9th Bomb Group

The 9th Bomb Group (Very Heavy) was an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War and as the 9th Operations Group, a current unit of the United States Air Force. A unit of the pre-war Army Air Corps dating back to 1922, the USAAF bombardment group operated the B-29 Superfortress bomber while the current USAF group operates U-2s and RQ-4s.

The 9th Bomb Group conducted 71 bombing missions while assigned to the Twentieth Air Force. It participated in the controversial fire raids that destroyed the urban centers of 66 Japanese cities, beginning with Tokyo. Operating both at high altitude and low level, both at night and by daylight, members of the 9th Group earned two Presidential Unit Citations for valor in combat.

The group later served as both a reconnaissance group and bomb group of the Strategic Air Command, before being inactivated in 1952. Its lineage, honors, and history were bestowed on the like-numbered wing of the Strategic Air Command until September 1, 1991, when after nearly forty years the group was activated again as part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.

Air Service and Air Corps history

Observation group

Originally created as the 9th Observation Group on July 19, 1922, as part of the U.S. Army Air Service, the 9th was organized on August 1, 1922, at Mitchel Field, New York. The squadrons assigned to the group were the 1st and 5th Aero Squadrons (Observation), both re-designated bomb squadrons in March 1935.

The 1st Squadron was the first squadron organized in the air force, formed on March 5, 1913, at Texas City, Texas, as the 1st Aero Squadron. It served in both the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916-1917 and in France during World War I, with seven campaign streamers. The 5th Squadron was organized in 1917 at Kelly Field, Texas, and served as a flying training unit. From June to September 1921 both squadrons served as part of the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, organized by Brig. Gen. William L. Mitchell to demonstrate aerial bombardment of battleships.

From 1923 to 1929 both squadrons of the 9th were reassigned to higher echelons, but remained in actuality a part of the group. The 99th Observation Squadron, organized at Kelly Field in 1917 and earning four campaign streamers in France, was added to the 9th Group on November 9, 1928, and on February 15, 1929, all three squadrons were assigned permanently. The 9th Observation Group used the DH-4 for its observation airplane between 1922 and 1928, and the Curtiss O-1B Falcon from 1928 to 1935.

The Air Service became the U.S. Army Air Corps on July 2, 1926. In early 1935 the Air Corps was re-organized, with all combat groups being centrally controlled for the first time, under a new command organization called General Headquarters, Air Force. The role of observation as the primary function of the air arm had been de-emphasized in the creation of eight new groups between 1927 and 1932. With the creation of GHQAF it was further de-emphasized and the 9th was converted into a bombardment group. Made a part of the 2nd Wing, the 9th BG was responsible for the air defense of the East Coast of the United States.

Bombardment group

The group's designation was changed to the 9th Bombardment Group on February 19, 1935, the 9th Bombardment Group (Medium) on December 6, 1939, and the 9th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on November 20, 1940. During the period 1935-1940 the 9th Bomb Group trained aircrews, took part in maneuvers, and participated in air shows, equipped with Keystone B-6 (1935-36), Martin B-10 (1936-38), and Douglas B-18 aircraft (1938-1942).

The 9th moved to Rio Hato, Panama, on November 12, 1940, to serve as part of the defense force for the Panama Canal. The 44th Reconnaissance Squadron stationed at Albrook Field, Canal Zone, was attached to the 9th on November 20, 1940. In addition to 5 additional B-18's it provided a single B-17B to the group.

The 9th Bomb Group relocated in a series of moves to Caribbean bases to conduct antisubmarine patrols. The 1st Bomb Squadron moved to Piarco Airport, Trinidad, on April 24, 1941; followed by the 5th Bomb Squadron to Beane Field, Saint Lucia, on September 28; the group headquarters squadron to Waller Field, Trinidad, on October 30 (where it was joined by the 1st Bomb Squadron); the 44th Recon Squadron to Atkinson Field, British Guiana, on November 4; and the 99th Bomb Squadron to Zandrey Field, Surinam, on December 3, 1941.

The 44th Recon Squadron was formally assigned to the 9th Bomb Group on February 25, 1942, and redesignated the 430th Bomb Squadron on April 22. The group's Headquarters Squadron was disbanded on July 22, 1942. The 1st Bomb Squadron changed stations to Edinburg Field, Trinidad, on August 23, and the group was assigned to the Antilles Air Task Force on September 18, where it continued antisubmarine patrols and conducted reconnaissance of the Vichy French fleet at Martinique.

The 9th Bomb Group's assets were transferred to the 25th Bomb Group and it was returned without personnel or equipment to the US in October 1942, where it was reconstituted as part of the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT) at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida. The group's squadrons were assigned as school squadrons, with the 1st located at Brooksville Field, the 5th at Pinecastle Field, and the 99th at Montbrook Field. These used B-17, B-24, and B-26 aircraft to train cadres for 44 bomb groups in organization and operations, performed bombing pattern tests, experimented with 3-plane formations to attack moving ships, and performed over a hundred equipment tests.

Commanders, 1922-1944

Commander date
Unknown 1922-1929
1st Lt. Howard K. Ramey 1923—
Major William O. Ryan 1929—
Col. Follett Bradley June 1933—May 1934
Col. Walter H. Frank August 1934—1936
Lt.Col. Carl W. Connell September 1, 1936—?
Col. Ross F. Cole April 1940—?
Major Charles F. Born August 1941—?
Lt.Col. Stuart P. Wright 1942
Lt.Col. Gerald E. Williams 1942
Col. Harry G. Montgomery, November 10, 1942-December 15, 1942
Col. James T. Connally December 15, 1942March 9, 1944

Organization of the 9th Bomb Group (VH)

The group was redesignated as the 9th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) on March 9, 1944. The combat and post-war Army Air Forces staff of the group follows:

Group Commanders: Col. Donald W. Eisenhart, (May 1, 1944March 6, 1945), Col. Henry C. Huglin, (March 6, 1945—August, 1945), Col. David Wade (September 1945—April 25, 1947)

Deputy Group Commanders: Lt.Col. Henry C. Huglin (May 1, 1944March 6, 1945), Lt.Col. William L. Hall (March 8, 1945—)

Operations Officers (S-3's): Lt.Col. Frank L. Luschen (May 1, 1944September 1, 1945), Major Dean A. Fling (September 2, 1945—)

Group Executive Officer: Lt.Col. Albert L. Perry (March 9, 1944—)

Group Adjutant: Major Thell E. Rhea (May 1, 1944—)

The original three squadrons assigned to the group were re-designated very heavy bomb squadrons on March 9, 1944. The 430th Bomb Squadron was disbanded. The squadron commanders of the 9th Bomb Group (VH) were:

Training history and movement overseas

On March 3, 1944, the 9th Bomb Group was established on paper at Dalhart Army Airfield, Texas, as part of the 313th Bomb Wing, to organize and train for B-29 operations in the Western Pacific.

During April the key personnel of the new group (including group commander Col. Donald Eisenhart and Deputy Group Commander Lt.Col. Henry Huglin) assembled at Dalhart, forming the command and operations cadres, and were transferred with the group to McCook Army Airfield, Nebraska. After a brief period establishing the units at McCook, the cadre of group and squadron operations staffs went by train to AAFSAT in May for the 4-week training course in organizing and conducting combat operations with very heavy bomb group units. While the cadre was at AAFSAT, an influx of new personnel continued at McCook.

After the return of the group and squadron cadres in June 1944, the squadrons organized new combat crews and the group conducted an intensive program of ground and flying training using B-17 aircraft to practice takeoffs, landings, instrument and night flying, cross-country navigation, high altitude formation flying, and bombing and gunnery practice.

The 9th Group had been forced to use B-17's in its training because the development of the B-29 as an operational weapon had been plagued since an early flight test on December 28, 1942, resulted in an engine fire, culminating in a massive emergency modification program in the winter of 1943-44 ordered by General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, and nicknamed the "Battle of Kansas". In particular the program sought to resolve a spate of problems with serious engine fires and faulty gunnery central fire control systems. All B-29s modified in this program were diverted to the 58th Bomb Wing to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt's commitment to China to have B-29's deployed to the China-Burma-India Theater in the spring of 1944, leaving none available to equip the 12 new groups being formed in the 73rd, 313th, and 314th Wings, including the 9th Bomb Group.

The 9th Group received its first training B-29 on July 13, 1944. After four further months of training Col. Eisenhart declared the unit ready for movement overseas, and its ground echelon left McCook for Seattle, Washington, Port of Embarkation on November 18, 1944, traveling by the troopship U.S.S. Cape Henlopen to the Mariana Islands on a voyage that required thirty days. The ground echelon of the group debarked at Tinian on December 28 and was assigned a camp on the west side of the island between the two airfields.

The air echelon of the 9th Bomb Group began its overseas movement in January 1945 by sending the combat crews to Herington Field, Kansas, where over a three-week period they accepted 37 new B-29's. The first bombers left their staging field at Mather Army Airfield, California on January 15, 1945, and proceeded individually by way of Hickam Field, Hawaii, and Kwajalein to North Field, Tinian, with the first five arriving on January 18, 1945. The last of the original 37 airplanes to reach Tinian arrived on February 12 by which time the group had already flown its first combat mission.

Combat operations and tactics

Early missions

The 9th Bomb Group was one of four of the 313th Bomb Wing stationed at North Field as part of XXI Bomber Command, Twentieth Air Force. It was assigned the group identification tail marking of the letter "X" above a small black triangle symbol, both placed above the aircraft's tail fin serial and victor number (a one- or two-digit number assigned an airplane to identify it individually both within the group and squadron). The group carried this marking until April, when the 313th Wing changed its marking to that of a 126-inch diameter circle in black to outline a 63-inch high group letter.

The 9th Bomb Group conducted four training missions against the Japanese-held Maug Islands in the Northern Marianas on January 27, 29, 31, and February 6. Its first combat mission took place on February 9, 1945 with 30 aircraft bombing a Japanese naval airfield located on the island of Moen at Truk atoll (now known as the Chuuk Islands). Flown by day at an altitude of 25,000 feet, it was in actuality a further training mission, encountering no opposition.

The second group mission was a pre-invasion bombing of Iwo Jima on February 12, one week prior to D-Day for Operation Detachment. The capture of Iwo Jima had as its objective an emergency landing field for Twentieth Air Force bombers attacking Japan and a base for P-51D and P-47N fighters to fly escort and strafing missions.

Its first mission to the Japanese home islands was the 9th Bomb Group's fifth, flown February 25, 1945. Again a day mission flown at high altitude, the target was the port facilities of Tokyo. That same day Col. Eisenhart was made Operations Officer of the 313th Bomb Wing and succeeded in command of the group by Lt.Col. Huglin.

Mission description

Unlike their counterparts in the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces, B-29's of the Twentieth Air Force did not assemble in defensive formations over friendly territory before proceeding on the mission. On daytime missions to Japan (which because of the seven-to-eight-hour flight time to Japan from the Marianas almost always resulted in night takeoffs) B-29's took off from Tinian's multiple runways to shorten group launch times.

To conserve fuel and engine stress when the aircraft were at their heaviest, the bombers flew individually at low altitude, usually climbing to bombing altitude only in the last hour before rendezvous (dictated by weather conditions encountered). After March 9 bombing altitudes rarely exceeded 20,000 feet, reducing the amount of climb required to assemble and further conserving fuel and engine life. Flight profiles were carefully calculated during mission planning and recorded as detailed performance tables, specifying power settings and fuel consumption rates, and carried by the flight deck crews during the mission.

At a designated rendezvous point off the coast of Japan, lead B-29's (using colored-smoke generators to identify themselves) flew circles of a mile or more radius, at different altitudes and in different directions for squadrons within a group. Aircraft formed on the leader as they arrived, and it was not uncommon for formations to include aircraft from other groups that had been unable to locate their own group formation. If the mission plan called for a wing assembly, the lead group flew to a second assembly point and flew one large circle, measured in minutes and not distance, to allow following groups to join up. The formation stayed together only in the target area, breaking up again and reducing altitude to return to base (or Iwo Jima) individually.

Night missions had similar profiles to and from the target, except that aircraft did not assemble in the target area but bombed individually, guided by their own navigation systems and by the glow of fires started by pathfinder aircraft. Also, bombing altitudes were rarely higher than 8,000 feet.

Fire raids and mine laying

On the group's seventh mission, March 9 1945March 10 1945, XXI Bomber Command radically changed tactics at the direction of its commander, Maj.Gen. Curtis LeMay, attacking Tokyo's urban center by night with incendiary bombs and at altitudes of only 6,400 to 7,800 feet, resulting in one of the most destructive attacks in history. The mission resulted in the first two losses to the group when B-29's from both the 1st and 99th Bomb Squadrons were forced to crash-land at sea after they ran out of fuel while returning to Tinian. The crew of the 1st BS B-29 was rescued, but three members of the 99th BS crew were killed, including the Group Radar Officer.

The Tokyo fire raid was the first of five flown between March 9 and March 18, resulting in devastation of four urban areas (Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe) and extensive civilian loss of life. The 9th Bomb Group had its first bomber shot down on the March 16 Kobe mission, and its second on March 24, 1945, attacking the Mitsubishi Aircraft factory at Nagoya (ironically the same crew that had ditched on March 10).

On March 27 the 9th Bomb Group began a week of night missions sowing both acoustic and magnetic aerial anti-shipping mines in Japanese harbor approaches and Inland Sea ship passages, with a mission to block the Shimonoseki Straits. Attacks in April were a combination of night and medium altitude day missions against the Japanese aircraft industry, and beginning April 18, three weeks of daytime attacks against Japanese airfields on Kyūshū launching Kamikaze attacks against U.S. naval forces at Okinawa.

The 9th Bomb Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for the mission of April 15-16, 1945. The group attacked the industrial area of Kawasaki, Japan, a target judged to be "an important link in the component productive capacity...upon which industries in Tokyo and Yokahama depended" (from the citation). "Because of its strategic location between two heavily-defended areas, the objective was strongly guarded by masses of defenses both on the flanks and in the immediate target area, making the approach, the bomb run, and the break-away from the target extremely hazardous." The 9th Group, dispatching 33 aircraft on a "maximum effort", was the last group over the target. Japanese anti-aircraft defenses had by then determined the bombing altitude and direction of attack and the 9th Bomb Group experienced close coordination between Japanese search lights and anti-aircraft guns while over land, and accurate fire from flak boats on ingress and egress to the target area. 56 Japanese fighters were reported by returning crews, including a number of suicide planes, with 2 claimed as shot down. The 9th had four B-29s shot down and six others severely damaged.

On May 18, 1945, the 9th Bomb Group resumed mine-laying operations which continued through May 28, for which the group was awarded its second Distinguished Unit Citation. Flying at night at 5,500 feet in what the citation stated was "the second most heavily-defended zone in Japan", the group sowed 1425 mines in 209 sorties with a 92% accuracy rate, primarily against the Shimonoseki Straits and harbors on Kyūshū and the northwest coast of Honshū. During the mining campaign the 9th lost one B-29 on a takeoff accident on May 20 and a second in combat on May 28.

On June 1 the 9th Bomb group began a grim campaign of night incendiary raids against the remaining urban areas of Japan not previously attacked that continued to its final mission, August 14, 1945.

Summary of combat operations

The 9th Bomb Group flew 71 combat missions, three show-of-force flyover missions after the cessation of hostilities, and one mission to drop medical and food supplies to liberated prisoners-of-war. Total combat sorties for the group were 2,012, of which 1,843 were against the Japanese home islands. The group logged approximately 28,000 total hours of combat flight time and dropped approximately 12,000 tons of bombs and mines.

Of the 71 combat missions, 27 were incendiary raids, 14 mining operations (with 328 total sorties), 13 against airfields, 9 against aircraft production, and 9 against other industry or targets other than the home islands. 39 of the missions were flown at night, and 32 by day. Only six of the 71 combat missions were flown above 20,000 feet altitude.

The group began combat operations with 37 aircraft and ended them with 48 B-29's, with an average of 47 on hand and 33 in commission at any one time. 78 B-29's were assigned to the group at some point while it was stationed on Tinian, of which 5 were transferred to other groups. Of the remainder, 11 were shot down in combat or lost on return because of battle damage (a combat attrition rate of 16%), 2 were lost after running out of fuel, 1 crashed on takeoff, 1 crashed attempting to land, 4 were written off as salvage, and 3 were declared "war-weary" and retired from combat operations while being carried on the group inventory.

91 combat crews of eleven crewmen each served with the 9th Bomb Group on Tinian. 11 combat crews were lost (13%) on combat missions while 10 crews completed a full 35-mission tour by the end of hostilities (although 12 additional crews had accumulated 31 or more missions by August 15, 1945).


9th BG losses
11 B-29's lost in combat
4 B-29's lost in accidents
25 Air crew killed in action
21 Air crew wounded in action
84 Air crew missing in action
12 Air crew captured
The 9th Bomb Group (VH) had 153 total aircrew casualties:

  • 111 killed or presumed dead
    • 25 killed in action
    • 1 killed in a training accident at McCook AAB
    • 1 killed in an airfield accident on Tinian
    • 84 missing-in-action and declared dead
  • 30 wounded or injured
    • 21 wounded-in-action
  • 12 prisoners-of-war later repatriated

The history of the group reports that part or all of 4 crews captured after parachuting over Japan were killed in a fire in Tokyo on May 25, 1945, when prison guards intentionally kept them confined for which the guards were later prosecuted for war crimes.

Honors and campaigns

Distinguished Unit Citation

  • Kawasaki 15-16 April 1945
  • Japan 13-28 May 1945

   World War II:

  • Antisubmarine, American Theater
  • Air Offensive, Japan
  • Western Pacific

The 9th Group since 1945

Although partially demobilized with personnel and aircraft returned to the United States, the 9th Bomb Group moved to Clark Field in the Philippines on April 15, 1946. It relocated to Harmon Field on Guam on June 9, 1947, by which time it was largely a paper organization with few personnel or aircraft. The group was inactivated on Guam on 20 October 20, 1948, and its squadrons re-assigned to other units.

On May 1, 1949 the group was redesignated the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Group and activated at Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base, California, as the combat group of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. The 9th Group conducted photo reconnaissance missions for the Strategic Air Command (SAC), using B-29, RB-29, and RB-17 aircraft, but also trained with several B-36s assigned during 1949-1950. It became a bomber group again on April 1, 1950, redesignated the 9th Bombardment Group, Heavy, and after it became an all-B-29 group, was redesignated the 9th Bombardment Group (Medium) on October 2, 1950. In February 1951 the three bomb squadrons of the group were attached to the Wing in preparation for a phase-out by SAC of its groups. The 9th Bomb Group was inactivated June 16, 1952, and its squadrons assigned directly to the 9th Bomb Wing.

On September 1, 1991, the 9th Group was activated as the 9th Operations Group, as part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California. The 9th OG has five squadrons and one detachment totaling more than 500 personnel. It is the "single-point manager" for the U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude reconnaissance fleets. Its self-described mission is to organize, train and equip U-2 and RQ-4 combat elements for peacetime intelligence gathering, contingency operations, conventional war fighting and Emergency War Order support.

On 19 July 2007 the first operational Global Hawk deployment from Beale began at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, where the Global Hawk is scheduled to be stationed permanently starting in 2009.

The 9th Operations Group consists of the:

The crest and motto were approved for the 9th Operations Group on March 20, 1924, and for the 9th Reconnaissance Wing on July 1, 1952. The shield, in black and green, represents the old colors of the Air Service parted by a wavy line representing the Rio Grande River. On the gold band are four black crosses representing four World War I offensives (Aisne-Marne, Champagne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, and St. Mihiel) in which squadrons later assigned to the 9th Group fought. The crest recalls the service in Mexico of the 1st Aero Squadron.

USAF Group commanders

Commander date
Lt.Col. Walter Y. Lucas May 1, 1949August 24, 1949
Col. Donald W. Eisenhart August 24, 1949March 27, 1950
Col. William P. Brett March 27, 1950June 24, 1950
Lt.Col. Walter Y. Lucas June 24, 1950July 6, 1950
Col. Clifford Heflin July 6, 1950February 10, 1951
Col Robert F. Behler November 22, 1991July 30, 1993
Col George A. Lafferty July 30, 1993January 3, 1995
Col James F. Shambo January 3, 1995September 3, 1996
Col James P. Hunt September 3, 1996June 25, 1998
Col. R. Kent Taylor June 25, 1998August 23, 2000
Col. Alan L. Vogel August 23, 2000July 16, 2002
Col. Gregory A. Kern June 2004—2007
Col. Jon L. Engle 2007—


Air Force Outstanding Unit Award

  • 1 September 1991 to 30 June 1993
  • 1 July 1994 to 30 June 1995
  • 1 June 1996 to 31 May 1998
  • 1 June 1998 to 31 May 2000
  • 1 June 2000 to 31 May 2002


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