133d Operations Group

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133d Operations Group
110228-F-3188G-115-C-130H3.jpg
133d Operations Group C-130H
Active 1943–1945; 1947–1952; 1952–present
Country  United States
Branch US-AirNationalGuard-2007Emblem.svg  Air National Guard
Role Airlift
Patron Splendentes in Defensione Latin Splendid in Defense
Engagements European Theater of Operations
Decorations Distinguished Unit Citation
Belgian Fourragere
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Commanders
Current
commander
Col Robert Hagel[1]
Notable commander Brig Gen Edwin S. Chickering[2]
Insignia
133d Operations Group emblem (Approved 9 July 1954)[3][note 1] 133d Airlift Wing.png

The 133rd Operations Group is the flying component of the Minnesota Air National Guard's 133d Airlift Wing, stationed at Minneapolis–Saint Paul Joint Air Reserve Station, Minnesota. If activated to federal service, the group is gained by Air Mobility Command of the United States Air Force.

The group was first activated as the 367th Fighter Group, an Army Air Forces unit. The group trained in the western United States with Bell P-39 Airacobras. The 367th moved to England in the spring of 1944, where it became part of IX Fighter Command (later XIX Tactical Air Command) and converted to Lockheed P-38 Lightnings. The group engaged in combat with Lightnings, and later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, in the European Theater of Operations until VE Day, earning two Distinguished Unit Citations and the Belgian Fourragere for its actions. It returned to the United States in the fall of 1945 and was inactivated on 7 November 1945.

In May 1946, the group was allotted to the National Guard and renumbered as the 133d Fighter Group.[note 2] It trained with North American P-51 Mustangs. In 1951 it was mobilized for the Korean War and served in an air defense role until inactivating in February 1952 in a reorganization of Air Defense Command.

The group was returned to the Minnesota Air National Guard in December 1952. It was an air defense fighter unit until 1960, when it converted to the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter and the airlift mission. It was called to active duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. The 133d replaced its C-97s with Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft in 1971. It was inactivated in early 1975, when its component units were assigned directly to its parent 133d Tactical Airlift Wing. It was reactivated in 1994 and resumed its role as the operational component of the 133d Wing.

Mission[edit]

The group commands units that support federal and state requirements for the airlift of troops, cargo, and medical patients anywhere in the world. It performs missions tasked by other headquarters within its capabilities. It monitors standardization of all flying and support unit operating procedures and insures units maintain an environment conducive to safe training activities.[1]

History[edit]

World War II[edit]

Training in the United States[edit]

P-39D as used by the group for training

The 367th Fighter Group was first activated at Hamilton Field, California on 15 July 1943 with the 392d, 393d and 394th Fighter Squadrons as its initial components.[3][4][5][6] Several members of its initial cadre were former Flying Tigers with prior combat experience. It was not until late August, however, that the group received its first Bell P-39 Airacobra.[7] After building up its strength, the group moved in October to Santa Rosa Army Air Field, California.[3] In December the group moved to Oakland Municipal Airport, while its squadrons moved to separate fields in northern California.[note 3] The squadrons moved temporarily in sequence to Tonopah Army Air Field, Nevada, where they performed dive bombing and gunnery training. Training accidents with the Airacobra cost eight pilots their lives. In January 1944, as it prepared for overseas movement, the 367th was beefed up with personnel from the 328th and 368th Fighter Groups.[8] The group staged through Camp Shanks, and sailed for England aboard the SS Duchess of Bedford.[9] The "Drunken Duchess"[note 4] docked at Greenock, Scotland on 3 April and the group was transported by train to its airfield at RAF Stoney Cross, England.[8]

P-38 transition and combat operations from England[edit]

392d Fighter Squadron P-38[note 5]

Having trained on single engine aircraft, the group's pilots were surprised to find Lockheed P-38 Lightnings sitting on Stoney Cross's dispersal pads.[10] Only four group pilots, members of the advance party, had any experience flying the Lightning. These pilots had flown combat sorties with the 55th Fighter Group.[11] The change from single engine to twin engine aircraft required considerable retraining for both pilots and ground crew.[10] Although some pilots entered combat with as little as eight hours of flying time on the P-38, in late April the group was reinforced by fourteen pilots who had trained on the Lightning in the States and were more experienced on the type.[12] However, the lack of instrument training in the P-38 took its toll on the group as weather, not enemy action, caused the loss of pilots and airplanes.[13]

On 9 May, the group flew its first combat mission, a fighter sweep over Alençon.[14] For the remainer of the month, the group flew fighter sweeps, bomber escort and dive bombing, missions and suffered its first combat losses.[15]

On D-Day and the next three days the group flew nine missions maintaining air cover over shipping carrying invasion troops.[10] These missions continued for the next three days. The 367th and other P-38 groups stationed in England were selected for these missions with the expectation that the distinctive silhouette of the Lightning would prevent potential friendly fire incidents by anti-aircraft gunners mistaking them for enemy fighters.[16] Shortly after the Normandy invasion, on 12 June, the group was selected to test the ability of the P-38 to carry a 2,000 lb bomb under each wing. The selected target was a railroad yard, and results were mixed. However, on this mission, the group scored its first air-to-air victory when Lts James Pinkerton and James Mason teamed up to shoot down a Messerschmitt Me 410 flying near the assigned target.[17]

By mid June German ground forces had withdrawn to defend a perimeter around Cherbourg, a major port whose capture had become more important to the allies with the destruction of Mulberry A, one of the artificial harbors constructed near the Normandy beachhead. An attack by VII Corps on 22 June was to be preceded by low level bombing and strafing attack by IX Fighter Command. Briefed by intelligence to expect a "milk run" The 367th flew at low altitude through what turned out to be a heavily defended area. Within two to three minutes after beginning the attack the 394th Squadron lost five pilots. Seven group pilots were killed in action. Nearly all surviving group aircraft received battle damage and the 367th was out of action for several days.[10][18]

Ninth Air Force moved its medium bomber forces to bases closer to the Continent in July, so they would be able to strike targets near the expanding front in France. The 387th Bombardment Group was moved to Stoney Cross, forcing the 367th to vacate their station and move the short distance to RAF Ibsley.[19] From Ibsley the group struck railroads, marshaling yards, and trains to prevent enemy reinforcements from reaching the front during the Allied breakthrough at Saint Lo in July 1944.[3]

Operations on the European Continent[edit]

Starting on 19 July the group's forward echelon crossed the English Channel to take up stations in Normandy.[20] Group headquarters and the 394th shared Beuzeville Airfield with the 371st Fighter Group, while the 392d Squadron was at Carentan Airfield,[4] and the 393d at Cricqueville Airfield,[5] advanced landing grounds made from pierced steel planking.[note 6] After the breakout of ground forces in the Saint-Lô area, the group concentrated on close air support of General Patton's Third Army. In late August, the group attacked German Seventh Army convoys which, to prevent being surrounded, were withdrawing eastward from the Falaise pocket. Five convoys and 100 Tiger Tanks were destroyed on one day.[10] By mid August the group and its squadrons were able to operate from a single base, Cricqueville Airfield.[21]

On 22 August the group attacked three Luftwaffe airfields near Laon. The 392d Squadron dive bombed and destroyed two hangars on one airfield but were jumped by twelve Focke-Wulf Fw 190s as they completed their attack. Eighteen Messerschmitt Me 109s and FW 190s engaged the 393d Squadron as it reformed from its dive bomb run. After bombing its target, the 394th Squadron turned to reinforce the 392d. The group claimed fourteen enemy aircraft against a loss of one Lightning.[10]

The 367th received a Distinguished Unit Citation when it returned to the Laon area three days later. That day, the group attacked Luftwaffe airfields at Clastres, Péronne and Rosières-en-Haye through an intense flak barrage. The group then engaged more than thirty Focke-Wulf 190 fighters that had just taken off. Group claims were 25 enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and 17 damaged against the loss of 6 group aircraft.[note 7] Then, despite a low fuel supply, the group strafed a train and convoy after leaving the scene of battle. Captain Larry Blumer of the 393d Squadron destroyed five enemy aircraft becoming an ace on one mission. In the afternoon the 367th destroyed sixteen Junkers Ju 52s while on a long range fighter sweep of more than 800 miles to airfields in the Dijon-Bordeaux area.[3][10][22]

As Allied forces moved forward across France the group began leap-frogging to new bases. In early September they relocated at Peray Airfield (A-44),[4][5][6] but moved again a week later to Clastres Airfield (A-71). From Clastres The 367th supported Operation Market-Garden by escorting troop carrier aircraft and attacking flak positions. For its attacks that fall, the group was cited in the Order of the Day by the Belgium Army.[10]

In late October, as Ninth Air Force brought its medium bombers to bases in France, the 367th was bumped from its station for the second time by the 387th Bombardment Group, when it moved to Juvincourt Airfield (A-68), north of Reims.[3][23] Juvincourt was a former Luftwaffe base with permanent facilities, in contrast to the advanced landing grounds where the group had been based since moving to France.[24] The group attacked German strong points to aid the Allied push against the Siegfried Line throughout the fall of 1944.[3]

The German Ardennes Offensive occurred as the holidays approached. A planned move to a field in Belgium was canceled. On 18 December, the 393rd Squadron was sent a Forward Air Control team to Bastogne to assist the 101st Airborne Division, arriving just an hour before the Wehrmacht cut the last road access to Bastogne. When the weather finally broke, the team was able to direct flights of fighter-bomber aircraft attacking the Germans. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 367th, after escorting C-47s on a resupply drop to encircled troops at Bastogne, conducted an armed reconnaissance of the Trier area. The 394th Squadron was engaged by FW 190s and a 40-minute air battle ensued in which the group claimed eight destroyed, two probably destroyed and nine damaged.[10]

Transition to the P-47 Thunderbolt[edit]

The P-47D of the Group commander, Col. Chickering, in 1945

Early in 1945 a desire to standardize the fighter-bombers in Ninth Air Force, the group transitioned into Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. Pilots flew Lightings on combat missions while training at the same time with the Thunderbolt. The 393d Squadron was the first to fly a combat missions with the P-47s. Using the Thunderbolt the group was again cited in a Belgium Army Order of the Day, earning the Belgian Fourragere.[10]

The 367th received a second Distinguished Unit Citation for action on 19 March 1945. The group's target was the headquarters of Field Marshal Kesselring, the German Commander-ln-Chief, West,[note 8] at Ziegenburg near Bad Nauheim, Germany. Aircraft of the leading 394th Squadron would attack at low level to achieve surprise, carrying a 1,000-pound bomb under each wing. The P-47s of the 392d Squadron would be similarly armed, but would dive bomb from a higher altitude. The bombs were equipped with time-delay fuses intended to crack the concrete roofs of the bunker. The 393rd Squadron carried napalm intended to seep into the bunkers and burn what remained. The attack was scheduled for a time that intelligence reports indicated would find senior staff and commanders at lunch, the only time they would not be in the reinforced tunnels underneath the castle that housed the headquarters. The target was located in mountainous terrain well defended by antiaircraft artillery. Moreover, to avoid alerting the Germans to the pending attack, photographic reconnaissance aircraft had avoided the area, so detailed target photography was not available. The day of the attack the castle was concealed by ground haze which caused the 394th to stray off course at the last minute, preventing them from executing the attack as planned and reducing the element of surprise.[25] Although senior German officers reached the underground bunkers and survived the attack, the group reduced the military complex to ruins, disrupting communications and the flow of intelligence at a critical time.[10]

The group struck tanks, trucks, flak positions, and other objectives in support of the assault across the Rhine late in March and the final allied operations in Germany.[3] It was commended by the commanding generals of XII Corps and the 11th Armored Division for the close air support the group provided for their commands. On 10 April the group moved to Eschborn Airfield on the northwest side of Frankfurt, Germany. The 367th flew its last combat mission, a defensive patrol, one year after entering combat on 8 May.[26]

All hostilities ceased the following day, exactly one year after the group became operational. On 4 June the 367th led a flyby for General Weyland.[10] On 1 July it was announced the 367th was to redeploy to the Pacific Theater of Operations after it was re-equipped with and trained with long range P-47Ns in preparation for Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan.[3] The group moved to Camp Detroit in France then to a staging area near Marseille. Here it boarded two ships, the USS General C. G. Morton , and the USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194). When Japan surrendered, the Morton was diverted to Newport News, Virginia while the Ericcson sailed for Staten Island, New York.[10] Following leave for everyone, the few personnel that remained in the group after transfers and discharges reassembled at Seymour Johnson Field, North Carolina on 2 November, and the 367th was inactivated there on 7 November 1945.[3][10]

Statistical summary[edit]

The 367th participated in seven campaigns. It had flown 14,175 combat sorties destroying 432 enemy aircraft, probably destroying another 28 and damaging 344.[note 9] They had also destroyed or damaged 384 locomotives, 4,672 motor vehicles and 8,288 railroad cars.[10]