The 12th Airforce

Short History Of The 12th Air Force

By Thorleif Olsson At Red Steel

The 12th Air force was activated on 20th August, 1942 in Bolling Field (Washington D.C.). On 12th September its headquarters were moved to England and on 15th September General James H. Doolittle was appointed as its commander. The first groups to join the 12th were from the 8th (13 groups) and then more from the U.S. arrived before the end of 1942. After the beginning of Operation Torch (8th November 1942) the 12th began its step-by-step move to North Africa. The first group of the 12th Air force that took active service in North Africa was the 60th Troop Carrier Group (Douglas C-47) which delivered American paratroopers to attack on La Senia airfield near Oran. The First kills for the 12th were collected by 309th FS from the 31st FG (Spitfire Mk.V) on 8th September in combat with French Dewointine D.520's. On 9th September General Doolittle and the headquarters of the 12th Air force moved to Oran.


On 19th September the 12th Air force had the following units in Tunisia: 1st FG (P-38), two squadrons from 14th FG (P-38), 31st and 52nd FG (Spitfire Mk.V), 60th and 64th TCG (C-47), two squadrons from 97th BG (B-17), one photographic squadron from 3rd group and 15th BS (A-20). In Morocco the 12th had stationed the 33r FG (P-40), 47th BG (A-20), 62nd TCG (C-47) and part of 301st BG (B-25). On 28th September the 319th BG (B-26) and the 301st BG (B-17) took part in combat also 319th BG (B-26) and 301st BG (B-17) The first ace of 12th Airforce became Virgil H. Smith on 12th December from 48th FS (14th FG), but on 30th December he was killed. In December new units became part of the 12th Air force; on 25th December 82nd FG (P-38) and on 30th December 17th BG (B-26). The 12th received new reinforcements in January 1943 comprising of the 81st and 350th FG (both P-39), 68th OG (Observation Group) (A-20) and 325th "Checkertails" FG (P-40). During that time the main role of the 12th was to provide support to the army in operations in Tunisia. In this role fighters from 12th shot down German "experten" such as Johannes Badum from 5/JG 77 (54 kills) who was killed on the 12th January in a dog-fight with Lightnings from 14th and on the 13th January Wilhelm Crinius from II/JG53 (114 kills) was shot down and captured in a fight with Spitfires from 52nd FG. In February the organization of the 12th changed - The 12th was formed as follows: XII Bomber Command - 5th Bomb Wing and 47th Bomb Wing 5th BW - 97th and 301st BG, 1st, 14th and 68th OG 47th BW - 17th, 310th and 319th BG, 82nd FG XII Air Support Command - 33rd, 81st and 350th FG, 47th BG XII Fighter Command - 31st and 52nd FG 51st Troop Carrier Wing - 60th, 62nd and 64th TCG 3rd Photographic Group


In February the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) was formed and 12th Air force was assigned to the Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF) commanded by General Carl Spaatz. In March 1943 the 321st BG (B-25) became incorporated into the 12th Air force and also the 310th BG (47th BW) became involved in actions against German and Italian shipping, sinking 47 ships during March alone. In April Operation Flax began - the plan to trap the German and Italian army in Tunisia. The 12th attacked ships and aircraft that were trying to get to Tunisia. For example, in the first day of Operation Flax, the 12th destroyed 25 Ju 52's and Me 323's. On 9th April the North American P-51 Mustang (from 68th OG) was first used in action. The 10th April was a very successfull day for the 301st BG because it sank the Italian cruiser 'Trieste' and damaged the cruiser 'Gorizia'. On 17th April the 325th FG (P-40) became operational, as did the 320th BG (B-26) on the 22nd April and the 2nd BG (B-17) on the 28th April. On 18th May began Operation Corkscrew - The blockade of the island of Pantelleria. During this operation the North American A-36A (27th FBG) was first used in action. After heavy attacks by the 12th Airforce Pantelleria capitulated on 11th June without a fight. On 9th July began Operation Husky - the invasion of Sicily. To support this operation the 61st, 313th and 31st TCG (52nd TCW) joined the 12th Air force from the United States. On 2nd July the 86th FBG (A-36) became operaional as well as the 415th NFG (Beaufighters) from the 9th of July. Arriving later to the 12th Air force were night groups; 414th on 16th July, 417th on 8th August and on 4 September the 416th NFG (all operated with Beaufighters). To support Operation Husky the 12th Air force flew around 3000 sorties between the 2nd and 10th of July. After the successful occupation of Sicily the 31st and 52nd FG's as well as the 27th the 86th FBG's were based on the Island.


Then operations against Italy began almost immediately on 6th September and during the campaign the 12th Air force made around 4400 fight flights. In August and September as operations in the Mediterranean came to a close the 9th Air Force donated some groups to the 12th, such as: the 57th, 79th and 324th FG's (P-40), the 12th and 340th BG's (B-25), the 98th and 376th BG's (B-24), 316 TCG (C-47) and finally the 5th Photo-reconnaissance group (Lightnigns F-5F). On 9th September the invasion of Italy began and the primary role of the 12th Air force was close army support. For its outstanding action during this operation the 27th FBG was awarded with DUC. During September the first units from the 12th moved to Italy. It was 31st, 33rd, 57th, 79th and 324th FG's, 27th and 86th FBG and 47th BG's. In October and November more units became based in Italy, such as the 81st FG, 12th, 340th and 321st BG. 350th FG and 17th, 319th and 320th BG was moved to Sardinia. On 1st November the 15th Air Force was activated and from the 12th Air force it took : 2nd, 97th, 99th and 301st BG (B-17), 1st, 14th and 82nd FG (P-38), 325th FG (P-40), 98th and 376th BG (B-24) and 68th OG. In April and May 1944 the 12th gave the 15th Air force the 31st, 52nd and 332nd FG and in November 1944 the 5th PRG. In December 1943 the 12th was included in the MAAF (Mediterranean Allied Air Forces) and the new commander of the 12th became General John K. Cannon. From 22th January the 12th Air force supported operation Shingle. In December the 310th BG moved as the first unit from the 12th to Corsica. In December the 12th received its 1st Emergency Rescue Squadron (Consolidated OA-10A/Catalina).


In December and January was 27th and 86th FBG re-equipped from A-36A to P-40's and 57th and 79th FG were re-equipped from P-40 to P-47's. 324th (P-40) and 350th (P-39) was re-equipped with P-47's in the summer of 1944. In February 1944 the 12th lost the 33rd FG and 12th BG to the 10th Air Force and the 81st FG to 14th Air Force. The 61st, 313th, 314th and 316 TCG were also lost to the 9th Air force. In March the 12th Air force supported the Army in battles near Cassino and the next task for 12th was Operation Strangle (from March) and Diadem (from May). In both these operations supported 12th army in progress to Rome. From the first months of 1944 began the 12th's step-by-step move to Corsica to support operation Anvil/Dragon. The 12th was completely transferred except three BGs equipped with Marauders which stayed in Sardinia and also without 51 TCW which was in was in Italy. Operations to support the invasion of Southern France began from July. On D Day (15 August) the 12th Air force made about 4000 fighter sorties. On 18th August the 321st BG sank the Battleship 'Strasbourg' and the Cruiser 'La Gallissoniere'. From the 18th August it moved to France for the first time.. After the liberation of Southern France, the 12th returned to Italy, but without 324th FG and 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron which were transferred to 1st Tactical Air Force (Provisional). The 17th and 320th BG went to 1st TAF in November, in December 1st TAF received 415th NFS, on March 27th the 86th FG and in April, 417th NFS.

After its return from France the 12th continued with army support operations until the German capitulation on 29th April 1945.

From the beginning of Operation Torch to the German capitulation, the 12th flew 430681 fighter sorties, dropped 217156 tons of bombs. It destroyed 2857 enemy aircrafts with a loss of 2667.


The best aces from the 12th Air force:


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