1st Fighter Group (USAAF)

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History

The 1st Fighter Group was a long standing US fighter group that briefly served with the Eighth Air Force in Britain before moving to North Africa to support Operation Torch. It then took part in the campaign in Tunisia and the invasions of Sicily and Italy before becoming a bomber escort unit, performing that role from late in 1943 until the end of the war in Europe.

The group traced its early history back to two units with the same name - the 1st Pursuit Group of 1918, which was disbanded in France in December 1918 and the 1st Pursuit Group, formed in the US in August 1919. The original group was officially reconstituted in 1924 and consolidated with the second groups. In the interwar years the group operated a wide range of pursuit types, and used then in a wide range of activities, including testing equipment and tactics. For some time in the early 1920s it was the only Pursuit Group in the Army. When the Air Corps began to expand cadres from the 1st Pursuit Group were used to create new units.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor the group moved to the US West Coast, where it spent several weeks flying defensive patrols.

In June-July 1942 the group moved to Britain, where it joined the Eighth Air Force. It was one of a number of units that successfully flew its aircraft across the Atlantic on the northern route into Scotland. It was now equipped with the P-38, and made its combat debut in Europe on 28 August. The group flew a number of missions in this period, but didn't have any encounters with the Luftwaffe.

After flying a few missions over France the 1st Fighter Group was allocated to the Twelfth Air Force, ready to take part in Operation Torch. Part of the ground echelon landed at Arzeu on D-Day (8 November 1942), followed a few days later by the air echelon. The group flew a wide range of missions, including reconnaissance, bomber escort, ground attack and attacks on Axis shipping. It took part in the campaign in Tunisia. Early in the campaign one squadron was posted at Maison Blanche, east of the group's main base, from where it provided bomber escorts. On 25 November a second squadron was moved to Youks-les-Bains to support the 14th Group. In mid-December two squadrons moved to Biskra, a bomber station, and came under the control of XII Bomber Command. This greatly improved the coordination between the bombers and their fighter escorts. The 1st escorted both heavy and medium bombers. Not all missions went well - on 18 January the group provided four aircraft to escort eleven bombers in an attack on Sousse where two bombers were shot down. The group found itself running short of aircraft - the P-38 was in great demand and a limited number of replacement aircraft were available. Doolittle was even forced to take aircraft from the 1st Fighter Group to keep the 14th Group at full strength, while the 82nd was used to keep the 1st in action.

As well as supporting the fighting on the ground the group also took part in Axis convoys on the route between Sicily and North Africa. On 29 January 1943 it took part in a very successful attack, providing an escort of 12 P-38s to protect six B-26s that sank or badly damaged two cargo liners.

The group helped in the reduction of the Italian island of Pantelleria and then supported the invasions of Sicily and the mainland of Italy.

The group won three Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was awarded for a strafing attack on Italian airfields on 25 August 1943, in support of the Salerno landings. The second was won only five days later, on 30 August, and was awarded form escorting bombers on a mission to attack marshalling yards at Aversa.

The group supported the Salerno landings in September 1943, before moving to the Fifteenth Air Force towards the end of the year. Its main task was now bomber escorts, and it accompanied the Fifteenth's bombers to targets across large parts of Southern and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The group also took part in ground attack missions in an almost as wide area, including targets in France and in the Balkans. It also supported the Anzio landings in January 1944.

The group took part in a raid on German airfields in the Udine area of Austria on 30 January, carried out to reduce the Luftwaffe threat to the Anzio beachhead. They provided part of the fighter escort for a bomber force that was actually used as bait to draw the Germans into the air so that the 325th Fighter Group could ambush them. The attack was a total success and at least thirty-six German aircraft were destroyed.

The group won its third DUC for covering the withdrawal of B-17s after an attack on the vital oil facilities at Ploesti on 18 May 1944.

In August 1944 the group supported the invasion of the south of France.

The group continued operations until May 1945. It remained in Italy for the next five months before being disbanded on 16 October 1945.

Books

 

Aircraft

Mix of fighter types: to 1941
August 1942- : Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Timeline

1924 Reconstituted as 1st Pursuit Group
December 1939 Redesignated as 1st Pursuit Group (Interceptor)
March 1941 Redesignated as 1st Pursuit Group (Fighter)
May 1942 Redesignated as 1st Fighter Group
16 October 1945 Inactivated in Italy

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Col Lawrence P Hickey: c. 1939
Lt Col Robert S Israel: Jul 1941
Maj John 0 Zahn: 1 May 1942
Col John N Stone: 9 Jul 1942
Col Ralph S Garman: 7 Dec 1942
Maj Joseph S Peddie: 8 Sep 1943
Col Robert B Richard: 19 Sep 1943
Col Arthur C Agan Jr: 15 Nov 1944
Lt Col Milton H Ashkins: 31 Mar 1945
Lt Col Charles W Thaxton: 11 Apr 1945
Col Milton H Ashkins: 28 Apr 1945

Main Bases

Selfridge Field, Mich: 1 Jul 1922
San Diego NAS, Calif: 9 Dec 1941
Los Angeles, Calif: I Feb-May 1942
Goxhill, England: 10 Jun 1942
Ibsley, England: 24 Aug 1942
Tafaraoui, Algeria: 13 Nov 1942
Nouvion, Algeria: 20 Nov 1942
Biskra, Algeria: 14 Dec 1942
Chateaudundu-Rhumel, Algeria: Feb 1943
Mateur, Tunisia: 29 Jun 1943
Sardinia: 31 Oct 1943
Gioia del Colle, Italy: c. 8 Dec 1943
Salsola Airfield, Italy: 8 Jan 1944
Vincenzo Airfield, Italy: 8 Jan 1945
Salsola Airfield, Italy: 21 Feb 1945
Lesina, Italy: Mar-16 Oct 1945

Component Units

17th Pursuit Squadron: 1919-1940
27th Fighter Squadron: 1919-1945
71st Fighter Squadron: 1941-1945
94th Fighter Squadron: 1919-1945

Assigned To

1940-1941: 6th Pursuit Wing, US Based
Eighth Air Force: 1942-
August 1943: 42nd Bombardment Wing; Northwest African Strategic Air Force
September 1943-November 1943: 42nd Bombardment Wing; XII Bomber Command; Twelfth Air Force
1 November-December 1943: 42nd Bombardment Wing; Fifteenth Air Force
5th Bombardment Wing; Fifteenth Air Force: 1943-44
306th Fighter Wing; Fifteenth Air Force: 1944
305th Bombardment Wing; Fifteenth Air Force: 1945

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 August 2014), 1st Fighter Group (USAAF) , http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/1st_Fighter_Group.html

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