|354th Operations Group
|Active||1942–1946; 1956–1957; 1993–present|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||354th Fighter Wing|
Pacific Air Forces
|Garrison/HQ||Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska|
|Motto(s)||Valor in Combat|
World War II (EAME Theater)
Distinguished Unit Citation
|354th Operations Group emblem (approved 18 October 1957)[note 1]|
|354th Fighter Group emblem|
The 354th Operations Group provides air-bridge support and realistic combat flying training in support of 354th Fighter Wing, Air Force and national objectives.
The Group's major mission is RED FLAG-Alaska, 10-day air combat training exercise held up to four times a year. Each exercise is a multi-service, multi-platform coordinated, combat operations exercise and corresponds to the designed operational capability of participating units. In other words, exercises often involve several units whose military mission may differ significantly from that of other participating units.
RED FLAG-Alaska planners take those factors into consideration when designing exercises so participants get the maximum training possible without being placed at an unfair advantage during simulated combat scenarios.
The 354 OG (Tail Code: AK) is the flying component of the 354th Fighter Wing. Its component units are:
The 354th Fighter Group was constituted on 12 November 1942 and activated on 15 November 1942. They trained on the Bell P-39 Airacobra and served as part of the Western Air Defense Force. The three operational squadrons of the group were the 353rd FS ("FT"), the 355th FS ("GQ") and the 356th FS ("AJ") Fighter Squadrons.
On 4 November 1943, the group was moved to Portland AAF, Oregon and were informed that they were to fly the brand new North American P-51B Mustang. This was a big change of equipment for the Fighter Group—the Mustang being a more capable aircraft with excellent high-altitude performance that would be required for escorting heavy bomber groups of the Eighth Air Force against Germany.
The 354th FG was then transferred to RAF Greenham Common in England, but only remained at that base for a few days, next being transferred to RAF Boxted in Essex on 13 November 1943.
At RAF Boxted, the 354th provided long-range escort for USAAF heavy bombers and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its activities up to mid-May 1944, during which the 354th was instrumental in the development of the P-51 for use in long-range missions to escort heavy bombers on raids deep into enemy territory. As a result, priority for the Mustang was shifted from the Ninth to the Eighth Air Force, which eventually converted 14 of its 15 Fighter Groups to the P-51. The 354th also gained the distinction of destroying more enemy aircraft in aerial combat than any other USAAF fighter group (701 enemy aircraft).
During that same period, Colonel James H. Howard won the Medal of Honor for his single-handed efforts defending a bomber formation that was attacked by a large force of enemy planes while on a mission to Oschersleben, Germany on 11 January 1944. Colonel Howard single-handedly attacked a formation of thirty German aircraft. Pressing home the attack for more than thirty minutes, he destroyed three aircraft, and even when he was low on fuel and his ammunition was exhausted, he continued his aggressive tactics to protect the bombers.
Although assigned to Ninth Air Force, the 354th was under the operational control of the Eighth Fighter Command and many missions flown by the 354th in April and May were long-range escorts of Eighth Air Force heavy B-17 and B-24 bombers. It was on these occasions that the group displayed its expertise in air fighting.
On 25 April on an escort to Mannheim. The group returned to RAF Lashenden with claims of 18 destroyed, five probably destroyed and 31 damaged. all for the loss of two Mustangs. On 11 May, claims of 11 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed on another long-range escort included the 354th's 100th victory. Yet another high score resulted from an air battle near Magdeburg on 28 May when 19½ enemy aircraft were credited as shot down.
An increasing number of dive-bombing missions were flown during the weeks prior to the invasion, each Mustang carrying two 250 or 500 pound bombs on wing racks, the targets being frequently rail installations.
When D-Day arrived, the 354th's pilots were disappointed to be kept on the ground until 21:00 hours, when they took off to escort Douglas C-47 Skytrains towing gliders for a landing on the Cotentin Peninsula near Cherbourg. Following the invasion, the group's Mustangs found their primary tasks were patrols over the battlefield areas. These were often uneventful as far as contact with enemy aircraft was concerned.
The 354th group headquarters had learned that they would probably be one of the first Ninth Air Force flying units to move to one of the advanced landing strips being prepared in the Normandy bridgehead, and the advance party left Lashenden for Criqueville, France (ALG A-2) on 13 June 1944. The main party moved on 17 June, although the group's P-51s continued to return to RAF Lashenden throughout the following week.
During its stay at RAF Lashenden, the 354th FG lost 23 aircraft, but was credited with destroying 68 of the enemy. The group's operations from France assisted the Allied drive across France by flying close-support, armed-reconnaissance, fighter-sweep, dive-bombing, strafing, and escort missions. The 354th Fighter Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for a series of fighter sweeps in which the group destroyed a large number of enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground on 25 August.
The unit flew missions to support the airborne attack on the Netherlands in September, and it attacked and destroyed many enemy barges, locomotives, vehicles, buildings, and troops to assist the Allied assault on the Siegfried Line.
The group participated in the Battle of the Bulge by supporting ground forces and by conducting armed reconnaissance operations to destroy enemy troops, tank artillery, and rail lines. Assisted ground forces in their advance to and across the Rhine and was based at Herzogenaurach, Germany (ALG R-29) when V-E Day arrived.
By war's end, the 354th FG was officially credited by USAAF Command with the highest number of enemy aircraft destroyed in the air (701 confirmed kills) of any U.S. Fighter Group in the ETO during World War II.[note 2] After hostilities ended, the 354th Fighter Group served with United States Air Forces in Europe army of occupation until February 1946, being returned to the United States and inactivated on 31 March 1946.
On 19 November 1956 the Air Force replaced the 342d Fighter-Day Wing at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina with the 354th Fighter-Day Wing. The 342d Fighter-Day Group's fighter squadrons (33d, 572d and 573d) were replaced by the 353d, 355th and 356th Fighter-Day Squadrons and assigned to the 354th Fighter-Day Group. In addition, the 352d Fighter-Day Squadron was activated and assigned to the Group. Upon activation the new group was assigned to the wing.
The group was active for a brief period training in fighter operations. It was inactivated on 25 September 1957 and its components assigned directly the wing when the Air Force reorganized its wings into the dual deputate system.
On 20 August 1993, the 354th Operations Group was activated as part of the 354th Fighter Wing's activation at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, replacing the organization and components of the 343d Wing. This change was part of a service-wide effort to preserve the lineage of the Air Force’s most honored wings. Upon activation, the 354th OG was bestowed the history, lineage and honors of the 354th Fighter Group from the 354 FW. The 353d and 355th Fighter Squadrons were also reactivated at Eielson and assigned to the 354 OG under the objective wing structure. The group trained for close air support, battlefield air interdiction, and anti-maritime operations.
In 1994, the 353d was redesignated as a Combat Training Squadron. Its assigned mission was to coordinate and direct PACAF's premier training exercise, COPE THUNDER. Additionally, it was given oversight and management of the largest air training complex in the world, the 67,000-square-mile (170,000 km2) Pacific Alaska Range Complex. Though the exercise has been renamed RED FLAG-Alaska, the 353 CTS mission remains unchanged. In 2003 it was reassigned to the 3d Wing at Elmendorf AFB.
Under BRAC 2005 the 354th's 355th Fighter Squadron was inactivated on 24 August 2007, and its Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft sent to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, becoming part of the 23d Fighter Group. The same day, the 18th Fighter Squadron became the 18th Aggressor Squadron and reequipped with Block 30 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, sending its newer Block 40s to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea and becoming part of Red Flag - Alaska.
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