87th Air Service Group:
The 87th ASG was formed when the 20thAAF split the 25th & 28th Service Groups into the 80th & 87th Air Service Groups. These groups were know to be two of the most proficient, and technically trained of the AAFs Air Service Groups. Veteran personnel from the 589th Material Squadron, and the 355th Air Engineering Squadron were the basis of the new units. Just as in the case of the aircrew members, group members in the top 10% of their respective training classes were to be assigned to the B-29 Program.
Assigned to the 58thBW on 01/25/1944, The 28th ASG left the U.S. in March of 1944. Departing Fort Dix, NJ. by ship. They passed through the Panama Canal, stopping in Australia. Then on to Bombay, and finally Chakulia India arriving on 05/01/1944. They were attached to the 444th BG(VH) & 40thBG(VH), 58th BW. Re-designated as the 87th ASG in July 1944, they had the distinction of being the first unit to supply and maintain the B-29 Superfortress combat operations. This included the June 15, 1944 strike- the first bombing of mainland Japan since the Doolittle Raid in 1942.
Unlike the regular ground echelon of the combat group, the 87th was charged with duties that were more involved & required specific technical training. This included servicing radio & radar equipment, as well as base utility systems. The 87th also took care of procurement, storage, and issue of supplies and ordnance in support of their two B-29 combat units. Also included in the 87th were the 58th BW Signal units.
The B-29 was a very sophisticated and complicated aircraft that had not yet been combat tested. This task, although very difficult, was performed with the up-most skill by the members of the 58th BW. Prone to crashes at takeoff, and coupled with severe engine problems, the aircrews came to understand that the ground support units often loved and cared for their "Birds" as much as they did. They also understood that without proper maintenance, the majestic yet always overloaded B-29s, would never get off the ground. The 444ths Group Liaison Officer, Scotty McCall, had this to say about the 87th: "We who flew the old 29s can never thank our mechanics enough for their efforts (to) keep us flying under the most difficult times and conditions. They worked in the extreme heat of India, the primitive conditions in China, and finally when we reached Tinian they performed a superior job there."
Taken with great sacrifice by the U.S. Marines, the Marianas islands were an essential objective on the road to Tokyo. It was from the Marianas that the B-29s of the 20th AAF staged their final attacks on the Japanese Empire. The 87th moved with the 58th BW to West Field Tinian in April 1945, with advance units arriving in January & February. Only after the B-29 operations started from Tinian, Saipan, and Guam did the Japanese begin to realize that the war was lost. The 58th BW participated in massive low-level incendiary strikes on urban areas, as well as continued heavy precision bombing of strategic targets in Japan through the end of the war. The groups began returning to the United States in late 1945.
Tinian is today the second most populated island in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. For a time, while the world was in the throes of war, and the United States was fiercely fighting Japan in the Pacific, the largest airport of World War II could be found on Tinian. Seven runways, each 8,500 feet long, saw hundreds of B-29s departing and landing to and from bombing runs around the clock. Tinians greatest distinction would come during World War II, in the Pacific theater, when the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki were loaded onto airplanes that carried out one of humankinds most terrible missions.
The capture of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam in the Central Pacific in mid-1944 was one of the key actions in the Pacific. Air bases in the Marianas were essential in order to accommodate the new B-29 Superfortress, a US bomber that was just beginning to be mass-produced in early 1944 and which had a flying range equal to the distance from Saipan, Tinian and Guam to Japan and back -- about 1500 miles one way. The US invasion of the Marianas provoked the Japanese Fleet into a major and unsuccessful engagement known as "The Marianas Turkey Shoot". The Marianas provided the bases from which the Army Air Forces later immolated the cities of Japan. Saipan was the staging base for the attack on nearby Tinian, a few miles south of Saipan.
On 24 July 1944, Task Force Five One, commanded by Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, and the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, under the command of Major General Roy S. Geiger, invaded the island of Tinian. Defending the island were 9,162 Japanese Army and Navy troops. The successful invasion of Tinian hinged on a fake landing staged near "Tinian Town" (presently known as San Jose village). While the 2nd Marine Division pretended to ready an attack on the southern part of the island, even going so far as to lower boats and men into the water, the 4th Marine Division was launching a full-blown invasion on Tinians north side. The US Marine Landing Force overcame the numerically superior Japanese force on 1 August in what is considered to be the best-executed amphibious operation of the war. Marine casualties were 328 dead and 1,571 wounded. As on Saipan, many Japanese not killed by U.S. military forces opted to commit suicide by jumping off cliffs rather than being caught by the Americans.
Tinian was declared "safe" by the 4th Marine Division on 2 August 1944. Or was it? During the night of 30 January 1945 thousands of pounds of TNT exploded near the center of Tinian, jarring and shaking the ground all over the island and waking everyone asleep. Several GIs were killed in the terrific explosion that authorities believed to be the result of sabotage by Japanese soldiers still at large.
The North American P-51 "Mustang" was considered the premier Allied single engine fighter during WWII. Fast as anything in the PTO she was known as a "hot" pilot's aircraft.
506th Fighter Group: Flew first B-29 Escort Mission on May 18th, 1945 & was Assigned to the 20th AAF in April of 1945.
21st Fighter Group: Flew first B-29 Escort Mission on April 7th, 1945 & was assigned to 20th AAF Summer, 1945.
15th Fighter Group: Flew first B-29 Escort Mission on April 7th, 1945 & was assigned to the 20th AAF summer, 1945.
Affectionately nicknamed "The Jug", the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" was the undisputed workhorse of the AAF in the Pacific. Able to withstand brutal punishment in battle this bird had a reputation among fliers as a plane that would "bring her pilot home".
413th Fighter Group: Flew only one B-29 Escort Mission on August 8th, 1945.
507th Fighter Group: Flew only one B-29 Escort Mission on August 8th, 1945 & assigned to the 20th AAF June, 1945.
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