The 31st Fighter Group (USAAF) was one of the first units of the Eighth Air Force to enter combat, but was then transferred to the Twelfth Air Force to take part in Operation Torch and spent the rest of the war operating in the Mediterranean theatre.
The group was formed in the United States in February 1940 and was originally equipped with the P-39 Airacobra. After the American entry into the war it was one of the first Eighth Air Force groups to reach Britain (it was one of the first three groups allocated to the Eighth) where it was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire, making it one of the few American groups to use foreign-built aircraft in combat (the original plan had been for the group to fly its P-39s across the Atlantic, but the bombers needed as escorts weren't available and so the pilots steamed across without their aircraft).
The 31st took its Spitfires into combat in August 1942, after an intense period of training to bring it up to war standard. It was the first Eighth Air Force fighter group to become fully operational. In the same month it supported the disastrous Allied raid on Dieppe (19 August 1942). Over the next few months it flew a mix of bomber escort missions, fighter patrols and diversionary raids, but in October it was assigned to the Twelfth Air Force, the force created to support Operation Torch. During its time with the Eighth Air Force the group flew 1,286 sorties, and was credited with three victories, four probables and two damaged.
The group moved to Gibraltar before the invasion, and then moved from Gibraltar to Algeria on 8 November, D-Day for Operation Torch (apart from twelve of the group's engineers, who were sent back to the United States so they could accompany Patton's trans-Atlantic forces). The group had originally been allocated to Casablanca, but as the events of the day unfolded Doolittle ordered it to fly into Tafaraoui instead. One aircraft was lost when eight French Dewoitines attacked as they were landing, but otherwise the move went well.
During the short Algerian and Moroccan campaign it was used to attack French gun positions and troop concentrations, playing a major part in the capture of Oran. It then took part in the longer campaign in Tunisia, flying a mix of bomber escort and ground attack missions. It took part in the first Allied offensive, reaching Thelepte. but this advanced base quickly had to be abandoned in mid-February and the group moved to Tebessa. This was also a short-lived base, although this time it was mud that caused the move to Youks and Le Kouif.
In May and June 1943 the group took part in the air campaign that forced the surrender of the island of Pantelleria. It was also used to provide air cover over convoys in the build-up to the invasion of Sicily, operating from Gozo. In July 1943 it supported the landings on Sicily, protecting the invasion convoy, and then the conquest of the island. Between them the 31st and 33rd Groups flew over 1,000 sorties on 10-12 July. The group then supported the Eighth Army during its hard battles around Catania.
In September 1943 the group supported the landings at Salerno, first as part of the air defence force over the beaches and then providing direct support for the troops as the advanced towards Naples. In January 1944 it supported the Anzio landings. In between it was used to provide support for the Allied armies.
In April 1944 the group was transferred to the Fifteenth Air Force. It also received the P-51 Mustang and spent most of the rest of the war operating as a bomber escort group, supporting the Fifteenth Air Force's heavy bombers as they attacked targets in France, Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans as well as in Italy.
The group was awarded a distinguished unit citation for providing escorts for a force of heavy bombers attacking targets on Romania on 21 April 1944.
The group was used to provide escorts for the transport aircraft carrying paratroops during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France. It also flew ground attack missions to support the invasion.
In July 1944 the group took part in a shuttle mission to Russia. The outward mission was flown on 22 July 1944 and saw the bombers attack targets in Romania before flying on to bases in Russia. On 25 July, while in Russia the group escorted P-38s on a raid into Poland and then attacked a convoy of German trucks. It was awarded a distinguished unit citation for this raid. The force then flew back to Italy on 26 July.
In April 1945 the group took part in the final Allied offensive in the north of Italy, carrying out ground attack sorties against transport links.
The group returned to the United States in August 1945 and was inactivated on 7 November.
1939-1942: Bell P-39 Airacobra
1942-1944: Supermarine Spitfire
1944 onwards: North American P-51 Mustang
|22 Dec 1939||Constituted as 31st Pursuit Group (Interceptor)|
|1 Feb 1940||Activated|
|May 1942||Redesignated 31st Fighter Group|
|May-June 1942||To Britain and Eighth Air Force|
|October 1942||To Twelfth Air Force|
|8 Nov 1942||To Algeria|
|April 1944||To Fifteenth Air Force|
|August 1945||To US|
|7 Nov 1945||Inactivated|
Lt C ol Harold H George:
Col John R Hawkins: 1 Jul 1941
Col Fred M Dean: 5 Dec 1942
Lt Col Frank A Hill: c. Jul 1943
Col Charles M McCorkle: c. Sep 1943
Col Yancey S Tarrant: 4 Jul 1944
Col William A Daniel: 4 Dec 1944-unkn.
Selfridge Field, Mich: 1 Feb
Baer Field, Ind: 6 Dec 1941
New Orleans AB, La: Feb-19 May 1942
Atcham, England: 11 Jun 1942
Westhampnett, England: 1 Aug 1942
Tafaraoui, Algeria: 8 Nov 1942
La Senia, Algeria: c. 12 Nov 1942
Thelepte, Tunisia: c. 7 Feb 1943
Tebessa, Algeria: 17 Feb 1943
Youks-les-Bains, Algeria: 21 Feb 1943
Kalaa Djerda, Tunisia: c. 25 Feb 1943
Thelepte, Tunisia: 11 Mar 1943
Djilma, Tunisia: 7 Apr 1943
Le Sers, Tunisia: 12 Apr 1943
Korba, Tunisia: 15 May 1943
Gozo: c. 30 Jun 1943
Ponte Oho, Sicily: c. 13 Jul 1943
Agrigento, Sicily: 21 Jul 1943
Termini, Sicily: 2 Aug 1943
Milazzo, Sicily: 2 Sep 1943
Montecorvino, Italy: 20 Sep 1943
Pomigliano, Italy: 14 Oct 1943
Castel Volturno, Italy: 19 Jan 1944
San Severo, Italy: 2 Apr 1944
Mondolfo, Italy: 3 Mar 1945
Triolo Airfield, Italy: 15 Jul-Aug 1945
Drew Field: Fla, Aug-7 Nov 1945.
1940-41: 6th Pursuit Wing, US Based
1943: 64th Fighter Wing; XII Fighter Command; Twelfth Air Force
1943: 64th Fighter Wing; XII Tactical Air Command; Twelfth Air Force
1944-45: 306th Fighter Wing; Fifteenth Air Force