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The group was activated in January 1943 at Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, Arizona, equipped with B24 Liberators, trained at Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas and Alamogordo Army Air Base, New Mexico. The group was moved to England in August 1943 and was assigned to the Eighth Air Force at Wendling Air Base in East Anglia.
The group flew 285 combat missions, suffering 1552 casualties including 869 killed in action or line of duty and 184 aircraft lost. In February 1944 the group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for destroying an aircraft factory in Gotha, Germany. In June 1945 the group returned to the United States and was inactivated at Charleston AAF in South Carolina in September of the same year.
Brigadier General James Allen of the United States Army Signal Corps authorized the formation of an Aeronautical Division in 1907, although this consisted almost entirely of balloons and airships. Overall control remained with the Signal Corps until 1918 when, later in that year, the President (Woodrow Wilson) ordered the establishment of a Division of Military Aeronautics. This became a tactical extension to the United States Army and was re-named the Army Air Corps in 1926. It wasn't until 1935 that the General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF), under the command of Hap Arnold, was established as an air defense and tactical striking force. Fighter and Bombardment Units were separated in 1940. A reformation of this organization, The Army Air Forces, came into existence in early 1942.
As in many other parts of the world since the end WW I , great attention had been made to training the new air force. But, as in nearly all cases, little or no attention had been paid to either night operations or those conducted in poor visibility. The principal heavy bomber in use at this time was the Boeing B-17, later named the Flying Fortress. It was believed that the protective fire afforded by this heavily armed aircraft when flying in close formation would be sufficient to deter fighter attacks. Thus it was considered that a daylight strategic bombing role could be carried out over Europe.
The first Bombardment Groups of the Eighth AAF arrived in Britain in the Summer of 1942. Such was the faith in the defensive armament of B-17 that no plans had been made for escorting fighter cover. The mistake was realized too late as appalling losses were taken in early missions.
By this time Bombardment Groups of B-24 Liberators had joined the strategic bombing force. RAF fighter cover was provided together with Defiants with "Moonshine" radar jamming equipment. However, the range of the fighter escort was insufficient for the selected targets in Germany. American Fighter Groups flying P-38s and P-47s fitted with external fuel tanks were established to provide cover, but it wasn't until the introduction of the P-51 long-range escort that adequate protection could be afforded toward the end of 1943.
The beginning of the New Year '44 saw some major changes and adjustments in the American side of the European Theater of Operations in key personnel air leader shifts, certain organizational rearrangements, and key bomber and fighter mission tactics. On the personnel side, Lt. General 'Jimmy' Doolittle took over command of the entire Eighth Air Force including both Bomber and Fighter Commands and attached units, and earlier in late '43, a separate and new Tactical Air Force, the 9th, had been created as a companion force to the 8th. Lt. General Eaker was assigned to take over the Allied Air Forces Command in the Mediterranean area - comprised of the heavy bomber 15th Air Force now being built up in Italy, and the newly re-organized 12th Tactical Air Force. Now the U.S. built forces with these newest command structures were being postured to strike Nazi Germany out of Italian air bases with (4) American air forces, two strategic and two tactical which now comprised both regions , not only across the top out of England, but at the German somewhat soft under-belly. The newly deployed and versatile P-51 fighter was now thrust into the air war equation with the first planes having arrived in the theater and assigned to the new 9th Tactical AF and the 357th Fighter Group. Later in very early '44, as part of the vital arguments for long-range escort support for the Eighth's heavies, the 357th would be reassigned under command of the Eighth AF from the 9th "in trade" for the newly formed 358th Group (Reference Source: Roger Freeman's THE MIGHTY EIGHTH documentations) and as such, would the the first P-51Mustang fighter unit to fly under the Eighth AF banner and operate from Leiston Base, England. The Group would fly its first P-51 fighter sortie under its new command of the Eighth on 11 February 1944.
On fighter tactics doctrine, some new changes would also be instituted early-on after General Dootlittle took over command of the Eighth in January '44. Reportedly, on his visit to Fighter Command Headquarters soon after he had seen a banner which was mounted in those halls and which read for all to see... "The mission of the American Fighter plane is to escort (and protect) the bombers...," Doolittle allegedly remarked to the Fighter Command's leader at the time, Major General William Kepner, to the effect..."take that damned sign down and substitute the words ...the mission of the American fighter is to attack and destroy the German air forces...." History notes that General Kepner was enthusiastically excited by this new philosophy in fighter tactics by reaffirming with Doolittle that he Kepner had in fact just received a "direct" order to change over Eighth AF Fighter tactics - which indeed was "a fact "- and to do so immediately.
History itself tells the rest of the story about the new fighter doctrine and the bomber-fighter escort tactics which would begin to improve the combined air war outlook almost immediately. The Mustang Fighter Outfits, a number now newly converting to this awesome and sleek little airborne scrapper, were directed to go out in front of the heavy bomber attack sectors to seek out and destroy the Luftwaffe's best, the formidable Me-109 and FW-190 fighter planes, - on the ground and in the air and "from the top of the trees to the tops of the clouds." The new tactical doctrine and this remarkable airplane would pay-off handsome dividends in bomber crew saves on long-legged high altitude escort duty all through to the very closing days of World War II as well as in going to attack the deepest targets that the bombers themselves could reach.
At this early moment in 1944, the strategic target "priority list" for the precision strikes by the heavies would also be changed by the top command in the dire need to gain total air superiority over the German Air Forces well before any D-DAY operations, now planned for late Spring or early Summer 1944, could be launched. At the very top of this new priority bomber list were two major "must cripple and destroy" target categories: the Nazi aircraft production and directly associated armaments industries and the German heartland oil complexes. As Luftwaffe General Galland would relate much later, "The most successful operation of the entire strategical air warfare was against the German fuel supply, and this (attack doctrine) was actually the fatal blow for the Luftwaffe. It was difficult to understand why the Allies began this undertaking so late after they had suffered such heavy losses in other operations for right from the beginning the most awkward bottle-neck for the German conduct of the war was fuel.
Reich Minister of War Production and Armaments, Albert Speer, would also state much later after the war that in early 1944, before the invasion started, "We felt very badly the effects of the consolidated offensive against our fuel production...,and from June '44 on, it became impossible to get enough aviation (and panzer tank) fuel to meet urgent demands...,and thus, air operations after the Summer of '44 became virtually impossible (by virtue of an almost (80%) reduction in monthly Luftwaffe supplies). Allied air fleet raids on the German petrol supply installations were the most important of the combined factors which brought about the final collapse of Germany. It was a sound decision by the Allies to give top priority to the German oil industry before and after D-DAY."
And soon just after the P-51 went into action under these newest air tactics, the troubling winter weather conditions which had plagued the Allied planners suddenly cleared up over prime and newly focused target complexes deep in Germany proper with attacks centered on aircraft production. One of the largest and most productive heavy bomber air attack periods of the entire war would be executed in a short good weather span from the 19th to the 25th of February '44, later coined the "BIG WEEK" campaign. Though bomber losses would be high, the direct impact from these massive raids directly on German aircraft industry facilities would soon begin to tell. Wherein the following month March '44, output would be cut in less than half of that planned. (Reference source: Roger Freeman's THE MIGHTY EIGHTH documentaries).
The 392nd's experiences against the Me-110 aircraft industries at Gotha would reward the Group with a coveted Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for superior bombing and leadership efforts in this "BIG WEEK" operation, but crew losses would be significantly large. And even greater in this continuing campaign against the German aircraft and armaments production targets would be the Group's most devastating losses ever encountered during the attack of facilities which took place at Friedrichshafern in southern Germany just three weeks following on 18 March 1944.
History records that one of the major concerns of the U.S. air leaders in particular leading up to the invasion day operations was - had air superiority over the German Air Force been achieved significantly in these past recent months to protect the Allied armies over the beaches and the tactical operating areas which lay inland and beyond?
Though the relentless pounding of the German aircraft production facilities and oil complexes had been given top priorities from late Winter into early Spring '44 - had these efforts been decisive? Doubts remained at the highest air planner levels, and passed on to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, and his Allied Staff. It was felt that the air task had been accomplished where the invasion armies major land thrust inland would take place, and thus the decision of pressing forward with the plans at Normandy was to go on the scheduled time-table early June 1944.
Probably unbeknown to the Allied air planners, the repeated concentration of heavy bomber attacks on the German aircraft and oil industry had, in fact, taken its toll, and significantly so, coming down to D-DAY. While Albert Speer's massive German production plans were producing more than twice the number of fighter planes in '44 than In '40 and '41, (the recorded number by Speer's figures were a total of 4,103 fighter and bombers even as late as September 1944), the Luftwaffe was almost completely shackled in effectiveness due to lack of fuel and lack of adequate pilot training time, and facilities - all as a result of the Allied relentless bombing thrusts throughout Germany since the "BIG WEEK" efforts. While the German Air Force was not "dead" by any means, particularly east of the Rhine in widely dispersed operating areas, its concentrated, lethal attack capabilities once possessed against the 8th's bombers were being eroded steadily day-by-day. The debilitating factors being faced, especially the massive reduction in aviation fuel supplies and inadequate training for pilots coupled with the relentless attack harrassments almost daily now by the American fighters on and over western area Luftwaffe operating bases, were knock-out blows, It was destined to get much worse for the Germans once tactical bases in France and the Benelux Countries were secured by the Allies after the invasion from which to operate much closer to these enemy forces. The Germans had the aircraft - undoubtedly more at their disposal than any other time in the war as a result of Speer's tremendous production outputs - but they never could fly them. Galland stated in his writings...."..with the increasing support of the P-51 fighter as escort, we lost more of our fighters...and in April '44....the ratio in which we fight today (a report he made to Reich Air Marshall Goering) is about 1:7, U.S, over the Luftwaffe...and we have lost more than 1,000 aircraft during the last four months....(and) we also weakened ourselves by taking away (air superiority) planes from the fighter arm to use them for the wrong purposes....reconnaisance and front line ground support... ."
The final proof of the effectiveness of the Allied air offensive which had begun in February '44 against the German Air Force and supporting industry came on D-DAY proper and put to rest the nagging earlier concerns of the senior U.S. air leaders in particular. Air superiority over the Luftwaffe had been achieved and especially over Normandy and inland France. History records that the Germans had only about (80) fighters in France (around Lille) on invasion day. Not many were serviceable and a mass withdrawal of their fighters had already taken place earlier and returned to Germany proper where planes were intended for a "reserve" fleet. As Galland stated later at the end of May, "the reserve fighter fleet had already risen to (450) pilots...then, the invasion upset all our plans.."
On invasion day, it has been recorded that only (2) German fighter planes came down over the beaches on a firing pass. No known casualties resulted and that was the Allies answer to the air superiority question.
But at the Eighth AF bomber bases, the war would go on and it would have been very difficult to convince the aircrews going on missions deep inside of the Third Reich at the time that the Luftwaffe was completely dead, especially over and around the big German target complexes. The 392nd's men never thought so, and now enemy anti-aircraft (flak) battery fire along the routes was becoming even more of a threat.
Immediately after D-DAY, General Eisenhower directed his Allied air staff to move the German Transportation System way up to the very top of the "strategic target priority list". Transportation now shared the focus for U.S. daylight bomber attacks by the 'heavies' and the 9AF Tactical fighter and medium bomber forces took on the same systems along with the enemy's Communication networks. German oil target strikes remained primary as a top priority right up to the end of the war as well. As both Galland and Speer had alluded....the Allied concentration on German fuel output was the 'Achilles Heel' to the Third Reich's air arm and Panzer operations from the late Spring of 1 944 on to the close of the Second World War.
Oil refineries, railroad marshalling yards, communication complexes, railroad train rolling stock and shooting up enemy airfields and training attack priorities grounds -all now became even more concentrated attack priorities under the bombs and guns of the U.S. forces in particular. ~ Even the new and revolutionary German jet fighter-type plane, the Me-262, which had been developed by the Germans earlier, never got into any degree of action against the Allied threat. Adolf Hitler saw to that according to Adolf Galland's final assessments in his book, "THE FIRST AND THE LAST". Albert Speer in his memoirs and interviews later also corroborated all of these conclusions concerning Hitler's tyrannical and most often ill-advised decisions on Germany's war mechanisms, which at this time in late '44 were dying quickly.
Sporadically, the Luftwaffe did get slim opportunities to come up and fight, particularly in December '44, against the bomber forces. But, this would be the last of any serious threat by the German air forces as Allied operations determinedly moved eastward across France and the Benelux countries preparatory to crossing the Rhine into heartland Germany in March 1945.
The 392nd meanwhile, and most gravely, would feel one of the very last dying gasps of the Luftwaffe fighters on its 2 December '44 mission to Bingen on the Rhine River, where one of the small nests of enemy fighters along with one at Worms north of Ludwigshafen still remain...
As the curtain rang down on the war for the strategic Bombardment Groups of the Eighth Air Force, the men of Station # 118 at Wendling could reflect back with justifiable pride on the previous nineteen months and sixteen days of combat operations credited to the 392nd since the Liberators took to the air on their first mission, September 9th, 1943. The bombing record of the fourth oldest B-24 Group to be assigned to the Eighth would go down as an excellent one - ranking well above the average in comparison with all other bomber units. But, the persistency and determination with which its aircrews had fought their bombers through to attack some of the toughest targets in Hitler's Nazi Germany had also cost a grisly toll of men and aircraft. Those who never returned would not be forgotten by their comrades who, through God's fortune, did come back from it all.
Though the statistics of war can only stand as cold, impersonal epitaphs in an attempt to describe the way it was, they can never depict nor describe the real meanings of war - those locked very personally in each one's self. But the statistics, impersonal as they are, must stand as the only measure of achievement and regrettably, the tragedies of war that was a very personal, individual thing to all the young men involved over fifty-some years ago.