6th Night Fighter Squadron
|6th Night Fighter Squadron|
6th Night Fighter Squadron P-61A Black Widow 42-5598 "Sleepy Time Gal", East Field, Saipan, Mariana Islands, September 1944
|Branch||United States Army Air Forces|
|Type||Night Fighter Operations|
|6th Night Fighter Squadron emblem|
The unit was one of the initial Aero Squadrons established by the United States Army Signal Corps, its origins dating to 13 March 1917 prior to the United States' entry into World War I. It was the first Air Service squadron assigned to Hawaii. It was part of the island's defenses until entering into combat during World War II in the Southwest Pacific Area as a night fighter interceptor squadron in 1944.
The origins of the unit date to 29 June 1913 when Lieutenant Harold Geiger, along with about 12 enlisted men and a civilian engine expert, George B. Purington, left the Army aerodrome at North Island (later Rockwell Field), San Diego, California to establish and air school in Hawaii. Aircraft sent by the Signal Corps arrived at Honolulu Harbor on 13 July, consisting of a Curtiss Model E two-seat seaplane and a Curtiss G aircraft, along with some spare parts, tents, some equipment and two motorcycles.
The school in Hawaii was not a success due to problems with the aircraft, unsuitable flying conditions which also tore up the units tents, and the commander at Fort Kamehameha would not sanction any regular flying instruction. Neither did he want the planes to take part in maneuvers. The planes were sold in November 1913 and Geiger and most of his detachment left Hawaii for the United States.
In December 1916, the Signal Corps decided to expand the number of Aero Squadrons from two to seven because of World War I. The 6th Aero Squadron, as it would later be designated, was first organized in December 1916 at the Army Flying School at Rockwell Field and then sent to Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii to establish a permanent air presence on the islands. At the time, the Army would not officially activate a unit until it was fully manned, equipped and trained.
At Rockwell Field, the still un-designated squadron was equipped with Curtiss JN-4s and two Curtiss N-9 seaplanes, along with a compliment of mechanics 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; Captain John B. Brooks and 49 men arrived from Rockwell Field on 13 March 1917 and the squadron was officially activated.
Captain Curry was informed that the aircraft being sent to Hawaii to equip the squadron would be flying boats, and he was to find a location near the water. 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. 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.
On 25 September 1917 the 6th Aero Squadron abandoned Fort Kamehameha and moved to the new site. They began clearing the land to establish the first Army Air Service Station in Hawaii. The squadron remained in Hawaii throughout the United States involvement in World War I and did not deploy to the Western Front in France.
After the end of World War I, the 6th Aero Squadron was retained by the Army on the active list of Air Service squadrons. The airfield on Ford Island was officially renamed Luke Field in 1919 after World War I fighter pilot Frank Luke who was killed in action over the Western Front.
On 15 August 1919, the 2d Group (Observation) was formed in Hawaii by the Air Service, the 6th Aero Squadron being assigned on 15 September. It was joined by the 4th Aero Squadron on 24 January 1920. Along with the re-organization of units, the 6th began to receive newer aircraft, surplus Dayton-Wright DH-4s and Curtiss JN-6s from World War I, along with a captured Fokker D.VIII from Germany and a Thomas-Morse MB-3 that arrived in 1922. 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.
The first inter-island flight occurred in February 1919, and by 1920 inter-island flights were used for training purposes. Also, the first night flight over Oahu took place on 30 June 1920. In the early 1920s, air power began to take its place in the Hawaiian Department's military maneuvers. The growth of the Air Service in Hawaii and the sharing of facilities on Ford Island was, however, causing congestion and other issues. Another airfield was needed to accommodate the growth, and the first detachment of twenty men started clearing land south of Schofield Barracks for Wheeler Field in February 1922.
The 6th Pursuit Squadron along with the 19th was re-assigned from the 5th Composite Group at Luke Field to the 18th Pursuit Group at Wheeler in January 1927 as part of a re-alignment of the Hawaiian air defenses. The 5th later became a Bombardment Group.
At Wheeler, the squadron was upgraded with new Boeing PW-9 pursuit fighters as well as keeping its DH-4s. Its mission was the air defense of Hawaii. It also acquired a Fokker C-2 transport for inter-island flights. It was upgraded again in 1931 with Boeing P-12s and then with Boeing P-26 Peashooters and Curtiss P-36 Hawks in 1939, all hand-me-downs from squadrons in the United States.
As a result of tensions between the United States and the Japanese Empire, the Air Corps formed the Hawaiian Air Force which was activated in November 1940 at Fort Shafter. It was the first Army Air Force outside the continental United States. The Hawaiian Air Force's mission was to integrate the air defenses of Hawaii. In connection with defense plans for the Pacific, P-40 Warhawks were brought to Hawaii by aircraft carrier. for the 18th Pursuit Group, however the P-36s remained in service with the 6th Pursuit Group.
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 P-40 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 was deployed to the South Pacific Area and began combat operations in February 1943 from Carney Airfield, Guadalcanal, in an attempt to intercept high-flying Japanese night raiders. The P-70s, however didn't have the speed to intercept the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M 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 Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Eight months later, in November, enemy night bombers sank one and damaged three Allied ships at Bougainville Island. 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 Northrop P-61 Black Widows 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 Mitsubishi 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 Superfortress campaign against the home islands. Flying P-61s, the 6th NFS began defensive operations nine days after the Marines’ June 15 landing on Saipan. 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 of the island 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 Night Fighter Squadron 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 not been reactivated since then.
- 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)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 6th Aero Squadron.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 6th Pursuit Squadron.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 6th Night Fighter Squadron.|
- USAF Historical Studies: No. 98, The United States Army Air Arm, April 1861 to April 1917 USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute Air University, May 1958
- Historic Ford Island Moku'ume'ume Historic Structures, December 1991
- Capt. John Curry, Hawaii Aviation History Website
- 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.
- Sproule, Jean A. (1965), Brief History of the Air Force in Hawaii, Office of History, Pacific Air Forces Base Command
- Garry R. Pape, John M. Campbell and Donna Campbell (1991), Northrop P-61 Black Widow—The Complete History and Combat Record, G, Motorbooks International