Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aviation Snapshot - F-16s and the Twilight Afterburn

Two air-to-ground loaded 63rd FS "Panthers" jets in afterburner at twilight. Each is loaded with two fuel tanks, two GBU-12s, two AIM-9Ms, two AIM 120s, and a LANTIRN pod. Photo courtesy of John M. Dibbs, from Viper Force: 56th Fighter Wing - To Fly and Fight the F-16.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Military Snapshot - Foiling a Japanese Attack in the Marianas

In June 1944, American Naval forces initiated Operation Forager, with the objective of capturing Saipan, Guam, and Tinian islands in the Southern Marianas, all in the hopes of establishing a location to base the B-29 Superfortress bomber. In the photo above, a Japanese plane is shot down while attacking the USS Kitkun Bay in defense of the Marianas Islands in June 1944. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy, from Tales from a Tin Can: The USS Dale from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay by Michael Keith Olson

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unit Breakdown - The 555th Fighter Squadron ("The Triple Nickel")

The following squadron history is excerpted from F-15 Eagle at War by Tyson V. Rininger.
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The 555th Fighter Squadron

To put aircraft, bombs, and missiles precisely on target on time.

The Triple Nickel heritage began on November 25, 1942, when the 555th Bombardment Squadron, Medium, was flying the B-26 Marauder. During World War II, the Nickel led offensive actions against Axis forces from bases in England, France, and Belgium. For gallantry in action, the Nickel was awarded the first of its four Presidential Unit Citations.

Shortly after World War II ended, Nickel colors were retired as U.S. forces were drawn down. On January 8, 1964, the Nickel re-emerged at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, with the F-4C Phantom II as its steed. Being the first operational unit in the USAF to receive the Phantom II, the Nickel was deployed and then permanently assigned to the Pacific Rim in support of hostilities in Southeast Asia.

In February 1966, the Nickel returned to combat. Flying out of Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, they scored their first two victories April 23, 1966, and became the first “Ace” Squadron in Southeast Asia with six kills one week later.

In June 1966, the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron moved to Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand and joined the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, “Wolfpack.” There, the squadron led the first strike against MiG airfields in North Vietnam. The Nickel launched the first night bombing attacks against North Vietnam September 29, 1967. While at Ubon, the Nickel downed an additional fourteen aircraft, including four MiG-21s on January 2, 1967. The ickel was now the only “Quad Ace” Fighter Squadron, with twenty MiGs to its credit.

In 1968, the Nickel participated in the campaign against the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Linebacker campaigns against the NVN heartland in 1972. During Linebacker I and II, the Nickel returned to its air superiority role and brought its MiG tally to thirty-nine, confirmed victories: ten MiG-17s, three MiG-19s, and twenty-six MiG-21s, producing the first and second USAF aces, and earning the motto, “world’s largest distributor of MiG parts.” From 1966 to 1973, the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron earned three more Presidential Unit Citations, five Air Force Outstanding Unit awards with combat “V” device, the Republic of Vietnam gallantry cross with palm, and the 1973 Hughes achievement award.

It was the incredible talent of Nickel pilots that led the squadron to historical kill numbers. Such pilots included, Maj. Robert A. Lodge (three kills), Capts. Charles B. DeBellevue (six kills), Robert “Steve” Richie (five kills), John A. Madden (three kills), and Roger C. Locher (three kills).

The list of the unit’s achievements shows a relentless drive to engage the enemy at his great misfortune. After nine years of distinguished combat operations, the Nickel returned to the United States. In 1974, the squadron moved to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where it was again chosen to receive the Air Force’s newest fighter, the F-15 Eagle.

On April 1, 1994, the Nickel transferred to Aviano Air Base, Italy, and was honored again by being given the distinction of flying the single seat, supersonic, multi-role, 9G F-16C.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Military Snapshot - Navy SEAL Sniper Surveying the Landscape of Najaf

A Navy SEAL sniper in his “hide” amidst the chaos and rubble of Najaf in 2004. He is looking through his spotter scope. His rifle, an MK-11 7.62mm M-16 with suppressor is resting on its bipods at his feet. Photo courtesy of 1st Lt. William Birdzell, USMC, from Battle for the City of the Dead: In the Shadow of the Golden Dome, Najaf, August 2001 by Dick Camp.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the Pages - Thirty Seconds Over Berlin

The U.S. Eighth Air Force began its war on Berlin on March 4, 1944, followed by an all-out assault two days later, and, after a hiatus, continued from late 1944 until war’s end. The February 3, 1945, mission was the next-to-last major Eighth Air Force effort against Berlin and the largest bombing mission undertaken against a single target. 

In the following excerpt from Mission to Berlin: The American Airmen Who Struck the Heart of Hitler's Reich, author Robert F. Dorr details the first harrowing American bomber runs of that monumental February 3rd mission.
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February 3, 1945—10:51 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The stream of more than a thousand Eighth Air Force bombers, from one end to the other, was 360 miles long. At 10:51 a.m. British Summer Time on Saturday, February 3, 1945, when the first wave of Flying Fortresses reached Berlin, the last bomber was over the Zuiderzee in Holland.

At exactly that minute—10:51 a.m.—a bomber dropped out of the bomber stream and turned for home. The aircraft was Happy Warrior, piloted by 1st Lt. William Settler of the 838th Bombardment Squadron, 487th Bombardment Group. Although at least one crewmember recalls the sequence of events differently—saying that Happy Warrior completed its run over Berlin—official records say that Settler aborted when his number one engine went out and he could not keep up with the formation. By this account, Settler dropped his bombs on a target of opportunity just north of Osnabruck and began the struggle to get home.

The bombers formation continued relentlessly ahead. Col. Lewis E. Lyle, commanding officer of the 379th Bombardment Group and air commander of the mission, said, “The bomber stream was three to five hundred miles long.” Lyle later said that each Fortress crew would spend only between thirty and sixty seconds over the center of Berlin itself, but that “every second would demand vigilance.” Lyle was at the front of the bomber stream when the formation, flying at 25,000 feet just north of Osnabruck, turned on the initial point, flying northeast on a heading of sixty-five degrees. It was 10:52 a.m., British Summer Time.

The initial point, or IP, was the point beyond which the bombardier of each lead aircraft controlled the flight path, using his Norden bombsight, and the Fortresses were expected to move ahead on an unwavering, straight-line heading, no matter how many flak blasts appeared ahead of them.

Lyle’s crew was 100 percent focused on the job of leading and guiding every one of the B-17s in the long lineup.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Military Snapshot - LVT(A)s Approaching the Beaches at Peleliu

LVT(A)s headed for the beach. They preceded the troop carrying LVTs to provide last minute gunfire against the Japanese beach defenses. They were armed with .30- or .50-caliber machine guns and either a 37mm or 75mm anti-tank gun in the turret. In this view, the LVT(A) mounts a .50-caliber and the 75mm gun. Photo courtesy of the Marine Corps History Division, from Last Man Standing: The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu by Dick Camp.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Aviation Snapshot - B-24 Liberator Catching Flak Over Vienna

Few targets were better defended and more dangerous for the Fifteenth Air Force than Vienna. here, a Fifteenth Air Force B-24 Liberator struggles through a sky full of flak after getting hit in the right starboard engine. Photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration, from Bombs Away! The World War II Bombing Campaigns over Europe by John R. Bruning.

Monday, June 6, 2011

From the Pages - Omaha Beach and Beyond

For the men landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, survival was all about staying as small a target as possible and getting up the beach as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, for Sgt. John Robert Slaughter, staying small was not an option.

Standing six-foot, five-inches tall, it would be a minor miracle that this giant of a man would not come upon any physical harm on the beach, a deadly landing point with bullets flying indiscriminately in all directions and no place to hide.

In the following excerpt from Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter, Slaughter recounts his harrowing experience landing on the bloodied sands of Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

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About 150 yards from shore—despite the warning from someone behind me to “Keep your head down!”—I cautiously peeped up. I could see that the craft about twenty-five yards to our right and a couple of hundred yards ahead were targeted by small arms. Fiery tracer bullets skipped and bounced off the ramp and sides as they zeroed in before the ramps fell. I said to anyone close enough to hear above the bedlam: “Men, we’re going to catch hell. Be ready!”

Then it began to happen. Enemy artillery and mortar shells sent great plumes of water spouting skyward as they exploded in the water. Near misses rained us with seawater. I suddenly became very worried about what Jerry could do to us.

How in the hell did those sonsofbitches survive what we thought was a carpet-bombing and shelling of the beach? At Slapton Sands we trained with live explosions, but these were far more frightening. This time they were shooting to kill every one of us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

They Said It... - Premature Reports of the Demise of the Four Freedoms

On March 23, 1944, pilot Capt. John Pesch and the crew of Four Freedoms had just released their payload of bombs on their German target when they were swarmed and severely damaged by a hoard of Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs. In the following extract from Mission to Berlin, Pesch describes a tense moment that followed as described to him by navigator 2nd Lt. Orrin F. Webb some years later. 

“Years later, Webb told me that when the aircraft passed through 11,000 feet almost upside down and at an airspeed of 325 miles per hour, he knew in his heart that we [the two pilots] were dead and that, in less than ninety seconds, he and the rest of the crew would be dead too. He did what he felt was reasonable at the time. I believe that when the German fighter pilots saw eight parachutes filling the sky and an airplane apparently heading for certain destruction, they assumed that they had shot down Four Freedoms.”