4th Fighter Group (USAAF)

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History

The 4th Fighter Group (USAAF) was formed from the Eagle squadrons, three RAF squadrons manned by American volunteers, and served with the Eighth Air Force from the autumn of 1942 until the end of the Second World War.

In September 1942 the three Eagle squadrons were transferred to the USAAF, forming the 4th Fighter Group. No.71 Squadron became the 334th Fighter, Squadron, No.121 Squadron became the 335th Fighter Squadron and No.133 Squadron became the 336th Fighter Squadron. The new 4th Fighter Group was the second operational US fighter group in England, after the 31st Fighter Group. In October 1942 the 31st was allocated to Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, and for a short period the 4th was the only active US fighter group based in Britain.

The group's combat debut came in October 1942, still using its old RAF Spitfires. In March 1943 these were replaced with P-47 Thunderbolts. At first the pilots were opposed to the switch, seeing the Spitfire as a thoroughbred fighter when compared to the very bulky Thunderbolt, but they soon came to appreciate the larger fighter's robustness and firepower.

In April 1943 the 4th, along with other newly arrived P-47 groups, began to fly fighter sweeps along the Dutch and French coasts, starting with a sweep over Dunkirk on 8 April. One of these, on 15 April, led to the first clash between the P-47 and German fighters. The 4th Fighter Group was leading two composite groups that clashed with a force of Fw-190s. The Germans lost two aircraft, the Americans one, and the P-47 emerged with its reputation enhanced.

On 4 May 1943 the 4th and 56th Fighter Groups became the first American fighter units to escort bombers of the Eighth Air Force, during an attack on a Ford and General Motors factory at Antwerp. On this first mission the American groups flew too high, but the bombers were protected by six more experienced RAF squadrons and no bombers were lost.

The group soon gained in experience and efficiency, and by the end of the war it had destroyed more enemy aircraft, both on the ground and in the air, than any other fighter group within the Eighth Air Force. The group's main task was to provide fighter escorts for the bombers of the Eighth Air Force, but it also supported a number of bomber sweeps designed to provoke a German fighter response and took part in ground attack missions. The group took part in the Big Week campaign against the Luftwaffe of 20-25 February 1944.

In March-April 1944 the group converted to the P-51 Mustang, the long range fighter that solved the biggest problem with the USAAF's daylight bombing campaign. On 4 March 1944 the group took the P-51 to Berlin on escort durites for the first time. The P-51 could escort the heavy bombers all the way to their targets in Germany, and soon took a heavy toll on the Luftwaffe, eventually winning control of the air over Europe.

The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its aggressive attitude and attacking Luftwaffe bases between 5 March and 24 April 1944. During the D-Day campaign the group flew a mix of fighter defence and ground attack missions. It supported Operation Market Garden in September 1944 and took part in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944-January 1945. In March 1945 its fighters escorted the massive aerial armada that took part in the crossing of the Rhine.

The group returned to the United States in November 1945 and was inactivated on 10 November 1945.

Books

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Aircraft

October 1942-March 1943: Supermarine Spitfire
March 1943-April 1944: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
April 1944 onwards: North American P-51 Mustang

Timeline

22 August 1942 Constituted as 4th Fighter Group
12 September 1942 Activated in England
October 1942 Combat debut
April 1945 Last combat sorties
November 1945 To United States
10 November 1945 Inactivated

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Col Edward W Anderson: Sep 1942
Col Chesley G Peterson: Aug 1943
Col Donald J M Blakeslee: 1 Jan 1944
Lt Col Claiborne H Kinnard Jr: Nov 1944
Lt Col Harry J Dayhuff: 7 Dec 1944
Col Everett W Stewart, 21 Feb 1945- unkn.

Main Bases

Bushey Hall, England: 12 Sep 1942
Debden, England: Sep 1942
Steeple Morden, England: Jul-Nov 1945
Camp Kilmer, NJ: c. 9-10 Nov 1945

Component Units

334th Fighter Squadron: 1942-45
335th Fighter Squadron: 1942-45
336th Fighter Squadron: 1942-45

Assigned To

1942: VIII Fighter Command; Eighth Air Force
1943-September 1944: 65th Fighter Wing; VIII Fighter Command; Eighth Air Force
September 1944-1945: 65th Fighter Wing; 2nd Air Division; Eighth Air Force
1945: 66th Fighter Wing; 3rd Air Division; Eighth Air Force

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 June 2014), 4th Fighter Group (Second World War), http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/4th_Fighter_Group.html

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