Source:  12th Flying Training Wing

559th History (1940-1962)

The 559th Tactical Fighter Squadron was constituted by the War Department as the 81st Bombardment Squadron, Light on 20 November 1940. With assignment to the 12th Bombardment Group, Light the squadron was activated, effective 15 January 1941, at McChord Field, Tacoma, Washington. A cadre for the unit, provided by the 34th Bombardment Squadron, consisted of 27 enlisted men and 1 officer, Major John J. O'Hara, who assumed command. Within a period of six months the squadron's personnel strength had increased to 190 enlisted men and 15 officers.

Restricted at first in the number and type of assigned aircraft to one B-18 , one B-23, and two PT-17s, the 81st Squadron accomplished relatively little flying training prior to the end of 1941. Meanwhile, however, some of its rated personnel spent considerable time away from McChord in attendance at various Air Corps technical schools or on detached service with the Ferrying Command. Having been redesignated a medium bombardment squadron, the unit was equipped with the B-25 Mitchell beginning near the end of January 1942. Yet, it hardly had sufficient time to set up a regular training schedule in the B-25 before the entire 12th Bombardment Group was transferred to Esler Field, Camp Beauregard, Alexandria, Louisiana. As events developed, this move was the first in a series which in just under four years took the unit all the way around the globe.

Soon after arriving at Esler Field the squadron initiated a rigid training program which included all phases of combat flying, bombing, and gunnery. Bombing practice was conducted on the range in the Kisatchie National Forest, while gunnery training was accomplished in Army Air Forces schools at Panama City, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada. In order to gain the experience of general operations in the field the squadron spent the week beginning 5 May 1942 on maneuvers near De Ridder, Louisiana, about 100 miles southwest of Alexandria. Late in May the 12th Group dispatched a force of 40 aircraft and approximately 450 officers and enlisted men to Stockton, California, for the purpose of flying patrol missions over Pacific waters. While on the West Coast the aircrews of this detachment engaged also in some routine flying training and in bombing and gunnery practice. The entire force returned from Stockton to Esler Field late in June 1942, by which time the 12th Bombardment Group had orders to move overseas.

The air echelon with its new pink-camouflaged aircraft staged at Morrison Field, West Pam Beach, Florida. Commencing on 14 July it flew the South Atlantic route to Accra, British West Africa. Thence it continued across Africa to Khartoum in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and then on to Cairo, Egypt. By mid-August all elements of the 12th Group's air echelon were in place at their initial overseas stations, those of the 81st and 82d Squadrons being located at Deversoir, Egypt, and others of the 83d and 434th Squadrons being at Ismailia. The ground echelon left Esler Field by train on 3 July for Fort Dix, New Jersey, where it completed overseas processing. Sailing aboard the SS Louis Pasteur from New York on 16 July, it arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone, eight days later. Then after sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, via Durban, South Africa, the vessel arrived at Port Tewfik, Egypt, on 16 August. Two days later the air and ground echelons of the 81st and 82d Squadrons were reunited at Deversoir, while the respective echelons of the 83d and 434th Squadrons were brought together again at Ismailia.

In Africa the 12th Bombardment Group, with its subordinate units, became a part of the United States Army Middle East Air Force (the Ninth Air Force after November 1942). On the verge of entering upon a highly cooperative type of warfare under unfamiliar desert conditions, the tactical units of the 12th Group were fed into existing British Royal Air Force formations. The 81st Squadron and its companion units underwent a brief period of training with and under the supervision of light bomber wings of the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. This training included, among other things, five missions which were intended to acquaint the American aircrews with aids to navigation in the Middle East. The first of these missions, flown on the night of 16 August 1942, was a bombing attack on the harbor, port installations, storage areas, and repair depots at Mersa Matruh, a coastal town in northwest Egypt. The raid was followed by attacks on enemy airdromes at Doba and Fuka, and on docks at Tobruk, Libya.

By the end of August 1942 General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps was threatening to push through the line held by General Bernard L. Montgomery's British Eighth Army at El Alamein. In September the 81st Bombardment Squadron went into action with the RAF's Desert Air Force in support of the Eighth Army. One of the unit's earliest and most important missions in that connection was a night raid on Sidi Haneish, in which it lost three bombers. During the weeks which followed the squadron struck numerous blows at enemy landing grounds, transportation facilities, and troop concentrations. In the battle of El Alamein, which ended early in November, the back of the Afrika Korps was broken. For a brief period thereafter, with the enemy forces out of range of the Mitchell bombers, the squadron conducted a training program consisting principally of aerial gunnery, navigational flights, and night landings. Moving ever westward after resuming full-scale combat operations in December, the unit shared in the pursuit of Rommel's forces through Libya to Tripoli, which fell late in January 1943.

In February 1943 the B-25s and aircrews of the 81st and 82d Bombardment Squadrons were sent to Algeria, where they joined elements of the American Twelfth Air Force in support of Allied ground forces pushing eastward. In March the 83d and 434th Squadrons were called upon to make repeated attacks upon the enemy's Mareth Line in Tunisia. Thus the 12th Bombardment Group continued to support the British and American forces in North Africa until the campaign came to an end. The four squadrons of the group were brought together at Hergla, Tunisia, early in June after Tunis had fallen into Allied hands.

Early in June the 12th Group began participation in the Pantellerian campaign by pattern bombing coastal batteries on the island of Pantelleria. On 7 June the 81st Squadron dispatched 12 Mitchell bombers on one of these missions. Each aircraft dropped three 1,000-pound bombs in the target area. Another mission with similar results was flown just four days later. For about three weeks following the capitulation of enemy forces in Pantelleria, on 11 June, the squadron conducted an intensive program for training replacement crews but recently arrived from the Zone of the Interior. Additional aircraft were assigned to the unit also, brining the total from 13 to 24.

The greater part of July was given over to bombing operations directed against enemy-held airdromes, harbor installations, and towns on the island of Sicily. Early in August the unit transferred to Ponte Olivo Airdrome, Sicily, whence it continued to operate against Sicilian targets until the island was completely cleared of the enemy. On 23 August the squadron moved to Gerbini Main Airdrome, Sicily, preliminary to entering to the Italian campaign. From its base in Sicily during September, October, and the early part of November 1943, the 81st Squadron flew numerous missions in support of the American Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army then in the early stages of their invasion of Italy. The types of targets most frequently attacked were rail junctions and railway marshalling yards. Others which received devastating blows by the unit's bombers were airdromes, landing grounds, highway bridges, gun emplacements, and troop concentrations. After taking station at Foggia Main, Italy, on 10 November the squadron, without letting up materially in its attack on Italian targets, increased the range of its bombing missions to include Yugoslavia. Prior to the end of January 1944 it participated in 10 raids on harbor and dock facilities along the Yugoslavian Adriatic coast, 7 at Zara, 2 at Split, and 1 at Sebenik. In addition, the squadron flew a mission against the Mostar Main Airdrome in Yugoslavia and another directed at the Eleusis Airdrome in Greece.

The final combat mission of the 81st Bombardment Squadron in the Italian campaign took form on 30 January 1944 in an intended attack upon an important road junction near Rome. A cloud covering completely obscured the target as the bombers approached, however, so they released no bombs. For the next seven weeks the squadron was engaged in moving from Italy to the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. On 9 February the entire 12th Group sailed from Taranto, Italy, aboard the English vessel Diwara, for Port Said, Egypt. Thence it traveled by train to Cairo, and then sailed (aboard the Dilwara) from nearby Port Tewfik for Bombay, India. From Bombay it moved by train and a Ganges river boat to Tezgaon Airdrome near Calcutta. Group headquarters, together with the 81st and 82d Squadrons, took station at Tezgaon, while the 83d and 434th Squadrons settled down for the time being at Kermitola Airdrome not far away. On arrival in India the 12th Group was assigned to the Tenth Air Force. Equipped with new medium bombers, it immediately initiated a training program in low-level attack and bombing methods which were being used extensively in that area at the time.

The 81st Bombardment Squadron entered combat in the China-Burma-India Theater on 16 April 1944 when it dispatched 12 Mitchell bombers in an attack upon railway sidings and an enemy supply dump at Mogaung, Burma. Results of the bombing were reported as good, but one of the B-25s failed to return to its base. Eight days later the 81st joined with the 82d Squadron in attacking enemy stores and troop concentrations in the Kazu area. In May the 81st made numerous attacks upon the Tiddim Road in Burma, as well as on railway lines running north and east of Mandalay. Probably the unit's most significant mission during the month was its participation in the bombing of Ningthoukhong, Burma, a key position to the Japanese defensive line. The town was reported to have housed enemy artillery pieces, antitank guns, tanks, and as many as 1,000 troops.

During the next 12 months the 81st Squadron helped to gain air superiority over the Japanese in Burma and provided support for Allied ground forces in driving the enemy completely out of that country. The squadron's efforts were expended principally in bombing attacks on airdromes and airfields, enemy headquarters buildings, roads, highway bridges, gun emplacements, railway bridges, rail junctions, marshalling yards, storage areas, and troop concentrations. Notable was the series of missions which contributed to the capture of Myritkyina by General Joseph W. Stillwell's ground forces early in August. Significant also were the unit's tactical operations during February and March 1945, which helped to bring about the fall of the important cities of Miektila and Mandalay in May.

Not all of the 81st Squadron's combat activities while stationed in the China-Burma-India Theater were restricted to bombing missions in Burma. In September 1944 the unit extended its range of operations to include targets in China. At that time the Japanese, apparently hoping to offset the tactical advantages Allied forces had gained from the capture of Myitkyina, were attempting to throw the Chinese back across the Salween River. The 12th Bombardment Group provided effective support to the Chinese troops engaged in repelling the Japanese offensive. For its part the 81st Squadron participated in a series of eight bombing missions flown for the purpose of attacking enemy stores and troop concentrations, principally in the Chinese cities of Bhamo, Mangshih, and Wanling located near the border between China and Burma.

With the recapture of Burma from the Japanese in the late spring of 1945, combat operations for the 81st Bombardment Squadron virtually were brought to a standstill. At its base in India the unit began transition training in A-26 aircraft. Training ceased, however, with the surrender of Japan in August 1945. The air echelon of the squadron, flying the unit's A-26s, left India on 27 September on the first leg of its journey back to the Zone of the Interior. Postponed time after time, the departure of the ground echelon was delayed, however, almost for three months longer.

Finally, on Christmas Eve 1945 it sailed from Karachi, India, aboard the Hawaiian Shipper, bound for Seattle, Washington. There was a brief stop in the harbor off Singapore, after which the voyage was continued out through the China Sea and into the Pacific. On 21 January the squadron was reduced in strength to one officer and two enlisted men and then inactivated at Fort Lawton, Washington.

Fifteen months later the unit was redesignated a light bombardment squadron. It was activated at Langley Field, Virginia, on 19 May 1947, with assignment to the 12th Bombardment Group, Light. Without ever having been manned, however, the squadron was inactivated at Langley on 10 September 1948.

Effective 27 October 1950, the 81st Bombardment Squadron was redesignated the 559th Fighter-Escort Squadron, and assigned to the Strategic Air Command. On 1 November it was activated at Turner Air Force Base, Albany, Georgia, with further assignment to the 12th Fighter-Escort Group. Early in December 1950 the entire group transferred from Turner Air Force Base to Bergstrom Air Force Base, Austin, Texas.

The primary mission of the 559th Squadron as a tactical unit in a fighter-escort group was to organize and train a force capable of providing immediate fighter escort and air base protection in any part of the world. In January 1951 the squadron began flying training in the F-84 Thunderjet. The program conducted at its home base in Austin at the time consisted principally of routine transition training, night flying, instrument flights, and ground controlled approaches. Bombing and gunnery practice was accomplished at the Matagorda Island Bombing and Gunnery Range on Matagorda Island, just off the Texas coast. Late in April the entire 12th Fighter-Escort Wing (to which the 12th Group was assigned) went on a practice mission to Turner Air Force Base. Early in June the 559th Squadron participated in a long-range escort mission conducted by the 12th Wing. All told, 75 F-84s were involved. After staging at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, they were divided into two sections. One section escorted a large number of B-36 bombers in a simulated bombing mission over New York City. The other section escorted another group of B-36s in a similar mission over Detroit. All the Thunderjets staged at Selfridge Air Force Base, Mt. Clemons, Michigan, before returning to Bergstrom.

In mid-July 1951 the 12th Fighter-Escort Wing went on temporary duty to RAF Station, Manston, England. The move was made by the Military Air Transport Service and by civilian aircraft. Having left its own fighter aircraft at Bergstrom, the wing took over the F-84s of the 31st Fighter-Escort Wing which it replaced at Manston. Operations overseas began during the latter part of July with orientation flights to various United States Air Force bases in England. During August all units of the 12th Wing took part in a 7th Air Division operation which was designed to measure the defense of Norway. While in England the 559th Fighter-Escort Squadron and its two companion units, the 560th and 561st Squadrons, went to Wheelus Field, Tripoli, Libya, for two weeks of gunnery practice. Late in November 1951 the wing began moving back to the United States. The advanced and rear echelons were airlifted all the way from Manston to Austin by MATS aircraft. The second increment sailed aboard the USS General Haan to Newark, New Jersey, and thence made its way to the wing's home base via MATS aircraft. Back at Bergstrom the 12th Wing was equipped with new Thunderjet fighters.

With the inactivation of the 12th Fighter-Escort Group on 16 June 1952, the 559th Squadron was assigned directly to the 12th Fighter-Escort Wing. In January following, the wing was redesignated the 12th Strategic Fighter Wing. At the same time the 559th Squadron and its companion units in the wing were redesignated strategic fighter squadrons. In May 1953 the 12th Wing deployed to Japan for approximately 90 days. The 559th Squadron took station at Chitose Air Base, while the wing headquarters, the 560th Squadron, and the 561st Squadron were stationed at Misawa Air Base. The principal purpose of the deployment was to provide training for the wing and enable it, while operating as a part of the Northern Area Air Defense Command, to augment the Japanese Air Defense Force. Following a brief orientation period, the 12th Wing on 15 May replaced the 508th Strategic Fighter Wing on rotation in Japan. On 12 June the commanding officer of the 559th Squadron, Lt. Col. Paul M. Hall, was killed in an airplane crash while making a ground-controlled approach. The 12th Wing redeployed to Bergstrom Air Force Base in August.

Over a period of several months after returning to its home base in August 1953, the 559th Strategic Fighter Squadron made special efforts to qualify all of its aircrews as combat ready. At the same time it was interested in requalifying combat ready crews in various phases of bombing and gunnery techniques. For these purposes extensive use was made of the bombing and gunnery range facilities on Matagorda Island. In May 1954, however, the 559th Squadron once more deployed to Japan on temporary duty. This time the unit transferred, along with the 12th Wing headquarters and the 560th Squadron, to Misawa Air Base. The 561st Squadron was at Chitose. Again replacing the 508th Strategic Fighter Wing on duty in Japan, the 12th Wing had virtually the same mission there in 1954 as it had in 1953. One of the most important operations during this second tour of duty in the Far East was a series of exercises in which the capabilities of the Northern Air Defense Area were tested. The wing returned to the United States again in August 1954.

While stationed at Bergstrom Air Force base during the next several years the 559th Squadron continued to accomplish the usual training programs (actually conducted in part at the Matagorda Island Bombing and Gunnery Range) and routine training missions incident to the operations of a strategic fighter squadron. There were, however, a number of special missions and other activities. In June 1955, for instance, the unit participated in weapons loading exercise and unit simulated combat mission at Gray Air Force Base, Killeen, Texas. Operating from the forward staging base (Gray AFB), F-84s of the 12th Wing were scheduled to destroy a number of targets simulated on Matagorda Island. On this mission the Thunderjets accomplished air refueling over Roswell, New Mexico.

Meanwhile in May 1955 the 12th Strategic Fighter Wing was selected to represent the Strategic Air Command in the annual fighter competition to be held in connection with the USAF Gunnery Meet in September 1955 at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada. A group of candidates began training on Matagorda Island in June. Selected for the competition were two officers from the 12th Wing headquarters, and one each from the 559th, 560th, and 561st Squadrons. Competing at Nellis in September against this special team from the Strategic Air Command were other teams from the Air Defense Command, Far East Air Forces, Tactical Air Command, and United States Air Forces in Europe. At the meet the Strategic Air Command took third place, running behind those of the Far East Air Forces and the United States Air Forces in Europe.

During the early part of May 1956 the 559th Squadron began participation with the 560th Squadron in the deployment of 25 Thunderjets, together with adequate support personnel, for approximately 90 days at Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska. The purpose of the operation was to furnish a competent fighter offensive within the Alaskan Air Command. In addition to carrying out routine aircrew training, while at Eielson the detachment took part in several Fifteenth Air Force emergency war plan missions. At the conclusion of the temporary duty in Alaska the detachment flew nonstop back to its home base. The 27th Air refueling Squadron provided in-flight refueling for the redeployment.

Plans announced at Bergstrom as early as April 1956 indicated that in due course of time the 559th Squadron would convert from the F-84 aircraft to the long-range turbojet F-101. A tentative schedule for equipping with the F-101 was set for May through October 1957. Training in the new aircraft for aircrews and maintenance personnel of the wing began at Bergstrom in November 1956. This training was discontinued after about a month, however, following a decision by higher headquarters not to equip the wing with the F-101 aircraft.

Effective 1 July 1957, the 12th Strategic Fighter Wing and its three tactical squadrons were redesignated fighter-day units and assigned to the Tactical Air Command. The wing and its squadrons were inactivated, however, at Bergstrom Air Force Base on 8 January 1958. On 17 April 1962 the 559th Fighter-Day Squadron was redesignated the 559th Tactical Fighter Squadron. At the same time it was activated and assigned to the Tactical Air Command. Effective 25 April 1962, the squadron was organized at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, with further assignment to the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing.

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