The 38th Bombardment Group is an inactive unit of the United States Air Force. It was most recently assigned as the operational (flying) component of the 38th Bombardment Wing, stationed at Laon-Couvron Air Base, France, where it was inactivated on 8 December 1957.
|38th Bombardment Group|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Size||1942: 36 aircraft, 800 personnel|
1943: 72 aircraft, 1600 personnel
1945: 96 aircraft, 1800 personnel
|Nickname(s)||The Sun Setters|
Battle of Midway
Battle of the Bismarck Sea
Bombing of Wewak
Bombing of Rabaul (November 1943)
Battle of Ormoc Bay
|Emblem of the 38th Bombardment Group|
During World War II the 38th Bomb Group was a medium bombardment group operating in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) as a B-25 Mitchell unit assigned to Fifth Air Force. It was one of the first combat organizations of the United States Army Air Forces to be deployed to the Pacific Theater when elements took part in the June 1942, Battle of Midway using the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber. Operating in separated echelons until February 1943, the group was re-organized in April 1943 into a standardized B-25 unit. At the conclusion of World War II, the group converted to the A-26 (later B-26) Invader medium bomber.
The 38th Bomb Group was awarded four Distinguished Unit Citations for its combat service in Papua (Buna and Gona, 23 July 1942 to 23 January 1943); New Britain (Cape Gloucester, 24–26 December 43); New Guinea (Jefman-Samate-Sorong, 16–17 June 1944); and Leyte (Ormoc Bay, 10 November 1944). It also received recognition from the government of the Philippines with an award of the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.
During the early years of the Cold War, the unit operated in France as a NATO tactical bombardment group flying Martin B-57B Canberras. The group formed the "Black Knights" aerial demonstration team that performed at several air shows in Western Europe, including the 1957 Paris Air Show. The Black Knights were the only tactical bomber show team in the world.
*Group ground echelons only, no aircraft or crews
The 38th Bombardment Group (Medium) was constituted on 20 November 1940 by War Department General Order AG 320.2, and activated on 15 January 1941 at Langley Army Air Base, Virginia, by the 2nd Wing, GHQ Air Force. Its original cadre consisted of seven officers and 112 enlisted men transferred from the 22d Bombardment Group to administratively organize the group. Its original assigned flying squadrons were the 69th, 70th and 71st Bomb Squadrons, with the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron activated at the same time and attached.
In the first week of June 1941, the group transferred to Jackson Army Air Base, Mississippi to receive an influx of personnel just graduated from technical schools and to train a large levy of drafted enlisted men, mostly from Pennsylvania, fresh out of basic training. The first combat crews joined the group on 2 September, consisting of 30 newly commissioned pilots of Randolph Field Pilot Training Class 41-F, who began group training in seven B-18s and two PT-13 Kaydets. The next month the group began receiving new B-26 Marauders, and by 1 December 1941 each bomb squadron had 13 assigned. The first loss of an aircraft was 69th BS B-26 40-1472 in a landing accident at Jackson AAB, with all six crewmen killed, on 21 December 1941.
The German U-boat threat to Allied shipping earmarked the group for assignment to anti-submarine warfare patrols from a base in South America. Orders to transfer the group to Savannah AAB, Georgia, as the first step in the process, were rescinded when the United States was drawn into the war on 7 December 1941. Instead the group remained at Jackson until 18 January when its ground echelon entrained for movement to a port of embarkation at San Francisco, California, where it was quartered in the Cow Palace.
On 29 January the ground echelon boarded the Army transport USAT Tasker H. Bliss, formerly the Dollar Liner SS President Cleveland. The Bliss left in convoy from San Francisco on the 31st and arrived at Brisbane, Australia on 25 February 1942. On that date the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron was assigned as the group's fourth squadron, and re-designated the 405th Bomb Squadron on 22 April 1942.
The ground personnel of the group were employed as service and construction troops, working at various bases until assignment to Charters Towers on 2 August. The advance party, however, found that the 3rd Bomb Group and its A-20 Havocs occupied all the desirable space and established a camp at Breddan on 7 August. The ground element of the 71st BS moved to Batchelor Field, Darwin, on 1 May to act as a service squadron for the 19th Bomb Group, which had been compelled to evacuate its B-17s from the Philippines by Japanese advances. On 12 August it rejoined the group at Breddan.
The air echelon did not accompany the sea movement and was quartered at Fort McDowell, California, until 6 April, when it moved by train to Patterson Field, Ohio, to continue B-26 training. On 8–7 May, the 69th and 70th BS flew new B-26Bs to California for movement to Hawaii, while the 71st and 405th began receiving B-25 Mitchell bombers for training. The 71st moved to MacDill AAB where it exchanged its experienced B-26 crews for those of the 21st Bomb Group (a unit converting to B-26s), which were entirely newly graduated pilots from Shafter Field Pilot Training Class 42-E. The 405th flew to Barksdale Field, Louisiana, to exchange crews with the 17th Bomb Group, which was converting to B-26s because a large portion of its B-25s had been lost on the Doolittle Raid. These novice pilots and crews became the core of the group's combat crews for the next 15 months.[n 1]
On 19 May the first flight of three B-26 Marauders left Hamilton Field, for Hawaii. From 22 May to 10 June the 69th and 70th Bomb Squadrons ferried 26 Marauders to Hickam Field without a single mishap.
Two aircraft of the 69th BS in Hawaii took part in the Battle of Midway as part of Seventh Air Force. Together with two Marauders from the 18th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 22nd Bomb Group, they were modified to each carry a Mark 13 torpedo and practised torpedo runs for ten days before being deployed to Midway Island. All four took off on the morning of 4 June 1942, in an attempt to attack Japanese aircraft carriers. The bombers began their long torpedo runs at 800 feet altitude, and two were lost before they could release. The remaining B-26s then dropped down to only ten feet above the water under heavy attack from Japanese fighters and antiaircraft fire. Neither hit the carriers. The two Marauders shot down included one with a 69th BS crew, while the two survivors were heavily damaged.[n 2]
On 13 June the 69th received orders to proceed to New Caledonia. Equipped with only ten B-26s and based at Plaine Des Gaiacs Airfield, New Caledonia, it became the first medium bombardment squadron in the South Pacific Area. The 70th Bombardment Squadron arrived at Nandi Airfield on Fiji one week later.
Both squadrons conducted search and bombing missions in the Solomon Islands from McDonald Field on Efate during the Guadalcanal campaign, and the 69th staged twice with torpedoes for strikes against the Japanese fleet that never materialized. The 70th was briefly based on Guadalcanal in mid-November. The 69th arrived at Guadalcanal on 31 December and immediately bombed the Japanese airfield under construction at Munda. It remained at Henderson Field until 12 January, flying eleven missions against Munda and the Japanese seaplane base at Rekata Bay, where it lost two Marauders to antiaircraft fire on 7 January 1943.
The 69th was advised at the end of September that it would be converting to B-25s, but it was November before the first five were received. It turned over its surviving B-26s to the 70th BS in March 1943 when it received 10 new Mitchells and began three months of conversion training. On 26 February 1943, the 69th and 70th squadrons were reassigned from the 38th Bomb Group. In March they were assigned to the 42nd Bombardment Group based on Fiji and the 70th also began conversion to B-25s.
The two B-25 squadrons of the 38th BG picked up 37 new B-25C and B-25D aircraft[n 3] at McClellan Field, California, on 28 July 1942, flew them to Hamilton Field, and began movement to Hawaii in early August. These were the first B-25s to be flown to their overseas bases.[n 4] Stripped of all armament (shipped separately by sea) to reduce weight and navigated without radio beacon aids, they continued on from Hickam Field to Breddan via Christmas Island, Canton Island, Fiji, and New Caledonia. During the ferry operation, a navigation error over New South Wales while trying to find Amberley, Queensland caused five bombers of the 405th BS to become lost on 14 August and run out of fuel. One was abandoned near Lismore, one crash-landed at Casino, and two others crash-landed at Grafton. The fifth managed to land safely at Evans Head. One crewman was killed bailing out of his aircraft.[n 5]
All aircraft of 71st BS arrived in Australia by 14 August and those of the 405th by 21 August. The now 33 bombers of the group were in place at Breddan by 25 August, and the two squadrons began flying training missions from Charters Towers on 29 August.[n 6] The group was assigned to the newly activated V Bomber Command, Fifth Air Force and operated in that command to October 1944, attacking Japanese airfields, shipping, and ground forces in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago.[n 7]
On 9–10 September, in preparation for starting operations, the 38th BG was assigned to the Fifth Air Force's Advanced Echelon (ADVON) and a forward echelon moved to Horn Island Aerodrome. 12 Mitchells flew the first combat mission on 15 September 1942, staging through Port Moresby, to bomb and strafe Japanese Army positions and an airfield near Buna, New Guinea. On 28 September the forward echelon displaced to Laloki airfield, New Guinea, where it continued reconnaissance and occasional bombing missions, while the remainder of the group moved up to Townsville. The 38th BG experienced its first combat loss when fighters shot down a B-25 attacking a convoy off Buna on 5 October.
The group had been without a commanding officer for nearly six months,[n 8] and on 6 November Lt. Col. Brian O'Neill, commander of the 22nd BG's 408th Bomb Squadron at Reid River Airfield in Australia, transferred to the 38th BG and took command of the group. O'Neill remained in command for the next year, until a freak ground accident caused him to be transferred for medical treatment in October 1943.[n 9]
During the month of November 1942, the group staged through Rorona airstrip, flying a limited number of missions while the ground echelon completed its move to New Guinea by sea.[n 10] On 26 November it moved into another of Moresby's airfield complex, Durand Airfield ("17 Mile Drome"), from which it would operate for fifteen months. At Durand, as at the five bases which followed, the group lived in dispersed tent cities, was subject to nightly raids on its facilities by Japanese aircraft, and often staged through crude forward strips to extend the range of its combat operations.
The group participated in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea on 3 March 1943, with the 405th BS engaging in an early example of "mast head" (skip) bombing.[n 11] Following the Bismarck Sea mission, the 38th returned all of its aircraft over a period of months to the 4th Air Depot in Townsville for field modification to the B-25C-1 (405th BS) and B-25D-1 (71st BS) strafer configuration in which the nose compartment was enclosed with sheet metal with eight forward-firing machine guns mounted in the nose and in blister packs on the fuselage side below the cockpit. The lower turret was also removed and replaced by a 150-gallon fuel tank mounted on bomb racks that allowed it to be jettisoned once fuel was transferred. The 405th made low level strafing attacks its standard operating procedure in March 1943, while the 71st BS commenced such missions in May. The modification process and training needs released the group from most combat operations between April and July.
Major Ralph Cheli (pronounced "Kelly" //) was awarded the Medal of Honor for a mission on the second day of the bombing of Wewak on 18 August 1943. Assigned to lead both the group and the 405th BS in an attack on heavily defended Dagua Airdrome, his C-1 strafer was severely hit by enemy fire while at 150 feet. Cheli remained in formation and led the attack before crash-landing his bomber into the sea. Initially he was believed killed in the crash, but post war evidence indicates that he survived the crash but was executed in March 1944 by the Japanese while a POW on Rabaul. What were believed to be the remains of Cheli and other similarly executed POWs are now interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.[n 12]
Two weeks later, on 2 September, sixteen strafers attacked shipping reported in Wewak harbor. Attacking in eight two-plane elements with two 1000-pound bombs each, the Mitchells came in just over the crests of low ridges to the south, into a barrage of intense antiaircraft fire at their altitude. 10 to 15 Japanese fighters eluded the P-38 top cover by circling under a 5000-foot ceiling, then attacked the bomber formation vertically and from the rear for 25 minutes. One bomber of the 405th BS was shot up as it released its bombs, then ditched in the bay. A second was pursued after bombing and cartwheeled into the Bismarck Sea when hit by fighter attacks. A third was shot down during the attacks of the 71st BS when it "snap rolled" at wavetop height and crashed inverted into the bay. The crews of all three aircraft were killed. Despite the losses, small barrage balloons anchored to each ship, and a number of overshoots of the bombs, the attack succeeded in hitting several of the vessels.
The 822d and 823d Bomb Squadrons were constituted and assigned to the 38th BG on 20 April 1943 to bring the group to a full strength of four squadrons. Both squadrons were raised in New Guinea using a cadre from the 38th BG to provide group training to a pool of incoming ground personnel, and later to new pilots. The ground personnel landed at Port Moresby on 23 June 1943 after a month at sea, while the air crews trained at Charters Towers until October. 38 new B-25G aircraft began field modifications at Townsville on 24 September and were flown by their crews to Durand on 9 and 10 October. The new squadrons flew their first combat mission on 15 October 1943.
The 822d and 823d BS field-tested the cannon-mounted B-25G bombers, and from 19 November to 25 December they were employed over the northwest coastal areas of New Britain against barge traffic between New Guinea and New Britain. The B-25G underwent a thorough combat testing during the period, firing 1,253 rounds of 75 mm ammunition. Five were lost in the first month of combat and a dozen by May 1944. The losses were initially replaced by five B-25Hs, but Fifth Air Force did not prefer this model, and soon after losses were replaced by strafer configured B-25Ds. In early February 1944 the G models began depot conversion to the "B-25G-1" configuration, replacing the cannon with two .50 caliber machine guns. The surviving G-1 models were transferred in September 1944 to the 41st Bomb Group after new B-25Js were received.
The two veteran squadrons engaged in a series of large strikes mounted by Fifth Air Force against Rabaul in the latter half of October, attempting to neutralize the Japanese base before Allied landings on Bougainville, scheduled for 1 November. On 2 November, the 71st and 405th BS were part of a force of nine understrength squadrons of B-25s and six squadrons of P-38 Lightning fighters that attacked Simpson Harbor to cover the landings. In its strafing attack on shipping, the 38th lost three B-25s to antiaircraft fire from numerous Japanese naval vessels in the harbor.[n 13]
After the neutralization of Rabaul, the group attacked airfields on New Britain in preparation for the landing of the U.S. Marines on Cape Gloucester, then shifted on 19 December to bombing of defense positions. On D-Day, 26 December, all four squadrons of the group laid smoke screens and strafed the beaches at low altitude, for which the group was awarded its second Distinguished Unit Citation. In January 1944 the group began staging its missions through Dobodura. On 15 February 1944 the group attacked Japanese shipping in Kavieng harbor, where a 71st BS B-25 was forced to ditch after being set aflame by antiaircraft fire during its bomb run. The three survivors of the crew were among fifteen rescued by U.S. Navy PBY Catalina pilot Lt. J.G. Nathan G. Gordon, who received the Medal of Honor for the exploit. On 4 March the 38th BG moved to a new permanent station at Nadzab Field.
The group experienced significant non-combat losses of aircraft to New Guinea's volatile climate and rugged terrain.[n 14] On 16 April 1944, 24 bombers took off to bomb Hollandia, with two returning to base with engine problems. The remaining 22 bombed their targets without opposition by the Japanese, but on the return flight encountered a massive storm front. Unable to penetrate the front, the squadron formations dispersed at the coast, with eight planes landing safely at Cape Gloucester and three others at Finschhafen. The other 11 attempted to land at Saidor, but two were severely damaged and four wrecked in crashes or runway collisions with other aircraft. Four airmen were killed. In all the weather front on "Black Sunday" claimed 37 USAAF aircraft lost or destroyed, the biggest weather loss in the history of the United States Air Force.
While based at Nadzab, the group increasingly used forward strips from which to stage missions, including Hollandia, Wakde, and Borokoe Airfield on Biak. In May and June the 38 conducted a month of attacks against Japanese airpower in the Vogelkop to protect Allied amphibious movements along the north coast of New Guinea. The campaign culminated in a two-group attack on Jefman and Samate Dromes at the extreme western tip of New Guinea, led by the 38th BG. The 670-mile mission, the longest to date by medium bombers in the SWPA, required staging through Hollandia and Wakde airfields and the use of 215-gallon fuel tanks mounted in the bomb bays. Attacking in two waves of 11 aircraft abreast, the group strafed and used parachute bombs against more than forty Japanese aircraft on the fields. The leading wave of bombers claimed five Japanese aircraft shot down attempting to take off, and four others that evaded the P-38 escort and attempted to bomb the group using white phosphorus aerial-bursting bombs. The smoke from fires caused by its attack grew so thick that the last crews through were forced to fly on instruments. One mission report stated: "Col. (Donald P.) Hall led the formation so low over the drome that plane number 233, piloted by Lieutenant Breneman, was forced to pull up to strafe the operations tower." The next day the group returned to attack shipping it had observed in Sorong harbor during the mission against the airdromes. The missions earned the group its third DUC.
By the end of June, attrition and extensive operations reduced the group to 67 crews, of which only 23 were medically available for combat. As a result, nearly 300 air crewmen diagnosed with combat fatigue were sent back to the United States for rest and recuperation.[n 15] During July and August 1944 the group was taken off operations while it received replacements, trained 63 fresh crews in formation flying, practiced bombing, and exchanged its B-25G and C-1/D-1 models for B-25J aircraft. The 823rd BS was the first to become operational with the J, followed soon after by the 405th, which had not received a replacement aircraft in over a year. The group's first combat mission using the B-25J occurred on 5 September 1944.[n 16]
The 38th BG supported the Allied landings on Morotai on the mornings of 15 and 16 September 1944 by conducting low level missions to spray DDT as an anti-malarial measure on the vegetation-overgrown Pitoe Airfield, located just behind Red Beach. 19 of 21 planned sorties were completed, spraying 3,000 gallons of the pesticide-oil mixture, followed by 2,400 more gallons on 29 September. On 15 October the group moved into Pitoe's new dual-strip airfield to support the Allied invasion of Leyte by bombing airfields, ground installations, harbors, and shipping in the southern Philippines. When the Japanese fleet threatened the beachhead on 24 October during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the 38th BG was alerted for possible missions, but the fleet did not come within range of the B-25's on Morotai.
On 10 November the 38th BG was ordered to attack a large Japanese ship convoy in Ormoc Bay attempting to land reinforcements. The convoy consisted of three large transports and several smaller merchant vessels, escorted by ten destroyers and patrol craft. 32 bombers of the group took off from Morotai at 0800, two of them returning for mechanical problems, and picked up an escort of 37 P-47 Thunderbolts of the 348th Fighter Group en route to a new fighter base at Tacloban Airfield, Leyte. At 1135 the convoy was sighted, and the group circled to make its approach from the land side. It attacked individual ships in two-plane elements at 150 feet under intense and effective antiaircraft fire from the Japanese naval vessels. In just seven minutes of combat, five of the lead 822nd Squadron's eight bombers were shot down, including the group leader, as were two of the 823rd BS, last over the convoy. The group, which was awarded its fourth Distinguished Unit Citation for the mission, suffered its greatest loss: seven bombers, three complete crews, and 21 dead or missing. While its claims were exaggerated in both tonnage and numbers of vessels sunk, the two largest transports[n 17] and a frigate[n 18] were sunk and serious damage inflicted on the rest of the convoy.
The group moved forward to Lingayan Field on Luzon on 30 January 1945. The next day the 822nd BS redressed its losses at Ormoc by attacking a three-destroyer convoy near Formosa, sinking the 1500-ton Ume and damaging the other two.
In the first week of February the group provided on-call close air support to US ground forces, directed by P-40 Warhawks of the 71st Reconnaissance Group acting as forward air controllers.[n 19] On 2 February, it coordinated with SBD dive bombers of Marine Aircraft Group 24 in bombing Japanese positions defending Umingan against attacks by the U.S. 25th Division, then supported the 1st Cavalry Division as it moved into Manila. The mediums then began a campaign against industries and airfields on Formosa, and attacked shipping along the southeast China coast. Tactics evolved in which formations of 36 aircraft bombed from medium altitudes, while low altitude strafing attacks featured four waves of B-25Js flying nine abreast, such as the attack on the Imperial Japanese Navy airfield at Taichū (台中), Formosa, on 2 March.[n 20] The raid of 2 March illustrates the scope of medium bomber operations in the Western Pacific in 1945: attacks in bombardment wing strength using two groups,[n 21] each group with its own target,[n 22] employing a mission force of 72 B-25 bombers, 24 P-51 Mustang fighter escorts, and two OA-10 Catalinas on station for rescue operations. On 20 March, the group attacked a small convoy of warships escorting a large freighter near Amoy, China. Flying abreast in four attack waves totaling 22 Mitchells, each squadron lost a bomber in the brief but vicious combat, with two going down in the target area and two others crash-landing at Fourteenth Air Force fields on the Chinese mainland.
On 13 May, after evaluating two months of strikes against Formosan targets, group commander Lt. Col. Edwin H. Hawes conceived a sustained campaign to eradicate all Japanese sugar mill/ethanol refineries on Formosa. He formed specially-designated two-crew teams from each squadron, each team selecting and bombing a target every fourth day, to provide daily pressure on the industry. The group became known as the "Alcohol Busters".[n 23]
On 21 June 1945 half of the air echelon of 38th BG (30 B-25s) was sent on short notice to Puerta Princesa Airfield, Palawan, where it was attached to the 42nd Bomb Group of the Thirteenth Air Force to form a nine-squadron wing.[n 24] For the remainder of June it conducted preinvasion low altitude bombing of Japanese installations at Balikpapan, Borneo. Its first mission on 22 June consisted of 54 Mitchells flying 18 abreast in three waves, strafing and dropping air-fused napalm bombs. On the mission of 29 June, the group was forced to attack through the exploding bursts of bombs dropped by B-24 Liberators flying at much higher altitude, losing one B-25.[n 25]
After its return to Lingayen, it conducted training missions until an advanced party flew to Okinawa on 14 July to prepare for the transfer of the group to Yontan Airfield. The ground echelon boarded LSTs on 26 July and moved to Subic Bay, where it remained until the end of the month. It reached Yontan by sea on 8 August. The air echelon flew to Yontan on 25 July and began attacks on industries, railways, and shipping in southern Japan and both coasts of Korea. Japanese home defenses proved effective and seven B-25s were lost in combat between 26 July and 10 August, with only one crew surviving.
|38th BG B-25 losses|
|95||B-25's lost in combat|
|44||B-25's lost in non-combat accidents|
|442||Air crew killed or missing in action|
|All figures from Official History.[n 26]|
On the morning of 9 August 1945, ten B-25Js led by Col. Hawes attacked the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaiyo (海鷹), beached in Beppu Bay on Kyushu. Flying three abreast at low level through a thick haze, six of the ten aircraft struck the carrier with five 1000-pound delayed-action demolition bombs. Hawes and his crew were killed when a wingtip of their bomber struck a tree, then the carrier itself, and crashed beside the ship after releasing its bombs. Hawes' Mitchell was the last lost by the group during World War II.[n 27]
The 38th Bomb Group flew its final combat mission on 13 August 1945, searching for shipping off the east coast of Korea, and the next morning moved its 54 operational bombers back to Morotai to make room for units involved in the imminent occupation.
The 38th BG returned to Yontan from Morotai on 26 September, having lost three additional B-25s to accidents. On 1 October the group transferred out all aircraft with more than 600 hours of flight time, which reduced it to nine B-25s. Okinawa was struck by typhoons on 16 September and 9 October, the latter destroying all tents and structures in the 38th's camp at Yontan, but the bombers were saved by weighting down their wings with sandbags and using full engine power to keep them turned into the wind.
On 1 November the group was designated for movement to Kyushu, to be based at Itazuke Air base near Fukuoka as part of the Far East Air Forces occupation force. On 7 November the group divided into advance and rear echelons and began loading five LSTs for the movement. The convoy sailed on 13 November, offloading at Sasebo by 22 November (it was unable to unload at Fukuoka because the harbor had not been swept of naval mines). On 25 November the aircraft flew from Okinawa to Ashiya Air Base because Itazuke was not yet serviceable. Their crews were trucked 40 miles to Itazuke, followed two days later by the rear air echelon, which arrived in 18 C-47s. The 38th BG began rehabilitation of the base using groups of Japanese laborers.
The 38th BG returned more than 500 men to the United States for demobilization before the end of 1945. In January 1946, it received 16 A-26 Invader bombers at Ashiya for orientation and training, assigned to the 405th BS. A lack of engineering personnel in the group resulted in most of the aircraft being grounded until acceptance inspections could be performed. The group was reduced to three squadrons on 12 April 1946 as both the 822nd and 823rd BS were inactivated and the 89th Bomb Squadron at Itazuke was assigned to the group.[n 28]
The group was redesignated as the 38th Bombardment Group (Light) in May 1946 and reassigned to the 315th Air Division. Operational surveillance missions began in April, with two A-26s lost in weather-related crashes in April and May. In September 1946 the group moved to Itami, Japan. The 405th BS was reduced to a paper squadron without aircraft or personnel, then relocated at Itazuke between 1 January and 1 May 1947 to be a basic military training unit, after which it returned to Itami as a non-flying labor unit until the establishment of the USAF. The 71st BS discontinued flight operations on 1 November 1946 and went into an unmanned status until 1 May 1947, when it received new personnel at Itami in preparation for resuming operations. The 89th BS became the sole operational squadron of the group between November 1946 and September 1947.
On 18 September 1947 the 38th Bomb Group became part of the independent United States Air Force. Both the 71st and 405th Squadrons were subsequently re-equipped with B-26C Invader and TB-25 Mitchell aircraft, resuming surveillance and training missions. Under the reorganization of the Air Force wing plan, it was made the combat component of the newly activated 38th Bombardment Wing (Light) on 18 August 1948. It assisted in the air defense of Japan and participated in tactical exercises from August 1948 – March 1949. The 38th Bombardment Group was inactivated in the Far East on 1 April 1949.
The group was reactivated on 1 January 1953 as the 38th Bombardment Group (Tactical), again a subordinate component of the 38th Bomb Wing, now part of United States Air Forces in Europe, and based at Laon-Couvron Air Base, France. The 71st, 405th and 822d Bomb Squadrons were reactivated as the group's flying components. The group absorbed the assets and personnel of the 126th Bomb Group, an Illinois Air National Guard unit that was inactivated and returned to state control.
The group flew the B-26 Invader until April 1955, when it converted to the B-57B Canberra tactical bomber. A total of forty-nine B-57B and eight 2-seat B-57C models for training were deployed to Laon. The 38th Bomb Group was the only tactical bombardment unit assigned to USAFE. The mission of the B-57B was all-weather interdiction using conventional weapons, but it was also nuclear weapons-capable and provided a nuclear deterrence. The Canberras at Laon were painted a gloss black. Using five B-57's, the 38th BG formed its own aerial demonstration team called the Black Knights. They performed at air shows around Western Europe, including the 1957 Paris Air Show. The Black Knights were the only tactical bomber show team in the world.
In 1958, French President Charles de Gaulle announced that all NATO nuclear weapons and delivery aircraft had to be removed from French soil by July 1958. Since the parent wing was nuclear capable by NATO policy, it was ordered to depart France. The 38th BG was inactivated at Laon on 8 December 1957 and its three squadrons assigned directly to the wing while aircraft and personnel were transferred to other units. The wing then moved on 18 June 1958 to Hahn Air Base, Germany, where it was redesignated a tactical missile wing using the TM-61 Matador.