315th Bomb Wing

The following is from the 315th Bomb Wing (VH) history book. It was researched and written by Major Ralph Swann as partial fulfillment of his requirements for graduation from the US Air Force Command and Staff College. It is "Adapted from Air Command and Staff Research Report 862460 entitled A Unit History of the 315th Bomb Wing, 1944-1946."

THE SERVICE GROUPS

      American and Allied air power in Europe during 1944 stimulated the development of a new type service group. Prior to 1944, enemy air strength had led to a concept of flight operations from individual squadron airdromes. This was done to avoid the destruction of entire units on the ground. During this period, service groups had performed third echelon (field) maintenance and supply functions for two combat flying groups which were dispersed at separate airdromes. These service groups were also dispersed at a considerable distance from both flying groups, thus creating an inefficient and clumsy service group system. However, by 1944, the number of aircraft furnished to the combat theater increased dramatically, and Allied air superiority had been established. The increase in aircraft and resultant air superiority permitted the concentration of forces at airdromes without undue risk. As part of the plan to concentrate flying groups at airdromes, the service groups were also reorganized to support the new flying group operations.

      The new type service group was streamlined to provide complete station complement services to keep one flying group constantly combat ready. The organization and training of the new, also called special, service groups were specified in the Army Air Force's Service Group (New Type) Training Manual, dated 23 May 1944.

Directives setting up Service Groups (Special) provided that all personnel of other arms and services were to be absorbed into well-integrated organizations consisting of three streamlined squadrons: A Headquarters and Base Services Squadron; a Materiel Squadron; and an Engineering Squadron. The special staff organizations of the older groups were thereby to be eliminated. Each Service Group (Special) was to serve one combat group, and to be capable of operating a base complete with Finance service, fixed communications, Medical dispensaries, interior guard, internal security, utilities, firefighting, and motor transportation. More- over, if tactical situations necessitated such action, they were to be capable of supplying combat groups at dispersed airdromes through the use of refilling and distributing points, and maintaining them by means of mobile repair units.

      The total complement of men in the new service group's three component squadrons was stripped to the bare essential number needed to provide quick, efficient operations. The new service groups worked "right with the combat groups, so close to it that the two groups, combat and arms, are almost one."

      The development of the Service Groups (New Type) coincided with the introduction of the B-29 Very Heavy Bombardment (VHB) Program, and the two were linked. In March 1944, the B-29s were rolling off the assembly lines and available for use in training programs. In April, the Twentieth Air Force had been created, and B-29 Combat Crew Training Programs were initiated.

      In May, the training manual for the new service groups was published, and the stated support requirements for the new service groups were remarkably compatible to the support needs of the new B-29 VHB units.

The original object of the new style of service groups organization incorporated in these units had been to accomplish the integration of arms and services, with the addition of conventional base functions, but the project was so closely associated with the preparation of the VHB units for the Twentieth Air Force that the two pro grams were quickly identified with each other in the minds of all concerned. Furthermore, they were both under the jurisdiction of the same special body. The Executive Committee of the B-29 Liaison Committee, headed by Brigadier General K. B. Wolfe.

      Thus, the new service groups were also earmarked for the B -29 VHB program. However, to meet the large mission support requirements for the Twentieth Air Force's future force of a thousand B-29s, many new service groups were needed.

      The 24th, 73rd, 75th, and 76th Service Groups were activated in May 1944 under the new service group concept. The 73rd and 76th were activated on 11 May followed by the 24th and 75th on 24 May. The 75th and 76th were based at Warner Robins Air Service Center, Warner Robins, Georgia, while the 24th and 73rd were stationed at the Air Service Command Training Center, Fresno, California. All four service groups were destined for assignment to the 315th Bomb Wing (VH) and immediately began to organize and train for their future combat support duty.

      The Service Groups (New Type) Training Manual specified a two-phase, six-month training period with three categories of training. The initial phase was the Activation and Unit Training period. This period lasted approximately two months and began when the units reached 90 percent of authorized strength at Fresno and Warner Robins. For the four-month second phase, the service groups were transferred to another base to provide operational support to a combat flying group also in training. During these two phases, three categories of training were accomplished: Basic Military Training (BMT), Basic Technical Training (BTT), and Advanced Technical Training (ATT). BMT "consisted of instruction in subjects common to all soldiers, and necessary for discipline, security, morale, and proper physical conditioning." BTT consisted of elementary specialized training and prepared the soldier for the "performance of a specific occupational function within a unit." ATT was designed to provide skilled technicians and specialists. All three categories of training were conducted throughout the six-month training program.

      The service groups completed their first phase of training at Fresno and Warner Robins. They quickly overcame initial start-up problems common to all newly formed units and began the unit training period. The 4506th AAF Base Unit (Service Group Special) at Fresno and the 5410th AAF Base Unit (Service Group Special) at Warner Robins provided the instructors and instructional materials for the BMT. The facilities for BTT and On-the-Job Training (OJT) were provided by the Air Service Commands at the respective bases. The 76th Service Group described the atmosphere at Warner Robins during their first phase of training.

To catch all the excitement, fervor, and fullness of purpose of this organization, to realize to some degree its deep feeling of a great mission and the intangible presentment permeating all of its personnel, from the Commanding Officer down to the newest buck private, of a coming rendezvous with destiny, one would have to come to its present location at Robins Field, Georgia, and spend a few days in the field, taking thousands effect of film in an effort to capture on celluloid the vital, stirring pangs of a unit which the Air Service Command has already marked for an important role in the air war of the near future. In lieu of this imagined documentary film, an unfeeling, prosaic typewriter must labor to catch on paper enough of the growth and forward surge of this revolutionary type of service group to give a reasonably accurate picture of its brief history and present status. The readers of this guide, whoever they may be, must bear one thing constantly in mind as they leaf through the pages to follow, no musty archives or time-worn documents form the structure on which this skeleton of words is built. A scene in the field as a low-flying B-25 sprays troops in training with gas; several hours down at the Instrument Repair Building watching soldier specialists from the engineering squadron getting direct on-the job training; a day up in Atlanta witnessing some the Group's airplane and engine mechanics dismantling a B-29, this is the warp and woof, the solid foundation of fact which underlines the story to follow.

During this first phase of training, service group personnel conducted their first bivouac experience, learned the basics of their jobs, and started working together. Now they were ready for advanced training.

      All four service groups moved to bases in Kansas to start the final four-month phase of training. The 76th was the first to move out. On 18 August 1944, the unit headed for Great Bend AAF. Shortly thereafter, on 1 September, the 73rd entrained for the trip to its new home at Pratt AAF. The 24th and 75th Service Groups didn't depart Fresno and Warner Robins until November and were sent to Tinker AAF, Oklahoma. They spent 35 days at Tinker until space was available for them at their new training bases in Kansas. Consequently, the 24th and 75th didn't arrive at Smoky Hill AAF and Walker AAF, respectively, until December. The 24th's trip to Smoky Hill was particularly memorable.

The entire 24th Service Group departed from Tinker Field Oklahoma, 9 December 1944, bound for Smoky Hill AAF, Kansas. The movement was made by truck and will long be remembered by all involved. A cold, freezing rain at the time of departure changed into a cold driving snow storm in the 20 hours required to complete the 265 mile trip. Breakfast was served by the Quartermaster Truck Company in Wichita, Kansas, at 0930,10 Dec 1944. This stop allowed everyone to thaw out and begin living again. A hot chow was served at Smoky Hill AAF upon arrival, and was probably the best time of the entire journey.

"It Could Be Me"

Out in the plains of Kansas
Where man has feared to go,
They built a mighty airbase
In the heat and wind and snow.
And when they had it finished
And stocked it well with men.
They named the damned place Walker
And flying then began.
From early in the morning
Till way into the night.
You can hear the drone of aircraft
And it fills your soul with fright.
For suppose this never ended--
Just suppose it had to be--
That someone had to stay here.
Ye gods, it could be me!

- Author Unknown
- 75th Air Service Group
- 1944

      In Kansas each service group was assigned to support a B-29 flying group also in training at their base.

      Unit and Combined Training was the final phase of training and had a two-fold purpose. First, the unit training portion was designed to enable the individuals of service group squadrons to work together. The training emphasized teamwork within, and between, squadrons to support the operations of the service group. The men learned how to perform their duties in cooperation with other members of their section. Secondly, the combined training portion provided a realistic training environment for each service group to perform its assigned mission. The combined training period had two major objectives.

1. To train individuals and specialists teams in the performance of their assigned tasks, using the tools and equipment that will be available in the theater of operation.

2. To weld all component units into an effective operating Service Group (New Type), capable of performing its assigned mission of supply and maintenance for the combat group under conditions likely to be encountered in the theater of operation.

      By the end of this intensive phase of training, the service groups would be fully capable of performing their combat group support mission.

      In January and February, the service groups entered a period of hurried preparations for the coming overseas movement. They received their movement orders and passed the preparation for overseas movement (POM) inspections. Personnel completed final clothing and administrative processing, including immunizations. Teams of 6 to 24 men packed and crated required equipment as well as recreational and athletic materials. A detachment of enlisted men from the 24th's Utilities Section completed a training program on road and bridge building at the Osage City Bomb Range. The utilities sections of all four service groups also prepared their heavy equipment for shipment. Forced and tactical road marches with simulated aerial bombing, strafing, and gas attacks were conducted to maintain physical fitness and an awareness of combat operations. All personnel completed weapons training. The port call was received on 1 February, and advance parties from the 73rd and 76th left on 20 February for the Port of Embarkation (POE) in Seattle to coordinate the groups' movement overseas. Their time for final preparations was rapidly running out.

      The service groups were re-designated as Air Service Groups (ASG) in January and reduced in manpower in February. The re-designation in January did not change the mission or composition of the service groups. It only changed the organizational title to Air Service Group, and the ASG's component squadrons were also re-designated as Air Materiel Squadrons and Air Engineering Squadrons. Effective 9 February 1945, a technical order change directed the elimination of the central fire-control (CFC) sections from each of the air engineering squadrons. The CFC sections were eliminated in response to the removal of the CFC systems on the 315th's B-29Bs. Thus, each ASG was reduced in strength by one officer and seven enlisted men.

      Several morale boosting activities in January and February helped to offset the apprehension of the upcoming deployment overseas. On 6 January, the 24th ASG's Headquarters and Base Services Squadron personnel attended a party in Wichita, Kansas, given by the Boeing Aircraft Company and the USO. In addition, every effort was made to give personnel pre-embarkation furloughs and leaves. At the end of February, the groups held farewell parties to celebrate the end of training and the imminent departure for overseas duty.

Deployment

      In March 1945, the 315th Wing Headquarters sent six officers to the Pacific Theater of Operation (PTO) to make preliminary arrangements for the arrival of the wing's ground echelons overseas. Colonel Emile T. Kennedy, Deputy Chief of Staff, Supply and Maintenance, led this group of officers. They reached West Field, Tinian, on 19 March and established the 315th's overseas headquarters. However, their initial effort to prepare West Field for the arrival of the wing's personnel was in vain. On 2 April, the XXI Bomber Command informed Col. Kennedy that the 315th had been reassigned to Northwest Field, Guam, because the 58th Bombardment Wing had been assigned to West Field, Tinian. Furthermore, the JCS had directed that the operational readiness date of the 315th "be deferred for thirty days." Thus, on 5 April, Col. Kennedy and his staff left Tinian for Guam. At Northwest Field they immediately began to complete priority arrangements for the "construction of temporary latrines, showers, kitchens, and an ad- equate water supply" for the ground echelons due to arrive in a few days.

      Meanwhile, the group echelons of the 315th Wing Headquarters, 16th and 501st Bomb Groups, and the entire 73rd and 76th Air Service groups had moved out to the Port of Embarkation (POE) in Seattle, Washington. The rail journey went smoothly, and the experiences of the 501st ground echelon, commanded by Major Bob R. Lockhart and Major Harry L. Young, were common to all the units.

We were sent off in farewell gesture by local towns folk, wives, sweethearts, and the Band of the Army Air Field, Harvard, Nebraska. Quarters for enlisted men constituted troop sleepers and tourist cars. Officers traveled in Pullman cars with connecting lounge. General opinion of enlisted men was that the troop sleepers proved more comfortable than the tourist car. Mess was provided by kitchen car and considering the handicaps for serving, the cooks, mess sergeants, and mess officers are in line for congratulations on the quality and the manner in which the food was served. Administrative details, necessary to be performed daily, such as sick call and morning report, were controlled by Squadron from the field desk accompanying troops. By 1600 hours on Saturday, 10 March 1945, both trains delivered the troops to Seattle and the transportation corps had delivered them by truck to Fort Lawton.

      At Ft. Lawton, the ground echelons joined the respective advance parties sent earlier to the POE to complete final coordination for the movement overseas.

      The 315th units spent several days at Ft. Lawton completing final overseas processing prior to shipping out. Quarters were assigned, a physical examination was given, clothing was inspected, instructions were given on the care and preservation of individual clothing and equipment, and a movie on ship abandonment was shown. Due to the number of men processing, many of the inspections and examinations were accomplished rapidly, and less than thoroughly. The physical exams were conducted in a large gymnasium where the men were required to strip down and pass by a line of medical doctors at the rate of one doctor every two seconds. When the units weren't scheduled for processing, the men received passes to visit Seattle where they feverishly tried to live it up before boarding ship.

      On 16 and 17 March, the men boarded their ships and set sail from Seattle. The 73rd and 76th Air Service groups boarded the USS Dix, a naval transport, on 16 March and headed for Pearl Harbor. The following day, 17 March and St. Patrick's Day, the ground echelons from the 315th Wing Headquarters, 16th Bomb Group, and 501st Bomb Group departed pier 37 in Seattle aboard the USS Exchange, a naval troop transport formerly used in the Mediterranean Sea tobacco trade. The USS Exchange was also bound for Pearl Harbor, and both ships sailed into Pearl on 25 March.

      The ships anchored at Pearl Harbor for five days. The men were confined to the ships and the immediate dock area while the ships were replenished with supplies. Movies, boxing matches, and a troupe of Hawaiian dancers performing hula shows helped to ease the monotony on board ship. At 1130 hours on 29 March the USS Dix and USS Exchange joined a large convoy with three destroyer escorts and headed for Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. Life for the 73rd and 76th Air Service Groups aboard the USS Dix was less than ideal.

The officers of the group were crowded into small state rooms below the decks while the enlisted men were crowded into the holds of the ship. Living conditions were poor due to the condition of the ventilation system which failed to operate during most of the trip. Due to failure of the ventilation system and the extreme heat below decks, it became necessary for both enlisted men and officers to spend most of their time, both day and night, on the topside. Space for preparing food for the AAF mess, which for both officers and men was separate from that of the ship's officers and crew, was inadequate. Only one water converter was in operation and water was strictly rationed. Salt water was used for bathing.

      The convoy crossed the International Date Line on 1 April, and the 315th's personnel were promptly issued membership cards initiating them into the "Sacred Order of the Golden Dragon." This card signified they had crossed the 180th Meridian. The convoy dropped anchor in the large lagoon of Eniwetok on 6 April.

      The USS Dix and USS Exchange departed Eniwetok in separate convoys for the last leg of the voyage to Guam. The 73rd and 76th Air Service Groups, in the USS Dix. weighed anchor on 7 April and completed their 6,000-mile voyage at Apra Harbor, Guam, on 11 April. The two service groups disembarked the next day with the men in full back packs climbing down the side of the ship using nets. They were trucked 25 miles up the west coast of Guam to Northwest Field and caught glimpses of their new airfield being constructed in the jungle.

      Meanwhile, the USS Exchange had steamed out of Eniwetok on 11 April with the remaining 315th personnel. It arrived at Apra Harbor on 14 April, and the men immediately began to disembark. It was well past sunset by the time they were trucked to Northwest Field. "It is easy to imagine the confusion that existed when that bunch of extremely tired, hungry, and grimy men reached the pitch black confines of the embryo airfield, loaded with one another's gear and equipment." Col. Kennedy assumed command of both group echelons and established the 315th Wing Head- quarters at Northwest Field on 15 April.

      Back in the States, ground echelons of the 331st and 502nd Bomb Groups and the entire 24th and 75th Air Service Groups had already begun their movement over-seas. On 6 and 7 April, personnel from these units boarded troop trains at their home bases in Nebraska and Kansas and began to trace the same route to Guam used by the previous 315th units. The 331st and 502nd set sail from pier 39 in Seattle on 14 April aboard the USAT Cape Newenham. Two days later, on 16 April, the 24th and 75th boarded the USAT Kota Baroe and headed for Guam. Unfortunately, the Kota Baroe broke down shortly after leaving Hawaii. Her only escort ship continued on and left the Kota Baroe to fend for herself. While the ship's crew completed repairs, the 24th and 75th men felt alone and an easy target for the enemy. Chaplain Cooper and Colonel Joe L. Neyer, the 75th ASG Commander, seemed to have prepared for such an event. Before leaving the States, they had secretly written to the men's loved ones and asked them to write letters, but to address the letters to Chaplain Cooper.

The 75th Group, while sitting dejected and lonely in the middle of the Pacific blue, heard over the ship's speaker, "The 75th Air Service Group please report for mail call." The men couldn't believe their ears, but were a happy group as they received letters from home. Several thought Colonel Neyer had picked them up in Hawaii as he had gone off the ship there. Following mail call, they were each given a can of beer, also planned back in Kansas.

      By 11 May, both ships had arrived at Guam to complete the transfer of all 315th ground echelons to the PTO. The men were glad to set foot on land again and were anxious to get into the war as soon as their flight and air echelons arrived.

      The 315th's flight and air echelons were divided into two sections for the deployment overseas. One air echelon section traveled by troop train to Hamilton Field, California. There they boarded Air Transport Command aircraft for the trip to Guam with intermediate stops at Hawaii and Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. The other air echelon section flew overseas on 315th B-29Bs with the deploying flight crews. The 16th and 501st Bomb Groups used Kearney, Nebraska, as their staging base while the 331st and 502nd Bomb Groups used Herrington, Kansas. They headed for Mather Field, California, as the POE enroute to Hawaii, Kwajalein, and Guam. The 16th Group's aircraft "Elite Barbara and Her Orphans," commanded by Captain Ralph Howard, and the 501st Group's "Roadapple," commanded by Major Alien Tintensor, were the first 315th B-29Bs to follow this routing and arrived at Guam on 26 April. The deployment of the remaining 315th flight and air echelons continued throughout May, June, and July as each bomb group completed its stateside flight training.

      Captain James C. Mitchell's crew, 501st Bomb Group, had a unique experience during their deployment to Guam. His crew left Kearney, Nebraska, on 11 June 1945 in their aircraft "Late Date" and flew three uneventful legs to Mather Field, Hawaii, and Kwajalein. After landing at Kwajalein, they were surprised to see a small, formal group of people waiting for them at their parking spot.

There was no one around any of the other B-29s being parked. When we completed our check lists and disembarked from the aircraft the group came to attention, gave us a big salute, (and) then the leader stepped forward, introduced himself as the Base Commander, and gave us a reception speech. He welcomed us as being the 1,000th B-29 and crew to deploy through Kwajalein from the U.S. to the Marianas.

      The crew autographed a softball and put the tail number of their B-29B on it. Capt. Mitchell's crew was escorted to the base club and served a steak dinner with cold beer. The autographed softball was placed on a shelf behind the club's bar beside various other trophies. Later, the crew received a number of sharp comments from other newly arrived B-29 crews who were treated less royally to C-rations in the mess hall. The next day, Capt. Mitchell's crew left Kwajalein for Guam to join their comrades at Northwest Field.






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Content 2003-2004, Larry Miller
ljmiller at charter dot net
August 9, 2005