SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- On Jan. 15, 2016, the 50th Operations Group marks its 75th anniversary. As part of the pre-World War II force expansion, the U.S. Army Air Corps established the 50th Pursuit Group (later 50th Operations Group) on Nov. 20, 1940 and activated the new unit on January 15, 1941. The group was first stationed at Selfridge Field, Michigan, where pilots of the 10th, 11th and 12th Pursuit Squadrons received flight training in P-35s, P-36s and P-39s prior to moving to Key Field, Mississippi, Oct. 3, 1941.
While in Mississippi, the group formed part of the Fighter Command School, based in Orlando. Crews trained new aviators and tested new equipment and fighter tactics. The group's air crews also conducted training in night fighter tactics using the P-70 and supplied cadre to newly forming night fighter units.
Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941, the 11th and 12th Pursuit Squadrons left the group. The 11th moved with its P-36s Dec. 19, 1941, to Alaska, while in February 1942, the 12th and its P-39s moved to Cassidy Field, Christmas Island, a British-controlled island in the Indian Ocean about 310 miles south of Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Army Air Corps assigned the 81st and the 313th Pursuit Squadrons to replace the 11th and 12th in January and February 1942. In May 1942, the Army Air Corps renamed the organization, the 50th Fighter Group, with the squadrons concurrently renamed fighter squadrons. Newly equipped and renamed, the 50th moved to Orlando Army Air Field in October 1942, forming part of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics. On Feb. 24, 1943, the 445th Fighter Squadron (Special) joined the group. Flying from Orlando and other Florida airfields, the group continued its training mission using P-47s, P-51s and lesser known aircraft, including the Kellett XO 60 (later YO-60) autogiro.
All flying squadrons in the 50th also tested procedures and equipment, seeking better ways to manage the huge efforts required to supply troops and maintain aircraft fighting overseas. Hinting at the conditions under which the group would fly when it entered combat in 1944, crews often flew from airfields with little or no infrastructure.
While the group remained headquartered at Orlando, each of its squadrons operated from different airfields in Florida during 1943. The 445th flew from Orlando, the 10th from Zephyrhills, the 81st from Cross City AAF, and the 313th from Keystone. Each of these detached squadrons returned to Orlando in January 1944. With P-47s and P-51s, the group continued to train and teach at Orlando while preparing to ship out to England, departing in March 1944.
On April 5, 1944, the group arrived at Advanced Landing Ground #551 at Lymington, England, with P-47s, the 10th reluctantly leaving their P-51s in the United States. The group's pilots began training to familiarize them with the local landscape and existing tactics and began combat operations on May 1, 1944. In addition to fighter "sweeps" and dive-bombing missions, the group began flying fighter escort for bombers destroying enemy defenses in Normandy. Crews continued these bombing and escort missions until the end of May 1944, when the group changed its focus to preparations to support the D-Day invasion of the continent. When the invasion began on June 6, 1944, the group's air crews flew close air support missions over the Normandy beaches, targeting enemy troops and equipment and preventing the Luftwaffe from attacking Allied forces. After hard fighting on the ground and hard work by Army Air Forces combat engineers, the group moved to the airfield A-10 at Carentan, France, June 24-25, 1944, the first of many continental European bases the 50th would call home, if only for a short time.
The group's next home was just a few miles away at another recently repaired airfield, Meautis, France, which the 50th occupied Aug. 16. From Meautis (A-17) the group moved to Orly (A-47) just south of Paris. The 313th occupied Orly Aug. 30, 1944, with the rest of the group arriving by Sept. 4. While Carentan and Meautis were in the lower Normandy region of France, the rapid advance of Allied forces supported by 9th Air Force units, such as the 50th, allowed the group to make the more than 230-mile jump.
The group remained at Orly only 10 days, moving to Laon/Couvron (A-70) on Sept. 15. Continuing to follow ground forces forward, the 50th moved to Lyon- Bron (Y-6) Sept. 28-29, 1944. Their stay at Lyon was brief as the group and its squadrons moved to Toul-Ochey (A-96) Nov. 3. From this airfield, the 50th continued to fly missions supporting the ground offensive into Germany. As the war neared its end, the 50th moved into Germany arriving at Giebelstadt (Y 90) April 20, 1945. The group made one more move in Germany, arriving at Mannheim May 21, 1945, after the Germany's surrender.
From Germany, the 50th Fighter Group returned to the United States Aug. 6- 7, 1945, arriving at La Junta Army Airfield, Colorado, for demobilization. Army Air Forces inactivated the group Nov. 7, 1945. During 16 months of combat operations, the 50th Fighter Group had earned six campaign streamers and two distinguished unit awards. Pilots had scored 52.5 confirmed aerial victories and Capt. Robert D. Johnston had become the group's only ace, scoring six confirmed victories in the European Theater.
The 50th Fighter Group activated again June 1, 1949, as a component of the 50th Fighter Wing (later 50th Space Wing); but that's another story.