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.
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.
Four heavy bomb squadrons were constituted at the same time and assigned to the group:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
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.
All figures per Capps
| Distinguished Unit Citation|
| World War II:|
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.
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