is a brief history of the premier, B-24 Heavy Bombardment Group,
within the United States Army Air Corps during the military buildup
immediately prior to and during WW II.
The Group was activated by the Army and
designated the 44th Bomb Group (H) by Special Order #11, dated January
13, 1941. The Group was activated on January 15, 1941 by the transfer
of a few officers and enlisted men from the 29th Bomb Group.
point in history America was attempting to maintain its international
neutrality. The Japanese were expanding aggressively in Southeast
Asia. The Germans had invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. That
brought England and France to Poland's defense. Germany then attacked,
over ran and occupied Holland, Belgium and France. Our relations with
Japan and Germany continued to decline. America slowly moved to
mobilization. The Selective Service Act (the military draft) was
enacted in September, 1940. All of America's military services began a
rapid expansion. The 44th was in the vanguard of that expansion. It
was designated an OUT (operational training unit). It was the first
American air unit to be equipped with the new B-24 four engine bomber.
was dubbed, "the ugly duckling", because of its lack of slick
aesthetic design. However, it was a very rugged and worthy combat
plane. It had a very aerodynamically efficient wing and four powerful
Pratt and Whitney engines that made it a very valuable weapon in
America's air arsenal. It was the only aircraft flown in combat by the
44th in WW II.
spent with the 44th personnel being trained in basic military skills,
getting to know their airplane and each other. The Japanese attack
upon Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and Germany's declaration of war
upon America transformed our nation from an isolationist people to a
February 10, 1942 the 44th was ordered to Barksdale Field, LA. While
still in an intense training mode the 44th was given the added duty of
patrolling the Gulf of Mexico for German submarines that were causing
havoc in the shipping lanes in our home waters.
addition to training its own personnel, the 44th became a source of
cadres for other newly organized B-24 heavy bomb groups. The following
Bomb Groups were created by the transfer of 44th personnel to the:
on February 15, 1942 by transfer of 579 enlisted men and 46 officers
March 1942 by transfer of cadre (number of personnel unknown)
March 26, 1942 by transfer of 587 enlisted men and one half of the
May 17,1942 by transfer of 656 enlisted men
1942 the 44th ground echelon was bolstered by the addition of units of
finance, quartermaster, transportation and chemical warfare. In
reflecting upon these facts, the task of readying a unit for combat
with such a huge turnover of personnel is staggering.
25,1942 the 44th was assigned to Will Rogers Field, OK in preparation
for deployment to an overseas theatre of operations. At this time the
44th was manned by 77 officers and 900 enlisted men. The group
consisted of four squadrons, Headquarters and headquarters squadron
(506th), the 66th squadron, the 67th squadron and the 68th squadron.
The stay at Will Rogers field was brief.
25, 1942 the ground echelon left Will Rogers Field, by troop train,
for Ft. Dix, NJ to prepare for overseas shipment. On September 4, 1942
the 44th ground echelon, consisting of 62 officers and 819 enlisted
men boarded HMS Queen Mary for transport to Greenock, Scotland and
duty in the United Kingdom for "the duration" of World War II. They
disembarked on September 11. 1943. Initially the ground echelon was
housed at the British air base of Cheddington, Bucks. On October 10
they moved to Shipdham, Norfolk. This new “lend -lease" base,
Officially AAF Station 115, was to be the home of the 44thuntil
the end of the war in Europe.
echelon was dispatched to Greiner Field, NH where they received new
aircraft, olive drab B-24 D's. There they accomplished some more
training, modified their planes and readied for the flight to Britain
to join the fledgling “Mighty Eighth Air Force”. All of the air
echelons 27 planes manned by 123 officers and 147 enlisted men were in
place at Shipdham on October 10, 1942
flew its first combat mission on November 7, 1942. This was the first
of 344 missions flown against the Axis powers in WW II. Over 8400
individual combat sorties were flown by 44th crews. In compiling this
outstanding record the 44th lost 850 of its brave young patriots who
gave their lives to "save the world". On combat operations the 44th
lost 153 of its sturdy B-24's. Another 39 planes were lost in
non-combat operational flight activities.
Air Force in the fall/winter of 1942-43 consisted of five B-17 groups
and two B-24 groups. No American Fighter groups had yet become
operational. The Americans set out to prove that they could conduct
high altitude, daylight precision bombing against German targets
without fighter escort.
German Luftwaffe and the British RAF had to abandon daylight bombing
raids against each other because neither could sustain the losses each
had experienced. However, the Americans persisted at great cost, in
men and airplanes. In the period between November 7, 1942 and March 8,
1943 the 44th lost 13 of its original 27 B-24's.
March, 1943 moral within the group zoomed. A fourth squadron, the
506th joined the 44th with eight new planes, crews and
ground support personnel. Several days later five replacement crews
arrived, they too were warmly welcomed.
first large-scale air battle for the 44th was the May 14, 1943 attack on
the German submarine base at Kiel. This was a vicious conflict. The 44th
lost five of its seventeen B-24s in the target area. Our gunners were
credited with having shot down twenty-one German fighters. The 44th was
awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for its conduct on this
operation. This was the first such honor granted to a combat unit of the
8th air force.
June 1943 the three B-24 Liberator groups of the 8th air force were sent
to North Africa on temporary duty with the 9th air force. The 44th was
joined by the 93rd and the 389th. These three units joined the two Ninth
Liberator groups for the August 1, 1943 low-level attack upon the German
held Rumanian oil complex at Ploesti. This daring and bold assault by
high altitude bombers at tree top level was an experience that had both
success and failure. The 44th destroyed both of its assigned targets but
lost eleven of its thirty-seven planes and crews. Our courageous leader,
Colonel Leon Johnson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for
his leadership. The group was awarded its second Distinguished Unit
Citation. This operation was known as "Tidal Wave". Of the 178 B-24's
who were dispatched on this operation, 54 were lost. While on this tour
of temporary duty the 44th also supported the invasion of Sicily. The
44th returned to its home base, Shipdham, at the end of August and was
pleased to be back to the relative comfort of England. The joyous return
was short lived however.
September 17, 1943 the 44th was once again ordered to North Africa, on
temporary duty. This time the unit was to be based in Tunisia, at Oudna.
The 44th shared a base with a B-17 unit, the 99th Bomb Group. The group
was to support our ground forces in an assault on the Italian mainland.
On October 1,1943 the 44th made its second mission to the Messerschmitt
plant at Weiner-Neustadt, Austria. The first attack had been without
much enemy opposition. This target, highly valued by the German high
command, was now heavily defended. The 44th encountered hordes of
fighters and very intense and accurate flak. The 44th suffered the loss
of eight of its twenty-five planes. The 44th gunners claimed fifty
German fighters were shot down. A few days after this costly mission the
44th was ordered back to Great Britain.
- The 8th
Air Force had been expanding in numbers, in planes, both bombers and
fighters, and personnel, but had not yet won air superiority over Europe
The Fall of 1943 was
difficult for the 8th Air Force. Weather was ugly. However the
Force continued to expand. The 44th closed out this action packed,
costly year on a
high note. On December 31, 1943 the
veteran 44th lead the 14th Combat Wing to its assigned target at St.
Jean d' Angely airfield. The excellence of this precision high altitude
bombing effort earned the following praise by the 2nd Air Division
commander, Gen. James Hodges, "It gives me extreme satisfaction to tell
you that your bombing today was the finest example yet accomplished by
January, 1944 brought major changes.
Eisenhower moved up from Mica to become Supreme Allied Commander. He
brought with him General Jimmy Doolittle, who became chief of the 8th
Air force. Tactics and strategy also changed. The P-51 fighter, with its
expanded fuel tanks was introduced. The task of the fighter force was
changed. Rather than being a protective force for the bombers they used
the bombers as "bait"
to get the German fighters airborne. The
dictum was to "kill the German fighter force on the ground, in the air,
and in the factory". Fighter pilots were given credit for any German
aircraft they destroyed on the ground, in strafing operations. Synthetic
oil production facilities moved up on the strategic bombing priority
target list. Elimination of German fighter pilots was a major goal.
- Following a horrible winter the
weather turned favorably in February. The Eighth took full advantage of
this break and "Big Week" was staged. The 44th was fully engaged
in this massive operation. The
German lost over 2100 fighters in February and another 2100 in March, a
loss from which they never recovered. This is not to leave one with the
impression that they no longer resisted, they surely did fight, but the
quality of the German resistance was greatly lessened. The P-51 long
range fighter had provided us with the air superiority to successfully
stage an invasion of the Continent.
The 44th continued to fulfill all of its
assigned tasks with commendable results. As with all units of the 8th
Air Force the 44th was directed to carry out missions that were other
than strategic. Early in 1944 the 44th spent a lot of effort in
attempting to forestall the German use of the V-1 and V-2 weapons
against the British homeland. These missions were carried out
aggressively and with great cost to the Bomber Force in terms of planes
The buildup to the Normandy invasion put
great demands upon each of the combat units, especially the ground
echelon, responsible for the maintenance of the airplanes. The 44th was
blessed with ground personnel who were dedicated to making certain that
each plane was fit for combat. The 44th had come to England with ground
personnel to service nine aircraft per squadron. As aircraft production
ramped up in the US each squadron was now assigned twelve planes, a few
months later, the complement was fifteen each. All of this
without an increase in the number of men
to care for the added planes. Around invasion time, June, 1944/ the
number of aircraft assigned to each squadron was close to twenty.
Was this a burden? Indeed it was but to
the credit of the men who made up the ground crews they accepted the
added duty and performed with superiority. This was their way of
expressing their admiration for the uncommon courage of their combat
crews. What magnificent spirit.
The German continued to resist. Flak had
a deadly presence and fighters often were absent for a few missions but
would then concentrate upon a column of bombers in a vicious attack. The
44th had its share of these encounters with costly results leading up to
the invasion. However, the 44th continued to add to its experience in
combat operations. Many of its flying personnel chose to take home leave
to the States for thirty days,
and return for another tour of combat
duty. This was a plus for both, base morale and command leadership.
On Easter Saturday (April 8, 1944) the
44th was the lead group of the 2nd Air Division on a briefed mission to
Brunswick, Germany. Shortly before IP German fighters broke through our
fighter screen and mauled the 44th in a brief but costly air battle. The
mission was a maximum effort with 44 B-24 bombers in its formation.
Eleven of these fine young crews were lost before our fighters
prevailed. This was an example of German
tactics and tenacity in defending their
The 44th was fully engaged in the famed
Transportation Plan. This operation which began in early April, 1944 was
a combined RAF/8th AF, around the clock bombing campaign, upon German
railroad facilities, with the goal of isolating the planned Normandy
battlefield, in advance of the invasion. It was a major element in the
success of the invasion, but it too came at a great cost. In a bit over
two months this massive offensive effort cost the RAF / 8th AF bomber
fleets 2,000 aircraft.
The 44th participated in the aerial
support of the June 6, 1944 invasion of Europe. The distinguished leader
of the 44th BG, General Leon Johnson, was now 14th Combat Wing
Commander, and was in the 44th lead airplane. Their assigned task was to
attack the beaches prior to the ground forces coming ashore. The 44th
also flew two additional missions to the invasion battlefield that day.
A few weeks later the 44th was engaged
again in direct support of our ground forces in the massive breakout at
St. Lo. These diversions from the primary role of attacks upon the
German industrial production facilities, oil production, marshalling
yards, airfields and other vital targets were enthusiastically supported
by our airmen. All of them had brothers or dear friends among the ground
forces. They felt that this was a way to assist them in their onerous
task upon the ground.
As the summer moved on our forces
continued their steady movement on the Continent, our missions grew
longer, our losses declined but combat flying remained a dangerous
business. It became apparent that the experience of this marvelous
grouping of brave airmen and their skilled ground echelon combined to
limit combat losses, to enhance getting more airmen to completed tours
of duty, having fulfilled their commitment
In September. 1944 the 44th was once
again diverted to assist the ground forces. This time to drop supplies
to the Airborne forces that made a daring attack at Arnhem, Holland.
Employing B-24s at very low altitude makes them especially vulnerable to
small arms fire but the 44th crews accepted this assignment without
complaint. This failed operation was
known as "Market Garden".
Weather was an ever present deterrent to
successful combat operations. Higher headquarters at times ignored
safety in favor of launching the mission. The introduction of radar in
lead aircraft early in 1944 made possible the completion of more
missions. It was now possible to bomb targets through overcast or dense
cover. It was not as precise but it was
a disruptive nuisance to the enemy. It also relieved the frustration of
a deep penetration of enemy territory only to find that cloud
cover denied completion of the
In December, 1944 the Germans took
advantage of a paralyzing weather system and launched a risky but well
planned ground assault designed to capture the seaport of Antwerp. This
vicious, gutsy campaign became known as the "Battle of the Bulge". Once
again the 44th was involved, in support of ground troops. After several
days of stand down because of weather the 44th launched every B-24 it
possessed. The targets were many, road intersections, supply dumps,
equipment staging areas. Anything to reduce the German ability to
continue this frightening near success.
In late March, 1944 after a few months
of the long missions against German oil and industrial targets the 44th
began a few days of practicing the dropping of supplies from low level.
Dangerous work for planes as big and as slow as the B-24. Despite the
risk the crews were enthusiastic for they knew they were to assist the
Operation "Varsity", the crossing of the
Rhine river into Germany was staged on March 24, 1944. This massive
effort by the American and British forces for the final thrust into
Germany was flown by over 1700 8th AF four engine bombers. The 44th was
assigned the dropping of supplies to the airborne troops who had been
dropped behind the German front lines.
Mission accomplished but with losses..
As the Army ground forces raced across
Germany the Air Forces continued to pound its array of targets. Many of
those targets were in the eastern portions of Germany and the occupied
central European nations. Long flights but greatly reduced enemy
opposition. Finally capitulation was near. The 44th flew the last of its
344 combat missions on April 25, 1945. 8400 individual sorties spread
over twenty-nine months of continuous
mortal combat. Cessation of hostilities
were formalized on May 8, 1945. The celebration was delirious.
The task now was to keep the men busy.
Relieved of the pressures of combat, the concern was for the onset of
idleness. Higher headquarters anticipated the development and had plans
to move this vast organization to the ZOI (zone of the interior) , army
speak for HOME
In the last several days of May each of
the 44th airplanes was scheduled for the flight to the States. Each
plane was assigned twenty men for transport to the eastern United
States. Terminal point was Bradley Field, CT. Each man was granted
thirty days of leave in his home town. Upon completion of this leave
most of the Group reported to Sioux Falls, SD for further reassignment
off or separation. The 44th was to have begun retraining in B-29
Super-Fortresses for eventual duty against Japan. However, because of
the Japanese surrender that never happened.
This very brief history of this famous
and outstanding aviation unit slights the true worth and value of this
Bomb Group and its contribution to the winning of WW II.
Greater detail of the courageous deeds
and achievements of the 44th and its members may be found in," THE 44TH
BOMB GROUP IN WORLD WAR II "written by Ron Mackay and Steve Adams.
Published by Schiffer Military History, Arglen, PA or "THE 44th BOMB
GROUP, THE FLYING EIGHT-BALLS' by Tuner Publishing Co., Paducah, KY.
brief history is intended to highlight the leadership in bombardment
aviation in WW II by the unusual command leadership of the 44tb and its
skilled and talented personnel. There is an awareness that other groups
of dedicated and patriotic American service personnel participated with
courage and valor. Their magnificent contribution is for other to tell.
The men of the WW II 44th are honored to have been the first to bear
the 44th designation.
OF THE FORTY-FOURTH
The Forty-Fourth Bombardment Group
(H) was organized under
Special Order Number 11 dated January 13, under paragraph 14 and 15
The Forty-Fourth Bombardment Group (H)
GHQ Air Force was activated
from the Twenty-Ninth
Bombardment Group (H) on the 15th
of January, 1941 along with the Fifty-Third Pursuit Group, both. new
organizations were formed at Mac Dill Field Florida,
was under the command of' Brigadier
General Clarence Tinker, both organizations were formed from personnel
of the Twenty-Nineth Bombardment Group (H).
was activated with four officers and approximately one hundred and ten
enlisted men. The group consisted of four squadrons, the
Headquarters Squadron, the
Sixty-Sixth Bomb Squadron, the
Sixty-Seventh Bomb Squadron and the. Sixty-Eighth Bomb
Lieutenant Colonel Melvin B. Asp joined
the Headquarters &
Headquarters Squadron of the Twenty-Ninth
Bombardment Group (H) GHQ AB and assumed command of the Group.
Captain Edward J. Timberlake joined the
organization from the Sixth Bomb Squadron, Twenty-Nineth Bombardment
Group (H) GHQ AF and assumed command of the Sixty-Sixth Bomb Squadron.
Major George R. Acheston assumed Command
of the Sixty-Seventh Bomb Squadron. He joined the Forty-Fourth
the Forty-Third Bomb Squadron,
Twenty-Nineth Bombardment Group (H).
assumed command of the Sixty-Eighth
joined the Forty-Fourth Bomb Group from
the Fifty-Second Bomb Squadron, Twenty-Nineth Bomb Group
Of the Hundred and Ten enlisted men
the Forty-Fourth there were Ninety-five present for duty
Fifteen were absent, most of these
attending technical schools..
There were thirteen men attached to the Forty-Fourth from other
eight men were attached
initial reports were rendered
bearing these figures as listed
on the Forty-Fourth.
Bomb Group prior to January
The original cadre of
enlisted men gradually grew and a fifth officer
joined the organization
on February 11,
1941. The new officer was Major Olds who joined the organization from
the Headquarters & Headquarters
Squadron, Twenty-Nineth Bomb Group (H).
assigned to the
organization, increasing the strength to
fifty-three enlisted men.
Second Lieutenant Magnus
was assigned to
Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron
and joined the Squadron on
Major Olds was relieved
on March the 2nd and
Jarrell was assigned to the
Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron
and assumed Command
of the Squadron.
Major Charles W.
assigned to the Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron on March the 25th
and was appointed Group Executive Officer on the
Major Kohlass was assigned to the Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron
on March the l2th and joined the organization on that date. He was
appointed Summary Court Officer
for the group.
March 25th. Major Travis was
assigned to the
Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron
April 18th, 1941
and the Forty-Fourth
had Nine Officers and
seventy - two enlisted men.