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.
Major units of Ninth Air Force are:
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Directly Attached Unit:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.