Ninth Air Force

Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) is a Numbered Air Force in Air Combat Command (ACC). It is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. It is an intermediate echelon responsible primarily for fighter units in the eastern United States.

Ninth Air Force also serves as headquarters for Air Forces Central (AFCENT) component of the United States Central Command, serving as the air component for a 25-nation area within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.


The mission of Ninth Air Force is to project decisive air and space power for U.S. Central Command and America. It is responsible for five active-duty flying wings, as well as overseeing the operational readiness of 18 designated units of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

Major units of Ninth Air Force are:

Flying Wings

Non-flying units



  • Established as 5 Air Support Command on 21 Aug 1941

Activated on 1 Sep 1941
Redesignated 9 Air Force on 8 Apr 1942
Redesignated as Ninth Air Force on 18 Sep 1942
Inactivated on 2 Dec 1945

  • Activated on 28 Mar 1946

Redesignated: Ninth Air Force (Tactical) on 1 Aug 1950
Redesignated: Ninth Air Force on 26 Jun 1951
Redesignated: Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central), on 1 Mar 2008.


  • Air Force Combat Command (later, Army Air Forces), 1 Sep 1941
  • United States Army Forces in the Middle East, 12 Nov 1942
  • European Theater of Operations, United States Army, 3 Nov 1943
  • United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe

(later, United States Air Forces in Europe), 22 Feb 1944-2 Dec 1945


Major Components


  • IX Air Defense: 1 Jul 1944-28 Nov 1945
  • IX Air Support (later, IX Tactical Air): 4 Dec 1943-17 Aug 1945
  • IX Engineer: 1 Jul 1944-2 Dec 1945
  • IX Fighter: 23 Dec 1942-16 Nov 1945
  • IX Troop Carrier: 16 Oct 1943-25 1944
  • XIX Air Support (later, XIX Tactical Air): 4 Jan 1944-X 1945
  • XXIX Air Support (later, XXIX Tactical Air): 1 Jul-3 Oct 1945


(formerly, 19 Bombardment Wing; IX Bomber Command; 9 Bombardment Division; 9 Air Division; 19 Bombardment Wing)
24 Jul 1942-20 Nov 1945; 22 Dec 1948-1 Feb 1949. 21 Air: 22 Dec 1948-1 Feb 1949.

World War II

During World War II, the offensive air forces of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) came to be classified as strategic or tactical. A strategic air force was that with a mission to attack an enemy's war effort beyond his front-line forces; predominantly production and supply facilities, whereas a tactical air force supported ground campaigns, usually with objectives selected through co-operation with the armies.

In Europe, Eighth Air Force was the first USAAF strategic air force, with a mission to support an invasion of continental Europe from the British Isles. Originally equipped with tactical units, some of these units were transferred to the Twelfth Air Force which was formed in the United Kingdom in the fall of 1942. Twelfth Air Force was created to provide tactical air support for the invasion of North Africa later that year.

Orgins - 1942

The USAAF began planning for a buildup of American air power in the Middle East in January 1942 in response to a request from the British Chief of the Air Staff. The initial unit to arrive was given the codename HALPRO. It was under the command of Col. Harry A. Halverson and consisted of twenty-three B-24D Liberator heavy bombers with hand-picked crews flown from Fort Myers, Florida.

On 12 June 1942, the HALPRO B-24s took off from Fayid, Egypt to bomb oilfields at Ploieşti, Romania. Only 12 aircraft were in the attack at dawn. 4 of the 13 landed at a base in Iraq which was designated for recovery of the flight, 3 landed at other Iraq fields, 2 landed in Syria, and 4 were interned in Turkey. Though damage to the target was negligible, the raid was significant because it was the first USAAF combat mission in the North African and European Theater of Operations in World War II, and the first strike at a target which later will be famous.

On June 15, seven HALPRO B-24s attacked units of the Italian fleet that were to intercept a convoy from Alexandria that was attempting to supply Malta. Though they score at least one direct hit on the battleship Littorio, the convoy ultimately failed to reach Malta under threat of the Italian ships.

One week later, on 17 June, the HALPRO mission was ordered to the vicinity of Cairo, Egypt to report to Brigadier General Russell L. Maxwell, commander of U.S. Army Middle East Air Force (USAMEAF).

In late June, Major General Lewis H. Brereton arrived from Allahabad, India, to command USAMEAF, along with a detachment of B-17Ds from the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and other personnel. (Some of the B-17s were Pearl Harbor attack and Philippines campaign survivors, which had been assigned to the China Burma India Theater. After the Fall of Rangoon the Burma Road was cut so the detachment could not be logistically supported in China.)

On 2 July, additional B-17Es from the 7th Bomb Group arrived at Lydda, Palestine from India. On 20 July the B-24s and B-17s were formed into the 1st Provisional Group USAAF in Cairo.

From early July, Brereton attached USAAF personnel from the 57th Fighter Group and 12th Bombardment Group (Medium) to British Commonwealth Desert Air Force fighter and bomber units, as "observers". This was technically in breach of the Arnold-Portal-Towers agreement, under which (inter alia) US commanders had stipulated that Americans should serve only in homogeneous US units. Nevertheless, some airmen flew sorties with Commonwealth units during the First Battle of El Alamein. From mid-September, the P-40 Warhawk squadrons of the 57th FG and the B-25 squadrons of the 12th BG were officially attached to DAF units.

Shortly afterward, the USAAF deployed the 79th FG (P-40) and the 98th BG (Heavy) (B-24D) along with some Douglas C-47 Skytrain transports to bases in the theater.

USAMEAF units played a significant part in the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein, in November 1942.

Activation of Ninth Air Force

On 12 November 1942 the USAMEAF was dissolved and replaced by HQ Ninth Air Force with the responsibility to (1) Gain air superiority; (2) Deny the enemy the ability to replenish or replace losses, and (3) Offer ground forces close support in North-East Africa.

Ninth Air Force was first constituted as V Air Support Command at Bowman Field, Kentucky on 11 September 1941. It was redesigated as Ninth Air Foce in April 1942 and was reassigned to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. on 22 July and was transferred, without personnel or equipment to Cairo, Egypt on 12 November.

Order Of Battle, 1942

The Order of Battle of Ninth Air Force in the Western Desert Campaign during 1942 consisted of the following units:

  • IX Bomber Command

12th Bombardment Group (Medium) (B-25C)
(All squadrons detached to RAF)
98th Bombardment Group (Heavy) (B-24D)
340th Bombardment Group (Medium) (B-25C)
376th Bombardment Group (Heavy) (B-24D)
(Formerly 1st Provisional Group USAAF)

  • IX Fighter Command

57th Fighter Group (P-40F)
(All squadrons detached to RAF)
79th Fighter Group (P-40F)
324th Fighter Group (P-40F)

Directly Attached Unit:

316th Troop Carrier Group (C-47)

Operations in Western Desert Campaign, 1942-1943

By the end of 1942 a total of 370 aircraft had been ferried to the Ninth Air Force. While the great majority were P-40's, B-24's, and B-25's, there were also more than 50 twin-engine transports, which made it possible to build an effective local air transport service. Ninth Air Force fighter supported the British Eighth Army's drive across Egypt and Libya, escorting bombers and flying strafing and dive-bombing missions against airfields, communications, and troop concentrations. Other targets attacked were shipping and harbor installations in Libya, Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, Crete, and Greece to cut enemy supply lines to Africa

In February 1943, after the Afrika Korps had been driven into Tunisia, the Germans took the offensive and pushed through Kasserine Pass before being stopped. With both Ninth and Twelfth Air Force units in the battle, the Allies drove the enemy back into a pocket around Bizerte and Tunis, where Axis forces surrendered in May Thus Tunisia became available for launching an attack on Sicily as a preliminary to an assault on Italy.

After the Allied victory in Tunisia, Ninth Air Force groups attacked airfields and rail facilities in Sicily and Italy. On one of these missions, the 376th Bomb Group B-24D "Lady Be Good" Serial Number 41-24301, took off from the group's airfield at Benina Airfield in Soluch, Libya and failed to return to base. On 9 November 1958, British oil surveyors located the wreckage of the Lady Be Good 440 statute miles southeast of Soluch in the remote Libyan desert. It took several years for USAF personnel to recover the remains of all but one of the aircrew, some of which had walked nearly 100 miles from the crash site in an attempt to reach civilization. Pieces of the aircraft were recovered for evaluation and placed in various museums over the years, the rest of the aircraft being methodically stripped by souvenir hunters. However, in August 1994, the remains of the aircraft were recovered by a Libyan team led by Dr. Fadel Ali Mohammed and taken to a military base in Tobruk for safekeeping.

Ninth Air Force units took part in the Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, carrying paratroopers and flew reinforcements to ground units on the island. Heavy bomb units of the Ninth participated in the famed low-level assault on oil refineries at Ploesti (Operation "Tidal Wave") Romania on 1 August 1943.

In August and September 1943, Ninth Air Force units in North Africa were transferred to Twelfth Air Force in preparation for the move of the organization to the United Kingdom. The command was deactivated on 16 October 1943 in Egypt.

Transfer to the United Kingdom

On 16 October 1943, Headquarters Ninth Air Force was reactivated at RAF Burtonwood, England and became the crucial and decisive tactical air force in Western Europe, under the command of USAAF General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. With the formation of Ninth Air Force in England, Ninth Air Force's mission became that of tactical support of ground units as part of the invasion of Europe, while Eighth Air Force retained the strategic bombing mission.

In the United Kingdom, the nucleus of the Ninth Air Force was formed in November 1943 by the transfer of some Eighth Air Force tactical bomber, fighter and troop carrier groups. These were designated as follows:

Order of Battle, 1944

During the winter of 1943-44 Ninth Air Force expanded at an extraordinary rate, so that by the end of May, when the last combat group became operational, its complement ran to 45 flying groups operating some 5,000 aircraft (See Below). With the necessary ground support units, the total number of personnel assigned to Ninth Air Force was more than 200,000 - greater than that of Eighth Air Force.

This table shows the 1 June 1944 Order of Battle for the Ninth Air Force in the United Kingdom, prior to the deployment of units to the Continent. The United Kingdom airfield for the group is shown with the type aircraft used in parentheses.

The Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG) on the continent for each group is included in the linked article about the unit.

IX Bomber Command (1943-45)

  • 97th Bombardment Wing (Light)

410th Air Expeditionary Wing
RAF Birch, RAF Gosfield (A-20)
416th Bombardment Group - RAF Wethersfield (A-20)

  • 99th Bombardment Wing (Medium)

322d Bombardment Group - RAF Andrews Field (B-26)
344th Bombardment Group - RAF Stansted (B-26)
386th Bombardment Group - RAF Great Dunmow (B-26)
391st Bombardment Group - RAF Matching (B-26)
1st Pathfinder Squadron (Provisional) - RAF Andrews Field (B-26)

  • 98th Bombardment Wing (Medium)

323d Bombardment Group
RAF Earls Colne, RAF Beaulieu (B-26)
387th Bombardment Group
RAF Chipping Ongar, RAF Stoney Cross (B-26)
394th Bombardment Group, RAF Holmsley South (B-26)
397th Bombardment Group
RAF Gosfield, RAF Rivenhall, RAF Hurn (B-26)

IX Bomber Command was headquartered at Marks Hall, England, 6 November 1943; Chartres, France, 18 September 1944; Reims, France, October 1944, and Namur, Belgium, April 1945.

It was inactivated on 20 November 1945.

IX Fighter Command (1943-45)
Direct Reporting Units

IX Tactical Air Command
Provided tactical air support in support of U.S. First Army.

Note: 71st Fighter Wing and subordinate groups transferred to IX Air Defense Command in September 1944, providing air defense for areas behind the advancing ground forces.

XIX Tactical Air Command)
Provided tactical air support in support of U.S. Third Army.

Note: 303d Fighter Wing and subordinate groups transferred to XXIX Tactical Air Command on 15 September 1944.

XXIX Tactical Air Command
(Activated 15 September 1944)
Provided tactical air support in support of U.S. Ninth Army.

  • 303d Fighter Wing
    • 36th Fighter Group - A-76 Athis, France (P-47)
    • 373d Fighter Group - A-62D Reims, France (P-47)
    • 406th Fighter Group - A-80 Mourmelon-le-Grand, France (P-47)
  • 363rd Reconnaissance Group - A-35 Le Mans, France (F-5/F-6)

Note: XXIX TAC established in France and initial activation Advanced Landing Ground shown for units assigned to command.

IX Fighter Command was headquartered at Middle Wallop, England, 30 November 1943-July 1944; Les Obeaux, France, July 1944; Canisy, France, August 1944; Charleroi, Belgium, September 1944; Verviers, Belgium, October 1944; Bruhl, Germany, March 1945; Welmar, Germany, April 1945; Fritzlar, Germany, July 1945, and Erlangen, Germany, September 1945.

It was inactivated on 20 November 1945.

IX Troop Carrier Command (1943-45)
All Groups flew C-47/C-53 Aircraft, except as noted.


  • Entirety of IX Troop Carrier Command was transferred to First Allied Airborne Army 2 August 1944.
  • Deliveries of Curtiss C-46 Commando began to all 52d Troop Carrier Wing groups in March 1945, however only used by 349th Troop Carrier Group in combat during Operation Varsity, 24 March 1945. High attrition rate during operation led to withdrawal from combat afterwards and aircraft deemed too vulnerable for further combat assignments.

IX Troop Carrier Command was headquartered at Cottesmore, England, 16 October 1943; Grantham, England, 1 December 1943; Ascot, England, 20 September 1944-5 September 1945. It returned to the United States and was headquartered at Stout AAF Indiana on 5 September 1945.

Operations in Europe 1944-1945

The first mission for the Ninth was operation "Point Blank". Along with the Eighth Air Force, the Ninth was to smash the German Luftwaffe in the air and on the ground to bring about complete air supremacy prior to D-Day. In effect, the plan was to prepare the Ninth's units for their major role: that of direct tactical support for ground forces in the coming invasion. As part of this preparation, the 357th FG with its P-51 Mustangs, was transferred to the Eighth Air Force and the 358th FG and its P-47 Thunderbolts were transferred in. Operational missions involved attacks on rail marshaling yards, railroads, airfields, industrial plants, military installations, and other enemy targets in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Other targets were German Atlantic Wall defenses along the English Channel coast of France.

On D-Day IX Troop Carrier Command units flew over 2000 sorties conducting combat parachute jumps and glider landings as part of Operation Neptune. Other Ninth Air Force units carried out massive air attacks with P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers and B-25 Mitchell and B-26 Marauder medium bombers. Air cover during the morning amphibious assault by Allied forces on the beaches of France was flown by P-38 Lightnings.

With the beaches secure, its tactical air units then provided the air power for the Allied break-out from the Normandy beachhead in the summer of 1944 during the Battle of Cherbourg, Caen, and the ultimate breakout from the beachhead, Operation Cobra.

Unlike Eighth Air Force, whose units stayed in the United Kingdom, Ninth Air Force units were very mobile, first deploying to France on 16 June 1944, ten days after the Normandy invasion by moving P-47 Thunderbolts to a beach-head landing strip.

Because of their short range, operational combat units would have to move to quickly-prepared bases close to the front as soon as the Allied ground forces advanced. The bases were called "Advanced Landing Grounds" or "ALGs". On the continent, many ALGs were built either from scratch or from captured enemy airfields throughout France, the Low Countries and Germany. Ninth Air Force units moved frequently from one ALG to another.

By early August most Ninth Air Force operational fighter and bomber groups were transferred to bases in France and assigned to the U. S. Twelfth Army Group. These groups were then assigned to Tactical Air Command (TAC) organizations which supported Army ground units. XXIX TAC supported the Ninth Army in the north; IX TAC supported the First Army in the center; and XIX TAC supported the Third Army in the south. Air cover over Allied-controlled areas on the continent was performed by the IX Air Defense Command. Ninth Air Force groups made numerous moves within France, the Low Countries and western Germany to keep within range of the advancing battle front before the end of hostilities in May 1945.

During Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France in August 1944, two Ninth fighter groups were transferred to the provisional United States/Free French 1st Tactical Air Force supporting the invasion force's drive north. As part of Operation Market-Garden, Ninth Air Force transferred its entire IX Troop Carrier Command with its fourteen C-47 groups to the 1st Allied Airborne Army in September 1944. Those troop carrier groups flew the many of the C-47s and towed CG-4 Waco gliders for the Allied airborne unit drops - Operation Market - to take the bridges northwest of Eindhoven at Son (mun. Son en Breugel), Veghel, Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem in the Netherlands.

In December 1944 through January 1945, Ninth Air Force fighters and bombers were critical in defeating the Wehrmacht during the Battle of the Bulge. There was a noteworthy incident in which American, British, and Canadian air power was grounded by very bad winter weather, but then the bad weather broke, freeing those tactical air forces to help break the back of the Wehrmacht attack. For more information, see the film Patton, starring George C. Scott. The long smash across France, Belgium, and Luxembourg was the highlight of the existence of the 9th Air Force.

In the spring of 1945, Ninth Air Force troop carrier units flew airborne parachute and glider units again during Operation Varsity, the Allied assault over the Rhine River on 24 March 1945. Operation Varsity was the single largest airborne drop in history. The operation saw the first use of the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando transport in Europe, operating with the reliable C-47 Skytrain of previous airborne operations, an experiment which ended with the catastrophic loss of 28% of the C-46s participating.

Postwar Demobilization

Ninth Air Force tactical air support operations were flown over western Germany until the end of hostilities on 7 May. However, once the victory had been gained, the United States plunged into demobilization, just as it had done at the end of the First World War.

Most officers and men were sent back to the United States and their units inactivated. Others were assigned to the new United States Air Forces in Europe and were moved to captured Luftwaffe airfields to perform occupation duties. Some transport units relocated to France. Finally, with the mission completed, on 2 December 1945 the Ninth Air Force was inactivated at USAFE Headquarters at Wiesbaden Germany.

Cold War

Following World War II, Ninth Air Force was reactivated on 28 March 1946 at Biggs AAF, Texas. After several relocations, on 20 August 1954, Ninth Air Force Headquarters was assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where it remains today. The postwar Numbered Air Forces were components of the new major command structure of the United States Air Force, and Ninth Air Force became one of the tactical air forces of the new Tactical Air Command. Ninth Air Force commanded TAC Wings east of the Mississippi River.

Initially being equipped with propeller-driven F-51, F-47 and F-82 aircraft during the postwar years, in the 1950s, Ninth Air Force units received the jet-powered F/RF-80 Shooting Star, F-84G/F Thunderjet, F-86D/H Sabre, and F-100 Super Sabre aircraft. Ninth Air Force squadrons and wings were frequently deployed to NATO during the 1950s and 1960s as "Dual-Based" USAFE units, and reinforcing NATO forces in West Germany and France during the Lebanon crisis of 1958 and the 1961 Berlin Wall Crisis.

During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Ninth Air Force units went on war alert, deploying to bases in Florida, being able to respond to the crisis on a moments notice.

During the Vietnam War, detached Ninth Air Force units engaged in combat operations over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The practice of stripping away squadrons and aircraft from their home Tactical Air Command Wings and attaching them indefinitely to a new wing under Pacific Air Forces was the method used for long-term deployments to the South Vietnam and Thailand air bases engaged in combat operations. In addition to these operational deployments, Ninth Air Force units performed a "backfilling" role in Japan and South Korea for PACAF as well as in Italy and Spain for USAFE to replace units whose aircraft and personnel were deployed to Southeast Asia. With the end of American involvement during the early 1970s, these units were returned in large part to their home Ninth Air Force units in the United States.

During the remainder of the 1970s, NATO deployments resumed supporting the COMET, CORONET and CRESTED CAP exercises. These deployments were designed to exercise CONUS based Air Force squadrons long range deployment capabilities and to familiarize the personnel with the European theatre of operations. During these NATO deployments, exercises with Army infantry and armored units were conducted to enhance the Close Air Support role in Europe.

Ninth Air Force Wings in 1979 were:

During the 1980s, Ninth Air Force wings upgraded from the Vietnam-Era F-4s and A-7s to newer F-15s, F-16 and A-10 aircraft. First-generation F-15A/B models were sent to Air National Guard units, being upgraded to the higher-capability F-15C/Ds and the new F-15E with the 4th TFW.

In 1980, Ninth Air Force units was allocated to President Jimmy Carter's Rapid Deployment Force, formally known as the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF). In 1983 the RDJTF became a separate unified command known as the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), focusing on the Middle East. Ninth Air Force provided the aircraft, personnel and materiel to form United States Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF), the air power of CENTCOM, which is also headquartered at Shaw. Starting in 1981, Ninth Air Force aircraft and personnel were deployed to Egypt for BRIGHT STAR exercises.

During Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, Ninth Air Force units deployed to the Middle East flew combat missions over Kuwait and Iraq. After the end of hostilities, units from the Ninth flew air missions over Iraq as part of Operation Deny Flight, Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch. Combat missions briefly resumed in 1998 during Operation Desert Fox.

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission reductions meant the closing of Myrtle Beach and England AFB. MacDill AFB was realigned to be the headquarters of United States Central Command with tactical aircraft operations ended.

The restructuring of USAF CONUS forces by the deactivation of Tactical Air Command and subsequent creation of Air Combat Command realigned Ninth Air Force with new units and new missions. In addition, the effects of Hurricane Andrew at Homestead AFB on 24 August 1992 essentially destroyed the facility. Although both President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton promised to rebuild Homestead, the BRAC designated the installation for realignment to the Air Force Reserve, and on 1 April 1994, Headquarters, ACC inactivated its base support units, effectively ending ACC ownership of the base.

Middle East, Central Asia Operations

Ninth Air Force units, flying as USCENTAF, flew operational missions during the 2002 Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan (OEF-A) and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The task of developing a comprehensive listing of Ninth Air Force/USCENTAF units present in the area is particularly difficult as the September 11, 2001 attacks and the War on Terrorism have made such an effort significantly difficult. The USAF seeks to improve operational security (OPSEC) and to deceive potential enemies as to the extent of American operations, therefore a listing of which units deploying where and when is unavailable.

However, it is certain that CENTAF units are actively flying missions currently engaged in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.


  • Maurer Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II, Office of Air Force History, 1983
  • Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History, 1984
  • Mueller, Robert, Air Force Bases Volume I, Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982, Office of Air Force History, 1989
  • Endicott, Judy G., USAF Active Flying, Space, and Missile Squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Office of Air Force History
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links

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