|6th Operations Group
|Active||1919–1944; 1944–1948; 1951–1952; 1996–present|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||Air Mobility Command|
|Motto(s)||Parati Defendere Latin Ready to Defend|
|Engagements||World War II|
|Decorations||Distinguished Unit Citation|
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
|6th Operations Group emblem[note 1]|
|6th Composite Group Distinctive Unit Insigne[note 2]|
The mission of the 6th OG is the planning and executing global aerial refueling, combatant commander airlift, and specialized missions for US and allied combat and support aircraft. The group extends US global power and global reach through employment of a mix of KC-135R and C-37 aircraft.
The 6th Operations Group is a successor organization of the 6th Group (Composite), one of the 15 original combat air groups formed by the Army before World War II. During World War II, the 6th Bombardment Group, Very Heavy was a B-29 Superfortress group assigned to Twentieth Air Force flying bombardment operations against Japan. Its aircraft were identified by a "R" inside a Circle painted on the tail.
The 6th Operations Group's origins begin on 30 September 1919 as the United States Army Panama Canal Department 3d Observation Group, being stationed at France Field in the Panama Canal Zone. The unit controlled numerous miscellaneous Air Service light observation squadrons to provide protection for the Panama Canal area.
In 1921 the group was redesignated the 6th Group (Observation) and in 1922, the 6th Group (Composite). The 6th flew such aircraft at the Curtiss R-4, DeHavilland 4-B, SE-5A, MG-3A, Piper L-4, P-12B and Martin B-10 and Douglas B-18 Bolo aircraft.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930 the group participated in maneuvers, flying patrol missions, photographing the canal area, staging aerial reviews and making good-will flights to Central and South America. In 1933, the group became part of the larger 19th Composite Wing, which provided a central command and control organization for the Air Service units. In 1937, as the mission of the 6th moved toward bombardment, the War Department renamed it the 6th Bombardment Group. They continued to operate in the Canal Zone under the VI Bomber Command of the Sixth Air Force at Rio Hato AB, Albrook Field and Howard Field.
As events in Europe and the Far East unfolded, the 6th Bomb Group and its units moved towards a war footing. Starting in May 1940, ground training for junior officers, newly arrived at France Field, became of major importance. Local courses on armament, use of flares and the delicate and seldom practiced fusing of bombs were made practically daily matters of practical application. Communications were also being stressed, as qualified radio operators were in short supply, while the squadrons rotated in and out of Rio Hato Army Air Base on "live" bombing practice.
Many alerts and false alarms of enemy aircraft were recorded in the first three months after the Japanese Pearl Harbor Attack, although, of course, these proved to be false alarms. As the early months of the war swept by, and as VI Bomber Command struggled to apportion its scarce resources to best advantage.
In 1941 it was assigned to the new VI Bomber Command of Sixth Air Force with an antisubmarine mission on both the Caribbean and Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. By 1943, the antisubmarine mission was taken over by the United States Navy, and the group was disbanded in November 1943.
Author James Rusbridger examined the records of the 6th Heavy Bomber Group operations while in Panama. The records show the sinking of a large submarine the morning of 19 February 1942. Since no German submarine was lost in the area on that date, it is assumed the large submarine was the Free-French Surcouf, which was the largest submarine in the world at the time. Rusbridger suggested that a collision reported by the American freighter Thompson Lykes on the night of 18 February, sustained damaged to the submarine's radio antenna with the stricken vessel limping towards Panama.
On 19 April 1944, the 6th Bombardment Group was reactivated at Dalhart Army Air Field, Texas, being formed as a B-29 Superfortress Very Heavy bombardment Group. The reactivated group was initially assigned four newly constituted bomb squadrons, the 24th, 39th, 40th and 41st as its operational components.
Due to a shortage of B-29s, the group was equipped with former II Bomber Command B-17 Flying Fortresses previously used for training heavy bomber replacement personnel. In May shortages in aircraft and equipment led to the 41st Bomb Squadron being inactivated, with its personnel being consolidated into other group squadrons and the 6th becoming a three squadron group (the 41st would be reactivated a month later as part of the 501st Bombardment Group, but was inactivated a second time, finally being deployed into combat with the 448th Bombardment Group). The 6th was eventually equipped with newly manufactured B-29 Superfortresses at Grand Island Army Airfield, Nebraska during the summer of 1944.
In November the group was deployed to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, being assigned to the XXI Bomber Command 313th Bombardment Wing, being stationed at North Field, Tinian, The group entered combat by flying navigational escort for a major attack force bound for Iwo Jima. The 6th then began engaging in very long range bombardment missions over the Japanese Home Islands, striking Tokyo and other major Japanese cities and facilities during daylight high-altitude bombing raids, with crippling, non-stop incendiary raids which destroyed lines of communication, supply, and numerous kamikaze bases.
On 25 May 1945, the 6th flew a low-altitude night mission through alerted enemy defenses to drop incendiary bombs on Tokyo, for which they received their first Distinguished Unit Citation. In addition to incendiary raids, the 6th also participated in mining operations. By mining harbors in Japan and Korea in July 1945, the group contributed to the blockade of the Japanese Empire earning their second Distinguished Unit Citation. The 6th's final World War II mission came on 14 August 1945, with the dropping of 500-pound general-purpose bombs on the Marifu railroad yards at Iwakuni.
With the war over, the 6th dropped food and supplies to Allied prisoners of war and took part in show-of-force flights over Japan. The unit remained on Tinian until February 1946 during which time the group largely demobilized as part of the "Sunset Project", with some aircraft being sent as reclamation on Tinian; others being returned to the United States for storage at aircraft depots in the southwest. By Christmas, the group fleet was reduced to 30 or fewer planes. Many of the remaining veterans signed for "any conditions of travel" to get home, arriving three weeks later in Oakland, California, where troop trains scattered them for points of discharge close to their homes.
The unit moved to Clark Field in the Philippines where it was reassigned to the postwar Far East Air Forces 1st Air Division. At Clark its remaining aircraft and personnel were consolidated into other units. It was again reassigned in June 1947 to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa as a paper unit where it was inactivated in 1948.
In January 1951, the group was activated as the operational component of the new 6th Bombardment Wing at Walker AFB, New Mexico as part of Strategic Air Command's Fifteenth Air Force. However all of the group's B-29 Superfortress were attached directly to the Wing organization, with the group having only one officer and one airman officially assigned to group headquarters. It was inactivated in June 1952 as part of the implementation of the postwar Tri-Deputate organization, as all operational flying squadrons were assigned directly to the 6th Bombardment Wing.
Activated on 1 October 1996 with an air refueling mission as part of the Objective Wing structure of the 6th Air Refueling Wing.
Elements deployed to Southwest Asia in July 1998 to refuel aircraft engaged in no-fly operations over northern Iraq. After January 2001, the group also provided airlift for the commanders of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. It also refueled fighters providing security over the southeastern United States as part of homeland security after terrorist attacks against the United States in September 2001. MacDill KC-135’s have supported US military operations all over the world including refueling coalition aircraft during the war in Bosnia. Since 2001, personnel and aircraft deployed around the world to fulfill air refueling and aeromedical missions.
The 6th has twice won the Air Mobility Rodeo Best Air Mobility Wing Award; in 2000 and 2005.
The group's squadrons in the late 2010s include:
All three Air Refuelling Squadrons operate the KC-135R Stratotanker, a long-range tanker aircraft capable of refueling a variety of other aircraft in mid-air, anywhere in the world and under any weather condition.