Welcome To The 319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron Association

 "WE GET OURS AT NIGHT............TOMCATS"

World War II to 1951

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The 319th Fighter Squadron was born, along with her sister squadrons the 317th and 318th, as part of the 325th Fighter Group, later to become the famed "Checkertail Clan", on June 24, 1942. Activation took place on August 3, 1942. The group headquarters and 317th Squadron were based at Theodore Green Field, Hillsgrove, Rhode Island, the 318th was sent to Grenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire and the 319th deployed to Renschler Field, Hartford, Connecticut.

On October 5, 1942 the 319th squadron was transferred to Hillsgrove, Rhode Island with the squadron strength at 29 officers and 312 enlisted men. On January 2, a few days shy of three months, the group was ordered to proceed by rail to Langley Field, Virginia. The Flight Echelon, consisting of the twenty-seven pilots, left Hillsgrove by air to begin their long journey to Casablanca. Everyone thought it was a permanent change of station. When they arrived new  Curtis P-40F(specs) Warhawks p-40s.jpg (6714 bytes)were waiting for them. They were told that they were going to be transported by carrier somewhere off the coast of  North Africa where they would then fly their new planes off the carrier to their new base. With only three days training in their new aircraft, on a runway marked off to simulate the takeoff from a flight deck, the crews were ready to go. On January 7, 1943 seventy two new P-40Fs were taxied through town down main street to Norfolk, VA Naval Air Station and hoisted, with the pilot still in the cockpit,  aboard the aircraft carrier  USS Ranger. The squadrons left Norfolk on the January 7, 1943. After eleven days on the cold Atlantic, they were within range of the final destination, Cazes Aerodrome near Casablanca. The planes took off from the carrier squadron by squadron with the 319th last. When the pilots landed at Cazes they stayed there until January 23rd and then were sent to Mediouna.The next day they flew protective cover for President Roosevelt's party and the following day flew to Tafaraoui to join the others who had arrived a few days earlier.

The air echelon left on January 3, 1943 by train to West Palm Beach, Florida, and went the next day to Miami, where they split up into small groups to take the airliners to Brazil. Sixteen hours flight brought them to Georgetown, Brazil. The next day they flew to Belem and after a night there, took off for Natal.They spent five days there before they boarded the Pan American Clipper which was to carry them over the Atlantic. The trip was smooth and uneventful. After a time at Fisherman's Lake, during which they toured several native villages, they were flown to Accra, the meeting place for the several groups of the Air Echelon. From there it was a short hop to Casablanca. In late January and early February forty four planes of the group were flown to other squadrons in the theatre that needed replacements for their heavily used war torn aircraft.That left 28 for the 325th.

The Ground Echelon, meanwhile, composed of six officers and one hundred and eight-eight enlisted men was completing its final preparations for embarkation. On January 22, they entrained for the staging area, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where they remained until February 7. On that date they took a train to New York harbor and that evening boarded the U.S.S. Lyon for the crossing. The trip to Oran harbor took fourteen days. Then by truck, train and a six mile hike in the moonlight they reached their bivouac area "Mud Hill." After a week the Ground Echelon moved again to the Tafaraoui Air Base, about thirty miles from Oran. There, on the same day, March 1st, they were joined by the Air and Flight Echelons.

The squadron remained at Tafaraoui until April 9th training in the air and on the ground and becoming accustomed to the contrasts of African weather, the salesmanship of the Arabs, and operations under field conditions. Montesquieu, a base 3,000 feet above sea level near the Tunisian frontier was the next base of operation. Most of the squadron was flown in  by C-47 transports. The base was 75 miles from the northern Tunisian front. There the pilots quickly learned the terrain and on April 17th the 319th flew on its first combat mission against Mateur Airfield. From this date until May 13th when General Von Arnim surrendered, eleven missions were flown by our pilots, nearly all escorting medium bombers over objectives in Tunisia. Our P-40's shot down one JU-52 and one Me-109 and destroyed two more JU-52s on the ground. Numerous dive-bombing attacks in which our planes carried 500 and 1000 pound bombs destroyed enemy motor transports and shipping. We had no losses during these operations, nor were any escorted bombers lost due to enemy aerial activity.

The 319th now concentrated its attention on southern Sardinia and Pantelleria. The number of missions per week increased (almost daily) until they moved up to a new base at Souk-el-Khemis in Tunisia. During the height of the air war against Pantelleria, two and even three flights a day were made. A great many missions were flown in which 1000 pound bombs were carried. (No other P-40 Group in this theater had used them.) A total of over 100,000 pounds of bombs were dropped by this squadron on objectives in Tunisia and Pantelleria up to June 11th, the day the island surrendered.

It was the early morning on June 1, 1943 that thirty six P-40s, twelve from each squadron, took off for the Italian seaplane base at Stangone, Sicily. The aircraft based there were being used to ferry supplies from the mainland to the Axis forces in North Africa. It was a vital target. The fighters attacked in waves, on the deck, flight after flight of Warhawks came in over the sea wall that protected the seaplane base from the open sea. The element of surprise was complete and the base was caught completely off guard. Totals for the mission were twelve enemy seaplanes destroyed, with six more left burning and probably lost, and hits on four surface ships.

In  June 1943 the group was moved to Mateur Field #2, Bizerte, Tunisia. Their mission was to fly various diversionary fighter sweeps over Cape Spartivento in southern Sardinia. On a fighter sweep July 22, 1943 the 319th P-40s shot down twelve enemy planes in a combat near Cagliari, Sardinia without a single loss. In 100 missions the 325th Group had destroyed a total of 103 enemy planes. Forty of these were shot down by 319th pilots, whose losses were 10 pilots and 12 P-40s. Not one escorted bomber had yet been lost to enemy aerial attack. On August 5, 1943 three P-40 aircraft from the 319th found a German sub on the surface and strafed the black and white swastika on the conning tower until the sub exploded, up ended and sank. A real bag for a fighter aircraft.

According to one member of the group, "Axis Sally" was the first person to call the group the "Checkertail Clan". He said the incident that drew her attention to the group was a mission in which twenty Nazi airplanes were shot down. He said, "She was on the air calling us Checkertail Butchers, plus a few other uncomplimentary names." She ended up  saying, "We will remember you boys in that old Checkertail Clan." That, to the best of his recollection, was the first time that they were ever referred to as the Checkertail Clan, which is how to this day they are recognized worldwide.

Operations continued against Sardinia without let up but little resistance was encountered in the continual sweeps and bombing missions. On August 28th Lt. Collins shot down his fifth Me-109 to become the first Ace in the squadron. This engagement was the only one which occurred between the fall of Sicily and the surrender of Italy, though dive-bombing missions continued until that date.

 

On September 8th the Italian armistice was announced. Captain Harmon E Burns succeeded Major Myers as squadron commander, the latter having completed his tour of duty. Although Italy had surrendered, it was not known which airdromes and localities remained in German hands; therefore there was no flying for nearly two weeks.Meanwhile the pilots and ground crews watched the news of the Salerno landing which began on the 9th and fretted their forced inactivity. The rumors about receiving P-47s became a reality.

p-47s.jpg (5290 bytes)The group began transition training in the Republic P-47D(specs) Thunderbolt in September of 1943. From about mid-September to the end of October, Republic had sent civilian tech reps to conduct intensive training for both pilots and ground crews on the Thunderbolt. On October 11, 1943,  flying a new P-47 that he had picked up from the assembly area at Bizerte, Colonel Baseler buzzed the field at Mateur.---The Thunderbolt era had begun.

With the approach of the rainy season, the group transferred to Soliman, Tunisia. During their stay there, the group was given the honor of providing escort to the Presidential party on their way to the Teheran Conference. The 319th moved its base of operations progressively forward, flying from six bases in Algeria and Tunisia before moving to Italy.

On November 3rd , an advance party departed for Italy to pave the way for the transfer of the group to their new base on the Italian mainland. Between the 1st and 3rd of December, the ground echelon broke camp and on December 9, 1943 moved to Foggia Main, Italy. Because of bad weather it took until December 11th to ferry the last of the Thunderbolts to the base. At the end of  the month the group moved to Foggia One. Here the routine of missions began in earnest. The first P-47 mission on December 14th was one escorting B-17s over Corfu. Five more operations in succession were milk runs but on December 30th twelve Me-109s were attacked near Pescara and three destroyed, two by F/O Richard L. Catlin of the 319th. On the same day the squadron moved from the main Foggia field to Celone #1, an airfield approximately 7 miles northwest of the city of Foggia. In January 1944 Major Anthony Tirk, Jr. Group Engineering Officer, succeeded Major Burns as squadron commander. The squadron participated in thirty-two missions during the month of January, destroying 15 enemy aircraft with a loss of three P-47s.

Lt. Col. Tirk, 319th Commanding Officer, was listed as missing in action after an aerial encounter with approximately 50 enemy fighters on March 11th. He was succeeded by Major Collins, the leading Ace of the squadron, with 9 victories and 2 probable. Major Collins completed his tour of duty and left for home on March 20, 1944 and Captain William A. Rynne, and Ace flying with the 317th Squadron, transferred to the 319th and assumed command.

A move to Lesina A/D began on March 25th when an advanced echelon left Celone airfield to prepare a bivouac area at the new field. The movement was completed on March 29th when the planes landed at Lesina on their return from an escort mission over Turin, Italy. Out of fourteen missions during March the squadron hung up eighteen victories for five losses...the best record in the group for the month.

On March 28th the last mission to take off and land at the Celone A/D, the squadron suffered heavy casualties. Lieutenants A.O. Jones and Hudson and the 319th C.O. Captain Rynne, were lost to enemy action. Captain Raymond E. Hartley assumed command of the squadron. Click here for a full listing of 319th Commanding Officers.

The P-40s and P-47s flew ninety-six missions each. They flew 3,439 sorties, had 46 victories, 19 pilot losses and had 16,454:45 combat hours. There were two Aces with the P-40 and one in the P-47. The last P-47 mission was flown 24 May 1944.

The squadron received the new P-51 Mustangs on May 15th and began an intensive transition program while continuing to operate with P-47s. p-51s.jpg (5252 bytes)The first  P-51(specs) Mustang mission was flown on May 27th. Conversion to P-51s had been accomplished quickly, with combat operations still ongoing with the Thunderbolt. The first P-51 mission was an escort mission to the Saint Charles and Le Blanchard marshalling yards in France. That mission was followed by two "milk runs," one to Turin, Italy and another to Wollerdorf airfield in Austria.

On June 2nd the squadron participated in the historic Italy-to-Russia shuttle raid. Thirteen enlisted men, crew chiefs and armorers were transported in B-17s to Russian bases to maintain the squadron's P-51s. One B-17, in which S/Sgt. Austin Cronin was flying, was lost to flak. Little hope was held out for him, but several minutes later it was learned that he had parachuted safely and was a prisoner of war. Click here for the 319th FS P-51 inventory.

At the close of June, Captain Hartley, who had flown nearly 100 missions, returned to the States and Major John E. Perry assumed command of the squadron.

Missions were flown almost daily during July since excellent weather prevailed throughout that period. It was during this period that the 15thAAF opened a drive against the enemy's vital oil refineries and storage facilities and the Group participated in repeated attacks against Ploesti, Brux, and Blechhammer. Five enemy aircraft in an attacking force of approximately 50 were destroyed and 3 damaged over Giurgiu, Rumania on July 3rd by pilots of the 319th. The Group had another successful day on July 26th when they destroyed 13 enemy fighters over Austria. Four of the enemy aircraft destroyed were accounted for by the 319th pilots.

The Group flew 27 missions in August and only on six did the the enemy fighters offer resistance.On August 3rd, thirty-four German fighters attempted to drive off the B-24s attacking the Manzell Aircraft Factory. Of the 10 enemy fighters destroyed without loss to the P-51s, three were credited to the 319th.  The319th was stationed in Italy until it returned to the States for deactivation on October 28, 1945.

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POST WAR
TO 1951

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The post-War history of the various squadrons is one of consolidation, renumbering and deactivation. Inactivating a squadron because of the lack of need for it or consolidating two or more units were both rational actions. But when it came to redesignating (renumbering) the surviving units by the Air Force, the method defies understanding.

The transfer of a squadron's number as well as its lineage and heritage created massive confusion among historians. Suddenly one squadron no longer existed yet another took it place and assumed the heritage of a unit that had no bearing on its present role. The people and the equipment didn't change, just their history and insignia. The USAAF'S contribution to the melange were the "paper squadrons" that moved around "Less Personnel and Equipment."

Among those was the 319th, the successor of the 414th Night Fighter Squadron, who had a particularly convoluted post-War history. It was assigned to the 4th Air Force on August 26, 1945, the Air Defense Command on March 21, 1946 and The Tactical Air Command July 31, 1946. They didn't have any aircraft assigned while they were with the Air Defense Command but obtained their Northrop P-61(specs)  p-61sm.jpg (6818 bytes)Black Widows while assigned to TAC at Shaw Field, South Carolina. They moved to Howard AFB, Rio Hato, Panama on March 27, 1947 and were assigned to the 6th Fighter Wing. . Their move to Rio Hato, Panama, began on March 15th with the squadron's f-82s.jpg (5815 bytes)ground echelon traveling to New Orleans by train and then , via ship to Panama. The squadron's air echelon, composed of thirteen P-61's, made the 1,380-mile trip from Shaw to the interior of Panama uneventfully. Since dependents were authorized on this move, it was made with high spirits and living conditions were described as "good to great."  On September 1, 1947  the 414th was redesignated the 319th Fighter Squadron (All-Weather) and attached to the 6th Fighter Wing, 6th Air Force, Caribbean Air Command. On January 14, 1948 they moved to France Field, Canal Zone. The move was necessitated by a dispute with the Panamanian government over the leasing rights and student riots. The Air Force vacated 13 Panamanian bases and moved to the Canal Zone. The Air Force  flew the Black Widows from there until late December when the North American F-82(specs) Twin Mustang started to arrive and they began transition into the F-82s. (The actual re-designation from "P"  Pursuit to "F" Fighter was mandated June 11, 1948). These new long range (All Weather) fighters were the first planes of this type to be based on the Ishmus and the 319th Fighter Squadron at France Air Forcer Base, wass the first squadron outside the United States to be equipped with them.

When the Air Force decided that all-weather fighters were no longer needed in Central America, the 319th FS (AW) was transferred to McChord AFB, effective May 12, 1949. The actual movement of aircraft began in March with all but the last two Twin Mustangs having flown north by the end of April. The last two arrived at McChord on May 12th. This last movement for the squadron was under the authorization of the Continental Air Command. (The CNC, better known as CONAC, was the parent unit of the Air Defense Command, which actually did not become and autonomous command until January 1, 1951). The 319th FIS was assigned to the 325th Fighter Group upon their arrival at McChord, but they only remained at McChord until September 2, 1949 when they relocated to  Larson AFB, Moses Lake AFB to share air defense alert with the 317th FS (AW).  The three squadrons of the 325th FG (AW) flew in the air defense role and they were spread mighty thin, considering their responsibilities. With only one all-weather fighter group located on the west coast of the U.S., there was not much protection to be offered in the event of an attack.

As soon as the  Lockheed F-94A(specs) f-94a-sm.jpg (3404 bytes)Starfire became available the 325th Fighter Group was slated for transition into these fighters. On April 23, 1950 the 317th and 319th moved back to McChord to join the 318th to commence conversion training.The famed WWII "Checkertail Clan" was once again a complete fighter group. In the fall of 1950 the squadron transitioned into F-94As. By January 1, 1951 the 325th F(AW)G was operating a mixed bag of 19 F-82s and F-94s. On May 1, 1951 the 325th was re-designated once again, as the 325th Fighter Interceptor Group, which was more in line with their new role, since it had been determined that the F-94 was not actually the all-weather fighter it had been made out to be. (As an interceptor it greatly exceeded the abilities of the F-82, through its improved fire control system, but it was not considered an all-weather aircraft due to its inadequate de-icing system).

When it was designated the 319th Fighter-All Weather Squadron. Two historical events occurred: The first all-weather jet aircraft interceptor and the first afterburner-equipped production aircraft became operational.

 

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 Credits-Special thanks go out to the following people for the use of their photos and material: 

Marty J. Isham and David R. McLaren "Lockheed F-94 STARFIRE,"  David R. McLaren

"Black Widow" and "Double Menace", Michael O'Leary, Robert Arndt,  Gary Sivak, James F. Smith and Joe Cupido.