|21st Operations Group|
|Active||1942–1943; 1944–1946; 1953–1958; 1991; 1992–2020|
|Branch|| United States Space Force (2019-2020)|
United States Air Force (1991-2019)
|Role||Missile warning and Electronic warfare ("space control")|
|Part of||21st Space Wing|
|Headquarters||Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, U.S.|
|Motto(s)||Alis et Animo Latin With Wings and Courage (1942-1943)|
|Engagements|| Antisubmarine Campaign, American Theater|
Air Offensive, Japan
|Decorations|| Distinguished Unit Citation|
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
|21st Operations Group emblem[note 1]|
|21st Fighter Group emblem|
|21st Bombardment Group emblem (approved 26 November 1942)|
The 21st Operations Group was an operations group of the United States Air Force (1991-2019) and the United States Space Force (2019-2020). It was assigned to the 21st Space Wing, stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
The first predecessor of the group, the 21st Bombardment Group was activated on 1 February 1942 and served as an Operational Training Unit for medium bombers until disbanding on 10 October 1943. During the summer of 1942, the group's squadrons flew some antisubmarine warfare patrols in addition to their training mission.
The second predecessor of the group was activated in April 1944 as the 21st Fighter Group, a long-range fighter unit. After training in the United States, it deployed to the Pacific, where it earned a Distinguished Unit Citation. It remained in theater after V-J Day until it was inactivated on 10 October 1946. It was redesignated the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group and activated on 1 January 1953, when it replaced a California Air National Guard unit that had been mobilized for the Korean War. After training in the US, it deployed to France to provide air support for NATO. It was inactivated in 1958 and its resources transferred to other units in Europe. The two groups were consolidated in 1985 as the 21st Tactical Fighter Group, but the consolidated group was not activated until 1991, when the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing reorganized as an Objective Wing and the group became its 21st Operations Group. Shortly thereafter, it was inactivated as it transferred its assets to another unit.
In its last iteration the Group was responsible for ground-based missile warning, space control operations. It provided real-time missile warning, attack assessment, and space control. The 21st was also responsible for the development of future counterspace capabilities and was the most geographically dispersed operations group in the Space Force.
The group's first predecessor was constituted as 21st Bombardment Group (Medium) and activated on 1 February 1942 at Bowman Field, Kentucky. It moved a week later to Jackson Army Air Base, Mississippi, where it began to organize with North American B-25 Mitchells. The group's original squadrons were the 313th, 314th and 315th Bombardment Squadrons, while the 8th Reconnaissance Squadron was attached to the group. Group headquarters moved to Columbia Army Air Base, South Carolina on 21 April, with its squadrons following to the new base three days later. The 18th Squadron was redesignated the 398th Bombardment Squadron, and was assigned to the group. At Columbia, the unit became a medium bomber Operational Training Unit (OTU). The OTU program involved the use of an oversized parent unit to provide cadres to "satellite groups"
On 24 May the 21st Group moved to Key Field, Mississippi, with the squadrons following it two days later. The group interrupted its training mission on 8 June to fly an antisubmarine warfare mission. The group moved in stages to MacDill Field, Florida in June 1942, with the 313th, 314th and 315th squadrons relocating on the 26th and the 398th Squadron on the 28th. At MacDill, the group converted to Martin B-26 Marauders. It again flew antisubmarine missions between 31 July 1nd 8 August 1942. The group continued its mission as an OTU at MacDill until it was disbanded on 10 October 1943.
The second predecessor of the group, the 21st Fighter Group activated on 21 April 1944 at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. Assigned to VII Fighter Command, the group consisted of the 46th, 72d, and 531st Fighter Squadrons. Over the next two months, the group trained on its first aircraft type, the Bell P-39 Airacobra. The 21st provided air defense over the Hawaiian Islands from July 1944, then began upgrading into the Lockheed P-38 Lightning in September.
By the end of October, rumors filled the air that the group soon would upgrade airframes again, this time to the North American P-51 Mustang. This change in aircraft heralded a new mission for the 21st. True to rumor, leading echelons began deploying by ship to the island of Iwo Jima in the western Pacific in February 1945.
Before the end of the month, the 21st began flying patrols over the critical island base in support of ground operations. The final group echelon arrived at Iwo Jima on 25 March. Early the next morning, elements of the 21st were attacked in their encampment by Japanese soldiers. Assisted by a patrol of American Marines, 21st personnel counterattacked and in the tent-by-tent fighting killed 250 of the enemy. Fourteen group personnel were killed and 50, including group commander Colonel Kenneth R. Powell, were wounded.
The first long-range aerial mission of the 21st Fighter Group against the mainland of Japan began on 7 April 1945, when the group's Mustangs escorted a formation of Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers against the fortified and well-defended Nakajima Aircraft Company factory near Tokyo. This mission marked the first time fighters had escorted bombers over Japan. Moreover, this mission has been credited as having been the longest over-water fighter escort sortie to date. Over the following weeks, the 21st escorted American B-29s over enemy airfields and industrial targets and engaged rival Japanese fighter aircraft. The 531st Squadron achieved another first for the 21st in June 1945 by initiating aerial rocket strike sorties against select enemy targets which included ships and a radio station. In the meantime, the groups' aircraft continued to duel in the air and two "aces" soon emerged: Major Harry Crim and Captain Willis Matthews, both of the 531st Fighter Squadron. Aircrews of the 21st also strafed the airfields which the Japanese used for their increasingly dangerous kamikaze attacks. The 21 FG flew its last combat mission 14 August 1945, about two weeks before the official Japanese capitulation on 2 September.
The group received the Distinguished Unit Citation on 13 November 1945 for its outstanding conduct during the earlier raid on Nakajima. However, the 21st had played a laudable part throughout the final stages of the war in the Pacific.
The group was then redesignated the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group. It was activated at George Air Force Base, California on 1 January 1953 with the 72d, 416th and 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadrons (FBS). Assigned to Tactical Air Command. Equipped for a few months with F-51s, later with North American F-86 Sabres. Maintained tactical proficiency and provided air defense augmentation in the United States, January 1953 – November 1954.
At George, the group established and maintained tactical proficiency and provided air defense augmentation. In December 1954, the group was given the mission of NATO support and moved to Chambley-Bussieres Air Base, France.
Upon their arrival in France, the facilities at Chambley were not ready for aircraft use, and the squadrons had to deploy elsewhere. The 72d FBS deployed to Chateauroux-Deols Air Base, while the 416th and 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadrons operated out of Toul-Rosieres Air Base (which many years later became the Toul-Rosières Solar Park).
After many construction delays, the group combined its fighter squadrons at Chambley on 15 April 1955. The squadrons carried out close air support training missions with the Army, then took first place at the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) gunnery meet at Wheelus Air Base, Libya.
The 21st Wing participated in the atomic warfare exercise Carte Blanche, and went on to take an overall second place in the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada gunnery meet in 1956. Moreover, they won the USAFE Award for Tactical Proficiency for the January–June period of 1957.
In 1957, the French Government decreed that all nuclear weapons and delivery aircraft had to be removed from French soil by July 1958. As a result, the F-86's of the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group had to be removed from France. During October 1957 it was announced that the group would be inactivated on 8 February 1958, and that its assets would be dispersed among other USAFE units.
In 1991, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was reorganized as an objective wing and all the major tenant units on Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska were placed under it. The group was redesignated the 21st Operations Group and was activated as the flying component of the 21st Wing. The 21st Wing was inactivated and the 3d Wing moved from Clark Air Base, Philippines to Elmendorf on 19 December 1991 as a result of the Mount Pinatubo eruption and the inhabitability of Clark. This was in keeping Air Force's policies of retaining the oldest and most illustrious units.
The 21st Operations Group was reactivated on 15 May 1992 as a component of the redesignated and reactivated 21st Space Wing, commanding Air Force Space Command's worldwide network of assigned missile warning, space surveillance, and communications units.
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