|492d Special Operations Wing
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Engagements||European Theater of Operations|
|Decorations||Distinguished Unit Citation|
French Croix de Guerre with Palm
|492d Special Operations Wing emblem (approved 13 July 2017)|
During World War II the unit entered combat in May 1944, and sustained the heaviest losses of any other Consolidated B-24 Liberator group for a three-month period. The group was withdrawn from combat with its personnel and equipment being reassigned to other units. The 801st Bombardment Group (Provisional) was replaced by the 492d Bombardment Group, and the group performed special operations missions throughout the remainder of the war in Europe. It was inactivated on 17 October 1945.
In June 2017 official USAF descriptions said that the wing organized, trained and equipped forces to conduct special operations missions. It led Major Command irregular warfare activities and executes special operations test and evaluation programs. It also developed doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures for United States Air Force special operations forces.
The group was established in October 1943 at Alamogordo Army Air Field, New Mexico[note 2] as a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber unit, drawing its cadre from the 859th Bombardment Squadron, a former antisubmarine squadron located at Blythe Army Air Base, California. Its other original squadrons were the 856th, 857th and 858th Bombardment Squadrons. In December, the 859th moved from Blythe to join group headquarters and the other three squadrons. The 492d was one of seven heavy bombardment groups[note 3] activated in the autumn of 1943. These were to be the last Army Air Forces heavy bomb groups established.
The group air echelon trained for combat at Alamogordo until April 1944, although the ground echelons of its four squadrons were withdrawn to form other bomber units. New ground elements were organized from other groups of the 2d Bombardment Division already in theater. The group's air echelon departed for England on 1 April, flying the South Atlantic ferrying route through South America and Africa. Only about 120 members of the group's ground echelon shipped overseas, however, leaving New Mexico on 11 April and sailing on the RMS Queen Elizabeth on 20 April.
The group was the first in VIII Bomber Command group to arrive with aircraft in natural metal finish on all their aircraft. On 14 April, the ground echelon that had been formed in England arrived at RAF North Pickenham[note 4] The air echelon began arriving on 18 April.
The 492d entered combat on 11 May 1944, operating primarily against industrial targets in central Germany. During the first week in June, the group was diverted from strategic targets to support Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy by attacking airfields and V-weapon launching sites in France. On D-Day it bombed coastal defenses in Normandy and attacked bridges, railroads, and other interdiction targets in France until the middle of the month. The group resumed bombardment of strategic targets in Germany and, except for support of the infantry during Operation Cobra the Saint-Lô breakthrough on 25 July 1944, and continued these operations until August 1944. However, during its three months of strategic operations the 492d Group suffered the heaviest losses of any Eighth Air Force group. The group's heavy losses had begun with one of the group's earliest missions, an attack on Braunschweig, in which it lost eight Liberators to enemy interceptors. When the 492d Group returned to strategic operation, on 20 June Luftwaffe fighters, primarily Messerschmitt Bf 110s, using air to air rockets shot down fourteen of the 492d Group's B-24s, the equivalent of losing an entire squadron on one raid. Heavy losses, this time to fighters from Jagdgeschwader 3, were again suffered on 29 June.[note 5] After only 89 days of combat, the 492d had lost 52 aircraft to enemy action, with 588 men killed or missing. In the words of one veteran, "the whole group was wiped out". On 5 August, the decision was made to withdraw the 492d Group from combat. Rather than try to rebuild the shattered group, the group was stood down and the surviving members were reassigned to other units in theater.
Subsequently, the 492d was transferred without personnel or equipment, to RAF Harrington on 5 August 1944 and assumed the personnel, equipment, and the Carpetbagger special operations mission of the 801st Bombardment Group (Provisional) that was discontinued. With black-painted aircraft configured with engine flame dampeners and optimized for night operations, the group operated chiefly over southern France with B-24's and C-47's, transporting agents, supplies, and propaganda leaflets to patriots. The occupation of most of France and Belgium brought an effective end to these missions on 16 September 1944.<ref.Warren, p. 63</ref> The group's aircraft were used to transport fuel and other supplies to the US Third Army in France, whose advance had outpaced its supply base. This operation resulted in the aircraft carrying 80 octane fuel in their wing fuel tanks, and having it pumped out to waiting storage tanks and tanker trucks at the advanced airfields in France. Unfortunately, the 80 octane fuel resulted in the wing tanks being chemically degraded so that they could no longer carry aviation fuel. This drastically decreased the range of the aircraft. It being too expensive to change out the wing tanks, the aircraft were flown to a depot area and the entire group was issued new B-24 aircraft. In December 1944, the 859th Squadron was detached to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where it supported guerilla operations.
Throughout 1944 the group's missions intermittently included attacks on airfields, oil refineries, seaports, and other targets in France, the Low Countries, and Germany. These operations continued until February 1945. In addition, in October 1944 the group began training for night bombardment operations. These operations concentrated on marshaling yards and goods depots in Germany, which the group undertook from February through March 1945. In September 1944 until mid winter 1945 a small Detachment of men from the group, mainly from the 856th bombardment squadron, was sent on a personnel recovery mission in Southeast France near the Swiss border to recover USAAF crews who had been interned in Switzerland that had started coming across the border into France during the Invasion of Southern France to the American Lines.
Two of the Squadrons continued night bombardment missions into 1945. The main OSS/Carpetbagger operations over Germany and German-occupied territory had been handed over to the 856th Bombardment Squadron from the 25th Bombardment Group, which used B-24, A-26, and British Mosquito aircraft for "Red Stocking" missions to drop leaflets, demolition equipment, and agents. The 856th Squadron received a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations during March and April 1945, performed at night despite adverse weather and vigorous opposition from enemy ground forces. It was also cited by the French government for similar operations over France in 1944. It flew its last Carpetbagger mission in April 1945 and then ferried personnel and equipment to and from the Continent until July.
The group left England in July 1945 and was stationed at Kirtland Field, New Mexico in August. The group became a very heavy bomb group on arrival at Kirtland. The 492d was programmed for Boeing B-29 Superfortress operations in the Pacific, but apparently was not equipped when Japan surrendered. It was inactivated on 17 October 1945.
In June 2002, the group was converted to provisional status as the 492d Air Expeditionary Group and assigned to Air Mobility Command (AMC) to activate or inactivate as needed for contingency operations. AMC activated the unit once, at Lajes Field in the Azores from March through May 2003 during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In May 2017, the group was withdrawn from provisional status and returned to its old designation for one day. It became the 492d Special Operations Wing and was activated on 17 May at Hurlburt Field, Florida, where it replaced the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center.
In addition to its assigned units, the wing is responsible for the training of two Air National Guard squadrons, the 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron and the 280th Combat Communications Squadron.