returned to owners or given to their wartime handlers. This involved retraining so the dogs would be able to function safely in a peacetime civilian setting. Due to their classification as government property, any unclaimed dogs had to be sold as surplus, with the new owner footing the bill to return the shipping crate and food bowl to the Army. Still, this program allowed some civilians to purchase a well-trained and physically fit animal for a bargain price.