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A Brief History of United States Air Power and Deployments in Lincolnshire

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Updated: 11 Feb 12

This brief history aims to serve as an overview of the development of military aviation in the US armed forces where relevant to their deployment in Lincolnshire. There will also be a summary of units and formations, with their stays in Lincolnshire listed. This is partly complete and at the bottom of the page.

The birth of military aviation in the United States

Military Aviation in the United States was born in the US Army, growing from air arm to Air Service during the Great War and then continuing to evolve. This brief history outlines the organisational evolution and the role played by units based in Lincolnshire.

Early Days - US Army Signal Corps and the Aviation Section

The US Army Signal Corps stood up an Aeronautical Division on 1 Aug 1907 to parent all military balloons, air machines and associated activities. At this date there were only 8 balloons in military service. In 1908 the Signal Corps acquired a small dirigible but the first pilots did not qualify until May 1909. The first airplane to be tested for military service in Aug 1908 was not a success, killing the pilot. This was followed by the acceptance in Aug 1909 of Airplane No 1. The first separate budget for 'Army aeronautics' was not provided until 1912.

The 1st Provisional Aero Squadron was established in Mar 1913, redesignated in Dec 1913 to 1st Aero Squadron, effective December 8, 1913. By Jul 1914 Congress had formalised the Aviation Section in the Signal Corps, established with 60 officers and 260 other ranks and replacing the Aeronautical Division. The new Section was also to incorporate the training establishment for military aviators.

The Great War

At the outbreak of the Great War in Aug 1914 1st Aero Sqn was the entire combat air strength of the US Army. Although neutral in 1914 the growth in employment of air power in the war in Europe prompted the US to grow its air force. By Dec 1915 the Aviation Section had grown from the 12 officers and 54 other ranks of 1914 to 44 and 224 men respectively and commanded 23 airframes. On 31 Mar 1916 US$ 0.5m was made available followed by a further US$ 13.3m at the end of August, with entry to the war becoming more inevitable. Oct 1916 plans foresaw a total of 24 sqns, 7 of which were stood up by Dec 1916. Legislation was also prepared to boost the establishment of a Reserve to the Aviation Section of 297 officers and 2000 other ranks.

The USA finally entered the war in Apr 1917. At this time US military air power ranked 17th in the world. In the early phase of the war, flying training had to be provided abroad due to the tiny scale of US aviation. Many cadets received elementary flying training in the USA and Canada but had to wait until arriving in Europe for advanced instruction. Over 2000 were sent to England, France and Italy for instruction, many flying with their host nations' air forces before being assigned to US flying sqns.

During the Great War the Royal Navy had opened a landing ground at Killingholme in 1914. This was transferred to the United States Navy in Jul 1918 as a USN Seaplane Station for seaplane and flying-boats. Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Whiting the United States operated twin-engined Curtiss H-16 twin-engine tractor biplane flying-boats. The first two H-16 were shipped to Killingholme on 2 Apr 1918. Specific duties for the Americans included convoy protection in the North Sea, deterring German sweepers from disturbing mine fields in the approaches to the British coast, anti-submarine warfare and long-range reconnaissance. British Short sea-planes were also flown on maritime patrol. Patrols and convoy escorts continued until January 1919, when Killingholme was handed back to the British, closing in June.

1918 - Air Service of the US Army

A Presidential Executive Order of 20 May 1918 transfered control of the aviation from the Signal Corps to two agencies of the Secretary of War. On May 24 these were designated as the Air Service of the US Army.

The War Record

The Air Service had a short, nine-month combat record during the Great War ending in Nov 1918 with a total of 740 aircraft assigned to sqns by the Armistice. During conflict its flyers had shot down 756 enemy aircraft, losing 289 of its own and 48 balloons. As with the Royal Air Force, demobilisation after the Armistice was ruthlessly fast and thorough. Of the 185 aero squadrons only 22 remained one year later. by June 1920 the officer strength had fallen from over 19 000 to just 1168 and other ranks from over 175 000 to just 8428.

Peace Time Air Service and Air Corps

in 1926 the Air Service became the Air Corps, remaining a combat arm of the US Army. It has less than 10 000 airmen on its strength and less than 100 of all types of aircaft. The next major change was in Mar 1935 with the declaring of General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF), assuming command and control over Air Corps tactical units. There was a split between the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps (OCAC) and GHQAF with each reporting directly to the Army Chief of Staff. GHQAF directed tactical training and operations, with OCAC controlling procurement, training and doctrine. In Mar 1939 the Chief of the Air Corps assumed control over GHQAF, thereby unifying command and control of the entire Air Arm.

The Impending Outbreak of War

Events in Europe in 1938 led President Franklin D Roosevelt to recognise the impending crisis in Europe, and the likely role that air power might play in any conflict. In Oct 1938 the Chief of the Air Corps had prepared plans for a 7000 aircraft force. Roosevelt then asked for plans for a 10 000 aircraft force with 7500 combat aircraft. Congress's response in Apr 1939 was to provide US$ 300m for an Air Corps with no more than 6000 serviceable aircraft.

World War Two

Prior to entering the war - Army Air Forces

The rapid defeat of the family of European nations by Nazi Germany, supported by the Luftwaffe, left the US Army Air Corps able to write their own long wish list. Their plans foresaw 84 air combat groups equipped with 7800 aircraft and manned by 400 000 troops by Jun 1942. This plan led to many new bases being set up overseas and at home. By necessity this massive growth forced organisational change with air commanders seeking to create an independent air force within the Army. In Nov 1940 GHQAF was removed from Chief of Air Corps command and subordinated directly to the Commander, Army Field Forces. Then on 20 Jun 1941 the Army Chief of Staff established the Army Air Forces (AAF) to control the Air Corps and the renamed GHQAF, Air Force Combat Command. In Mar 1942 an Army reorganisation placed all of the training, logistics and other elements of the air arm into the Army Air Forces, emphasising the surge towards the creation of an independent air force.

Creation of the Numbered Air Forces

The burgeoning air force reqired additional layers of command and control. In Dec 1940 Air Districts were set up across the continental US to control the tactical air formations. These were subsequently redesignated in Apr 1941 as the 1st to 4th Air Forces. Then in Sep 1942 they were renamed, subtly, to the First to Fourth Air Forces. The Sixth, Seventh and Eleventh Air Forces were the renamed Hawaiian, Panama and Alaskan Air Forces.

A War Department reorganization on March 9, 1942, created three autonomous U.S. Army Commands: Army Ground Forces, Services of Supply (later, in 1943, Army Service Forces), and Army Air Forces. This reorganization dissolved the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps and the Air Force Combat Command, and merged all elements of the air arm into the Army Air Forces. This administrative reorganization did not affect the status of the Air Corps as a combatant arm of the US Army.

The Role of US Personnel in the Eagle Squadrons

Sep 1940 saw 71 Sqn RAF reform as the first of the Eagle Sqns which were manned by US personnel. It became operational on 5 Feb 1941 on defensive ops and then converted to Spitfire in Aug. In Sep 1942 the Eagle Sqns (71 Sqn, 121 Sqn and 133 Sqn) were transferred from the RAF to the USAAF as 4 Fighter Group at Debden, being redesignated as 334, 335 and 336 Fighter Sqns.

United States Enters the War - Dec 1941

The trigger for the USA to enter World War Two was the attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec 1941. The severe organisational issues outlined above meant that the US AAF could not immediately send any units or air assets to Europe or the UK. The Eagle Sqns continued to fly the US flag. The first formed unit personnel from the USAAF sailed in Apr 1942, the first airframes reaching England on 1 Jul 1942.

The first USAAF unit achieving operational status in the UK was 15th Bomb Sqn, appropriately on 4 Jul 42. It flew a low-level attack with 226 Sqn RAF against Netherlands airfields. The first US-led heavy bomber raid was on 17 Aug 42 when 97th Bomb Group B-17, escorted by RAF Spitfire, attacked the Sotteville railroad yards at Rouen.

Whilst the RAF had already learnt that nighttime mass bombing was the safest approach, the USAAF first sought to use B-17 and B-24 at low and medium level for daylight precision attacks. This exacted a high cost Americans were shot down.

Ops by the 386 B-17, P-38 and C-47 aircraft to arrive in England in the summer of 1942 were limited by the North African campaign from Oct 42. Only one fighter group (4 Fighter Group, the former Eagle Sqns) and 6 heavy bomber groups were left in England.

The fighter force in Lincolnshire

The Eagle Sqns had already departed Lincolnshire by the time the US fighter force began to arrive and train in Lincolnshire in Aug 1942, 71 Sqn in Apr 41, 121 Sqn in Dec 1941 and 133 Sqn on 3 May 1942. RAF Goxhill was tranferred to USAAF control in May 1942, becoming 8th Air Force Station No F-345. 78th Fighter Group arrived on 1 Dec 1942, although American units had already been using Goxhill for theatre indocrination training since Aug 1942. Flight operations began after 15 Dec 1942 on the arrival of the Group's first P-38G aircraft.

The heavy bomber force builds up - 1943

During the summer of 1943 the USAAF heavy bomber force in Europe began to grow more rapidly, primarily with B-17 and B-24.

Lincolnshire and the Troop Carriers

Headquarters IX Troop Carrier Command (HQ TCC) arrived at RAF Cottesmore on 24 Sep 1943 to prepare for the massive influx of US forces to prepare for the liberation of continental Europe. THe Command controlled all the Troop Carrier Groups (TCG) of the 9th Air Force in Britain. The following month a recce team inspected local airfields to assess their suitability for the tasks required. This included inspecting Barkston Heath and North Witham to assess their suitability as satellite airfields to RAF Cottesmore. 9th US Air Force began to arrive in strength over coming months. HQ TCC moved to Grantham St Vincents from Cottesmore to be replaced by 50th Troop Carrier Wing, itself moving to RAF Bottesford on 18 Nov 1943.

Cold War Deployments

Korean War support eg RAF Spilsby and RAF East Kirkby, with both RAF and USAF units staging operations in the Far East from here.

US SAC B-29 Stratofortresses in the Berlin airlift

Summary of Airfields Hosting US Formations

Airfields in Lincolnshire with USAAF or USAF Deployments and their United States Army Air Force Station numbers [in square brackets].

The original system of identifying USAAC/USAAF stations and bases in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) from Jun 1942 used a letter and number combination. The prefix letters were:
B = Bomber Airfields
D = Rear Supply Depots
O = Observation (Reconnaissance) Airfields
P = Pursuit (Fighter) Airfields
R = Repair and Rectification Depots

As the American build up grew, many more airfields and bases would be required by the Army Air Forces. In Sep 1942 the revised numerical system was introduced, allocating numerical blocks to commands.
From 101 = VIIIth AF Bomber Command
From 231 = VIIIth AF Composite Command
From 341 = VIIIth AF Fighter Command
From 466 = VIIIth AF Ground Air Support Command
571 onwards = VIIIth AF Service Command

Once allocated to an airfield, the number would not change regardless of the airfield's varying uses. This was further complicated in the autumn of 1943 when IX AAF was reconstituted in the UK and elements of VIIIth AAF, such as the four medium bomb groups, were transferred to this tactical air arm.

RAF Barkston Heath :: Feb 1944 - Apr 1945 (61st Troop Carrier Group) [AAF-483]

RAF Bottesford :: [AAF-481]

Brigg :: [AAF-553]

RAF Coleby Grange :: [AAF-428]

RAF Digby :: [P-7]

RAF East Kirkby :: 1954 - 1958 (Strategic Air Command)

RAF Folkingham :: 313rd Troop Carrier Group [AAF-484]

RAF Fulbeck :: Oct 1943 - Oct 1944 [AAF-488]

RAF Goxhill :: May 1942 - Jan 1945 [P-2]

RAF Grantham ::

NAS Killingholme :: Jul 1918 - Jan 1919

RAF Kirton in Lindsey :: [P-3][AAF-34]

RAF Nocton Hall :: Second World War, 1984 - 1995

RAF North Witham :: Aug 1943 - Jun 1945 [AAF-479]

RAF Saltby :: 1944 - 1945 [AAF-538]

RAF Sandtoft :: 1 Apr 1954 - 8 Sep 1955 (allocated but never occupied)

RAF Scampton :: Jul 1946 - ?? (US SAC B-29 Stratofortresses in the Berlin airlift)

RAF Spitalgate :: 1962 - 1967 (2166 Comms Sqn USAF)

RAF South Carlton :: 16 Mar 1918 - 14 Oct 1918

RAF Spilsby :: Jun 1955 - Mar 1958

RAF Sturgate :: 1953 - <1964 (Strategic Air Command)

RAF Waddington :: 1946 - <1953

Wallcott Hall :: [AAF-372]

RAF Wellingore :: [P-8]

71 (Eagle) Sqn RAF
121 (Eagle) Sqn RAF
133 (Eagle) Sqn RAF

USAF Historical Research Agency

> USAAF Station Numbers

345 - Goxhill
349 - Kirton in Lindsey
428 - Coleby Grange
479 - North Witham
481 - Bottesford
483 - Barkston Heath
484 - Folkingham
488 - Fulbeck

 

> RAF history in Lincolnshire

The early years up to 1918
Early days in Saint Omer
The Inter-war years

World War TwoRAF
Cold War to the present

> The command structure

Bomber Command
Fighter Command
Coastal Command
Training Command
Balloon Command

> Airfield information

Generic airfield layout
Emergency landing grounds
Hangar types
FIDO fog dispersal
Airfield defences
Airfield call signs
Pundit codes
ICAO Codes

> Decoy airfields and deception

Q Sites
K sites
Starfish sites

> Other historical pages

Key dates of bomber offensives

Mission types

The secret, electronic war

Aircraft manufacturers in Lincolnshire

The US Air Forces in Lincolnshire

Selected books about Lincolnshire aviation history

The 'RAFwaffe'

History of the RNAS on the Fleet Air Arm Archive

The Architectural context -

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