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456th Bomb Group

456th Bomb Group

The 456th Bomb Group (Heavy) was an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. A "heavy bombardment group," the 456th operated B-24 Liberator aircraft and was known unofficially as "Steed's Flying Colts," after its commander.

The 456th Bomb Group flew 249 bombing missions from Italy while assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force. Its members earned two Presidential Unit Citations for valor in combat and participated extensively in the strategic bombing campaign against oil production targets including Ploieşti, Romania, that resulted in high bomber losses.

Inactivated at the end of the war and allotted to the Air Force Reserve, the group was reactivated twice as a bomb and troop carrier group, and later had its lineage and history bestowed on a like-numbered wing of the United States Air Force.

Organization of the 456th Bomb Group (H)

The 456th Bomb Group (Heavy) was created ("constituted") on May 14, 1943, by Special Order of the Second Air Force as a bomber unit planned for future deployment to the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom.

Group Commanders of the 456th Bomb Group:

Deputy Commander Lt.Col. Russell was in temporary command from July to October, 1944, in the absence of Col. Steed.

Deputy Group Commanders (air echelon commanders): Lt.Col. Harmon Lampley, Jr. (September 3, 1943--March 28, 1944); Lt.Col. Joseph G. Russell (June 1, 1944--)

Executive officers (ground echelon commanders): Lt.Col. Walter C. Phillips (July 14, 1943--November, 1944); Lt.Col. Leonard A. Weissinger (November, 1944--June, 1945)

Four heavy bomb squadrons were constituted at the same time and assigned to the group:

  • 744th Bomb Squadron (H)
    • Commanders: Capt. John R. Sinclair (July 14, 1943-March 9, 1944), Major Robert L. Reid (March 10, 1944--August, 1944), Major Joseph N. Jacobucci (August, 1944--unk), Capt. William S. Rawls (dates unknown)
  • 745th Bomb Squadron (H)
    • Commanders: Capt. William H. McKee (July 14, 1943--?), Major Louis M. Abernathy (dates unk), Lt.Col. David H. Cissna (dates unknown), Major John S. Chandler (dates unknown)
  • 746th Bomb Squadron (H)
    • Commanders: Major Paul T. Golden (July 14, 1943--March, 1944), Capt. Frederick W. Hyde (March, 1944--unknown), Lt.Col. Samuel W. Parks (dates unknown)
  • 747th Bomb Squadron (H)

Training history and movement overseas

Formation

The group and its four squadrons were activated without personnel or equipment on June 1, 1943, at Wendover Army Air Base, Utah. On July 14, 1943, the location of the group was changed to Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, where a cadre of 66 officers and 237 enlisted men was assigned, transferred from the 29th Bomb Group at Gowen. Colonel Steed, formerly chief of staff of the Fourth Air Force Bomber Command, took command on the same date. While at Gowen A.A.B., and at its next two stations, the 456th received additional personnel drawn from the 18th Replacement Wing at Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 470th Bomb Group, Mountain Home AAB, Idaho. The air echelon (consisting at that time of key flying staff and four aircrews) was sent to the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics in Orlando, Florida, for a four-week course of specialized cadre training in field operations and combat tactics.

On July 30, 1943, the group's ground echelon moved to Bruning Army Airfield, Nebraska, where it remained until October 8. The air echelon joined the group at Bruning in mid-August and received four B-24D aircraft for familiarization flights.

The air echelon left Bruning on September 5, 1943, for Kearns A.A.B., Utah, and on September 29 moved by train to Muroc A.A.B., California, where it would remain until its designated overseas deployment date of December 1. The ground echelon followed on October 8. By November 1, to train approximately 70 crews, the 456th had received only 28 aircraft, all old and half of them grounded for maintenance or lack of spare parts. The shortage of aircraft hampered the training efforts not only of its flying personnel but also its maintenance units.

The 456th received only a minimal amount of unit training in navigation, high altitude bombing, and gunnery, but its most serious training deficiency was a lack of high altitude formation flying using heavily-loaded aircraft (as it would in combat). In all the group received only three of the normal six months of unit POM ("Preparation for Overseas Movement") training.

Despite the group's lack of preparation, and the refusal by Colonel Steed to certify its combat readiness to POM inspectors, the 456th's air echelon was ordered to discontinue training. The ground campaign in Italy had captured Foggia and its network of potential airfields, and seven groups of Liberators originally slated for the Eighth Air Force, including the 456th, had been diverted by General Arnold to the new bases then under construction.

The air echelon was ordered to fly its training aircraft to Hamilton A.A.B., California, beginning December 3, 1943, while the ground echelon entrained for movement to a port of embarkation. At the time of its deployment, the 456th had reached its full strength of 377 officers and 1,627 enlisted men.

Movement to Italy

At Hamilton Field the air echelon received 61 new B-24H Liberator bombers over a period of several weeks. Traveling individually between December and February, the aircraft flew to Italy using the South Atlantic Ferry Route, established by Pan American Airways in the 1930s: Palm Beach, Florida; Puerto Rico; Trinidad; Belem and Natal, Brazil; Dakar, French West Africa; Marrakech and Casablanca, French Morocco; Oran, Algeria; and Tunis, Tunisia, where it waited while construction was completed on its airfield. On January 30, 1944, at Dakar, one of the 456th's aircraft exploded while taking off, killing nine of the ten crew members.

The ground echelon arrived at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on December 4, underwent final processing, and sailed in a convoy from Newport News on December 15 aboard three Liberty ships. The convoy passed through the Strait of Gibraltar on January 5, 1944, divided into two sections, and reached the Italian ports of Taranto on January 11 and Naples, January 19.

On January 23, the ground echelon traveled by open truck in wet, freezing weather to the new base (code-named "Newbox") on the Tavoliere near the Adriatic Sea, eighteen miles (29 km) southeast of Foggia. The airbase was constructed on an estate called Incarnata Farm less than a mile north of the village of Stornarella and approximately two miles southwest of the larger town of Stornara; it received the name of the larger city as its location. Stornara airbase was centered in a cluster of airfields of its parent and newly-activated 304th Bomb Wing and two other heavy bomber wings of the Fifteenth Air Force surrounding the city of Cerignola.

Staff officers immediately began requisitioning farmhouses for administrative buildings and setting up tent encampments in nearby olive groves for the living quarters. With some improvised improvements, the 456th lived in tents throughout its fifteen months at Stornara (for several months, the ground crews lived in infantry shelter halves until a sufficient number of squad-sized tents became available). Stonara's single runway was in length and oriented north-to-south, with taxiways on either side and revetments for 62 aircraft placed along them. The runways and taxiways were covered with steel matting called pierced steel planking, or PSP.

On January 26 the 456th group headquarters reached Stornara and activated the base. The group's bombers began arriving from Tunisia on February 1. On a training familiarization flight on February 6 another B-24 was lost, crashing into a mountain while flying in clouds, killing all aboard including three aircraft commanders.

Combat operations and tactics

The initial group identification aircraft markings for the 456th Bomb Group, located on the outward side of the B-24's twin tail fins, consisted of a black diamond symbol superimposed on a white circle (marking of the 304th Wing) on the upper fin, and the number 3 in white on the lower fin. In May 1944, with the numbers of olive drab aircraft diminishing rapidly by combat attrition and operational wear, the Fifteenth Air Force adopted a system of color bands and symbols. The 456th's markings then became a long black diamond on the upper half, and the entire lower half painted bright red (the 456th's group color). The upper surface of a bomber's rear horizontal stabilizer, on which the tail fins were mounted, was similarly marked, with the left stabilizer painted red and the right having the diamond symbol.

Within the 456th Group, individual aircraft were identified initially by numbers painted on their noses, with sets of two-digit numbers assigned to squadrons, but this system was soon discontinued and a non-standard pattern of three-digit numbers employed (usually, but not always, the last three numbers of an airplane's USAAF serial number). Late in the war some squadrons adopted letter identification painted on the rear fuselage, but this was never systematized, and many aircraft had no individual identification at all.

In combat

The 456th Bomb Group flew its first combat mission on February 10, 1944, less than two weeks after reaching Italy. The U.S. Fifth Army had conducted an amphibious landing at Anzio on January 22 to outflank the German Gustav Line, and the German Army had begun counterattacks against the beachhead. The 456th was tasked to attack a German command post near Grottaferrata and encountered no opposition, but when the group reached the target area, they found it completely obscured by clouds and returned without dropping their bombs.

Continuing poor weather conditions prevented further missions for another week, during which time the group continued flight training in combat formations. The 456th employed the six-combat box tactical formation favored by the Fifteenth Air Force to maximize defense against intercepting Luftwaffe fighters (for a detailed description see six-box formation). When the weather cleared on February 17, the 456th repeated its earlier mission to bomb the command post at Grottaferrata. Although judging the results of bombing as successful, the 456th was engaged by nine fighters and severe flak, suffering its first combat losses as two bombers were shot down.

On six of its first ten missions weather conditions were poor and no bombs were dropped. On March 15 the group was one of several which bombed Monte Cassino in support of Fifth Army operations. The second unit of the 456th dropped its bombs in error on Allied troops, for which the deputy group commander was removed.

Raids on Ploieşti and oil production

The 456th struck its first strategic target, the aircraft engine plant at Steyr, Austria, on April 3, and on April 12 encountered its first severe air combat with German fighters. Over 100 intercepted the mission to the airfield at Bad Vöslau, Austria, and in a 40-minute battle shot down three Liberators. Four more were lost to 65 fighters on an April 21 mission to Bucharest, Romania. The missions to Romania ushered in a campaign by Allied strategic bombers against oil production, concentrating on the refinery operations at Ploieşti. The 456th made the first of ten attacks on Ploieşti on May 5, losing three aircraft, including one when a crewman bailing out of a stricken bomber knocked part of the wing off another in the same formation.

The 456th earned the first of two Distinguished Unit Citations on May 10 for a mission to bomb the Henschel & Sohn aircraft factory at Wiener Neustadt, Austria, for attacking despite severe losses (five shot down and the remaining 26 damaged) after the other groups on the mission turned back because of bad weather. On May 23, returning from a mission in which they were unable to bomb, two Liberators collided in mid-air directly over the base, killing all but one of the 20 crewmen aboard and dropping live bombs on the field.

On June 22, 1944, the 456th Bomb Group began flying a four-box 40-aircraft diamond formation to concentrate its bombing pattern for greater accuracy. On July 2, the group earned its second DUC on a mission to bomb the Shell Oil refinery at Budapest, Hungary. 31 aircraft bombed the previously-untouched refinery at mid-morning and three minutes after bomb release, before reassembly in the new formation, were attacked by 50 Me-109s and 10 FW-190s of Luftwaffe gruppe JG.302 and Hungarian Air Force 101 Puma Group. The second box of the 456th bore the brunt of the attacks, with the 744th Bomb Squadron losing six of nine bombers in the target area and a seventh damaged beyond repair. 36 airmen were killed or missing and 24 captured, the largest single-day loss for the group.

Beginning July 8 the first crews of the 456th completing the 50 missions required for a combat tour by the Fifteenth Air Force began returning to the United States. The last crew among the original 68 to be lost in combat went down on July 20.

The last of 19 missions against Romanian oil production occurred August 18. Missions continued against oil and synthetic oil production facilities at Odertal, Germany; Moosbierbaum and Vienna, Austria; Brux, Czechoslovakia; and Blechhammer, Poland, with 26 bombers lost on 23 missions. Bombing of German lines of communication, particularly marshalling yards and railroad bridges, remained a priority to the end of the war.

After August 1944 the 456th did not lose another aircraft to fighter defenses, but losses continued to accumulate from anti-aircraft fire. In the remaining nine months of operations 43 bombers were lost, most to flak. Three or more bombers were lost on five missions, including November 11, when three planes crashed into the Adriatic after being recalled from a mission. In February, 1945, the 456th began flying two missions per day, termed Red and Blue.

The last combat loss in the group occurred on April 25, 1945, at Linz, Austria. The following day, while General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the USAAF, was visiting the base, the 456th flew its last mission of the war against a transportation depot at Tarvisio, Italy, and scored a bombing accuracy of 100%, matched by only one other group. (The Eighth Air Force's 467th Bomb Group, also a B-24 unit, had done so on April 13.) General Arnold was also present at Stornara when news was received of the surrender of Germany.

Statistical summary of operations

Bombing summary

At the close of the 456th's European operations, its group statistical officer issued a summary of its combat operations. During its 249 bombing missions, the 456th flew a cumulative total of 7,272 sorties and dropped 13,939 tons of bombs on Axis targets. 45% of this total was dropped on lines of communication targets, 18% on oil production and storage, 14% on airfields, 12% on industrial infrastructure, 6% on troop concentrations, and 5% on targets of opportunity or other types. The 456th had the highest average percentage of bombing accuracy within the 304th Bomb Wing and progressed from an average of 20.1% accuracy (bombs falling within of the aiming point) in its first full month of operations to 71.9% during its last full month of operations. This accuracy average was higher than all but one Eighth Air Force group.

Maintenance summary

The 456th averaged a maintenance rate of 83% for daily availability of aircraft for mission assignments, again the highest within the 304th Wing.

Losses and casualties

456th BG losses
91 B-24's lost in combat
16 B-24's lost in accidents
331 Air crew killed in action
206 Air crew missing in action
271 Air crew captured
6 Air crew interned
The 456th had 117 bombers destroyed or written off as salvage during its overseas assignment. Of this number, 91 were destroyed in combat (20 shot down by fighters, 56 by flak, and 15 by unknown means), with 74 of those crashing in Axis-controlled territory, 10 in the Adriatic Sea, 2 in Switzerland, 3 in Soviet-controlled territory in Poland, one on the island of Vis, and one over Italy. 18 aircraft were destroyed in non-combat related accidents: 4 in flying crashes, 4 on take-offs, 6 on landings, 2 in a mid-air collision over the base, and 2 in accidents while on the ground. 8 battle-damaged aircraft were written off as beyond economical repair. 36 of the original 61 bombers were destroyed and all but one of the rest taken out of service as "war weary".

3,267 aircrew served in the 456th Bomb Group during the war. 1,079 or 33% were aboard aircraft destroyed. 331 airmen were killed in action, 206 remain missing in action, 271 were made prisoners-of-war, 6 were interned in Switzerland until the end of hostilities, 108 evaded capture and returned to duty, and 49 returned to base. Of the 108 evadees, 9 evaded capture in Italy, 10 in Hungary, and 89 in Yugoslavia. 26 of the original 68 combat crews and 17 of the first 27 replacement crews were shot down. The group, equivalent to an infantry regiment, equalled or exceeded the killed-in-action of 15 ground force divisions.

Its members were awarded one Distinguished Service Cross, 19 Silver Stars, 215 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and over 2,000 Air Medals.

All figures per Capps

Honors and campaigns

Distinguished Unit Citation

  • Wiener Neustadt, 10 May 1944
  • Budapest, 2 July 1944

   World War II:

  • Air Combat, European-African-Mediterranean Theater
  • Air Offensive, Europe
  • Rome-Arno
  • Normandy
  • Northern France
  • Southern France
  • North Apennines
  • Rhineland
  • Central Europe
  • Po Valley

Post-war history

The 456th relocated to Smoky Hill AAB, Salina, Kansas, on August 17, 1945, for conversion to a B-29 Superfortress group and operations against Japan, and re-designated 456th Bombardment Group, Very Heavy. The war ended before the conversion was completed, however, and the group was inactivated on October 17, 1945.

The 456th was activated several times as part of the United States Air Force. From July 1, 1947 to June 27, 1949, at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, the 456th Bomb Group operated B-29's. From December 1, 1952 to March 1, 1955, the 456th was activated as the 456th Troop Carrier Group, Medium, as the operations group for the 456 Troop Carrier Wing, Medium operating C-119 transports in both a standard airlift and research mission, based at Miami International Airport (December 1, 1952 to August 15, 1953), Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina (August 15, 1953 to March 1, 1955); and after the inactivation of the group but continuing as the 456th TC Wing, at Shiroi Air Base, Japan; and Ardmore Air Force Base, Oklahoma until the wing was inactivated.

Commanders of the post-war 456th Group were: Col. Leonard J. Barrow, Jr. (c. December 1952), LtCol. Malcolm P. Hooker (c. February 1953), Col. Jay D. Bogue (1953-March 1, 1955).

The honors and lineage of the 456th Bomb Group were bestowed on the 456th Strategic Aerospace Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, from November 1962 to July 1972. The 456th SAW included the 744th Bomb Squadron among its subordinate units, operating the B-52 Stratofortress. It also had an aerial refueling mission, using KC-135 aircraft, and until 1965, also had a Titan I ICBM squadron. In July 1972 the wing was redesignated the 456th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, and a number of its crews flew bombing missions over North Vietnam in Operation Linebacker II. The wing was inactivated in October 1975.

External links

References

  • Capps, Robert S., Flying Colt: Liberator Pilot in Italy, Manor House (1997). ISBN 0-9640665-1-3
  • Maurer, Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II, Office of Air Force history (1961). ISBN 0-405-12194-6
  • Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History (1984), pp. 251-251. ISBN 0-912799-12-9
  • 456th Bomb Group Association, 456th Bomb Group History: Steed's Flying Colts 1943-1945, Turner Publishing Company (1994). ISBN 1-56311-141-1
  • Doorley, Captain Paul A., 456th Bombardment Group (Heavy), "Final Statistical Report, 1 February 44 to 8 May 45"

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