350th Fighter Group
Original Motto "Boldness and Vigor"
Post WW II Motto "In Common Cause"
Following from: http://www.web-birds.com/12th/350/350th.htm
and 50th Fighter Group/347th Fighter Squadron: Forum
The decision to invade North Africa in November 1942 was not made until the middle of August, 1942. Forces available for this difficult operation were minimal—it becoming necessary for the USAAF Eighth Air Force to withdraw most of the combat groups that had reached England by that time from an embryonic bombing campaign over Europe to take part in the battle for control of Northwest Africa.
Export versions of the P-39 originally ordered for the French Air Force in early 1940 had, after the fall of France in May 1940, been sent in several shipments to the RAF beginning in early 1941 to augment the RAF’s fighter force after the Battle of Britain. However, after Hitler turned his attention to the East, the pressure was off the RAF and it had fielded only one P-39 unit (601Sq) in 1941. The other P-39s remained in storage in the crates in which they had arrived. At the same time, by the summer of 1942 the number of American pilot volunteers in the RAF serving in England had grown to a few hundred in number. In urgent need of additional fighters to support the forthcoming invasion, American planners decided to combine these two assets already in England and at the end of September 1942 the American pilots in the RAF were invited to transfer to the USAAF. On 1 October, a number of pilots from the USAAF 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups, who had flown P-39s in the US prior to there arrival in England in June of 42, were ordered to report to RAF Station Duxford England to help activate a new Group, designated as the 350th Fighter Group with three subordinate Squadrons, the 345th, 346th and 347th . (The American Eagle Squadrons were re-designated the 4th Fighter Group about this time but the 350th was the only Group activated from scratch in Europe, in WW II). At the same time, some of the American pilots who had just transferred from the RAF were ordered to the new Group to make up the other half of the original aircrew roster. Although the pilots were not advised of their mission at the time, for security reasons, the plan was for the Group to fly to North Africa six weeks after activation, which was one week after the scheduled invasion of North Africa on 8 November, 1942. The ex RAF pilots had been flying Hurricanes or Spitfires while the ex 31st and 52nd Group pilots had been flying RAF Spitfires with which they had been equipped on their arrival in England, 4 months earlier. As it turned out, the RAF Depot responsible for supporting the operation was completely over committed and could not uncrate and assemble the Group’s P-39 aircraft in time to meet the invasion plan. Airacobras did finally begin arriving in numbers, in mid December, and two weeks later the pilots began flying to North Africa. In the middle of the English winter, many of the ex RAF pilots managed to acquire only some 20 hours of flying time in the new aircraft type by the time they launched for Africa.
The Group’s 75
pilots flew their P-39Ls (346 Sq) and P-39-400 (345 Sq and 347 Sq) fighters
from RAF Stations Portreath and Predannack, on Land-Ends, England, to Port
Lyautey, French Morocco, during the period 3 Jan to 28 Feb 1943. Sixty
one arrived at the destination airfield. Ten pilots that encountered
head winds, instead of the forecast tail wind (the only fuel reserve on the
1200 mile, six to seven hour over water flight) were forced to land in
Portugal where they were interned. One more landed in Portugal after
losing all electrical systems. One flight that broke up in a severe line
squall over the Bay of Biscay lost one pilot, (KIA)—he was flying
alone, probably still on the deck, at max range cruise settings (165 to
175 MPH), when he was likely ambushed, and was shot down by a
patrolling Ju-88 pilot of KG-40 who claimed the kill; one pilot,
after closing on the French coast to determine his location, ended up short of
fuel and crash landed in Spain , where he was interned; another
pilot on that flight became lost and crash landed in Ireland while
attempting to return to England. (http://www.armyairforces.com/forum/m_85813/mpage_1/tm.htm,
Lt. Charles M.
Kirschner, 346 Fighter Squadron, ex RCAF/RAF, did crash land on the southern
part of Ireland, on 5 February 1943. He was part of a five ship P-39
flight that took off from RAF Station Predannack, on Lands End, with
destination Port Lyautey, French Morocco, following a B-25. Out over the
Bay of Biscay they ran into a severe line squall and the flight broke up while
attempting to penetrate. Two of the pilots, Lt. Duket of Hq. 350 Gp and
Lt. Tedford of 345 Sq. rejoined after penetrating the front and made it to
destination. One 347 Sq. pilot, Lt. Clyde Wilson, flew east to establish
his position, encountered the coast of France and turned out to sea again,
before heading south. While over Spain he decided he no longer had
enough fuel to reach French Morocco and chose to crash land on a small Spanish
airfield. After a couple of months the diplomats worked out the details
and he was permitted to proceed to Gibraltar, under cover, and rejoined his
Squadron in Africa. Another pilot in the flight, Lt. Henry M. Nelson,
apparently got through the front and continued south towards his destination.
He was spotted by Lt. Hermann Horstmann who was patrolling over the Bay as a
member of KG/40, in a fighter version of the Ju-88, looking for lone allied
aircraft to intercept. It is assumed that Nelson was still flying near
the deck at maximum range cruise speed—about 165 MPH—when he was
intercepted from behind by Horstmann and was shot down and killed. (See
Chris Goss’s “Bloody Biscay” for further details) The fifth pilot in the
flight, Kirschner, decided to return to England when the flight broke up in
the weather front. He found a hole to let down through over a green
countryside but could not establish his position and after burning up most of
his fuel crash landed in southern Ireland, not knowing till afterward that he
had landed there instead of England. He was released a couple of days
later at the border with Northern Ireland.
The first elements of the Air Echelon , and the Ground Echelon, finally joined each other at Oujda, French Morocco, a few days after their arrival in North Africa on 3 January 1943. The Ground Echelon had arrived off North Africa in the first week of November 1942 from the USA with the Operation “Torch” invasion fleet.
The Group began air defense operations along the North African coast a few days after its ground and air elements came together. One month after its first flight arrived in Africa it began its first offensive combat missions, over Tunisia.
The Group flew air defense and fighter- bomber missions with its P-39s and primarily fighter bomber missions with its P-47s. Also, from June to Sept 1943 each Squadron was assigned two P-38s to intercept and destroy high flying Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft sent to photograph the allied invasion fleet gathering along the North African coast for the invasion of Sicily. The First Brazilian Fighter Squadron joined the 350th Group as a fourth Squadron in October 1944. The Group’s American Squadrons flew over 37,000 sorties during the war, some 16,600 defensive and more than 20,000 offensive sorties. The 1st Brazilian Fighter Squadron flew an additional 2,546 offensive sorties. Of the totals, most of the defensive sorties were flown in the P-39 Airacobras and P-38 Lightnings while most of its offensive sorties were flown in the P-47 Thunderbolts. However, some 3,850 offensive sorties , from strafing and bombing attacks to fighter sweeps and a few bomber escort missions were flown in the P-39s, while some 700 defensive sorties were flown in the Group’s P-47s.
The Group lost 95 pilots, KIA or killed in flying accidents, eight of these being Brazilian pilots. Twenty two pilots became POWs, 5 of whom were Brazilians. Another 25 pilots were downed on offensive missions but either evaded capture in enemy territory, or, bailed out over or crashed landed on, allied territory; five of these being Brazilian pilots. At least 16 pilots were wounded in action but managed to land at home base or on another allied airfield. Three of these were Brazilian pilots. Thirteen pilots were interned in ‘neutral’ countries. All were permitted to proceed (incognito, in civilian clothes) to Gibraltar, some three months later. Approximately one third of all the American pilots who served in the Group fell into one of the above categories. Approximately 44 percent of the Brazilian pilots who flew missions fell into one of the above categories. However, the Group’s pilots were able to return and land with flak damaged aircraft on almost seven hundred occasions. On the other side of the ledger, the Group’s pilots dropped over 7,000 tons of bombs and fired over 30 million rounds of ammunition in the destruction of enemy targets.
Maison Blanche Project 914 Archives (Steve O. Reno collection)
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