354th Fighter Group (USAAF)

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History

The 354th Fighter Group (USAAF) served with the Ninth Air Force from 1943 to the end of the Second World War, taking part in the D-Day campaign, the campaign in north-west Europe, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.

The 354th was activated in the United States on 15 November 1q942. It moved to Britain in October-November 1943, at a time when all P-51 groups had been allocated to the new Ninth Air Force.

The 354th was the only fighter group to join the Ninth Air Force during 1943 that didn't come from the Eighth Air Force. However as the only USAAF P-51 group operating in Britain during 1943 the group spent much of its time escorting the bombers of the Eighth Air Force, and under the operational command of VIII Fighter Command. Its first escort mission with the heavy bombers came on 5 December when it escorted two wings of heavy bombers part of the way to Paris. On 13 December it flew into Germany for the first time, escorting a raid on Kiel. The group's successful escort missions meant that the priority of fighter allocation was reversed, with most P-51s going to the Eighth Air Force. Another seventeen fighter groups joined the Ninth Air Force during 1944, but only one of them was equipped with the P-51. The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its role in developing long-range fighter escort tactics up to May 1944. This period also saw Major James H Howard win a Medal of Honor by defending a bomber formation single-handed against Luftwaffe attack (on 11 January 1944).

In the build-up to D-Day the group began to join the rest of the Ninth Air Force in its attacks on German targets in France, Belgium and Holland. On D-Day it escorted gliders to Normandy. In the days after the invasion the group attacked bridges and railways behind the German lines to slow downs reinforcements.

In June the group moved to France to provide close support for the Allied armies. It took place in the advance across France. On 16 August, during the last stages of the battle of Normandy, a group of eight P-51s from the 354th ran into a formation of seventy Fw-190 fighter bombers, dispersing the German attack.

On 25 August the group was guided to airfields at Beauvais and Reims where they destroyed thirteen aircraft on the ground. On the same day they also claimed 36 victories in the air. The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for the days work.

On 10 September a formation from the group flew over Issoudun, where surrender negotiations were going on with General Elster. Perhaps influenced by this display over air power, Elster agreed to surrender the 19,000 men under his command.

In the same month the group supported Operation Market Garden. It then attacked transport targets during the Allied attack on the Siegfried Line.

During the Battle of the Bulge the group flew armed reconnaissance missions against German forces. On 26 December the 354th flew armed reconnaissance missions around Saarbrucken, Merzig,, Trier and St-Vith. On the same day it escorted troop transports to Bastogne.

The group was used to support the crossing of the Rhine and the advance into Germany.

After the end of the war the group joined the army of occupation as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe. The group was transferred to the United States without its personnel and equipment in February 1946 and inactivated on 31 March 1946.

Books

Pending

Aircraft

1942-October 1943: P-39
December 1943-November 1944: North American P-51 Mustang
November 1944-February 1945: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
February 1945-May 1945: North American P-51 Mustang

Timeline

12 November 1942 Constituted as 354th Fighter Group
15 November 1942 Activated
Oct-Nov 1943 To Britain and Ninth Air Force
December 1943 Combat debut
February 1946 To United States
31 March 1946 Inactivated

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Col. Kenneth R Martin: c. 26 Nov 1942
Col James H Howard: 12 Feb 1944
Col George R Bickell: Apr 1944
Lt Col Jack T Bradley: May 1945
Maj Robert A Ackerly: Nov 1945
Lt Col David L Lewis: Dec 1945-1946

Main Bases

H amilton Field, Calif: 15 Nov 1942
Tonopah, Nev: c. 18 Jan 1943
Santa Rosa AAFld, Calif: c. 1 Mar 1943
Portland AAB, Ore: c. 2 Ju-Oct 1943
Greenham Common, England: c. 4 Nov 1943
Boxted, England: c. 13 Nov 1943
Lashenden, England: Apr 1944
Criqueville, France: Jun 1944
Gael, France: Aug 1944
Orconte, France: Sep 1944
Meurtheet- Moselle, France: c.1 Dec 1944
Ober Olm, Germany: c. 8 Apr 1945
Ansbach, Germany: c. 30 Apr 1945
Herzogenaurach, Germany: May 1945-15 Feb 1946
Bolling Field, DC, 15 Feb-31 Mar 1946

Component Units

353rd: 1942-1946
355th: 1942-1946
356th: 1942-1946

Assigned To

1943: San Francisco Fighter Wing; IV Fighter Command; Fourth Air Force
27 Nov-2 Dec 1943: 100th Fighter Wing; IX Fighter Command; Ninth Air Force
3 April-15 April 1944: 100th Fighter Wing; IX Fighter Command; Ninth Air Force
15 April-23 June 1944: 100th Fighter Wing; XIX Air Support Command; Ninth Air Force, under operational control of IX Fighter Command
14 August 1944-4 May 1945: 100th Fighter Wing; XIX Tactical Air Command
1945-46: 64th Fighter Wing

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 February 2016), 354th Fighter Group, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/354th_Fighter_Group.html

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