Chapter 5: The Ninth Air Force
While the Eighth Air Force pressed home the bomber offensive against Germany, the Ninth Air Force prepared for its role in the crowning offensive of the war in Europe-the invasion of Normandy. Though called upon to support the CBO in its later phases and required to assume a major share in the Allied campaign against CROSSBOW targets, the Ninth Air Force had as its primary mission assistance to the amphibious landings in France and cooperation with the ground armies in their subsequent sweep into the heart of Germany. For the accomplishment of that mission this second of the American air forces in ETO was transformed, within a period of seven and one-half months, from little more than a name into the most powerful single tactical air force engaged on any of the world’s battle fronts.
Prior to the summer of 1943 it had been anticipated that the VIII Air Support Command, established in 1942,* would be developed into a tactical air force for support of the invasion. On that assumption Brig. Gen. Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., by July 1943 had drafted for COSSAC a detailed build-up plan which proved to be a remarkably accurate forecast of the tactical forces to be deployed by the AAF in support of the invasion of Normandy.1 But General Arnold, having in that same month selected Brereton for command of these forces, decided in August on the organization in ETO of a separate tactical air force and the transfer to the European theater of the Ninth Air Force, Brereton’s old command in the Middle East.†
The combat units and most of the service units currently serving with the Ninth were reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force, while the air force headquarters and three command headquarters prepared for
* See Vol. II, 642-43.
the move to England.2 On a visit to Eaker in September, Brereton completed arrangements for the movement of his staffs from Egypt and for the transfer of combat and service units from the Eighth Air Force to the Ninth, and then went on to Washington for a briefing on build-up plans.3 While Brereton was in Washington, the headquarters staffs of the Ninth and of its bomber, fighter, and service commands, plus a handful of small headquarters service units, chiefly signal companies, began the move from Egypt to the United Kingdom. The advance echelon left Cairo by air on 28 September, and additional air echelons followed at intervals until the close-out party under Brig. Gen. Victor H. Strahm, chief of staff of the Ninth, departed on 18 October. Before the end of November, all of the “boys with sand in their shoes” had arrived in England and had been assigned to their stations.4
Brereton’s return to England and his assumption of command on 16 October was the starting signal for the Ninth, which inherited little more than its name, its commanding general, and the nuclei of four experienced headquarters staffs from its antecedent in the Middle East. On the preceding day the Eighth Air Force had transferred to the Ninth the whole VIII Air Support Command and the VIII Tactical Air Service Area Command. Down to the end of 1943 most of the Ninth’s units and men came from the Eighth Air Force.5 Thereafter, the great bulk of the more than 170,000 troops who manned the Ninth on D-day came from the United States.
Organization and Build-up
The task of placing the Ninth Air Force within the organizational framework of the European theater did not prove to be easy. After 15 December 1943, when AEAF assumed operational control of the Ninth,6 the new air force found itself in the position of a vassal owing homage to two suzerains who had conflicting conceptions of their authority, for General Eaker’s United States Army Air Forces in the United Kingdom* retained administrative control, a control which passed in January to USSTAF. General Spaatz assumed administrative control over all American air forces in the theater as of 20 January,7 and soon found himself in conflict with Leigh-Mallory over the training of Ninth Air Force units for participation in OVERLORD. Spaatz had no doubts about the extent of his prerogatives. On 24
* See Vol. II, 743-44.
February he addressed an official letter to Brereton in which he stated categorically: “The Commanding General, USSTAF, will exercise control of all administrative and training matters pertaining to the Ninth Air Force, and will assume direct responsibility to higher headquarters for the proper performance of those functions.”8 Thus was it made clear to both the AEAF and the Ninth Air Force that USSTAF would suffer no transgression of its sovereignty. For Brereton, who had visions of a Ninth Air Force independent of both USSTAF and the AEAF, there was no other choice but to comply. For Leigh-Mallory it was another demonstration of the inadequacy of his powers as commander of the Allied tactical air forces.
During 1943 tactical air force planners had assumed that the Ninth Air Force would become increasingly independent of the administrative and logistical control of the theater air headquarters in the United Kingdom. With its lodgment on the continent, it was contemplated that the Ninth would sever its connection with the United Kingdom base and rely directly on the United States for its base support and on theater headquarters for its administration. General Brereton and his service commander, Maj. Gen. Henry J. F. Miller, acted on this assumption during 1943 and early 1944, establishing a base air depot under the IX AFSC and otherwise taking steps to free themselves of reliance on the theater air service command.9 This tendency was given impetus by the widely current Ninth Air Force belief that USSTAF discriminated against the Ninth in favor of the Eighth Air Force when allocating men, units, aircraft, and supplies. In response to representations from Brereton and Leigh-Mallory, USSTAF maintained that the allocation of men and equipment was governed by operational priorities and that since POINTBLANK held first priority for the air forces in the European theater, the needs of the Eighth Air Force must be met first.10 In spite of the logic of the situation, this explanation could not satisfy an organization which was under intense pressure to build and prepare a new air force for tactical operations on the continent in the near future. But the Ninth Air Force was in no position to dispute USSTAF’s authority, much as it may have been inclined to do so. Spaatz and Brig. Gen. Hugh J. Knerr, USSTAF’s deputy for administration, strongly opposed all moves on the part of the Ninth toward self-containment and insisted on retaining unified administrative and logistical control of all American air forces in the theater, even after the move to the continent, in order to avoid possibly
harmful competition between the Eighth and Ninth for supplies. Although as late as May and June 1944 some plans officers at AAF Headquarters in Washington were still recommending that the Ninth Air Force be logistically independent of the United Kingdom base when it moved to France, Arnold agreed with Spaatz and Knerr in July. The Ninth Air Force was destined to remain under the full administrative and logistical control of USSTAF.11
There was also a major organizational issue, at least from Brereton’s point of view, in relations between the Ninth Air Force and the AEAF. Leigh-Mallory wished to establish an Allied tactical air force headquarters, under command of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, for the operational control of the Ninth Air Force and RAF’s Second Tactical Air Force, an arrangement that would leave Leigh-Mallory free to coordinate the efforts of the strategic and tactical air forces at the highest air level in the theater. Brereton vigorously resisted this proposal to interpose another headquarters between himself and the Allied air commander, and not until April 1944 was the issue settled. At that time it was agreed that Coningham should direct the operations of both tactical air forces through an advanced headquarters of the AEAF during the assault phase of OVERLORD. Thereafter, Brereton and Coningham would be directly responsible to AEAF headquarters for the operations of their respective air forces.12
While the Ninth Air Force was seeking to find its place within the organizational framework of the theater, it worked swiftly to develop its internal organization in response to the constant pressure of time. The headquarters at Sunninghill was organized along traditional staff lines with most of the key positions occupied by officers who had come from Egypt or from the headquarters staff of the VIII Air Support Command, which had been long resident at Sunninghill.13 The merger of the two staffs not only combined the operational experience of the two organizations but preserved the continuity of control over the various subordinate echelons which had been transferred from the Eighth Air Force.
On arrival in England, IX Bomber Command headquarters joined and absorbed the headquarters of the 3rd Bombardment Wing* at Marks Hall, Essex. Col. Samuel E. Anderson, whose command of the 3rd Wing since July 1943 had afforded him much experience as a medium bomber commander, was appointed commander of the IX
* See Vol. II, p. 634.
Bomber Command, a position he retained until the end of the war. The 3rd Wing brought with it to the Ninth four medium bombardment groups the 322nd, 323rd, 386th, and 387th which became the nucleus of the bomber command.14 Until February, these four groups, divided between the 98th and 99th Combat Bombardment Wings, constituted the total operational strength of the bomber command. In a two-month period beginning in February, four more medium (B-26) and three light (A-20) bombardment groups arrived from the United States. The eight medium groups were divided between the 98th and 99th Wings and the three light bombardment groups were placed under the 97th Combat Bombardment Wing. Before D-day the bomber command had reached its full strength of eleven groups* and more than 21,000 men.15
The development of the IX Fighter Command was much more complicated than that of the bomber command. Like the IX Bomber Command, the nucleus of the fighter command’s headquarters staff came from Egypt and was augmented by personnel from the Eighth Air Force, in this instance, the headquarters and headquarters squadron of the 1st Fighter Division (Prov.) of the VIII Air Support Command, Brig. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada, who had acquired an outstanding reputation as a fighter commander with the old Ninth Air Force, came from Africa to take command of the IX Fighter Command. By the end of November he had assembled his staff and established a headquarters at Middle Wallop, in Hampshire.16
The Ninth Air Force intended from the beginning that the IX Fighter Command should be primarily a training headquarters, preparing fighter groups for combat and aiding in the development of air support commands, of which there was to be one for each of the two US. armies participating in OVERLORD. It had been planned that after the establishment of the air support commands the fighter command would cease to be active, that its personnel would be divided between the new air support headquarters, add that IX Air Support Command, under Quesada, would foster the fledgling XIX Air Support Command, of which Brig. Gen. Otto P. Weyland assumed command three days after its activation on 1 February 1944. In the end, however, it was decided to retain the fighter command as an organization under Quesada’s command. In February the AEAF established at
* The additional groups were the 344th, 391st, 394th, and 397th (B-26) and the 409th, 410th, and 416th (A-20).
Uxbridge, west of London, a combined fighter control center which was to control all fighter operations against the continent. The Second ‘Tactical Air Force was represented by the officer commanding No. 11 Group, an air vice marshal, and the Ninth decided to retain the fighter command with Quesada as commander “simply,” as General Strahm put it, “for the purpose of preserving that level to give General Brereton’s representative parity with the Composite Group level at Uxbridge.”17 Quesada selected an operational staff from both the IX and XIX Air Support Commands (redesignated in April as the IX and XIX Tactical Air Commands) to man the control center.18 Through IX Fighter Command, Quesada was able to retain control of the operations and training of all of the Ninth’s fighter groups down to D-day.
The build-up of the fighter command and its subordinate tactical air commands was complicated by competition between the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces for the fighter groups arriving from the United States. In the fall of 1943 it was expected that eventually there would be thirty-six fighter groups in the two air forces, of which the Eighth would get fifteen and the Ninth twenty-one. All three major fighter types P-38, P-47, and P-51 were available in the theater, but it was decided that the Ninth would get the P-51’s. The outstanding performance of the P-51 as a long-range escort fighter,* however, led to a change in allocations. By the end of January, when it seemed likely that there would be only thirty-three instead of thirty-six groups in the theater, USSTAF had decided to allocate the fighters as follows:19
|Eighth Air Force||Ninth Air Force|
|Seven P-51 groups||Thirteen P-47 groups|
|Four P-38 groups||Three P-38 groups|
|Four P-47 groups||Two P-51 groups|
A steady flow of fighter groups began arriving in February, and by May all eighteen Ninth Air Force groups were assigned to five fighter wings: the 70th, 71st, 84th, 100th, and 303rd. During the pre-assault period the revivified fighter command also controlled miscellaneous photo reconnaissance, tactical reconnaissance, night fighter, and liaison units. All told, the command included approximately 36,000 men and 1,500 aircraft.20
Of the operational commands, the IX Troop Carrier Command was the slowest in reaching its ultimate strength because most of its groups did not arrive in the theater until March 1944. When Brig. Gen. Benjamin
* See above, pp. 11-12.
F. Giles, who had been engaged in troop carrier operations in the Mediterranean during 1943, assumed command on 16 October 1943, he had on hand the nucleus of a headquarters staff from the provisional troop carrier command of the Eighth Air Force, which had been in existence since September and was now disbanded. Giles’s new command consisted of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing, including the 315th and 434th Groups.21 In February the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing arrived in the theater from the United States, and in March, the 52nd Wing came from Sicily with its four groups. The arrival of other groups from the United States brought the total strength of the command to three wings comprising fourteen groups.* A reshuffling of the command during the spring assigned five groups each to the 52nd and 53rd Wings and four groups to the 50th. On 25 February, Brig, Gen. Paul L. Williams, who had commanded the XII Troop Carrier Command in the Mediterranean, succeeded General Giles as commander, and augmented the headquarters staff with a number of experienced officers he brought with him from the Mediterranean area. At the beginning of June, the troop carrier command numbered almost 30,000 men.22
Unique among the commands of the Ninth Air Force was the IX Air Defense Command, which came into existence as the result of the Ninth’s desire for an organization which would leave the tactical air commands free of any rear-area defense responsibilities on the continent. During almost the entire existence of the defense command, it had assigned to it only a headquarters and a few miscellaneous units, chiefly signal air warning battalions, and its actual assigned strength ranged from fewer than 1,400 to a little more than 5,200 men. Nevertheless, it directed, at times, the operations of more than 30,000 men, most of them antiaircraft artillery units attached to the command. These ground force units, much to the disappointment of General Arnold and the Ninth Air Force, remained assigned to the ground forces until almost the very end of the war in Europe.23 The major elements of the air defense command were the antiaircraft units signal air warning battalions and night fighter squadrons. The basic antiaircraft units, the battalions, were organized into groups of three each, and these, in turn, into brigades. The organization of the air force elements of the command was never stable for very long, as conditions changed and units were transferred in and out of the command.24
* The twelve additional groups were the 61st, 313th, 314th, 316th, 435th, 436th, 437th, 438th, 439th, 440th, 441st, and 442nd.
In accordance with earlier plans, the Ninth Air Force had set up at Sunninghill, under Brig. Gen. Dale D. Hinman, a staff to plan the organization of an air defense command. In December 1943, Brig. Gen. William L. Richardson, an experienced antiaircraft officer, succeeded General Hinman. After many appeals to the War Department and much shuffling of administrative papers, the IX Air Defense Command was legitimatized by the War Department in March 1944 and activated by the Ninth Air Force on the 30th of that month,25 but not until after the landings on the continent did the IX Air Defense Command come into its own as a combat agency of the Ninth Air Force.
The IX Air Force Service Command* was more clearly patterned after its Eighth Air Force opposite number than any of the other Ninth Air Force commands. A number of officers and enlisted men had been brought to England from Egypt, but most of the key members of the headquarters came from the Eighth Air Force. General Miller,† for most of the past year the commander of the VIII AFSC, took over the IX AFSC in October 1943 and brought with him members of his former staff. From the Tactical Air Depot Area‡ came additional officers and men to round out a headquarters staff rich in experience. In mid-November, the service command headquarters moved into newly constructed quarters across from the Ascot race course, adjacent to the Ninth Air Force headquarters at Sunninghill Park.26
The projected size of the Ninth Air Force and the scope of its operations clearly required a large and mobile service command. The service command, in turn, recognized early that its own size and wide-flung operations made decentralization of its organization desirable. Accordingly, borrowing from the experience of VIII AFSC,§ in October it set up a base air depot area (BADA) and an advanced air depot area (AADA) which were areas in terms of function rather than geography. The base air depot area was intended primarily for supply and aircraft assembly functions. In December the IX AFSC divided the advanced air depot area into a 1st and 2nd AADA. This further decentralization of the command was purportedly in preparation
* Originally known as the IX Air Service Command, the name was changed to IX Air Force Service Command by an unnumbered Ninth Air Force Memorandum of 29 Jan. 1944. The latter form is used throughout this chapter for convenience.
† On 5 May, Brig. Gen. Myron R. Wood succeeded General Miller as commander of the IX AFSC.
‡ See Vol. II, pp. 644-45.
for the move to the continent, where mobile warfare would require decentralized operations. In addition, the two headquarters could be, and were, of value in organizing and training the many service units formed in the United Kingdom by the IX AFSC.27 General Miller and his staff succeeded in having the service groups, as well as the air depot groups assigned to the service command. All of these groups, in turn, were assigned to the advanced air depot areas, which contained the bulk of the service command strength and performed the major part of its functions. In all, the IX AFSC had twelve air depot groups by the spring of 1944. From the VIII AFSC came five experienced and three inexperienced air depot groups, and the IX AFSC organized four new ones by splitting old ones in two and adding personnel.28
The success of the strategic air depots in the Eighth Air Force pointed the way for the organization of the tactical air depots in the Ninth. The air depot groups were paired, usually an experienced and an inexperienced group, and six tactical air depots were established. The two depot groups, although sharing the same stations, remained independent insofar as their actual operations were concerned and no attempt was made to set up a depot headquarters. This type of organization was desirable because it permitted maximum utilization of existing sites and of the specialized types of units which were usually attached to air depot groups signal companies, military police companies, station complements, etc. Furthermore, the device of two air depot groups working together would produce a continuity of service when the time came to move to the continent, for one group could go ahead and while it was in transit and establishing itself, the other could carry on with the work in England. The tactical air depots theoretically specialized in different types of aircraft, but in practice there was much overlapping. The six depots were divided equally between the 1st and 2nd AADA’s.29
The service groups, which were assigned to and administered by, the advanced air depot areas, were under the technical control of the tactical air depots, each of which supported anywhere from four to fourteen service teams. Like the Eighth, once again, the IX AFSC found it expedient, beginning in December 1943, to split the service group into two equal parts (designated teams A and B),* each of
* Each team usually consisted of one service squadron; one ordnance supply and maintenance company; one-half of a supply and maintenance signal company; one-half of a QM company, service group; one-half of a QM truck company, aviation; four units of the mobile reclamation and repair squadron; one-half of the chemical section of the service group headquarters; and a detachment of the medical section of service group headquarters, Each team contained about 500 men.
which was stationed with a combat group. Unlike the Eighth, which was forming subdepots out of its service groups, the IX AFSC retained the service group headquarters, which usually resided with Team A and administered both teams.30 Once again, this was done with an eye to future operations on the continent, where it might be necessary to operate the service group as an entity rather than as two teams.
The structure of the service command was completed by the organization of several miscellaneous agencies. The 13th and 20th Replacement Control Depots permitted the command to handle the receipt, processing, and distribution of personnel, with the exception of combat crews, for the whole air force. Two truck regiments, one of which was a provisional organization, and an air transport group, also responsible directly to service command headquarters, formed an integral and indispensable part of a command which would depend heavily upon mobility for the performance of its function.31
Testifying to the ubiquitous role played by the IX AFSC in support of Ninth Air Force operations was its No. 1 rank in size among the Ninth’s commands from the very beginning. Unlike the combat commands, which received from the Zone of Interior groups already organized and trained, the service command had to organize and train in the theater a large number of its units particularly air depot and service groups. During the “Gold Rush” period of late 1943 and early 1944,* the service command received thousands of casual officers and men who had to be trained and organized into units in a short period of time. By D-day the command had reached its maximum strength of approximately 60,000 officers and men, ten times its strength of 16 October 1943 and more than a third of the total strength of the air force.32
Early tactical air force planning during 1943 had made no provision for an engineer command, but the Ninth Air Force recognized the need for one from the beginning. The example of the North African campaign, while the aviation engineers had functioned as an integral part of the air force, was still fresh in the minds of Brereton and his
* See Vol. II, pp. 640-41.
commanders. Accordingly, Brereton urged that the AAF secure from the War Department permission for the Ninth to activate an engineer command. In November he directed the engineer section of his headquarters to assume the functions of a command. After a long period of negotiations with AAF Headquarters and the War Department, during which a provisional engineer headquarters directed the training of engineer battalions, the Ninth received permission to activate the IX Engineer Command on 30 March 1944. Early organization, planning, and training were carried out under the direction of Col. Karl B. Schilling; on 25 January, Brig. Gen. James B. Newman assumed command of the provisional organization.33
The engineer aviation battalions and regiments in the theater had been under the control of the Services of Supply since 1942 and had been performing construction work on all types of military installations. It was vital that they be trained thoroughly in the type of construction work they would be doing on the continent, and to this end arrangements were made to transfer the units to the IX Engineer Command, beginning 1 December 1943. Even more than the other commands of the Ninth Air Force, the engineer command would have to be mobile and flexible in order to carry out its task of building and repairing airfields in the wake of the Allied armies on the continent. Accordingly, sixteen battalions were grouped under four regimental headquarters and the command headquarters itself retained control of the three airborne battalions and the camouflage battalion.34
Although it possessed its own engineer command by the spring of 1944, the Ninth Air Force, like the Eighth Air Force before it, was largely dependent in the United Kingdom on the building program undertaken by the British Air Ministry on behalf of the American air forces. The race between the construction of airdromes and the arrival of combat groups in the theater continued until the Ninth received its last group in April 1944, but at least minimum facilities were always available when needed.35
The problems faced by the Ninth in accommodating its units were similar to those which had faced the Eighth during its first twelve to eighteen months in the United Kingdom. The almost daily multiplication of headquarters within the various commands during the fall and winter created a demand for headquarters sites which had not been foreseen in original building plans. Additional facilities were found, but often only at the expense of extra construction work.36 The lack
of time or means to enlarge bases which were overcrowded caused resort to tent camps which could be erected easily and quickly. Many larger units, particularly service and air depot groups, had to parcel out their men among many small camps in order to house them, and the task of reassembling them at one place sometimes took months. Storage space for equipment and supplies, large quantities of which had to be housed under canvas or left in the open, was particularly inadequate at many depots and bases. Finally, runways on the fighter bases had been built originally for the light British planes, but it was the comparatively heavy P-47 which became the Ninth’s chief fighter aircraft. During the winter and early spring of 1944 an extensive program for strengthening and lengthening runways was undertaken.37
The advanced landing grounds, the last combat installations to be occupied by the Ninth in England, were especially deficient in facilities of all kinds. Since they were only temporary airfields, most of them had merely grass or Sommerfeld track runways. These proved to be inadequate for the Ninth’s fighters and had to be extended or replaced by a more durable surface, usually pierced-steel plank. Most of the landing grounds were crowded to more than twice their capacities, and the units which occupied them lived under virtual field conditions, in tents, short of water, and with difficult sanitation problems.38
By May 1944 the tactical disposition of the Ninth Air Force in England was complete. In East Anglia, IX Bomber Command headquarters and its eleven bases all in Essex were situated immediately to the north and northeast of London.39 Fighter bases, divided between IX Tactical Air Command and the newly formed XIX Tactical Air Command, were concentrated in two distinct areas. The IX TAC’s eleven fighter and fighter-bomber groups and its 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group were closely concentrated in the Hampshire area, extending south to the coast. All of the XIX TAC’s seven groups were on advanced landing grounds in Kent, the corner of England immediately to the southeast of London and opposite the Pas-de-Calais.40 The troop carrier command’s fourteen combat bases were more scattered than those of the other combat commands. Six bases were clustered in the counties on the western edge of East Anglia, in the vicinity of the command headquarters at Grantham Lodge in Lincolnshire. Five other groups occupied fields in Berkshire and Wiltshire,
southwest of Oxford; and a third cluster of three stations was still farther to the southwest, close to the coast of Devon and Somersetshire, in accordance with the wishes of the IX Troop Carrier Command.41
The service command’s depots and other installations were centrally situated with reference to the stations of the tactical commands. Four of the tactical air depots were in Berkshire and Hampshire, west and southwest of London, while the other two were in Essex and Lincolnshire, close to large clusters of combat stations. The other service command installations minor depots, truck transport stations, replacement depots, etc. were scattered throughout the area stretching to the coasts south and west of London.42
Prior to April 1944, Ninth Air Force operations were dictated largely by requirements of POINTBLANK and CROSSBOW. Directives from the Combined Chiefs of Staff accorded first claim on all the theater’s air resources to the Eighth Air Force’s climactic campaign against the GAF. While the Ninth’s medium bombers struck at enemy airfields and other installations along the coast of the continent in coordination with the deeper penetrations of enemy territory by the heavy bombers, Ninth Air Force fighters flew escort for the bomber formations of the Eighth. The emergence of the V-weapon menace late in 1943 introduced a new set of high-priority targets whose claims for a time also took precedence over operations directly related to the impending invasion of Normandy.
The early combat history of the Ninth Air Force in ETO is largely the story of its bomber command, which in October 1943 took over the four B-26 groups that had been operating under the VIII Air Support Command. These groups, after an ill-fated low-level attack on Ijmuiden in the preceding May,* had resumed operations on 16 July. The improved showing of the B-26’s, now flying at 12,000 to 15,000 feet rather than at the low levels employed in May, helped allay many of the fears concerning the Marauders which had been current after the Ijmuiden operation.43 VIII ASC reached the peak of its activities in the Anglo-American STARKEY operations of late August and early September† and on 9 October directed its last
* See Vol. II, pp. 339-41.
† Ibid., pp. 688-89. Between 25 August and 9 September VIII ASC dispatched more than 1, 700 aircraft of which number 1,300 actually attacked continental targets with a total loss of 9 planes.
mission a strike against the Woensdrecht airfield in Holland.44 When next the B-26’s operated, in a minor strike on 22 October against. the Évreux/Fauville airdrome, it was under the aegis of IX Bomber Command.45
That command found itself bound by the same directives which had previously governed the operations of the medium bombers, and their pattern of operations remained substantially unchanged, except for the addition of CROSSBOW targets beginning in November. Even when the Ninth passed to the operational control of the AEAF on 15 December, the basic objective of the mediums remained the same to reduce the enemy fighter force in northwest Europe by attacking enemy airfields and industrial installations. Operations in support of VIII Bomber Command thus remained the first priority and CROSSBOW operations were placed second.46
Against enemy airdromes in France and the Low Countries the B-26’s achieved indifferent results, at best merely denying the GAF use of those fields for short periods of time, It had been hoped that the medium attacks would serve to draw enemy fighters away from the heavy bombers, and the heavy and medium missions were accordingly coordinated for that purpose. But the Germans elected to withdraw their fighters from the advanced fields for concentrations against the heavies, and seldom were any enemy aircraft found on the fields under attack. “Never,” wrote Brereton in November 1943, “so far as is known, have enemy fighters been drawn from adjacent areas to attack the mediums when a large force of heavies was on the screen.”47 Even when Leigh-Mallory acted on Brereton’s suggestion that the efficient escort for medium bombers provided by 11 Group of the RAF be reduced as an invitation to the enemy to engage the B-26’s,48 German fighter reaction showed no great increase and medium bomber losses remained low. Some of the attacks on airdromes produced good results in terms of damage to installations and facilities, as in the attack of 3 November by seventy-two Marauders on the airdrome at St.-André-de-l’Eure. On 1 December successful attacks were made on airfields at Cambrai/Niergnies and Lille/Vendeville in northern France, and on 13 December, in the largest mission yet undertaken by IX Bomber Command, 199 planes dropped almost 400 tons of bombs on the Amsterdam-Schiphol airdrome, inflicting severe damage. But the attrition forced upon the enemy remained small, and in January 1944 only one attack was directed against an airdrome target at Cherbourg/Maupertuis on the 7th.49
The growing concern in December over the V-weapon threat caused Leigh-Mallory to direct the mediums increasingly against V-weapon sites. This change found justification in the feeling on the part of tactical air commanders that the attacks against enemy airfields had proved ineffectual,50 but the strategic air commanders disagreed.” It is absolutely essential,” Spaatz wrote Arnold on 1 February 1944,” that mediums attack airdromes properly timed with our attacks to secure not only the maximum protection to our own formations, but the maximum destruction of the German Air Force.”51 As the result of visits and letters from Spaatz and Fred Anderson, the Air Ministry early in February asked Leigh-Mallory to make it clear to all concerned that CROSSBOW’S claim to the services of the medium bombers ranked second to that of POINTBLANK. Nevertheless, Spaatz continued to find during February reason to complain of AEAF’s refusal to send the mediums against airfields as requested by USSTAF.52 The failure to achieve cooperation between USSTAF and AEAF, coupled with other differences over the training of Ninth Air Force units and over control of the strategic air forces themselves, created an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between the two headquarters, which was the exception rather than the rule in Anglo-American relations in the European theater. The fact that medium attacks on NOBALL targets (German launching sites) were usually coordinated with heavy bomber missions so as to provide some diversion had little effect in easing the tension.
Whatever the justification for Eighth Air Force complaints regarding the use of the Ninth’s medium bombers, there existed no cause for dissatisfaction over the employment of Ninth Air Force fighters. Through January the 354th Fighter Group, which had reached the theater with its P-51’s in November and was assigned to IX Fighter Command, operated under the control of VIII Fighter Command. The first operation by Ninth Air Force fighters came on 1 December, when twenty-eight P-51’s executed a sweep over northwestern France. On 5 December the Mustangs flew their first escort mission, a comparatively short one to the Amiens area, and on 13 December the P-51’s, in company with the Eighth’s 55th Fighter Group (P-38’s), escorted the B-17’s 490 miles by a dogleg course across the North Sea to Kiel and back. This was the longest fighter escort mission yet flown and presaged the loss by the GAF of control of the air over Germany during American heavy bomber attacks.53 In January the Mustangs flew 325 effective sorties, 36 less than in December a decline
attributable in part to a firing defect in the P-51’s guns which caused many abortive sorties.54 But corrective action had been initiated by the end of the month, and with the addition of jettisonable tanks the P-51 became the outstanding long-range escort fighter so much so, in fact, that most of the newly arriving P-51 groups thereafter went to the Eighth Air Force.
With only five operational groups, four medium bombardment groups, and one fighter group, Ninth Air Force operations continued on a relatively small scale through January, but in February 1944 its operations were marked by a sharp upward swing. In a period of little more than three months after the opening of February, virtually all of the Ninth’s bomber and fighter groups became operational. The IX Bomber Command added four more medium and three light (A-20) bombardment groups, and the 354th Fighter Group was joined by seventeen additional fighter groups.*55 Contributing further to the increase in the bomber command’s operational rate was the development of a pathfinder squadron employing blind-bombing equipment and techniques developed by the RAF and the Eighth Air Force. As early as 21 February pathfinder planes led B-26’s of the 322nd Bombardment Group to their target Coxyde airdrome in Holland.56
The medium bombers expended the major part of their growing effort against V-weapon sites during February. On 8 February, for the first time, the bomber command sent out two missions on a single day, and on 9 February the first of a long series of attacks on marshalling yards was carried out against Tergnier in northern France. In coordination with the Big Week operations of the Eighth Air Force against the German aircraft industry the medium bombers, on 24 and 25 February, attacked enemy airfields in Holland Leeuwarden, Gilze-Rijen, Venlo, and St.-Trond and NOBALL sites in France. During February the B-26’s flew 2, 328 effective sorties and dropped more than 3,300 tons of bombs. They lost twenty aircraft, more than the total for the preceding three months.57 Through the early days of March the NOBALL sites continued to provide the
* The fighter groups, arranged in the order of the date on which they became operational, were:–
358th (P-47), 3 Feb.
362nd (P-47), 8 Feb.
365th (P-47), 22 Feb.
363rd (P-51), 22 Feb.
366th (P-47), 14 Mar.
368th (P-47), 14 Mar.
405th (P-47), 11 Apr.
371st (P-47), 12 Apr.
48th (P-47), 20 Apr.
474th (P-38), 25 Apr.
50th (P-47), 1 May
370th (P-38), 1 May
404th (P-47), 1 May
36th (P-47), 8 May
373rd (P-47), 8 May
406th (P-47), 9 May
367th (P-38), 9 May
major targets for IX Bomber Command, but by the middle of the month that command had turned its attention primarily to the preinvasion phase of the operations for which the Ninth Air Force had originally been created. Henceforth targets for its bombers would be selected chiefly in accordance with the program for wrecking the enemy’s transportation facilities on the continent.*
Escort missions still claimed the major share of the fighter effort. During February the number of effective sorties (1,778) was more than four times the number flown in January. The fighter groups, heretofore under the direct control of the VIII Fighter Command for operations, were placed under the 70th Fighter Wing of the IX TAC, and the Ninth moved toward complete control of its air units. On 3 February the 70th Fighter Wing controlled two of its groups in the air for the first time, and in March the fighter command took over operational planning control of its fighter groups. Ninth Air Force fighters played an important role in escorting Eighth Air Force bombers to aircraft targets in Germany during the Big Week of February, and on 4 March the fighters flew over Berlin for the first time.58 In addition to escorting the heavy bombers the fighters also accompanied the Ninth’s medium and light bombers on their missions, replacing in March the RAF Spitfires of 11 Group, which had heretofore provided most of the escort for these missions. More than 4,600 effective sorties were flown by the fighters during March, all but a few hundred of them in escort of bombers. With the advent of April the fighters definitely came into their own, executing strafing and bombing missions greater in number than those involving escort alone. On 9 May, the eighteenth and last of the Ninth’s fighter groups, the 367th, became operational.59
From being an adjunct of the Eighth Air Force the Ninth had emerged by the end of April as a full-fledged tactical air force. Beginning with a small attack by seven planes of the 366th Fighter Group against St.-Valéry airdrome on 15 March, Ninth Air Force fighters increasingly turned their attention to practicing the techniques of fighter bombing against continental targets.† On 26 March some 240 fighters drawn from five groups attacked marshalling yards and CROSSBOW targets in France. The fighters dropped 102 tons
* See below, pp. 149-62.
† After 20 May 1944 the Ninth Air Force referred to all fighter groups as fighter-bomber groups. The terms were eventually used interchangeably.
of explosives in March and more than ten times that amount in April.60 Already the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, an experienced and hard-working organization, had carried out the enormous task of photographing 160 miles of French coast and two inshore strips of 120 miles each under exceedingly hazardous conditions.61
In preparation for the accomplishment of its primary mission in support of the continental invasion, it was necessary for the Ninth Air Force to divide its attention among a variety of responsibilities, any one of which imposed a heavy burden upon its leaders. The expanding operations of the spring of 1944 depended upon a build-up of forces that proceeded at a rate imposing the heaviest possible administrative and organizational responsibility. These operations served as useful training for newly arriving units, but they frequently interfered with training programs designed to meet the peculiar needs of postinvasion operations. And while adjusting its organization to an unprecedented rate of build-up, the Ninth Air Force was also required to maintain a flexible structure that could be fitted readily to the demands of a highly mobile type of warfare on the continent.
Especially difficult were the tasks of logistical organization and planning, and from its very inception in the United Kingdom IX Air Force Service Command enjoyed a position of eminence within the Ninth Air Force beyond that of the average service command. Not only did air force headquarters divest itself of some of its administrative functions, as with the assignment to the service command of control over all personnel replacement depots,62 but it was recognized that a war of movement on the continent would require an unusually large, strong, and flexible logistical organization because of the wide dispersion of combat groups and the consequently long extension of supply lines.
Fortunately the IX AFSC, as a result of USSTAF’s assumption of administrative authority over both U.S. air forces in ETO, came under the control of the theater’s chief air logistical officer, for General Knerr insisted on eliminating all avoidable duplication of effort. Beginning in March 1944, Air Service Command, USSTAF progressively took over all base service functions. The IX AFSC did away with its base air depot area and on 17 May transferred its most important installations (Baverstock and Filton) to ASC, USSTAF,
which continued to use them to provide base services for the Ninth. Knerr actually went still further and assumed responsibility for and authority over service command functions below the level of advanced depots, “with such exceptions as experience may prove to be desirable.”63 During 1943 and early 1944, the IX AFSC had sought to organize a system which would give it maximum control of its own supply procurement. Against the opposition of Knerr this effort made little headway, although, for a while, from December 1943 until March 1944, the Ninth received permission to deal directly with the Air Service Command in the United States and the SOS in the theater for certain items of supply-specifically, Air Corps supplies for aircraft peculiar to the Ninth Air Force (A-20’s, B-26’s, and C-47’s) and certain ordnance, signal, and quartermaster supplies, particularly rations. Burtonwood, having been designated the supply control depot, in March 1944 was “charged with the responsibility for receiving and processing all requisitions for supplies to be obtained from the United States, the SOS, and the British, with such exceptions as may be authorized by ASC Headquarters, USSTAF from time to time.” The exceptions were rare.64
The Ninth’s supply system for both Air Corps and common-user items followed routine channels: from base depots through tactical air depots and service teams to the combat groups. Exceptions were made for certain signal and quartermaster items which the tactical air depots were permitted to secure directly from the SOS depots. Because of the special bomb and ammunition requirements of the Ninth, it was permitted to retain its own ordnance depot at Grovely Wood, Wiltshire, even after it had given up its other base depot functions. The tactical air depots were authorized a ninety-day level of supplies, which was attained or exceeded for some items and never reached for others.65
The supply system was bound together by a truck and air transport service which operated under the direction of the Transportation Division of IX AFSC headquarters. The truck companies, drawn from the service and air depot groups and organized into regiments, never reached the number actually authorized for the command; and, indeed, there was delay and difficulty in equipping those on hand. The 31st Air Transport Group was a valuable cog in the distribution machinery of the air force, flying cargo and personnel in support of operations,
playing the same role that the 27th Air Transport Group did for the Eighth Air Force.66
Supply problems of the Ninth prior to D-day were similar to those which had faced the Eighth during 1942 -43. The unit equipment problem was particularly aggravating because of the approach of D-day, which imposed a more rigid obligation on the Ninth than the Eighth had ever faced. The many special types of units which were activated in the theater complicated the problem because adequate arrangements had not been made for their supply. Then, too, the Eighth Air Force was organizing its subdepots, which were given priority for equipment ahead of the Ninth’s units. As late as April 1944 a number of IX AFSC depot and supply squadrons possessed as little as 5 to 15 per cent of their equipment, but the IX AFSC as a whole was more than 80 per cent equipped in March. In April, IX AFSC officers were given permission to visit the base depots and the Eighth Air Force service units in search of any equipment that could be made available. The speeding-up of the supply flow from the United States during the spring enabled the Ninth Air Force to have its units, with few exceptions, ready for full action on D-day.67
The higher priority of the Eighth Air Force for fighter planes for a time slowed the flow of aircraft to the Ninth. As fighter aircraft flooded into the theater during the late winter and spring of 1944, however, assembly and modification depots expanded their output and fighter groups received their full complements of planes. The prodigious increase in the rate of operations by both the Eighth and the Ninth led in May 1944 to a shortage of 75-gallon jettisonable tanks, which was remedied only by diverting to England from the United States tanks which had been intended for the China–Burma–India theater. By D-day the Ninth had almost reached its full strength in aircraft, including replacements more than 4,500 tactical planes plus almost 2,700 gliders.68
Other supply problems were solved in similar fashion by the arrival of huge quantities of supplies and equipment in the months before D-day. Bombs and ammunition had to be carefully husbanded, even during the spring, because the stockpiles in the theater were being consumed at a much faster rate than planners in the United States had expected; as a result, the Ninth’s bombers could not always have the type of bomb they requested for use against particular targets. Complaints about the shortage of small bombs were frequent. Aviation fuel
presented primarily a distribution and storage problem, particularly at the advanced landing grounds, which had been expanded far beyond their original capacities.69
The Ninth’s maintenance organization was patterned after that of the Eighth and leaned heavily on ASC, USSTAF for assistance. During its earlier months in England, while it still anticipated that it would be logistically independent of ASC, USSTAF, the IX AFSC made arrangements to perform much of its own assembly and modification work. Assembly depots were constructed in open fields at Filton in Gloucestershire and at Greenham Common in Berkshire, the latter for gliders. Assembly of aircraft increased steadily, reaching a peak of 496 in April and declining to 301 during May, when Filton was transferred to ASC, USSTAF. Glider assembly made slow progress until April when 930 gliders were assembled, and by the end of May the IX AFSC had assembled more than 2,000 gliders for the troop carrier command. By this time arrangements had been made for ASC, USSTAF to take over this work also, but the aircraft and glider assembly program of IX AFSC made a definite and substantial contribution to equipping the combat groups of the air force, for the ASC, USSTAF assembly depots could not have met the needs of both the Eighth and the Ninth at a time when dozens of new groups had to be equipped.70
By the end of 1943, when modifications had become a major function of the base air depots in the theater, the IX AFSC, in the interest of a faster flow of aircraft to the fighting units, undertook to modify planes at the tactical air depots. In December 1943 the tactical air depots were modifying B-26’s, P-47’s, and P-51’s; by March 1944 they were also modifying P-38’s, C-47’s, and gliders. The chief fighter modification involved the installation of jettisonable tanks. Service teams, some of whose combat groups had not yet arrived in the theater or were not yet in combat, were of great assistance in performing modifications on aircraft, using modification kits which had been sent from the base air depots via the tactical air depots. In all, from February through May, the tactical air depots and the service teams modified approximately 2,400 aircraft, more than 1,500 of them in April and May. After the Ninth began to move to France in June, the modification output of its service command declined to a fraction of April and May production and the base air depots of ASC, USSTAF assumed the larger part of the modification load. Thus, after D-day, the
theater air service command, which was already responsible for the receipt of all aircraft in the theater, assembled, modified, and delivered virtually all of the Ninth’s planes.71
Day-to-day maintenance and repair services remained in the hands of the tactical air depots and the service teams. The depots performed fourth-echelon repair and maintenance, overhauling engines and propellers and doing major repairs on heavily damaged planes; what they could not handle they sent on to Burtonwood and Warton. The two advanced air depot areas specialized in handling the various aircraft of the Ninth: the first area concentrated on bombers and miscellaneous aircraft; the second area handled the fighter aircraft. Service teams, like the Eighth Air Force subdepots, were located on the same stations with the combat groups and handled third-echelon repair and maintenance for them.72 Each service team had four of the nine self-sufficient and completely mobile units which comprised the reclamation and repair squadron assigned to the service group; the ninth unit was generally assigned to the service group headquarters.* The several mobile units could be sent wherever needed; they performed on-site repairs and routine maintenance work, salvaged aircraft, and even assisted in glider and aircraft assembly. In the period from February through May 1944 the service command performed maintenance and repair work on almost 2,400 aircraft. Most of the work was done by service teams, for the tactical air depots were largely occupied by the time-consuming modification of aircraft.73 By D-day the Ninth Air Force itself was completely self-sufficient in the performance of the first three echelons of maintenance, but it would remain partly dependent on the base air depots of ASC, USSTAF for fourth-echelon maintenance.
Meanwhile, a group of IX AFSC officers headed by Col. Vernon M. Babcock, one of the most experienced planning officers in the theater, had worked out in close collaboration with representatives of the British Second Tactical Air Force and of U.S. ground and naval headquarters the Ninth Air Force Administrative Plan for OVERLORD. Issued on 21 April 1944 and, after some revision, reissued on 8 May, this plan was based on three major assumptions: the air force would operate initially from England and would move to the continent as rapidly as possible after D-day; the United Kingdom would be the main base for OVERLORD; and the major repair facilities and the
* For the composition of these teams, see again p. 116n.
main reserves of men and equipment would remain also in the United Kingdom. The detailed plan itself was at almost all points subject to factors beyond the control of the air force the availability of invasion shipping, the movement priority actually accorded the air force, and the rate of build-up.74
In preparation for D-day, the service command would prestock the combat bases in the United Kingdom about D minus 15 and especially would stock each of the advanced landing grounds of IX and XIX Tactical Air Commands with 90,000 gallons of aviation gasoline, a precaution against the road congestion that would blanket all of southern England in the several weeks preceding D-day. With the supply of the combat bases thus assured, the service command could then use its trucks to help combat groups, airdrome squadrons, and service teams move to the ports of embarkation. The actual movement machinery would be in the hands of other agencies, but at key points in the transportation pipeline the Ninth would provide liaison officers who would help smooth the way for air force units. To replace anticipated losses of noncombat personnel on the continent, the service command would establish a reserve manpower pool of some 3,000 men in England.75
The build-up of units on the opposite shore was based on the availability of airfields to be constructed in France by IX Engineer Command. A construction program, worked out by a planning staff under Col. Herbert W. Ehrgott, called for two emergency landing strips* to be prepared on D-day, one on each of the two landing beaches. By D plus 3 there were to be two refueling and rearming strips† on OMAHA beach, and by D plus 8, four advanced landing grounds on OMAHA and one on UTAH. On D plus 14 there were to be five advanced landing grounds on OMAHA and three on UTAH; one runway on each beach was to be 5,000 feet, the others only 3,600 feet because of insufficient shipping for construction materials during the early build-up period. It was estimated that if the planned rate of ground advance was attained, a total of thirty-five advanced landing grounds would have to be constructed during the first forty days in order to accommodate all of the Ninth’s fighter and reconnaissance
* Rough, graded strips a proximately 2,000 feet long, designed to provide a place for belly landings of aircraft.
† Strips near the front lines, each with a runway and a marshalling area on each end of the runway, designed for use by aircraft whose bases were in England.
groups. Accordingly, the planned build-up of service forces was as follows:
|D plus 3||elements for the operation of two refueling and rearming strips.|
|D plus 8||elements for the operation of the refueling system* for 9 fighter squadrons, 5 fighter-bomber squadrons, and 1 fighter-reconnaissance squadron.|
|D plus 14||elements for the operation on the continent of one fighter-reconnaissance, 12 fighter-bomber, and 12 fighter squadrons.|
|D plus 24||elements for the operation of 37 squadrons.|
|D plus 40||elements for the operation of 58 squadrons.|
All of these squadrons would use fighter-type planes; the bomber and troop carrier aircraft would not come to the continent until later when larger and better airfields would be available.76 Since it was imperative that fighter groups be moved to the continent with a minimum of interference with their operations, it was planned that airdrome squadrons would precede the groups to the beaches and prepare the airfields for operations. After the flight echelons had established themselves in France, the ground echelons and then the service teams would follow. The airdrome squadrons would then move on to still more advanced airfields and the cycle would be repeated.77
Specially trained beach squadrons of the VIII AF Intransit Depot Group† would initiate service command operations on the beaches on D-day. Attached to ground force engineer special brigades, these squadrons would operate the air force’s supply dumps on the beaches, receiving, sorting, and distributing supplies. Army beach brigades would operate intransit areas on the beaches for the reception of both ground and air units and would route them to their destinations. Over-all direction of air service command activities in Normandy was to be in the hands of an advanced command headquarters, made up of personnel from IX AFSC headquarters and 2nd Advanced Air Depot Area which, it will be remembered, specialized in serving fighter groups.78
Initial Air Corps supply would be in the form of ten-day pack-up kits provided by the service command and carried by the airdrome squadrons. The service teams that were to follow later would bring with them a thirty-day supply for the aircraft they were to service. Prior to the arrival on D plus 29 of the first air depot group, bringing
* Use of an advanced field for a period of a few days by squadrons whose bases were in England or elsewhere in the rear. When the limits of servicing had been reached the squadrons would return to their regular bases and be replaced by fresh squadrons.
† In spite of the designation this unit belonged to the IX AFSC.
with it the supplies it actually had on hand in England, the flow of supplies would be from the air force dumps on the beaches to the airdrome squadrons or service teams and thence to the combat groups. After the air depot group was set up, it would receive supplies from England via the beach dumps and issue them to the airdrome squadrons and service teams. There was no specific plan to set up a base depot on the continent, but if and when one was established it would come under the control of USSTAF.79
The supply of POL (petrol, oil, lubricants) for all forces would be in the hands of the Communications Zone,* since the air force had no organization for the purpose. The air force would draw its POL from Communications Zone dumps and transport it in its own vehicles. After D plus 20 no packaged aviation POL would be sent to Normandy as the Communications Zone guaranteed that pipeline facilities for bulk gasoline would be in operation by D plus 15. The service command assumed responsibility for flying replacement aircraft to the combat units from its reserve pools at Membury and Chilbolton in England.80
The service command’s truck companies would go ashore in Normandy with the airdrome squadrons and service teams but immediately thereafter would revert to the control of their own battalion and regimental headquarters. Combat units and service teams would use their own vehicles to meet their needs, but the truck regiments would have to supply the bulk of the transportation for hauling supplies from the beaches and depots to the airfields. To the 31st Air Transport Group was assigned the task of operating a mail carrier service between England and the continent and transporting such materiel and personnel as it could handle.81
Aircraft maintenance would be initially in the hands of the airdrome squadrons, to be relieved later by the ground echelons of the combat groups. On their arrival on the continent, the service team would resume performance of third-echelon maintenance. As much repair as possible would be done on aircraft, but those which could still fly would be sent back to depots in England for repair. All engines in need of overhauling would be sent back to England also, for the air depot groups would not bring their engine overhaul equipment with them. Aside from this, the air depot groups would perform fourth-echelon maintenance and repair once they had established
* The Services of Supply, ETO was thus redesignated in June 1944.
themselves on the continent. Mobile reclamation and repair squadrons attached to the service teams would be responsible for third-echelon and some fourth-echelon maintenance of field artillery liaison aircraft. Salvage would be held on the continent until ports became available.82
The contributions of the Ninth Air Force to the landings in Normandy and the subsequent defeat of the German armies could not have been so impressively successful but for the intensive training in which it engaged during the seven months preceding June 1944. The high degree of readiness of the combat groups and their supporting service units on D-day attested to the energy and speed with which most of them had carried out their training assignments.
Training a tactical air force presented special problems of coordination with the ground armies, and many units required training for complex amphibious operations during the initial stages of OVERLORD. It was particularly important that mutual understanding of the principles of air-ground cooperation should exist between air and ground staffs. Accordingly, the Ninth Air Force conducted at its headquarters several series of lectures on air support operations for both ground and air officers, beginning in December 1943 and running through the spring of 1944. Those attending ranged all the way from ground and air force commanders down to division staff officers. Special attention was paid to the training of ground force officers who were assigned to combat groups as liaison officers for the purpose of interpreting the ground situation for the air force personnel.83
Experience in tactical air force operations was at a premium. Some of the commanders – notably Brereton and Quesada and their staffs had had much combat experience; but all of the combat units, with the exception of four medium bombardment and four troop carrier groups (these last did not arrive from the Mediterranean until March 1944 ), were new and inexperienced. The tactics and techniques of the European air war had reached heights of refinement not fully incorporated in training programs in the United States and there was need for thoroughgoing indoctrination of all new combat groups in the theater. The Eighth Air Force made available its schools and training aids, which were of special importance to the IX Fighter Command. The Ninth, also, made great use of the RAF’s special tactical schools, particularly the gunnery, army cooperation, and low-level attack schools.84
One theme ran constantly through the training programs undertaken by Ninth Air Force units, and that theme was mobility. All units were urged to “Keep Mobile” by retaining only a minimum of impedimenta and obtaining a maximum of transportation. All units were required to engage in mobility exercises, which often consisted of overnight moves from home stations to other stations or to bivouac areas and then return-exercises of more value and significance than many of the harassed and exasperated participants realized.85
The commands supervised the training programs of their units under the general direction of air force headquarters. The bomber command, thanks to its heritage of four medium bombardment groups from the VIII Air Support Command, possessed a greater reservoir of experience than was available to the other combat commands, but it still lacked experience in air-ground cooperation. Information was sought from the Twelfth Air Force in Italy, and in March and April, General Anderson and members of his staff visited Italy and observed tactical operations there.86 Much effort was devoted to the training of bomber crews in the use of the radar aids developed by the RAF and the Eighth Air Force, and in January a provisional pathfinder squadron was established. With an eye to future operations on the continent, groups were given experience in night flying. Bomber command units also participated in some of the joint amphibious exercises which were carried out at Slapton Sands, on the southern coast of Devonshire near Dartmouth, at intervals during the winter and spring.87 Even the four original bombardment groups of the Ninth Air Force, whose bombing incidentally showed diminishing returns in the spring, were withdrawn one a t a time from operations in April and May for a week of intensive bombing practice. This training proved its worth in the increased efficiency of the groups during the pre-D-day operations.88
The IX Fighter Command retained control of fighter training down to D-day. The unavoidable use of the fighters to support the strategic bombing campaign delayed their training as fighter-bombers until the late winter and spring of 1944, when the Ninth was released from the major part of its commitment in support of POINTBLANK. In February the training program was further retarded by the decision to equip virtually all of the fighter command’s groups with long-range tanks. The subsequent slowdown in delivery of aircraft and in training delayed the operational dates of several groups.89 Beginning in January, when Brig. Gen. Ned L. Schramm, commander of the 71st
Fighter Wing, and ten other officers visited Italy, the fighter command sent several groups of officers to the Twelfth Air Force to learn the lessons of air support. These officers did more than observe; they participated in regular missions and learned from personal experience. Qualified Twelfth Air Force officers were brought to England to help prepare programs and supervise the training of the Ninth’s fighter groups. The AEAF established a fighter leaders’ school, where skilled American and British pilots from Italy instructed more than one hundred Ninth Air Force pilots, as well as RAF pilots, by the beginning of May.90 By the end of that month, a number of groups still needed additional training in air support operations, but they all possessed the minimum necessary for combat.91
Since the IX Troop Carrier Command, unlike the other combat commands, engaged in no combat operations prior to D-day, it was able to devote most of its energies to training its groups. Of its fourteen groups, four had gained experience in the Mediterranean before being transferred to the Ninth in 1944. The other ten groups, all new units from the United States, had to be trained in the complexities of large-scale airborne operations. Like the bomber and fighter commands, the IX TCC sent representatives to the Mediterranean to study troop carrier operations. A large number of joint exercises with British and American airborne troops were carried out, particularly during April and May, with as many as three or four groups participating. Additional experience was gained by flying supply and medical evacuation missions within the United Kingdom. Like the bomber command, the troop carrier command established a pathfinder school for selected crews and devoted much time to night exercises in preparation for the predawn D-day airborne landings.92
The IX Air Force Service Command had one of the most difficult training tasks because large numbers of its troops arrived from the United States as casuals or fillers, unorganized and with a bare minimum of basic training. Others arrived with their qualifications obscured, and the Ninth had to carry out a major reclassification program which ultimately affected thousands of the new arrivals. The greater part of training was conducted on the job by the units themselves. This training was hampered by a shortage of unit equipment which persisted almost until D-day. The specialized training in RAF and ASC, USSTAF schools was accelerated in March when USSTAF gave the IX AFSC first priority on available technical training facilities
for the ensuing ten weeks. Much time was spent in preparing the special type units which would be required on the continent.93
The IX Engineer Command training program could not get under way until the SOS began to turn over to the Ninth Air Force the engineer battalions which would compose the command. Many of these had been in the theater for a year or more and were considered proficient in general construction work, but they needed training in advanced landing ground construction and the use of lightweight surfacing materials and, particularly, in basic infantry tactics, for more than any other Ninth Air Force units they would be subject to ground attack. Although there was difficulty in obtaining training sites for the battalions, the program was begun in December 1943 and carried forward steadily down to May 1944 when additional battalions were turned over by the SOS or arrived from the United States. In the course of their training some of the battalions had the opportunity to build or improve advanced landing grounds in East Anglia and in Kent and Southampton areas, but most of them later had to undertake the task on the continent without this experience. About 50 per cent of the training schedule time was devoted to basic infantry and engineering subjects. The command helped train the other Ninth Air Force commands in the use of camouflage and the handling of booby traps.94
It could hardly be said that the Ninth Air Force training program was in all particulars a model one, but the job got done and stood the test of critically important operations. If at points there was inefficiency there was also the mounting pressure of many other claims on time, resources, and men. The accomplishment, to be judged properly, must be viewed in the context of the over-all achievement credited to the air force. That achievement bespeaks much careful planning and efficiency of execution; it speaks too of a will that repeatedly overcame the mistakes and the confusion inherent in so large a military effort. More than one of those who shared in the effort can appreciate the comment of a highly experienced supply officer after his inspection of IX AFSC in May 1944: excellent results had been obtained, he observed, “by brute force [and] wasted manpower, transportation, and storage space rather than by efficiency of operation.”95