Chapter 16: Logistical Mobility
By the end of September 1944 the Ninth Air Force had moved bases to the continent, and all of its major headquarters and most of its troops from British at the close of October more than 90 per cent of that air force’s total strength was deployed on continental bases.1 For most Ninth Air Force units, moreover, the movement from England to the continent represented only the first in a succession of moves undertaken in the continuing effort to give tactical air power the mobility that is so fundamental to the accomplishment of its supporting mission. The Ninth’s experience, of course, was in no sense unique; the necessity for mobility can be documented by the experience of other air forces whose mission called for the support of advancing ground forces, and no small part of this history has been devoted to the devices, organizational and otherwise, through which in other parts of the world the AAF sought to discharge its responsibilities to the ground arm. But the experience of the Ninth Air Force in ETO, because of the time, place, and scale of its efforts, acquires a special significance which provides the warrant for a separate discussion here.
Movement to the Continent
The most complicated of the Ninth’s movements was the initial move from England to the continent. By May 1944 a build-up schedule had been carefully constructed to meet the tactical situation which was expected to develop on the continent. The IX Tactical Air Command, charged with air support for the U.S. First Army, would be the first of the combat commands to move to Normandy. After it would come the XIX TAC, which was to begin operations on 1 August, simultaneously with the unleashing of the U.S. Third Army against
the Germans. The IX Bomber Command and the IX Troop Carrier Command would come to the continent later, when sufficient airfields became available. But before even the fighter-bomber groups could move into Normandy, landing fields would have to be constructed, communications set up, and supply and maintenance furnished. Most of these tasks would have to be performed by the IX Engineer Command and IX Air Force Service Command. Consequently, the buildup schedule was an immense jigsaw puzzle made up of bits and pieces of almost every type of organization in the air force. In keeping with the requirements thus established, units of all types were shipped to the continent in as many as five or six detachments or echelons, and they often remained widely scattered for several months before being reunited somewhere in France or Belgium.
Some Ninth Air Force units had been alerted for movement as early as March, in order that they might have plenty of time to make all necessary preparations for the move.2 Air force units followed the same movement channels as ground force units except that the home station usually served as the concentration area, an arrangement which permitted combat groups to fly their missions almost without interruption during the course of the move. Combat crews, of course, flew their planes to the new fields in France, and some key personnel were flown from England to France in transport planes.3
The first Ninth Air Force men to land in France were apparently weather and communications specialists from the 21st Weather Squadron and the 40th Mobile Communications Squadron who parachuted with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in the first hours of D-day. Air support parties went ashore in the morning with early waves of infantrymen. The first Ninth Air Force unit ashore was Company A of the 819th Engineer Battalion (Avn.), part of which was led onto UTAH beach at 1050 hours (H plus 260 minutes) by Lt. Herbert H. Moore. A detachment of the 834th Engineer Battalion was prevented from landing at OMAHA beach by enemy fire and beach obstacles but finally got ashore on 7 June at St.-Laurent-sur-Mer, east of its originally scheduled landing place.*4 The “YF” detachment, composed of weather and communications personnel, was also turned back from OMAHA on D-day, but managed to get ashore the next day and was followed by two other detachments on 8 and 9 June. Meanwhile, an advanced echelon of the VIII Air Force Intransit Depot Group, which
* See below, p. 563.
landed on 7 and 8 June, began the organization of beach supply, although it did not get into full operation until 9 June because of the delay in landing supplies on OMAHA.5
Advanced echelons of various headquarters began going ashore on 7 June, when a detachment of the IX Air Force Service Command headquarters, including some personnel from 2nd Advanced Air Depot Area, landed on OMAHA. The IX AFSC opened its advanced headquarters at Cricqueville on 9 June. An echelon of the advanced headquarters of IX TAC’s 70th Fighter Wing, which directed fighter-bomber operations over the beachhead during the early days of the assault, landed on 7 June and achieved radio contact with England by 2200 hours. On 8 June the first echelon of the advanced headquarters of the Ninth Air Force landed, and on 9 June it located at Grandcamp-les-Bains, from where it quickly established radiotelephone service with Middle Wallop, headquarters of IX TAC in England. Also on 9 June, IX TAC’s advanced headquarters was set up at Au Gay.6 By 10 June more than 6,000 men and 1,000 vehicles from the Ninth Air Force had been landed in France, virtually all of them on OMAHA beach. Among the units ashore by 10 June were engineer battalions, airdrome squadrons, truck companies, signal units, and other service organizations which would prepare the way for the later arrival of the combat groups.7 By 20 June, more than 18,000 men and 4,000 vehicles had left England for the continent.8
The airdrome squadrons, of which three went ashore during the first week of the assault, moved to landing strips being prepared by the engineers and established fuel and ammunition dumps for the use of fighter-bomber squadrons operating on the roulement system.* The first combat squadrons began using continental strips on 13 and 14 June on a regularly scheduled basis and were serviced by the airdrome squadrons. The 395th Squadron of the 368th Fighter-Bomber Group, which began operating from Cardonville (Field A-3) on 19 June, was the first combat squadron permanently based on the continent. By 25 June, the 50th, 366th, and 368th Fighter-Bomber Groups, with three squadrons each, were conducting operations from their new bases in Normandy. Once the groups had established themselves, usually within a few days of their arrival, the airdrome squadrons moved on to other strips and the cycle was repeated.9
During the first two months of the invasion, both tactical air commands
* See above, p. 132.
moved to France in toto although later than originally scheduled. By the end of June, in addition to the three complete groups, the 310th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group and parts of six other fighter-bomber groups were in Normandy.10 As of 31 July the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance and the 10th Photo Reconnaissance Groups and all but one of the eighteen fighter-bomber groups were in France; by 8 August that group had arrived.11 Initially, all groups on the far shore were placed under the control of Maj. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada of the IX TAC, but on 1 August, Brig. Gen. Otto P. Weyland, whose XIX TAC had opened its advanced headquarters in Normandy on 7 July, assumed control of a number of groups simultaneously with the debut of Patton’s U.S. Third Army, for which it provided air support.12
Maj. Gen. Samuel E. Anderson did not begin to move the groups of his IX Bomber Command to France until the tactical air commands had completed their movements. In order to get some of the medium bombardment groups closer to the main arena of action in Normandy, the bomber command moved the 98th Bombardment Wing, with its four groups, from Essex to fields in the Bournemouth area in southern England during late July and early August. After scarcely two weeks at its new stations, the 98th began to move to France, and by early September had established itself on four fields in the Cherbourg peninsula.13 Here, as a result of the rapid German retreat across France and Belgium, it soon found itself almost as far from the enemy as were the bombardment wings in Essex. In September and October the 97th and 99th Wings moved to France, the 97th occupying fields to the south of Paris and the 99th to the north, between Paris and Amiens. The 98th, too, moved into this area, stopping for a brief time at fields around Orlkans and in October shifting to a group of fields in the CambraiLaon area, north of Paris. The 9th Bombardment Division* headquarters moved to Chartres in September and on to Reims in October, from where it directed the operations of its eleven groups.14
Immediately behind the combat groups in all of these movements came the service teams. Emphasis was placed on moving the mobile reclamation and repair squadrons to the continent, for they were ideally suited for use under the conditions which existed there. Truck companies were given high priority in shipment, for without their services no supply lines could be established and maintained. By the end of
* The IX BC was thus redesignated, effective 25 September 1944.
June there were three incomplete service groups in France, and as of 31 July all or part of nine service groups operated under 2nd AADA on the continent. By 1 September there were twenty-five service teams, the equivalent of twelve and one-half service groups, in France; and additional teams arrived with groups of the 9th Bombardment Division in September and October.15 The air depot groups, which were responsible for fourth-echelon supply and maintenance, did not begin moving until early July, and then only slowly. Their heavy impedimenta prevented them from being really mobile and special arrangements were necessary to move them. The 10th Air Depot Group moved to France early in July and was followed within a few weeks by the 16th and 42nd. By 1 September the 86th Air Depot Group had arrived and the four groups supported the twenty-five service teams on hand.16 Of the IX AFSC’s remaining subordinate organizations, the 20th Replacement Control Depot sent an advanced echelon ashore on D plus 10 and proceeded to build up a pool of some 3,000 replacements in France during the next several weeks.17 The 31st Air Transport Group began ferrying personnel and supplies to Normandy on D plus 4, and had transferred most of its activities to France by the end of the summer.18 The service command build-up was a steady one, progressing from 11,000 men either on hand or on the way at the end of June to more than 26,000 at the end of July and 35,000 at the end of August. At the end of September, 82.5 per cent of the service cominand’s 51,000 men were on the continent. This included virtually all of the service teams and all of the air depot groups but two.19
By this time the combat command headquarters organizations were all established and operating in France. The service command’s chief subcommands, the AADA’s,* set up their own headquarters, the 2nd AADA on 14 July and the 1st AADA in September, when the bombardment groups came to the continent. 1st AADA and 9th Bombardment Division headquarters were located side by side at Chartres, a situation that was mutually satisfactory since 1st AADA was responsible for the air depot groups and service teams which supported the bombardment groups. The IX AFSC headquarters was set up at Creil, thirty miles north of Paris, on LO September, and the advanced and main echelons of the headquarters were at last joined in one. A rear headquarters remained at Ascot in England to supervise the IX AFSC units there and maintain close contact with ASC, USSTAF agencies.
* See above, pp. 115-16.
Also in September, the Ninth Air Force reunited all of the scattered echelons of its headquarters at Chantilly, some twenty miles north of Paris. On 25 September it closed its rear headquarters at Sunninghill in England.20
Mobility on the Continent
From D-day until V-E Day the progress of the land campaign determined the extent and frequency of the moves undertaken by Ninth Air Force organizations, for the tactical air commands were closely tied to the operations of the ground armies and moved as close behind them as the availability of airfields permitted. Following hard on the heels of the ground troops, the aviation engineers were almost invariably in the vanguard of a Ninth Air Force movement. Immediately behind them came the airdrome squadrons, whose task it was to provide supplies and to service the fields for the initial operations of combat groups, after which they passed on to other fields but the same task. By the end of 1944, most of the airdrome squadrons on the continent had moved as many as seven or eight times since leaving England.21 The combat groups with their accompanying service teams sometimes occupied a field even before it had been made ready by the engineers and airdrome squadrons. The air depot groups, encumbered with heavy machinery and huge stocks of supplies, were the least mobile of all of the Ninth’s units and moved less often than most of the others. Other service units – particularly truck and signal construction battalions – found themselves scattered over western Europe, moving as the constant demands for their service warranted.22
Factors other than availability of fields also affected the rate of movement of the Ninth’s groups. The heavy fall and winter rains, coupled with the shortage of airfield surfacing materials, sometimes forced the occupation of a single field by two combat groups. Many movements were the results of organizational changes called forth by the tactical situation, as when the XXIX Tactical Air Command (Provisional), established on 14 September 1944,* drew its combat units from the older IX and XIX TAC’s.23
In addition to such transfers as these, temporary shifts of groups between commands were so common that within a period of a few months a command might have as few as three or as many as ten fighter-bomber groups.24 These changes, which usually reflected the relative intensity of ground operations along the several Army fronts, often required movement to new bases
* See below, p. 597.
of operations. Because of the coordination required in planning the location of airfields and in securing the necessary transportation, Ninth Air Force headquarters retained control of all movements, except for those of IX Engineer Command.* The responsibility for over-all planning was shared by that headquarters with interested Army groups and with AEAF, which controlled the allocation of airfields at the air force-army group level.25
The movements of the Ninth Air Force on the continent may be divided into four phases, of which the first, the beachhead phase, lasted for about two months after D-day. By 10 August all of the combat groups of the IX and XIX Tactical Air Commands and a host of engineer, air defense, and service units had been crowded into the limited area of the Normandy beachhead. In spite of the narrow confines, movements by Ninth Air Force units were frequent, particularly among engineer units and airdrome squadrons, most of which moved several times during this brief period.26 But all of these moves were short in terms of time and distance, and the strain on transportation was not great.
With the American breakthrough at St.-Lô and the subsequent withdrawal of the Germans across France and Belgium, the Ninth Air Force entered on the second and most hectic phase of its existence on the continent – one which lasted into October, well after the land battle had become stabilized in September. Within a matter of weeks after the breakout from the beachhead, fighter-bomber groups found themselves hundreds of miles behind the front lines instead of within hearing, and sometimes range, of artillery fire, but with the coming of August these groups began to advance steadily toward the German frontier. From Normandy they moved to clusters of airfields in the Le Mans–Chartres area and thence to the Paris area in September. By October most of the fighter-bomber groups were well to the north and east of Paris, and some of IX TAC’s groups were occupying fields in Belgium after their third move since leaving Normandy.27 IX TAC headquarters moved five times within a period of six weeks in August and September and XIX TAC headquarters, by the end of September, had moved at least eight times.28 The halt which succeeded these months of unceasing movement gave
* Because of the extremely mobile character of its mission, the IX Engineer Command was permitted to deal directly with the Communications Zone on transportation matters.
time for rearward units to be brought forward and for regrouping of commands and wings. During this period, which lasted into March 1945, organizations which for months had been scattered over France and Belgium in several echelons or detachments were at last united in one place and given a much-welcomed breathing spell. The 9th Bombardment Division completed its move to fields in the general area of Paris early in November and remained there throughout the winter. XIX TAC occupied fields in the northeast corner of France, south of the Belgian and Luxembourg borders. IX and XXIX TAGS were to the north, east of Brussels in Belgium, spilling over into the Dutch Appendix (Limburg).29 The First Tactical Air Force, whose units had been continually on the move since landing in southern France, advanced from the Lyon area to fields along a Dijon–Nancy axis, behind the 6th Army Group front. From its headquarters at Vittel, the First Tactical Air Force directed its medium bomber and French units, which were to the south in the Dijon–Besançon region, and XII TAC’s fighter groups to the north, in the area between St. Dizier and Lunéville.30
Beginning in March 1945, the Ninth Air Force followed the advancing Allied armies across the Rhine and to the Elbe. The three tactical air commands, with most of their groups, moved into Germany, lining up with the XXIX TAC at Brunswick on the north and the IX TAC at Nurnberg on the south. The First Tactical Air Force, too, moved into Germany and had advanced as far as Stuttgart by V-E Day. The 98th and 99th Bombardment Wings of the 9th Bombardment Division found their new bases in northeastern Belgium and across the frontier in Holland as fields were vacated by the advancing fighter-bomber groups. The 97th Bombardment Wing, with its three light bombardment groups, remained in a cluster of fields northwest of Reims, to which it had moved in February.31
The IX Troop Carrier Command* remained in England after most of the Ninth Air Force had moved to the continent. Its chief functions of hauling supplies to the continent and transporting the airborne divisions, which were still in England in September 1944, kept the IX TCC on its English bases. But in October, the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, with its four groups, moved to bases in the Le Mans area, and from there to the Chartres area in November. Beginning in February 1945, the other two troop carrier wings began to move to France.
* Transferred to USSTAF at the end of August 1944 for use in the First Allied Airborne Army.
In April, when the move was completed, the 53rd Wing had established itself in the OrlCans region, southeast of Paris, and the 50th Wing was in the Amiens region, north of Paris. These fields had become available when Ninth Air Force and British combat units moved on to more advanced areas.32
The mobility required of the Ninth Air Force by the campaigns on the continent made transport the key to the very existence of the air force. Of the major means of transport, two – water and rail – were controlled by the Communications Zone. The former was of importance chiefly in the movement of men and supplies across the Channel from England or across the Atlantic from the United States. It is true that supplies were also transported along the estensive inland waterway systems of France and Belgium, but this constituted only a fraction of the total. The use of rail transportation was greatly hampered and delayed by the extensive dislocation of the French and Belgian rail systems caused by Allied bombings. From the fall of 1944, when the French and Belgian rail systems began to revive, the Communications Zone made extensive use of the railroads to haul the large bulk of heavy supplies and equipment needed by the ground and air forces, but the trains were painfully slow. In late August it was estimated that the rail time between Cherbourg and Le Mans, some 200 miles apart, was two days, and it was hoped that the round-trip time, which loading and unloading increased to eight days, could be reduced to four.33
On the other two major means of transport – air and motor – the Ninth could draw from its own resources. The organic motor transport possessed by the major combat and service units had never been intended to be sufficient to meet all of their needs for hauling supplies and personnel, for this transportation too often consisted largely of jeeps and special-purpose vehicles, such as bomb-lift trucks and refueling units. The thirty-six vehicles allowed to a light bombardment squadron included twelve jeeps and fifteen bomb-lift or bomb-service trucks, and of the service squadron’s twenty-six vehicles, no less than fourteen were jeeps.34 For the hauling of supplies from depots and dumps and the movement of units, the Ninth had to rely on its truck companies and such assistance as it could get from the Communications Zone. Most of the Ninth’s truck companies, of which there were fifty-eight in October 1944,had originally been attached to the service and air depot groups, but early in its history in the European theater the air force had recognized the need for a centralized trucking organization.
Accordingly, approximately half of the truck companies attached to the service and air depot groups were withdrawn and organized into two truck regiments of three battalions each, under the IX AFSC. In August 1944 the regiments were redesignated as QM Truck Groups (Avn.).35
The major task of the truck companies on the continent was to haul supplies, including bombs and gasoline, from the depots and dumps to the combat stations. From the time that the first Ninth Air Force truck company went ashore on D plus 1 until the Allies broke out of the beachhead, motor transport for the Ninth was adequate to handle supply-hauling because of the small confines of the area. But with the extension of supply lines from the beaches and ports to the farther reaches of France and Belgium, the task of motor transport became increasingly difficult. The ground forces, of course, faced a transportation problem even more acute than that of the air force, and received accordingly a higher priority for both transportation and supplies. The Communications Zone even pressed into its service part of the truck pool of the Ninth Air Force during the breakneck race of the U.S. First and Third Armies across France and Belgium during August and September. With the necessity for these measures there can be little quarrel, but the effect on the air force was to put it on short supply and retard its movements.36 In addition, unavoidable delays in the construction of gasoline pipelines made it necessary for the Ninth’s trucks to assume the burden of hauling gasoline longer distances than had been anticipated. From the 1,461,700 gallons hauled by IX AFSC truck battalions to combat stations in Normandy in July, the quantity rose sharply to 7,750,000 in September, almost 10,000,000 in December, and more than 19,000,000 in April 1945.37
Supply tonnages hauled by these battalions also remained high with the exception of September 1944,when higher ground force priorities for gasoline and other supplies limited the cargoes hauled for the air force to less than 40,000 tons compared with more than 62,000 tons carried in August. In December, the month of the Battle of the Bulge, the tonnage rose to more than 87,000, a figure it did not reach again until the closing days of the war in April.38 A heavy load was also thrown on the organic transportation of the combat and service units, particularly the service teams, which had to supplement the work of the truck companies in hauling air force men and supplies over the lengthening distances between depots and combat stations. The establishment
of a base depot north of Paris in December, under a subcommand of ASC, USSTAF, relieved some of the pressure on the IX AFSC truck pool by bringing the chief supply depot closer to the forward units.39
The greater distances that had to be covered in moving units forward after August also increased the strain on motor transport. Often, fighter groups and their service teams had to move hundreds of miles, using only their own organic transportation, without assistance from the overworked truck companies of the central pool. During this period, according to 2nd AADA, a fighter group and its service team, using only their own organic transportation, required three weeks to complete a move of 150 miles.40 Later in the fall, when the truck battalions were available for assistance, the movement time was much reduced. In the early months of the invasion, when the area held by the Allies was small, movement of personnel was usually by foot or truck. With the build-up of personnel and the much longer moves from station to station, it was found desirable to shift much of the burden from trucks to trains and aircraft. From a total of almost 33,000 men carried by the central truck pool in July-August the number fell to less than 4,000 for September-October. Thereafter, it rose once more until it reached a peak of more than 18,000 in February 1945.41
Although ground transport carried almost all of the burden, air transport proved itself a vital part of the transportation system, not only of the Ninth Air Force but of the whole Allied war machine in Europe. The huge scale of combat, the vast arena in which it took place, and the mobile situation which prevailed for extended periods put a premium on transportation, and particularly on air transport. The major airlift problems which emerged between D-day and V-E Day were the result of the vastly expanded demands of the ground armies and the air forces for supply by air, far greater than had been anticipated or planned for OVERLORD.
On D-day there were no less than five separate American air transport organizations in the theater: a small naval air transport service; the European Division, AAF Air Transport Command; the IX Troop Carrier Command; the 31st Air Transport Group of the IX AFSC; and the 27th Air Transport Group of ASC, USSTAF. Each was responsible to a different headquarters and was charged with a variety of functions which limited its use in time of emergency.
The naval air transport service and the European Division, ATC
played only minor roles in intra-theater movement. IX Troop Carrier Command was unique among the air transport organizations in that its prime function was not logistical but tactical – the transport and resupply of airborne troops. Sometimes the IX Troop Carrier Command remained alerted for weeks waiting for an operation to be mounted, and at such times most of its groups were not available for logistical purposes. It was unfortunate that this command, which was many times larger than the total of all of the other air transport units in the theater – it had up to 1,400 C-47’s, C-53’s, and C-109’s, 2,000 gliders, and 40,000 men – could not make a greater contribution to airlift than it did.42 It suffered from a split personality in which the tactical dominated the logistical.
The two other air transport organizations, the 27th and 31st Air Transport Groups, were, prior to D-day, used almost exclusively for the logistical support of the air forces. On 1 September 1944, as a result of General Knerr’s recommendation to General Spaatz and in spite of strong opposition by Brig. Gen. Myron R. Wood, commander of the IX AFSC, both groups were assigned to the 302nd Transport Wing, which was designated as the central air transport agency for USSTAF under the control of ASC, USSTAF. This reorganization of USSTAF air transport was in keeping with Knerr’s doctrine of a centralized logistical control, but the application of the principle was immediately vitiated when Spaatz gave the Ninth Air Force permission to retain twenty-four C-47’s and twenty-four C-46’s for its own use. These planes the IX AFSC formed into the 1st Transport Group (Provisional), providing the necessary personnel from its own resources.43
The 30th Transport Wing remained responsible for all of the functions which had been carried out previously by its two groups. These functions had increased and intensified with the inauguration of OVERLORD. The 31st had begun its flights to the far shore on D plus 4, and by the end of August had shifted virtually all of its operations from the United Kingdom to France. By contrast with the well-ordered state of things in England, there was need on the continent for the utmost flexibility in meeting sudden and continual emergency requests. As the rapid and frequent movements of the fighter groups made them dependent on air transport for their very existence as combat units, it became obvious that the transport plane was the only carrier which could keep pace with them. The 302nd added the major part
of the effort of the 27th Air Transport Group, which previously had confined its activities to the United Kingdom, to that of the 31st on the continent, and placed the latter group under the operational control of the Ninth Air Force, which fixed priorities for it. In October the wing moved its headquarters from England to Paris.44
Major limitations on air transport operations resulted from a shortage of aircraft and landing fields on the continent. The 27th and 31st had long had to eke out their strength with assorted British aircraft and converted heavy bombers. In August 1944, in response to USSTAF’s urgings for planes to alleviate the critical situation in France, the AAF sent 100 ATC C-47’s from the United States. Even with this addition, the 302d’s strength in September was only 184 aircraft and 5,000 men. It became necessary from time to time to raise the maximum load limits in order to meet requirements.45 The difficulty of securing satisfactory landing fields in the early days stemmed from the omission of such fields from the OVERLORD plan. Even though the 31st, which faced the problem initially, secured a field (A-21C) for its own use before the end of June, it was still necessary for it to share other fields with combat units which were often loath to permit transport planes to land on their runways during operations. In July the 31st acquired its main transport field in Normandy at Colleville (A-22C). Quite properly, the Ninth gave first priority on airfields to tactical units, after which provision was made for the 31st. Later, when most of France and Belgium came into Allied hands and the importance of air transport – even ahead of tactical operations at times – was realized, the necessary fields were usually available.46
The 302nd carried out the basic function of ferrying aircraft for all of the air forces in the European theater. The wing also maintained regular passenger and mail routes throughout the theater, including a special air-dispatch letter service (ADLS) to and on the continent, After D-day the number of passengers carried rose sharply in response to the needs of both air and ground forces for quick passage to the continent. Between June 1944 and May 1945 the 302nd and the 1st Transport Group carried a total of 336,183 passengers. This compared favorably with the much larger IX Troop Carrier Command, which between October 1943 and May 1945 carried 342,162 passengers other than tactical troops.47
A major function of the 302nd was the evacuation of wounded soldiers from the continent to the United Kingdom and later to rear
areas on the continent. Although this was a primary responsibility of the IX Troop Carrier Command, the 31st Air Transport Group to the end of August 1944 evacuated most of the casualties from the continent-a total of 26,000. By September, however, the IX TCC had acquired ten air medical evacuation squadrons which assumed the major part of the burden. Nevertheless, by the end of the war, the 302nd had evacuated more than 171,000 patients by air as compared with some 210,000 by the IX TCC.48
The need for continuous and rapid niovement by the Ninth Air Force required that the air transport groups help units move their men and equipment from one base to another. During July and August the 31st helped many of the fighter groups fly their key men and equipment to their new bases in France. From September onward it was routine for the 302nd to move parts of units by air. Fortunately, at times the wing was able to call for assistance from the IX TCC.49
By far the most important task of the 302nd was to carry cargo for the air and ground forces, particularly the Ninth Air Force. By the end of August the 31st Air Transport Group alone had carried 6,800 tons of cargo to the far shore. Between June 1944 and May 1945, the 31st and 27th together carried almost 82,000 tons of cargo, most of it to or on the continent, and most of it for the Ninth Air Force. To this may be added 7,600 tons carried by the 1stAir Transport Group, for a total of almost 90,000 tons. For the period October 1943 – May 1945, the IX TCC carried more than 232,000 tons of freight, exclusive of tonnage carried in airborne operations.50
The dependency of the air forces on air transport was highlighted in November when almost half of the 5,000 tons of Air Corps supplies sent to the continent by the base air depots in England traveled By air. For many months the Ninth Air Force received a portion of its fuel supply by air. In September, the wing flew 3,500 tons (including weight of containers) of gasoline to air and ground units on the continent, and in November almost 1,200 tons to the 12th Army Group alone. The variety of cargo carried by the 302nd reflected the origins of the emergency requests it received. In November, for instance, it carried such diverse items as medical supplies, blankets, overshoes, flares, rockets, tires, ammunition, cigarettes, communications equipment, heaters, aircraft engines, gas pumps, and packaged petroleurn products.51
From time to time during the war the 302nd Transport Wing found
itself among the air transport agencies thrown into the breach created in the supply lines of the ground armies in times of crisis. The first such crisis occurred in September, when the armies of Hodges and Patton far outran the capacity of ground transport to supply them. The potentialities of air supply of the ground armies had been considered by SHAEF prior to D-day and an organization to coordinate airlift had been established at the end of April, under AEAF, but this Combined Air Transport Operations Room (CATOR), as its name implied, was not a real headquarters and lacked sufficient control over airlift agencies. Its function was to receive requests for airlift from ground and air forces and allocate them among British and American air transport agencies.52 The September crisis made apparent CATOR’s ineffectiveness and led to a proposal to SHAEF by the Communications Zone that it be given administrative responsibility for all airlift and that a single air force agency, either the Ninth Air Force or TXTCC, be charged with technical operation. This proposal significantly ignored ASC, USSTAF and its 302nd Transport Wing, and both Spaatz and Knerr resisted vigorously what they considered the Communications Zone’s attempt to usurp an air force function. Knerr proposed that USSTAF be given responsibility for all airlift for the support of air forces and ground armies in the theater.53 The proposal was not acted on by SHAEF; and air transport continued on the same basis during the remainder of the war, with only CATOR acting as a partially unifying influence.
Nevertheless, the air force transport agencies did make notable efforts on behalf of the ground armies. During September 1944, the 302nd Transport Wing and a complete wing of Eighth Air Force B-24’s helped haul the precious motor fuel which carried the American and British armies to the German border. The IX TCC, unfortunately, could not bring its fleet of transports fully to bear because from late August onward it was either awaiting or participating in the Arnhem–Nijmegen airborne landings. At CATORs request, on 9 September, the 302nd suspended all airlift to the air forces, except for basic mail and passenger service, and devoted virtually all of its planes to the supply of Patton’s army. At the end of September, when the Allied armies had come to a standstill on the western front, the 302nd and the Eighth Air Force’s B-24’s returned to their normal duties. The total airlift to the ground forces during September was close to 40,000 tons, almost a fourth of it by the Eighth Air Force heavy bombers, which
had been severely handicapped in their efforts by the lack of forward airfields capable of accommodating their heavy weight. Unformnately, the tonnage lifted was not enough to keep the armies moving.54
Another strong airlift effort for the ground forces occurred in December, during the Battle of the Bulge. The IX Troop Carrier Command carried more than 15,000 tons of cargo during the month and also transported the whole 17th Airborne Division, totaling 13,397 troops, from England to forward bases in the Reims area between 23 and 29 December. The 302d’s chief contribution was to transport more than 2,000 tank specialists and mechanics from Marseille to the US. Third Army in the Luxembourg–Belgium sector within a period of twenty-four hours on 24–25 December.55
By far the greatest airlift came in March-April 1945 when the Allied armies found themselves in a tactical situation strikingly similar to that of September 1944, but were favored with better weather and more landing sites. Ground armies had far outstripped their earthbound transport systems and once more had to lookto air transport for the fuel, ammunition, and rations which could keep them moving. The agencies under CATOR’s direction at this time, IX TCC and the RAF 38 and 46 Groups, carried more than 68,000 tons, of which more than 50,000 tons were fuel. The contribution of the 302nd Transport Wing was smaller than it had been in September.56
The potentialities of air transport in the European theater were never fully realized, in large measure because of the failure to establish a single responsible air transport headquarters, but the strategic and tactical significance of air supply had been forcefully brought home to both ground and air forces by the end of the war. Knerr, convinced by experience, wrote Arnold in May 1945: “Supply by air is a permanent adjunct of military operations.” He urged that the function be established “as an Air Force responsibility before some other agency grabs this ball and runs with it.”57
Building the Airfields
To be truly effective a tactical air force must operate from airfields as close to the front lines as it can get, and to IX Engineer Command, which prepared the fields for American air organizations as they moved across western Europe and into Germany, belongs a major share of the credit for the victory that was won. In all, that command built or rehabilitated 241 airfields in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg,
and Germany,58 under conditions sometimes dangerous, often difficult, and usually uncertain.
On D-day, Brig. Gen. James B. Newman’s IX Engineer Command consisted of sixteen engineer aviation battalions divided equally among four regiments, three airborne engineer aviation battalions, an engineer aviation camouflage battalion, and miscellaneous smaller units – all told, numbering 17,000 men. Most of the battalions were veteran organizations with more than a year of heavy bomber airfield construction experience in the United Kingdom. Thanks to the lessons learned in two years of warfare in other theaters, the battalion, which was the basic operating unit, was provided with enough men and equipment to build an airfield with maximum efficiency. Each regiment, in addition to its four attached battalions, had a headquarters and service company whose heavy construction equipment was used to supplement battalion equipment whenever needed. Additional specialized units, concentrated under command headquarters, were also used to help battalions on construction projects.59
The airfield construction program for the first forty days of the invasion had been carefully outlined in advance.* But the initial units soon found out that it was not always possible to follow prescribed building schedules. The first engineers ashore, members of the 819th Engineer Battalion (Avn.), did meet their D-day schedule. They landed on UTAH beach on the morning of D-day, reconnoitered a site at HCbert under enemy fire, and after the battle had advanced beyond the site, completed a sod emergency landing strip by 2115 hours.60 On OMAHA beach the schedule was considerably retarded. Detachments of the 834th Engineer Battalion (Avn.) could not get ashore until 7 June because of enemy fire and beach obstacles, and when finally landed they found that the two initial landing sites planned for development were still in enemy hands. A new site was chosen at St.-Laurent-sur-Mer and by 2100 hours of 8 June the engineers had built a 3,500-foot earth runway capable of accommodating transport planes. Although St.-Laurent-sur-Mer (A-21C) was not a previously planned field, it became the first operational American field in France and developed into one of the more important transport fields in Normandy during the early months of the invasion.61
Advanced landing fields which could accommodate fighters were the pressing need, and the 816th and 820th Battalions joined the
* See above, pp. 131-32.
819th and 834th in reconnoitering sites as fast as they were uncovered by the advance of the ground units. On 8 June the 819th began work on an advanced landing ground at Beuzeville (A-6) on UTAH beach, and at OMAHA on the next day the 834th laid out a 3,600-foot runway at St.-Pierre du Mont (A-1), thus achieving its first objective.62 British airfield construction groups were likewise prompt in their service to RAF’s Second TAF,and the Allied air commanders received word as early as 11 June that four strips were in operation and two under construction in the British beachhead and that three were in operation and three under construction in the American sector.63 Additional battalions came ashore during June and by the end of the month eleven American fields were in operation, including the emergency landing strip at Hébert, and five more were under construction.64
Original plans had called for two-thirds of the fields to be built to fighter specifications, with runways of 3,600 feet, but the failure of the German Air Force to react strongly to the invasion permitted the Ninth to use all of its fighter groups as fighter-bombers. Accordingly, in mid-June it was decided that all runways should be 5,000 feet in length.65 This decision, which also imposed additional requirements as to the strength of the strips, led to a shortage of surfacing materials the British-developed square-mesh track* (SMT) and later the prefabricated hessian (burlap) surfacing (PHS).† Usually, therefore, only 3,600 feet of a newly developed 5,000-foot runway would be “tracked,” the other 1,400 feet depending on sod or earth until such time as better materials became available. Even so, these “summer” fields required as much as 750 tons of tracking, while strips built to better specifications with a view to semipermanent use consumed an average of 3,500 tons of tracking in addition to large quantities of locally procured materials.66 By 5 August, when all but one of the engineer battalions were at work in Normandy, seventeen fighterbomber fields had been surfaced with square-mesh track or prefabricated hessian surfacing and two medium bomber fields with pierced-steel plank, a third type of prefabricated surfacing. Seven additional fields were under construction in Normandy, but with completion of
* Heavy wire welded in three-inch squares.
† PHS was an asphalt-impregnated jute or similar material, delivered in rolls 300 feet in length and 36 or 42 inches in width. Both PHS and SMT were light, easily transportable, and more readily available. They were often used in combination, with SMT on top.
these the engineers would reach the saturation point for landing grounds there.67
The timetable set in preinvasion plans had called for construction of thirty-five advanced landing grounds within sixty miles of the front lines by D plus 40, but this program was predicated on the achievement of maximum ground advances and the delay in breaking out of the bridgehead made it neither possible nor necessary for the engineers to fulfil the contract. Perhaps it was just as well, for many units had landed behind schedule and heavy seas had delayed the unloading of equipment as well as men. Fortunately, the weather was good and the fair-weather fields, of sod or square-mesh track, stood up well during the early weeks.68 The Germans, impressed by this first work of the engineers, regarded the “rapid, large scale construction of airfields” as a notable activity of the Allied air force.69 That so much was accomplished is attributable to the extraordinary efforts of the men of the engineer battalions, who during these first weeks worked on an average as much as sixteen or seventeen hours per day through all seven days of the week. Units withdrawn from construction work to perform maintenance on other fields, where the workday ran from ten to twelve hours, described the assignment as a “rest.” In spite of the backbreaking work, morale remained high because results were clearly and immediately evident in the form of fighter-bomber operations. Casualties were few, although many units were subject to enemy small-arms or artillery fire and air attack. Thorough training in England had minimized the dangers from the numerous mines and booby traps encountered.70
The explosive Allied advance across France and Belgium, touched off by the breakthrough at St.-Lô in late July, came at an opportune moment for the Ninth Air Force. Not only were the engineers running out of airfield sites for development, but the older fields (none more than seven or eight weeks’ old) were steadily deteriorating under constant use and required a great deal of maintenance, especially those covered with square-mesh track. Before the end of July more than half of IX Engineer Command’s battalions were engaged in airfield maintenance, a task originally assigned to IX AFSC. On 8 August the IX Engineer Command organized out of its own resources and at-tached to the IX AFSC the 1st Airfield Maintenance Regiment (Provisional) to maintain the airfields in the rear areas while the other regiments forged ahead and constructed new fields.71
Within the narrow limits of the beachhead it had been possible for command headquarters to exercise close control over its units, but it became apparent as the period of rapid movement approached that a measure of decentralization of operational control would be necessary. Two small operational brigade headquarters were established at the end of July, and the four regiments were divided equally between them in an action coinciding with the formal entrance of the US. Third Army and the XIX Tactical Air Command into battle on 1 August. The 1st Engineer Aviation Brigade, under Col. Karl B. Schilling, was charged with construction of airfields in the U.S. First Army zone of advance; the 2nd Brigade, under Col. Rudolph E. Smyser, performed a similar function in the U.S. Third Army area.72 After the breakout from the beachhead it became policy to develop airfields in clusters of four or five which together could provide for the needs of all the groups of a tactical air command or a medium bombardment wing plus an air depot group. Such “clutches” were greatly desired by the combat commands, for they permitted a high degree of control with a minimum of communications.
The engineers had more than enough to do in their effort to keep apace with these combat demands, but their task was greatly magnified during August and September by the addition of a responsibility for construction of supply and evacuation strips immediately behind the fast-moving armies. The Ninth Air Force, moreover, had decided to move its medium and light bombers to France as soon as possible, and for the use of these units no ordinary strip could serve. In July the command had begun the construction of four fields within the beachhead for the 98th Bombardment Wing which on completion had used up all of the pierced-steel plank sent to France as a stockpile for the construction of bomber fields in the area of Paris and for the “winterization” of fighter-bomber fields.73 To meet this new demand it was necessary to devote much effort to the rehabilitation of captured hard-surfaced fields.
The Brittany peninsula became the first major region to be liberated after the breakout, but the eastward advance proceeded so quickly that Brittany, like the original beachhead area, was soon far behind the ground spearheads. Accordingly, only a few fields for the XIX TAC were developed on that peninsula.74 Early in August, the 1st Brigade, followed shortly after by the 2nd, moved eastward into the region about Le Mans, where development of a clutch of fighter-bomber
fields was begun. Poor soil, rainy weather, and an inadequate supply of surfacing materials prevented the completion of these fields until early September., by which time the battle area had been carried so far beyond that it lay at the extreme limit of effective fighter-bomber radius.75 The unavailability of rail transportation and the virtual monopoly of Communications Zone truck transportation by the ground armies had forced the engineers to depend on their own inadequate truck resources and whatever trucking the IX AFSC could spare for the transport of surfacing materials from Cherbourg and the beaches to the airfields under construction. The resulting shortage of surfacing was destined to remain a chronic problem throughout the continental campaigns.76
It was planned next to develop virgin sites in the Chartres plain, but the armies moved so swiftly that Chartres, too, was soon left far behind and instead the many fields around Paris were reconnoitered in the latter part of August, while the Germans were still withdrawing. By the end of August, six fields in the Orléans–Paris areas had been made ready for supply and evacuation work. On these fields the planes bringing food from England to the Parisian populace landed during the last days of August and the first days of September.77
The demand for advanced supply and evacuation landing strips was intensified toward the end of August as the U.S. First and Third Armies cleared Paris and plunged toward the German frontier. Units of the 2nd Engineer Aviation Brigade, operating in the Third Army area, reached Reims on 3 September and St.-Dizier on 7 September. Other 2nd Brigade units prepared fields in the Melun–Coulommiers area for medium bombers. So rapidly did the Third Army advance that the engineers passed up good fields around Romilly in order to keep close to the advancing ground forces. By 19 September, when the Third Army had reached the limits of its eastward advance for the time being, a sod strip at Toul was in operation and additional sites were being sought in the neighborhood of Toul, Verdun, and Nancy. The 1st Brigade, meanwhile, was following the advancing First Army to the German frontier at Aachen, rehabilitating airfields primarily for the use of fighter-bombers and medium bombers. By 9 September the 1st Brigade had reached the Florennes/Juzaine airfield in Belgium, from where it pushed on to Luxembourg on 13 September and to Liége/Bierset on 19 September.78
During the dash from Normandy to the German frontier, IX Engineer
Command put into operational condition a total of sixty airfields,* in spite of the immense difficulties.79 Some units had to move as much as 200 miles from one job to another, and as communications lines lengthened and transportation facilities thinned out, the problem of supplies became ever more acute. Fortunately, signals communications managed to keep pace, but extraordinary efforts had to be made to secure sufficient quantities of prefabricated hessian surfacing. The Communications Zone operated supply dumps in the beachhead from which the air engineers drew their construction materials and IX EC and IX AFSC trucks hauled the materials from beaches and ports to airfield sites. Later in the year, when improvement in rail transportation provided new assistance, it was possible for each brigade to establish a forward supply dump, but throughout the summer their existence was on a hand-to-mouth basis. Asphalt was secured locally whenever possible, and use was made of civilian labor in France and Belgium.80
By the end of September the operational organization of the command was well in hand. The IX EC headquarters, which was the hub of planning and liaison for the whole command, had been divided into an advanced echelon, which accompanied the advanced headquarters of the Ninth Air Force and the 12th Army Group, and a rear echelon, which remained in the vicinity of Paris. On the basis of requests from the Ninth Air Force and other agencies which required airfields, the advanced headquarters decided when and where airfields would be built and what types of materials would be used, while the rear headquarters provided the necessary administrative and logistical support. The brigade headquarters maintained close liaison with the tactical air commands and other organizations for whom they built fields and directed the operations of their regiments. The regiments, which controlled the battalions operationally and administratively, assigned construction projects and controlled reconnaissance in their areas.81
During the period extending from the fall of 1944 to the spring of 1945,the aviation engineers were freed of the pressure imposed by a rapid extension of the area of Allied occupation, but the load remained heavy. It was necessary to enlarge many fields and to winterize all of them by use of large quantities of pierced-steel plank, the only surfacing, other than concrete, that would stand up through the winter.
* As of 15 September the RAF had built a total of seventy-six airfields, of which forty-nine were still operational.
Rain and snow also greatly increased the work of maintenance.82 The 1st Brigade worked on fields in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland, preparing them for occupation by fighter-bomber groups. Unfortunately, there were not enough forward fields to accommodate all of the groups and it became necessary for several fields to house two groups. The first two-group field in this area, at Asch, Belgium, was occupied on 18 November. The 2nd Brigade during the fall and winter prepared fields in the Nancy, Toul, and Verdun regions and developed fields for the First Tactical Air Force.83
Engineer battalions from Italy had built fields for the XII TAC in its advance up the Rhone Valley from the southern coast of France, but these battalions were recalled to Italy in October and IX Engineer Command then inherited the assignment of building and maintaining fields for the new First Tactical Air Force. Substantial relief was provided by the three battalions of the 923rd Engineer Aviation Regimenr brought from England and constituted the Engineer Command (Prov.), First Tactical Air Force, but the 2nd Brigade, with which the new command worked closely, continued to bear a heavy additional responsibility. There were new demands also from the 302nd Transport Wing and from IX Troop Carrier Command which served to emphasize that the provision of continental airfields had become a theater air force problem. Accordingly, General Knerr in October established the Engineer Command (Prov.),USSTAF. This command, to which there were assigned two battalions in England and three airborne engineer battalions, assumed responsibility for construction and maintenance of a large number of airfields in the rear areas and particularly around Paris, where transport and troop carrier fields were concentrated. IX EC provided for the development of medium bomber fields and the maintenance of other Ninth Air Force fields in the rear areas by forming the 2nd Airfield Maintenance Regiment (Prov.) in October.* Battalions from regiments in the forward areas were rotated to this regiment from time to time.84
The two new engineer commands, both of them small and lacking adequate communications facilities and liaison, remained dependent on the IX EC for supply and administration. To General Newman and his staff also fell the responsibility for coordinating the operations of the three engineer commands, and in February 1945 the over-all organization was given more logic by disbanding the two smaller commands
* The 1st Airfield Maintenance Regiment had been disbanded on 1 September.
and transferring IX Engineer Command from the Ninth Air Force to USSTAF. This action placed all American aviation engineer units under one command and established the function of constructing and maintaining airfields as a responsibility of the theater air force rather than of the Ninth Air Force. In March 1945 the 3rd Engineer Aviation Brigade (Prov.) was added for the construction and maintenance of airfields in the rear area, which usually corresponded with the area of the Communications Zone. A final reorganization in April re-established the Engineer Command, USSTAF (Prov.), with the IX Engineer Command and the 3rd Engineer Aviation Brigade as its operational components. The IX EC with its own two brigades performed all construction for the Ninth and the First TAF in forward areas, while the 3rd Brigade performed all airfield construction and maintenance in rear areas west of the Rhine.85
Having found time during the winter for reorganization and consolidation of gains, the engineers were ready for the final thrust into Germany. The German counteroffensive in December had forced abandonment and demolition of only one American field – Haguenau in First TAF’s sector. Elsewhere some air force units, chiefly engineers, had drawn back in the face of the German advance but no airfields had been overrun. February brought a great thaw which multiplied the problems of maintenance, but the use of French and Belgian civilians – 10,000 were employed by the end of the war – eased greatly the pressure of this part of the work.86
With the resumption of the Allied advance late in the winter and the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945, the aviation engineers found themselves faced with a situation strikingly similar to that of the preceding summer. Early in March the first fields in Germany were developed, the one at Trier becoming operational on 10 March. The great demand from this time until V-E Day was for supply and evacuation strips immediately behind the vanguards of the American armies. Fortunately, the good weather which prevailed throughout the spring of 1945 permitted use of the many sod fields which were overrun in Germany. By 17 April the engineers had constructed or rehabilitated fifty-two operational fields in Germany, thirty-nine of them east of the Rhine. Thirteen engineer battalions were then east of the Rhine and another five were in Germany west of the Rhine.
The development of many of the fields in Germany for the use of fighter-bombers required large quantities of prefabricated surfacing
materials which had to be brought up by truck since the German railroads could not be used. By early April, however, sufficient surfacing had been received to get the fighter-bomber clutches under way east of the Rhine. Additional clutches were developed still farther eastward and by V-E Day the easternmost tactical field was at Straubing, in southeast Germany near the Czech frontier. The more easily prepared supply and evacuation strips were pushed forward during April to Lepzig, Nürnberg, and the Czech border. Munich became a main center for supply and evacuation flights, and on V-E Day a strip had become operational in Austria – at Salzburg. In all, 126 airfields were put into operation east of the Rhine, of which 76 were used only for supply and evacuation. These 126 airfields, rehabilitated in a period of little more than two months, were greater in number than all of the airfields constructed and rehabilitated by the IX EC in France, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Good weather and the good condition of the fields on capture were, of course, invaluable aids in this work. On V-E Day there were 182 operational American fields on the continent, the largest number available at any one time after the invasion.87
In addition to the 241 airfields constructed or rehabilitated by the IX EC, ground force combat engineers and engineer battalions from Italy built 32, and the U.S. Navy built 1 airfield on the continent. The materials used varied with the period in which the fields were built, and during the final months of the war all types of surfacing were used, often in combination. In all, approximately 295,000 tons of prefabricated surfacing materials had been transported by V-E Day, of which 190,000 were pierced-steel plank.88 About 30 per cent of the fields were developed from virgin sites. Some 125 earth and sod fields on the continent were used by the American air forces between D-day and V-E Day without the addition of any other surfacing.89 Thirty fields were built completely of pierced-steel plank,which was often difficult to get in sufficient quantity, and it was also used in combination with other surfaces on many other fields. Thirty-two medium and light bomber fields, most of them concrete, were developed by the engineers. About twenty fields were built or rehabilitated for the use of the IX AFSC and its air depot groups.90
The close relationship and mutual confidence between the Ninth Air Force and the IX Engineer Command contributed much to the successful operations of both. Colonel Ehrgott, the command’s chief
of staff, in retrospect wrote: “The remarkable success achieved by the IX Engineer Command is ascribable in large measure to the great degree of freedom of action granted by the Ninth Air Force and the wholehearted support given the IX EC in the form of liaison aircraft and signal communications equipment over and above TE equipment.”91
The vast expansion of combat operations in Europe after D-day produced significant changes in the logistical requirements and organization of the American air forces in the theater. The Eighth Air Force, secure on its bases in East Anglia for the duration of the war, was least affected by these changes, for it had reached full maturity by D-day, and only a few of its problems thereafter transcended the routine. The Ninth Air Force, on the other hand, as a mobile air force faced a variety of problems which helped persuade USSTAF to shift the emphasis of its administrative and logistical direction from the United Kingdom to the continent. General Spaatz also desired that USSTAF remain close to the major sources of authority in the theater, ETOUSA and SHAEF, with the result that in September 1944 his headquarters was established at St.-Germain, on the eastern outskirts of Paris, only eight miles from SHAEF at Versailles.92 And with USSTAF came also the headquarters of ASC, USSTAF.
Shortly after USSTAF’s move to France the final adjustment in the theater air logistical organization was made. In response to pressure from air force commanders, especially from Doolittle and Vandenberg, ASC, USSTAF ceased to function as the administrative side of USSTAF* and became a separate headquarters. The separation was more apparent than real, for although Knerr ceased to command ASC, USSTAF, he remained as USSTAF’s deputy commanding general for administration and in this role continued to exercise all of the functions he had formerly discharged in his dual capacity. ASC, USSTAF, redesignated Air Technical Service Command in Europe (ATSCE) on 10 February 1945, continued to reside in the same offices at St.-Germain and remained a part of the administrative side of USSTAF headquarters in all but name. Knerr continued to lend the prestige of his position as Spaatz’s deputy commander to the operation of
See Vol. II, pp. 752-55, for a discussion of these headquarters.
ATSCE, which remained directly responsible to him through its commander, Brig. Gen. Clarence P. Kane.93
Meanwhile, additional combat organizations had called for the creation of new service units. The First TAF included a First Tactical Air Force Service Command, under Brig. Gen. Edmund C. Langmead, which drew its logistical support from IX AFSC until early 1945, when it began to deal directly with a new base depot at Compikgne. First TAF had a French contingent operating in support of the French First Army, and for this contingent a separate French Air Service Command was organized during the winter.94 After the IX TCC had been transferred to the First Airborne Army, Maj. Gen. Paul L. Williams set up his own service organization, the IX Troop Carrier Service Wing (Prov.), in September 1944. His troop carrier groups were divided between England and France until April 1945, when the last groups moved to the continent. In England the troop carrier command received adequate base support from the base depots long established there, but in France the Ninth Air Force could not furnish such support and it was eventually secured from ATSCE.95
Even the Eighth Air Force found itself increasingly confronted with logistical problems on the continent. Proposals during 1944 for the movement of Eighth Air Force heavy bombardment groups to the continent were rejected,* but during the fall the Eighth began to send special communications and fighter control units to France and Belgium to provide advanced facilities for the assistance of its strategic operations. In January 1945, VIII Fighter Command headquarters moved to Charleroi, Belgium, and in February, the 352nd and 361st Fighter Groups moved to Chiévres, Belgium (A-84).†96 Meanwhile, the progressive liberation by the Allied armies of most of France and Belgium made it possible for many Eighth Air Force bombers and fighters, handicapped by weather, damage, or lack of fuel, to land or crash-land in friendly territory. Since the IX AFSC found it increasingly difficult to provide service for these planes, the logical result was first the dispatch to the continent of VIII AFSC service personnel and units, beginning in July 1944. Eventually, in January 1945, an advanced VIII AFSC headquarters was established at Brussels and the 5th Strategic Air Depot was set up at Merville in France, with the express function of salvaging or repairing Eighth Air Force planes
† These groups moved back to England in April.
forced down on the continent. At its peak, in March 1945,Eighth Air Force strength on the continent was more than 8,000 men.97
The existence of all or part of several different American air forces on the continent reinforced USSTAF’s intention to establish base depot facilities in France. ASC, USSTAF began planning for a base depot in France as early as July 1944, and in succeeding months it took over the port intransit depot function from the IX AFSC and set up an intransit depot at Compikgne. On 10 December, ASC, USSTAF set up the Continental Air Depot Area (CADA)* with headquarters at Compiègne, with the expectation that it would eventually become the continental counterpart of the base air depot area in the United Kingdom. The importance of continental base depot operations was underlined by the transfer of Brig. Gen. Isaac W. Ott from command of BADA in Britain to command of CADA. The intransit depot at Compikgne was expanded into a base air depot, which handled supplies for all of the air forces on the continent.98
The IX AFSC also adjusted its organization to meet changing conditions, beginning in the fall of 1944. The constant movement of combat groups and the development of airfields in clutches made it difficult to retain the tactical air depots which had been typical of the IX AFSC organization in England. It was found desirable to place an air depot group within the clutch of airfields occupied by each tactical air command or medium bombardment wing and to make it responsible for the service of all units not otherwise provided for within the given geographical area. The success of this system made clear the superfluous nature of the advanced air depot areas and the service group headquarters. The number of air depot and service groups within the command had already been materially reduced by transfers to the IX TCC and the First Tactical Air Force. The 1st AADA was left with only the IX Bomber Command as its responsibility, and the 2nd AADA also found itself with a smaller number of air depot groups and service teams to administer. In addition, the geographical dispersion of the tactical air commands reduced the 2nd AADA to an unnecessary link in the chain of command. The smaller number of air depot groups could be administered directly from IX AFSC headquarters. As for the service groups, many of their teams had become separated by hundreds of miles as the result of transfer of combat groups, accompanied by their service teams, from one command to another, and even from one air force to
* On 6 February it was redesignated Central Air Depot Area.
another. The obvious was finally acted upon early in 1945 when the two AADA’s were disbanded and the service group headquarters were eliminated and their personnel divided among the service teams and air depot groups. The latter now became miniature service commands, charged with the administration and operation of the service teams within their areas. IX AFSC headquarters* exercised direct supervision of the air depot groups.99
But this relatively efficient organization was not in existence in 1944 when the Ninth Air Force was faced with its greatest logistical problems. By the end of September the Ninth Air Force operated a supply line which stretched 600 miles from the Normandy beaches to the Siegfried Line. BADA routed all Air Corps supplies destined for France through the 4th Base Air Depot at Baverstock. Until ports were opened in July, all supplies arriving from the United Kingdom were brought in over the UTAH and OMAHA beaches. Here they were received by the VIII AF Intransit Depot Group,† which was attached to the Army Engineer Beach Brigade. The intransit depot group personnel identified and segregated air force cargo and prepared it for dispatch to forward areas.100 Because of bad weather and the difficulties of beach operations, unloading of ships ran well behind schedule. Even after Cherbourg was finally opened on D plus 38 and minor Normandy ports at Isigny, Barfleur, St.-Vaast, and Grandcamp were made operable, it was impossible to meet the supply schedules laid down in the OVERLORD plan. Fortunately, fighter operations during the first ninety days after D-day did not approach the rate anticipated in planning, so that the Ninth’s fighter-bombers suffered little from shortages of basic matériel items.101
In September, ASC, USSTAF began to extend its base depot functions to the continent by taking over the intransit depot responsibilities at the ports and beaches, thereby freeing the 1st Intransit Depot Group for use along the Ninth Air Force’s supply line. Detachments of the intransit depot group operated railheads, airheads, and dumps along the supply line, unloading trains and planes and loading trucks which carried the supplies to depots or combat bases,102 but not until October did an opportunity come for reorganization of the badly
* Late in 1944 the IX AFSC was also given the function of disarming the German Air Force, absorbing for this purpose the personnel of the disbanded Air Disarmament Command (Prov.) which had been set up by USSTAF in September.
† This group was disbanded in August 1944 and the IX AFSC organized the 1st Intransit Depot Group to replace it.
strained supply system. As tactical air commands and bombardment wings settled down, many of them until the spring of 1945, on clutches of fields, the service command stationed air depot groups at strategic points within each clutch. The establishment of the base air depot at Compikgne by ASC, USSTAF in December and its gradual assumption during the winter of base depot supply functions permitted the Ninth Air Force to concentrate its supply effort in the forward areas. Supplies which were not sent direct from ports to air depot groups were brought to Compikgne by truck and train, and from there they were dispatched, usually in trucks, to the air depots and dumps operated by the Ninth Air Force, First Tactical Air Force, and IX Troop Carrier Command. The service teams requisitioned their authorized ten-day level of supplies from the air depot groups, thus completing the supply chain from the ports to the forward airfields. Until well into 1945 the air depot groups continued to call directly on the base air depots in England for AOG (aircraft on ground for lack of spare parts) supplies, which were often flown directly to the air depot groups.103
The Communications Zone, as in the United Kingdom, underwrote the air force supply system. It operated depots from which the air force depots drew common-user items – ordnance, signal, quartermaster, etc. Communications Zone troops operated the ports and unloaded ships; they operated the rail system throughout the American zone and the largest fleet of trucks on the continent. In August 1944 the Communications Zone accepted responsibility for hauling air force supplies to within forty miles of airdromes, usually to depots, dumps, and railheads, from which points the air force was responsible for delivery to the airdromes. But it was difficult for the Communications Zone to fulfil this commitment because of the enormous elongation of the supply line within a period of a few weeks and the inadequacy of the terribly damaged railroad system.104
The problem of replacement aircraft acquired special importance because of the higher attrition rate which obtained in France and Belgium. This higher rate was not only the consequence of heavier combat losses stemming from the increased rate of operations but also the result of a lower level of maintenance, which was inevitable under the mobile field conditions on the continent. Fighter aircraft which flew three and four missions per day wore out quickly; moreover, planes piled up on bad runways, dust rendered other planes inoperable,
and recurrent shortages of spare parts held up repairs. The need for more replacement fighter aircraft on the continent was recognized by AAF Headquarters during the summer of 1944, when it increased the replacement rate for fighters in the ETO from 20 to 30 per cent per month,105 but the full benefits of this increase were not felt for some time. The flow of fighter planes to the tactical air forces, moreover, was affected by problems of allocation within the theater. The outstanding qualities of the P-51 as a long-range escort fighter induced USSTAF to continue to give the Eighth Air Force first priority on these planes for the purpose of increasing its P-51 groups from seven to fourteen by converting seven P-38 and P-47 groups between June and December 1944. The Ninth’s two P-51 groups complained almost constantly of a lack of adequate replacements during this period. Many of the old P-38’s and P-47’s, rendered surplus by the Eighth’s conversion program, were sent as replacements to Ninth Air Force groups, which frequently complained of the poor condition of these planes and sometimes rejected them as unserviceable. The Ninth also found it necessary to convert some of its fighter groups from one type of aircraft to another in order to adjust itself to the flow of fighter planes from the United States. In general, Ninth Air Force and First Tactical Air Force fighter groups were under their authorized strength in aircraft during the greater part of the continental campaigns.106
Bomber and transport aircraft represented less of a problem than did fighters. The flow of heavy bombers to Eighth Air Force groups was steady and assured, only bad weather occasionally preventing prompt replacement. The 9th Bombardment Division and the 42nd Bombardment Wing (M) of the First Tactical Air Force were able to maintain their groups at authorized strength or above, although for a while during the fall of 1944 the 42nd was below strength. Between November 1944 and February 1945, the 9th Bombardment Division converted its three A-20 groups to A-26’s and planned to convert its B-26 groups also, but the war ended before the project could be undertaken. The IX Troop Carrier Command enjoyed a surplus of C-47 and C-53 aircraft much of the time after D-day, and was actually able to lend some of its planes to needy organizations like the 302nd Transport Wing.107
The number of planes on hand in a combat group, while ultimately determined by the flow of aircraft from the United States, was more
immediately affected by the efficiency of the distribution system within the theater. The frequent Complaints of Ninth Air Force groups about the lack of replacement aircraft sometimes stemmed from the inability of the ferrying organization to make rapid delivery within the theater, usually because of bad weather or lack of ferrying pilots. Planes had to be brought from BADA replacement pools in the United Kingdom to central points in France, from which places they were distributed to the using units. The 302nd Transport Wing flew aircraft to fields operated by the air forces on the continent. Service teams and air depot groups drew planes from these replacement pools.108
The successful use of the jettisonable fuel tank by Eighth Air Force fighters had resulted in its adoption by the Ninth, but the Eighth retained first priority for most types of jettisonable tanks because of its long-range escort commitments. An increased demand for tanks which accompanied the rising rate of fighter operations during the summer of 1944 was hard to meet, particularly on the continent. In October the IX AFSC limited each of its service teams to a maximum stock of 150 tanks. Even the Eighth Air Force felt the pinch in February 1945 when United Kingdom production of 108-gallon tanks fell behind consumption. Arrangements were made with the French to undertake production of tanks, but the end of the war obviated the need for this new production.109
Supply of spare parts to both combat and service units was of great importance in keeping aircraft operational. Lack of parts like dust filters, wings, paddle-blade propellers, hydraulic pumps, and booster control assemblies for the various types of aircraft caused planes to remain out of operation for days or even weeks. These shortages usually occurred because of a failure by supply units to keep up with the movement of combat units, which often found themselves hundreds of miles from the nearest air depot group, and when the air depot group moved it was often forced to suspend supply services for as much as two weeks. Although some critical shortages of spare parts could be met by sending aircraft to the base depots in England for the needed items,110 the AOG rate of the Ninth Air Force on the continent remained higher than it had been in England, or than it was for the Eighth Air Force.111
The air forces in the European theater had begun to complain about the shortage of suitable bombs even before D-day, and after D-day the complaints became more frequent and more prolonged. The basic
difficulty appeared to be lack of sufficient and selective production in the United States. The ground forces, too, encountered a shortage of ammunition during the fall of 1944 and appealed to Washington for greater production to meet growing requirements.112 The failure of the United States to meet demands from the theater for certain types of bombs may be ascribed, in part, to what Knerr called the “historical method” of computing future expenditure. Apparently bomb and ammunition production was planned on the basis of current expenditure per aircraft rather than on possible future expenditure. The enormously expanded operations of the air forces in Europe from the spring of 1944 onward meant a correspondingly enormous expansion in the use of bombs and ammunition. In addition to the increased overall expenditure, differences in the nature of operations undertaken on the continent greatly increased the demand for particular types of bombs, of which there were recurrent shortages to aggravate the general tightness of bomb stock. In May 1944, when the Eighth and Ninth reached their maximum strengths, they expended more than 56,000 tons of bombs. In June, without the addition of any more groups, they dropped over 85,000 tons of bombs. During the remainder of the war, expenditure ranged from 51,000 tons in November 1944 to 118,000 tons in March 1945.113
If theater ground and air spokesmen stressed the inadequacy of production and the consequent insufficiency of the theater bomb supply, staff officers in Washington felt that improper distribution in the theater should share the blame. There was a certain amount of justification in this feeling, but transportation difficulties could throw awry even the best-laid plans for distribution of matériel. Bombs and ammunition were carried to the continent by air, but major reliance had to be placed on other means. Knerr characteristically pointed out that Washington planners had not considered the “distribution factor involved in supplying more than 150 installations, spread over both England and the Continent ... the problems involved in transportation tieups due to congested railroad systems in the UK and the crippled railroad system on the Continent ... the lack of adequate berths for ships arriving on the Continent.”114
Although efforts were made to overcome the uncertainties of transportation by pooling bomb stocks at almost every echelon of organization,115 the harmful effects of the bomb and ammunition shortage were discernible from time to time throughout 1944–45. In July 1944
an investigating officer from AAF Headquarters concluded that the status of bomb supply was unsatisfactory “to the degree that supply of bombs is dictating to tactical operations to a material extent, with some resultant decrease in bombardment effectiveness.” The record operations of February and March 1945, when 198,000 tons of bombs were dropped, depleted bomb stocks in the theater to the point where all air forces either had to use substitute bombs frequently or restrict operations. In March 1945 the Eighth Air Force had to use secondand third-choice bombs on many of its targets, and the Ninth had to limit its effort to visual bombing in order to insure the most effective use of its limited bomb stocks. The First Tactical Air Force ryorted in March that lack of bombs had reduced its fighter-bomber operations by 25 per cent, and on one occasion it actually used depth charges with instantaneous fuzing against land targets. Spaatz reported in March “a critical shortage of specific bomb tonnage by type which prevents the proper selection of bombs for the targets to be attacked.”116
The extraordinary expenditures of bombs during February and March impressed Washington with the necessity to increase diversified production of bombs. Although besieged with demands for bombs from all theaters of operations, AAF Headquarters made special efforts to meet USSTAF’s needs, and when the war ended in May the bomb stocks in the theater totaled 307,500 tons, of which 180,000 tons had arrived in April. Ironically enough, only 368 tons of bombs were released on enemy targets in May. A large portion of the bomb tonnage on hand at the end of the war consisted of types like the 20-pound semiarmor-piercing and armor-piercing bombs and the 260-pound fragmentation bomb for which there had been no use in the theater for a long time but which had continued to pile up in the depots because of continued shipments from the United States. It is apparent that bomb production and distribution did not permit the establishment of an adequate reserve supply in either the United States or the European theater.117
As with bombs, difficulty in the procurement of aviation gasoline appeared to be chargeable to insufficient production in the United States, partly because of underestimates of future expenditures by the air force and partly because of production difficulties. Estimated consumption of aviation gasoline exceeded estimated production during most of the war, and reserve stocks in the United States and in overseas
theaters were considered insufficient during 1944–45. In the European theater the Allied air forces had never succeeded in securing the forward stockage they considered necessary and as the rate of aerial operations rose steadily the stocks on hand declined because of insufficient replacement.118
In the United Kingdom the British Petroleum Board had evolved an efficient system of aviation gasoline distribution, utilizing pipelines, railroads, and tank trucks. USSTAF was dependent on the Petroleum Board for its gasoline supply and had no organization of its own for the distribution of POL. The Communications Zone, on the other hand, possessed an organization for the distribution of POL, and when OVERLORD was planned it became apparent that this organization would have to assume iesponsibility for the distribution of aviation gasoline, both in bulk and in packaged form, to the American air forces on the continent. The British would establish their own POL organization on the continent.119
Initial stocks of aviation gasoline and oil which were landed on the continent during the first three weeks after D-day were in packaged form and could easily be transported by truck from the beaches to the near-by airfields, which were then few in number. As a result of the Communications Zone’s promise to begin bulk delivery of aviation gasoline after D plus 15, the Ninth Air Force had limited its supply of packaged gasoline. The Communications Zone was unable to fulfil its pledge, but fortunately there was no critical shortage of gasoline because the Ninth’s rate of operations fell well below planning estimates. This was partly the result of delay in moving fighter groups to France and partly the result of the failure of the German Air Force to put in an appearance over the beachhead. On 20 June there was an estimated ten-day forward supply of aviation gasoline and oil on hand. After an inspection of POL facilities and stocks in the beachhead, Col. Rernerd F. Johnson, chief air force petroleum officer in the theater, reported on 22 June that he had found the “aviation fuel supply on the Continent ... in excellent shape ... in considerably better shape than any of the other Air Corps supplies.”120
Although packaged gasoline was sufficient to meet needs during June, the great expansion of operations from continental airfields, which began in July, made distribution of bulk gasoline absolutely imperative. The Communications Zone prepared one of the minor Normandy ports, Port-en-Bessin, for the receipt of bulk gasoline and
erected storage facilities and loading points, and IX Engineer Command provided storage facilities on the airfields. Small collapsible storage tanks known as Mareng cells, with capacities ranging froni 750 to 3,000 gallons, were set up on airfields and served until larger facilities could be made available. When unloading of bulk aviation gasoline began at the end of June, the problem of transportation to the airfields arose. Since the Ninth did not yet have any of its bulk gasoline truck companies ashore, the combat and service units, assisted by Communications Zone trucks, had to haul both bulk and packaged gasoline to the airfields. Fortunately, operations continued at a lower rate than had been estimated, and until well into July packaged gasoline and oil remained the chief source of POL supply for the Ninth, outnumbering bulk stocks by as much as five to one.121
By 23 July the supply of bulk gasoline to the airfields was under way, and all airfields except one had bulk storage space. Use of packaged gasoline was discontinued by units as soon as bulk gasoline became available, and packaged fuel, amounting to some 2,000,000 gallons early in August, was retained as a reserve stock. For several days in late July and again in early August, when stocks fell dangerously low because of the failure of deliveries of bulk gasoline, it became necessary to borrow from the RAF stocks. Consumption of gasoline by the Ninth Air Force in France increased steadily once operations began from continental bases but remained well below anticipations. Through D plus 19 little more than 350,000 gallons were used; during the third week in July consumption averaged 90,000 gallons per day and by early August it was 180,000 gallons.122 The pipeline and the railroads were the main answers to the problem of bulk distribution. Cherbourg became the chief POL port in July and the Communications Zone began construction of a pipeline from there. Pipelines carrying motor transport fuel outran the aviation gasoline pipeline, which reached St.-Lô by 22 August. From the terminus of the pipeline or loading points along its way, IX AFSC and Communications Zone trucks hauled the gasoline to forward storage points. The advance of the fighter groups was too rapid for the pipeline to keep pace, and tank trucks were not sufficient in number to keep the airfields supplied. The more advanced fields were kept supplied with packaged gasoline carried by truck and plane when it was not possible to deliver bulk gasoline.123 As a result of feverish work on the railroads, tank-car trains were operating to Paris by early September, but the continuing
advance of the Allied armies increased still further the distance traveled by tank trucks in spite of the establishment of forward storage centers around Paris. The longest haul in mid-September was 850 miles round trip by truck.124
Capacity for receipt and storage of POL at Cherbourg and Port-en-Bessin was limited, and in October the newly captured ports of Le Havre and Ostend were opened for bulk gasoline receipt. The pipeline from Cherbourg reached Chartres at the end of September and Châlons, some eighty miles east of Paris, early in 1945. This was the farthest extent of the aviation gasoline pipeline, although motor transport pipelines were extended beyond and eventually reached Thionville, from where a single line was thrust forward to the Frankfurt neighborhood. Antwerp was opened in November and construction of pipelines inland was begun immediately. By February the aviation gasoline pipeline from Antwerp had reached its farthest extent – Maastricht – and was supplying the British and American air forces in Belgium and Holland. The British constructed pipelines across the English Channel to France, first to Cherbourg during the summer and later to other ports closer to England.125
Distribution of gasoline from the ports and from the pipeline termini remained major problems throughout the war. Tank cars had to be brought from England and from the United States to increase the carrying capacity of the railroads. The IX AFSC had to organize additional bulk truck units and called regularly on the Communications Zone for supplementary carrying capacity. During the closing months of the war, when the swift advance of the Allied armies once more stretched taut the supply lines which had been carefully strung during the preceding months, truck and air transport had to bear the burden of carrying gasoline to the forward airfields. By April 1945 the POL distribution system could transport 150,000 barrels (6,300,000 U.S. gallons) of gasoline per day.126 Considering the tremendous forward lunges made by the Allied armies and air forces during the summer of 1944 and again in the spring of 1945, the trucking units of the IX AFSC and the Communications Zone, and the latter’s military pipeline service, did remarkably well.
During the planning of OVERLORD the Ninth Air Force realized that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve as
high an order of aircraft maintenance on the continent as it had enjoyed in England, and so it proved. The reasons were obvious. Aside from the difficulties in the supply system, which were reflected in the higher AOG rate, and the difficulties resulting from frequent niovements, there was never established on the continent a base depot for maintenance work. Since the base depot at Compikgne was primarily a supply depot, throughout the continental campaigns the air forces on the continent remained dependent on the United Kingdom for base depot maintenance of aircraft.
Even before D-day, BADA had begun to assume base supply and maintenance functions for the Ninth Air Force in accordance with announced decisions of Spaatz and Knerr to assume administrative and logistical control of all American air forces in the theater. The final step was taken in July when it was agreed that BADA would assume the remainder of the base depot functions which the tactical air depots had been performing but could not be expected to carry on in France. To its responsibility for reception, storage, and delivery of all aircraft arriving in the theater, BADA would add responsibility for assembly of all and modification of most Ninth Air Force planes. It would continue to perform the heavier echelons of overhaul work on aircraft components, instruments, accessories, and other equipment and some additional work which the tactical air depots had been doing, for the air depot groups did not take their heaviest equipment with them across the Channel.127
When the Ninth moved to France, the combined 2nd AADA-IX AFSC advanced headquarters was charged with responsibility for the maintenance of all American aircraft on the continent, including Eighth Air Force planes which were forced down. In September, when the IX AFSC headquarters was established at Creil, it divided maintenance responsibilities between the 1st and 2nd AADA’s. But the AADA’s were merely headquarters organizations and such fourthechelon maintenance as was done on the continent was done by the air depot groups.128 When the AADA’s were eliminated early in 1945, the air depot groups became the chief link in the maintenance organization between the service teams and BADA. Divested of much of the work which had taken up so much of their time in England, they were able to work closely with the service teams, which they supervised directly, and to devote the greater part of their maintenance effortto the repair of aircraft, accessories, and equipment. Particularly
invaluable were the mobile reclamation and repair squadrons,* which came into their own on the continent and often proved the difference between success and failure in keeping aircraft operational. The mobile squadrons under the direction of the air depot groups could be dispatched on short notice to any station within a given area, thus lending to the maintenance organization a degree of mobility which was necessary if maintenance was to keep up with the frequent moves and fluctuating needs of the combat units. The service teams and the ground crews of the combat units, both on the combat stations, performed the first three echelons of maintenance on aircraft. They tended to perform a greater variety of work than they had done in England, largely because needs were more pressing and assistance more distant.129
By D-day all of the combat groups of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces had been fully equipped and put into operation, and the task of aircraft assembly thereafter was limited to replacement aircraft. The time lag between arrival of aircraft in the theater and delivery to the air forces after assembly and modification at BADA increased during the summer, but this was an inevitable result of the increase in the number of modifications, the greater number of planes to be modified by BADA, and the extension of operations to the continent.130 The IX AFSC retained responsibility for the assembly of liaison aircraft (L-4’s and L-5’s) used by the ground forces. BADA eventually took over this responsibility for such aircraft arriving in the United Kingdom, and in February 1945, CADA assumed a similar responsibility for liaison planes arriving on the continent. In March it was decided that all liaison aircraft could be received and assembled by CADA at Rouen. Such liaison planes as continued to arrive in England would be handled by BADA.131 In June, when BADA took over the IX AFSC’s assembly responsibilities, it was intended that this should also include gliders. Instead, the IX AFSC retained the glider assembly depot at Crookham Common until September when it turned it over to the IX Troop Carrier Service Wing (Prov.), which continued to assemble gliders there until February 1945. At that time, when the IX TCC was engaged in moving the remainder of its groups to France, BADA undertook to assemble all gliders, either at Warton or on the continent.132
* The Ninth had one of these squadrons for each of its air depot and service groups, to the total of at least twenty-five during its continental operations.
Meanwhile, BADA was justifying the huge investment in manpower* and equipment it represented. Some idea of the scope of its responsibilities may be gained from statistics concerning aircraft in the theater. From September 1944 until May 1945,USSTAF always had more than 10,000 tactical aircraft; the peak number was more than 11,000 in April 1945. During 1944–45, with the exception of December 1944 and January 1945,monthly tactical aircraft arrivals from the United States were never less than 1,000 and reached almost 2,000 in July 1944. The number of planes modified by BADA also exceeded 1,000 aircraft during every month of 1944, reaching a high of 1,535 in August and a total of almost 15,000 for the year. Many of the smaller aircraft were simultaneously assembled and modified by BADA, a saving of time which was of particular benefit to the Ninth. Finally, statistics for engine and propeller overhaul and other production work reveal that BADA’s contribution was equally impressive in those respects. Engine overhaul production ran to more than 2,000 monthly during 1944–45.133
The transfer of responsibility for most modification to BADA in July provided relief for the Ninth Air Force but also created new problems. In May, Knerr had ruled that all aircraft would be modified to one standard at the base depots “in order that they may be furnished promptly on demand to either the Eighth or Ninth,” but experience led the Ninth in September to request separate modification lines for each air force. ASC, USSTAF, although barring the establishment of separate modification lines, agreed to a policy which would modify the various types of aircraft to the standard set by the air force possessing the greater number of each type of plane. Under this policy, therefore, P-47’s, which were the Ninth’s chief problem, would be modified as desired by the Ninth. The Eighth Air Force would have to make such additional changes as it desired on the P-47’s at its own strategic air depots. The converse would be true of the P-51’s,of which the Eighth had a huge majority. Results of the new policy were apparent on the replacement aircraft arriving on the continent from BADA in October.134
It had been hoped in the spring of 1944 that replacement aircraft, particularly fighters, arriving from the United States thereafter would possess most of the new features which had been developed in the theater during the preceding year, and this hope was indeed realized, but there was no letup in the demand for
* More than 40,000 men were assigned to BADA.
modification within the theater. Improvements made on aircraft in the United States, either in manufacture or at modification centers, were often outdated by the time they reached the theater, either because of changes in combat conditions or changes in the missions of planes. The pressure of intensified operations after D-day produced a steady increase in the number of modifications requested, particularly from the Ninth Air Force.135
The major modifications were on fighters, the Ninth’s chief weapon. Most important of the changes made immediately after groups began operating from fields in Normandy was the addition of engine filter ducts. The “appalling dust conditions” in France had caused an abnormally high consumption of oil, which in turn had produced an excessive number of engine failures. Directly attributable to changed combat conditions after D-day was the installation on fighters of rocket-firing equipment and “droop snoots,” this term meaning the use of a Norden bombsight in the nose of a P-38. Through the use of special radio equipment, lead planes could control the release of bombs by a whole group, and by the end of October 1944 most of the planes in the Ninth’s three P-38 groups carried the equipment required for droop-snoot bombing.136 Installation of rocket launchers and electric bomb releases was begun in July, but the work proceeded slowly because of a shortage of kits and parts. Another major modification was the conversion of a large number of P-51’s to F-6’s for use as photo reconnaissance planes.137
Most fighter fields on the continent were of a temporary nature, without hangars, with widely separated dispersal areas and with poor runways. These conditions not only made maintenance more difficult for the service units; they also created more maintenance work by causing additional wear and tear on aircraft, especially to the wings of P-51’s and P-47’s, many of which tended to wrinkle under rough taxiing and landing conditions.138 Weather conditions aggravated the hazards of poor airfields. The dust of summer and the mud of fall and winter added greatly to the work required of maintenance personnel. In one short period during July 1944, one fighter group had twenty-four engine failures, twenty-three of them the result of high oil consumption caused by dust conditions. Winter mud, which froze in the wheel wells, caused the nose wheels of planes to lock. This same mud, together with that which froze on the underside of wings, reduced the speed of planes and caused damage to accessories.139
In addition to the demands for Ninth Air Force maintenance, IX AFSC was responsible for the supply and maintenance of liaison aircraft belonging to the ground forces. This duty, involving hundreds of small planes belonging to the armies, was handled by mobile reclamation and repair squadrons, which were well suited for serving the many dispersed sites from which the planes operated. 2nd AADA assigned five mobile squadrons to this work in September 1944. The First Tactical Air Force performed the same service for the 6th Army Group.140
Finally, the increased rate of operations after D-day was accompanied by a rising rate of battle damage. Repair and maintenance production by the IX AFSC increased from 1,029 planes in May 1944 to 1,842 in June. Repair of battle-damaged planes increased from 154 in May to 744 in June. Repair production continued high during the summer, but fell during the autumn, when the Ninth’s tactical effort declined sharply. Beginning in November, repair output by the air depot groups and the service teams rose again, once more in response to the increased operational rate, reaching more than 1,600 in March 1945.141 In the absence of base depot repair facilities on the continent and because of a tendency for air depot groups to function more efficiently for purposes of supply than for maintenance, service teams were thrown chiefly on their own resources. The air depot groups were often out of operation for weeks at a time when engaged in moving, their facilities for maintenance work were frequently inadequate, particularly during the earlier months after D-day, and at times they were hundreds of miles behind the service teams they were supporting. The inevitable tendency was for the service units on the combat fields to perform as much maintenance and battle-damage repair as possible. Consequently, the service teams were responsible for the work done on considerably more than two-thirds of all aircraft undergoing maintenance and repair work in the IX AFSC after D-day.142
Fourth-echelon maintenance by the air depot groups and by the base depots in England actually declined, although the IX AFSC continued to send many damaged planes back to the rear areas. After 16 November 1944 all aircraft transferred between air forces, usually as a result of the conversion of groups from one type of plane to another, were sent through BADA, which was made responsible for insuring their fitness for combat. BADA found that most of its fourth-echelon maintenance man-hours
were being spent in manufacturing AOG parts and modification kits and in the overhaul of engines and component parts. Battle-damage repair took much less time than formerly. To a considerable extent this development was the result of having on hand in replacement pools a large reserve of aircraft. It became much easier and less time consuming to replace a badly damaged plane with a new one than to repair it.143
The service teams, with the aid of mobile reclamation and repair squadrons from the air depot groups, performed a noteworthy job of maintenance. In the early months after D-day maintenance and repair work on the continent was especially difficult because of increased loss rates and poor working conditions. In July, losses and write-offs were exceeding replacements on the continent and IX AFSC stressed its need for assistance. Additional technicians were flown to the continent, and IX AFSC had moved all of its service units to the continent by October 1944.144
Over-all serviceability rates for Ninth Air Force aircraft on combat stations compared favorably with the former rate of the Ninth in England and, indeed, even with that of the Eighth Air Force. Except for July, serviceability of fighter aircraft present on the combat stations actually averaged higher than it had before D-day, i.e., over 80 per cent, climbing steadily after November 1944 until it exceeded 90 per cent in April 1945, when German opposition had almost disappeared. The serviceability rate of Ninth Air Force bombers also continued high after the move to the continent, exceeding 80 per cent in every month except February and March 1945, a period of exceptionally heavy operations. The First Tactical Air Force never achieved as high a serviceability rate for its aircraft on combat stations, largely because it lacked sufficient service units, particularly during the early months of its operations, and because of the wide dispersal of its stations. However, from a low of only 69.1 per cent in December 1944 the serviceability rate for bombers rose steadily to a high of 88.7 per cent in April 1945. The serviceability rate of fighters followed a similar course, rising from 65.1 per cent in December 1944 to 77.3 per cent in April 1945. The Eighth Air Force, with the best facilities available to any of the air forces in the theater, actually had a slightly lower serviceability rate than the Ninth for its aircraft after D-day. Its average of over 80 per cent for fighters for the period was lower than that of the
Ninth, while its bombers’ serviceability was a bit higher than that of the Ninth after the mediums moved to the continent, beginning in September.145
Salvage of aircraft was a major problem on the continent, since for the first time the Americans had to rely on their own efforts. The RAF had performed most of the salvage function for the Americans in the United Kingdom. The Ninth had responsibility for the salvage of Eighth Air Force planes as well as of its own until the VIII AFSC Service Center was set up in October 1944. A mutual RAF-Ninth Air Force reporting system took care of planes which came down in each other’s zones of operations.146 The versatile mobile reclamation and repair squadrons once more proved their value in this work as they had in almost every other phase of maintenance. They were among the best ofthe many service units which enabled the Ninth Air Force to attain a high degree of logistical mobility on the continent.