6th Night Fighter Squadron
|6th Night Fighter Squadron|
6th NFS P-61A-1-NO Black Widow 42-5524 Being readied for a mission, East Field, Saipan, Mariana Islands, September 1944
|Branch||United States Army Air Forces|
|Type||Night Fighter Operations|
|6th Night Fighter Squadron emblem|
The squadron's origins began in December 1916 when the United States Army established seven air squadrons. The 6th Aero Squadron, as it would be designated, was first organized on 13 March 1917 at Rockwell Field, California. From the outset, the squadron was to be organized and then sent to Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii to establish a permanent air presence. Curtiss JN-4s and two Curtiss N-9 seaplanes were assigned to the squadron. In early 1917, the still undesignated squadron was equipped with men and equipment. Captain John F. Curry was relieved from duty with the 1st Aero Squadron in New Mexico and ordered to Fort Kamehameha in January 1917 with orders to establish a seaplane base; in March Captain John B. Brooks and 49 men arrived from Rockwell Field and on the 13th the squadron was officially activated.
Captain Curry chose Ford Island in Pearl Harbor as the permanent base for the 6th Aero Squadron for several reasons: “It had excellent approaches and plenty of water for landings and take-offs. It faced into the prevailing wind and a land airdrome could be easily made, and it was the cheapest and most available land (really the only available land) that fulfilled all the requirements for the operation of the squadron.
Curry’s recommendations to situate the 6th Aero Squadron at Ford Island were approved locally then, also, in Washington. He stated, “I then made the necessary arrangements with the owners, the John Ii Estate, for the purchase of the land and drew up plans for the establishment of a base that would accommodate several squadrons. Estimates amounting to about $1,300,000 were submitted for the establishment of the base and an additional sum of about $325,000 for the purchase of the Island.” On September 25, 1917 the 6th Aero Squadron abandoned Fort Kamehameha and moved to the new site, under Brooks’ command. They began clearing the land to establish the first Army Air Service Station in Hawaii.
However, there was no action on Ford Island’s purchase. When Curry returned to the mainland for reassignment (August 1917), he followed up on his recommendation and managed to obtain final approval for Ford Island’s purchase. The Oahu Sugar Company surrendered its leasehold to Ford Island in late 1917 to complete the sale. It was understood by the War Department that both the Navy and the Army would use Ford Island. The station was officially renamed Luke Field in 1919 after World War I fighter pilot Frank Luke who was killed in action over the Western Front.
After the end of World War I, the 6th Aero Squadron was retained by the Army on the active list of Air Service squadrons. It was assigned on 15 September 1919 to the 2d Observation Group (subsequently re-designated as the 5th Observation Group, and later the 5th Composite Group) at Luke Field. With the establishment of the United States Army Air Service in 1921, the squadron was re-designated as the 6th Squadron (Pursuit), and then the 6th Pursuit Squadron on 25 January 1923.
Luke Field developed into a sizable base as additional Army and Navy units were stationed there. Pursuit planes and bombers made up the squadron's flight inventory. In 1927, the squadron was moved to the Wheeler Field, when it was relieved from assignment to the 5th Composite Group was formed into the provisional 18th Pursuit Group along with the 19th Pursuit Squadron. The 18th was formally activated on 21 January 1927. In the 1920s and early 30s, the squadron was equipped with World War I surplus Dayton-Wright DH-4 and Boeing PW-9 aircraft. Ppilots flew training missions in the air defense of Hawaii
During the 1930s, the squadron was equipped with a mixture of hand-me-down aircraft that were transferred from stateside units to Hawaii. In 1938 new Boeing P-26 Peashooters were assigned to the squadron, being replaced by Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters in 1939.
World War II
The Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor destroyed the squadron's 18 P-36As on the line at Wheeler Field, none of the aircraft survived. It was re-equipped with some P-40C Warhawks that were shipped in from the states and the squadron resumed air defense flights in the surrounding waters. It was moved to Kahuku Field in the northern part of the Island of Oʻahu as a dispersal move in August 1942 where it continued its air defense mission, moving to Kipapa Airfield in November.
At Kipapa, the Warhawks were replaced with Douglas P-70s and the squadron was re-designated as the 6th Night Fighter Squadron in January 1943. After training in night interception operations in Hawaii, The squadron began combat operations in February of 1943 from Guadalcanal, in an attempt to intercept high-flying Japanese night raiders. The P-70s, however didn't have the speed to intercept the Japanese Zero, and two P-38F Lightnings equipped with radar as single seat night fighters were assigned to the squadron to curb the activities of "Bedcheck Charlie", a Japanese aircraft flying nuisance sorties over Gualdacanal at night.
On March 20/21, 1943, Detachment B’s P-70s failed to stop Japanese night bombers from damaging fifteen of the 307th Bomb Group’s B-24s and five of the 5th Bomb Group’s B-17s on the ground at Guadalcanal. Eight months later, in November, enemy night bombers sank one and damaged three Allied ships at Bougainville. The AAF concluded from this initial experiment in night fighting that “it proved impossible to prevent the Japanese from inflicting some damage” on U.S. ground and surface forces.
The 6th NFS received their first P-61s in early June, 1944. The aircraft were quickly assembled and underwent flight testing as the pilots transitioned from the squadron's aging P-70s. The first operational P-61 mission occurred on June 25. On June 30, 1944, the P-61 scored its first kill when a Japanese G4M Betty bomber was shot down. Japanese night bombers launched a major effort to disrupt the construction of U.S. airfields on Saipan needed for the B-29 campaign against the home islands. Flying P-61s, the 6th NFS began defensive operations nine days after the Marines’ June 15 landing. Enemy attackers held the initiative until new Microwave Early Warning radars linked to SCR-615 and AN/TPS-10 “Li’l Abner” height-finder radars made three Japanese sorties one-way trips. In thirty-seven attempts at interception from June 24 to July 21, the defense made twenty-seven airborne radar contacts and claimed three kills.
A typical Japanese aerial assault force consisted of a dozen Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers flying twenty miles apart. P-61 crews discovered that if they could shoot down the lead bomber, the others would jettison their bombs and flee. Black Widows from the 6th NFS and the 548th NFS downed five additional enemy intruders before the attacks stopped in January 1945. The 6th NFS flew defensive patrols to protect the B-29 bases there until the end of the war.
Postwar and inactivation
With the end of combat, the 6th Night Fighter Squadron returned to Hawaii and was largely demobilized of personnel. It was transferred to Occupied Japan in June 1946 where it became part of the air defense of Japan. It was inactivated due to budget consolidations in February 1947, its personnel and equipment being transferred to the 339th Fighter Squadron (All Weather).
It has never been reactivated.
- Organized as 6th Aero Squadron on March 13, 1917
- Re-designated: 6th Squadron (Pursuit) on March 14, 1921
- Re-designated: 6th Pursuit Squadron on January 25, 1923
- Re-designated: 6th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on December 6, 1939
- Re-designated: 6th Fighter Squadron on May 15, 1942
- Re-designated: 6th Night Fighter Squadron on January 17, 1943
- Inactivated on: February 20, 1947
- Hawaiian Department, 13 March 1917
- 2d Observation (later 5th Observation; 5th Pursuit and Bombardment; 5th Composite) Group, 15 September 1919
- 18th Pursuit (later Fighter) Group, January 1927
- 15th Fighter Group, 16 March 1943
- VII Fighter Command, 5 June 1944
- Attached to 318th Fighter Group, 11 January-16 March 1945
- 7th Fighter Wing, 12 May 1945
- Pacific Air Command, 1 January 1946
- Fifth Air Force, 11 June 1946-20 February 1947
- Attached to 314th Composite Wing
- Upon inactivation, personnel and equipment reassigned to 339th Fighter Squadron (All Weather)
- Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii Territory, March 13, 1917
- Ford Island (later Luke Field), Hawaii Territory,September 25, 1918
- Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii Territory, January 11, 1927
- Kahuku Army Airfield, Hawaii Territory, August 30, 1942
- Kipapa Gulch Army Airfield Hawaii Territory, November 17, 1942 – March 3, 1944
- Detached: Koli Airfield, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, February 28 – December 15, 1943
- Detached: Jackson Airfield (7 Mile Drome), Port Moresby, New Guinea, April 18 – December 15, 1943
- Kipapa Gulch Army Airfield Hawaii Territory, October 28, 1944
- Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii Territory, October 2, 1945
- Atsugi Airfield, Japan, June 11, 1946
- Yokota Airfield, Japan, September 1, 1946 – February 20, 1947.
- N-G, R-6 and HS2L (1918–1920)
- Airco DH-4, HS2L, JN-6, MB-3, Fokker D.VIII (1920–1926)
- PW-9, DH-4 C-2 (1927–1930)
- P-12, PW-9, B-12, OA-3 (1931–1938)
- P-26, P-36, B-12, A-12, OA-9 (1939–1941)
- Curtiss P-40, 1941–1942
- B-18 Bolo, 1942
- P-70 Havoc, 1942–1944
- P-38 Lightning, 1943
- Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, 1943–1945
- Northrop P-61 Black Widow, 1944–1947
- Northrop P-61 Black Widow—The Complete History and Combat Record, Garry R. Pape, John M. Campbell and Donna Campbell, Motorbooks International, 1991.
- Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) . Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556.