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From 'Master of the Sky' to 'Master of Space': A History of the 50th Space Wing

The 50th Fighter Group emblem, first used during World War II. The 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., adopted and updated this emblem in 1992 to reflect their space-based mission and their heritage to the original 50th.

The 50th Fighter Group emblem, first used during World War II. The 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., adopted and updated this emblem in 1992 to reflect their space-based mission and their heritage to the original 50th.

Advanced Landing Ground 551, in Lymington, United Kingdom, was the first of many European airfields the 50th Fighter Group would call home between April 1944 and May 1945 as it fought in World War II.

Advanced Landing Ground 551, in Lymington, United Kingdom, was the first of many European airfields the 50th Fighter Group would call home between April 1944 and May 1945 as it fought in World War II.

The 50th Fighter Group hopped through Europe from August 1944 to May 1945, occupying seven airfields in France and Germany. The group arrived at Mannheim, Germany, May 21, 1945. They returned to the United States after World War II ended, arriving at La Junta Army Airfield, Colo., Aug. 6 and 7 to demobilize and inactivate.

The 50th Fighter Group hopped through Europe from August 1944 to May 1945, occupying seven airfields in France and Germany. The group arrived at Mannheim, Germany, May 21, 1945. They returned to the United States after World War II ended, arriving at La Junta Army Airfield, Colo., Aug. 6 and 7 to demobilize and inactivate.

The Kellett XO-60 Autogiro was an uncommon aircraft flown by the 50th Fighter Group while it was stationed at Orlando Army Airfield, Fla., in 1942. The 50th FG was the predecessor to the 50th Operations Group, part of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. (photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum)

The Kellett XO-60 Autogiro was an uncommon aircraft flown by the 50th Fighter Group while it was stationed at Orlando Army Airfield, Fla., in 1942. The 50th FG was the predecessor to the 50th Operations Group, part of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. (photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum)

1940's -- Affectionately nicknamed "Jug," the P-47 was one of the most famous AAF fighter planes of WW II. Although originally conceived as a lightweight interceptor, the P-47 developed as a heavyweight fighter. (U.S. Air Force photo)

1940's -- Affectionately nicknamed "Jug," the P-47 was one of the most famous AAF fighter planes of WW II. Although originally conceived as a lightweight interceptor, the P-47 developed as a heavyweight fighter. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As the Air Force prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2007, a look back at the 50th Space Wing's journey is appropriate. Over the next 12 months, I'll publish articles describing the wing's distinguished past.

The Beginning: 50th Pursuit Group

The 50th SW traces its organizational roots to its first activation in 1949. The wing displays the honors earned by the 50th Pursuit Group--now the 50th Operations Group--during World War II. That's where we begin.

As part of the pre-World War II force expansion, the Army Air Corps established 50th PG (later 50th OG) Nov. 20, 1940, and activated the new unit Jan. 15, 1941. The group was first stationed at Selfridge Field, Mich., where pilots of 10th, 11th and 12th PS received flight training in Seversky P-35s, P-36 Hawks and P-39 Airacobras until moving to Key Field, Miss., Oct. 3, 1941.

While in Mississippi, the group formed part of the Fighter Command School, based in Orlando, Fla. Crews trained new aviators and tested new equipment and fighter tactics. The group's aircrews also conducted training in night fighter tactics using the P-70 Havocs and supplied cadre to newly forming night fighter units.

Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, 11th PS moved with its P-36s to Alaska Dec. 19. In February 1942, 12th PS 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 81st and 313th PS to replace 11th and 12th PS in January and February 1942. In May, the Army Air Corps renamed the organization the 50th Fighter Group, with the squadrons concurrently renamed fighter squadrons. Newly equipped and renamed, 50th FG moved to Orlando Army Air Field in October, forming part of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics. The 445th Fighter Squadron (Special) joined the group Feb. 24, 1943.

Flying from Orlando and other airfields, the group continued its training mission using P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs and lesser-known aircraft including the Kellett XO-60 (later YO-60) Autogiro. Crews often flew from airfields with little or no infrastructure, hinting at the conditions under which the group would fly when it entered combat in 1944.

While the group remained headquartered at Orlando, each of its squadrons operated from different airfields in Florida in 1943. The 445th FS flew from Orlando, the 10th FS from Zephyrhills, the 81st FS from Cross City AAF and the 313th FS from Keystone. Each of these detached squadrons returned to Orlando in January 1944.

The group arrived at Advanced Landing Ground 551 in Lymington, England, with P-47s April 5. The 10th FS reluctantly left their P-51s in the United States. The group's pilots familiarized themselves with the local landscape and existing tactics and began combat operations 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 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 June 6, 50th FG's aircrews flew close air support missions over Normandy beaches, targeting enemy troops and equipment and preventing the Luftwaffe from attacking Allied troops. After hard fighting on the ground and hard work by Army Air Forces combat engineers, the group moved to Airfield A-10 at Carentan, France, June 24 to 25. It was the first of many continental European bases the 50th would call home.

The group's next home was just a few miles away at another recently repaired airfield in Meautis, France, which 50th FG occupied Aug. 16. From Meautis (A-17), the group moved to Orly (A-47), just south of Paris. The 313th FS occupied Orly Aug. 30, with the rest of the group arriving by Sept. 4.

The group remained at Orly only 10 days, moving to Laon/Couvron (A-70) Sept. 15. Continuing to follow ground forces forward, 50th FG moved to Lyon-Bron (Y-6) Sept. 28 to 29. Their stay at Lyon was brief, as the group and its squadrons moved to Toul-Ochey (A-96) Nov. 3. From this airfield, 50th FG continued to fly missions supporting the ground offensive into Germany.

As the war neared its end, 50th FG moved into Germany, arriving at Giebelstadt (Y-90) April 20. The group made one more move in Germany, arriving at Mannheim May 21, after Germany's surrender.

From Germany, the 50th Fighter Group returned to the United States Aug. 6 to 7, arriving at La Junta Army Airfield, Colo., for demobilization. Headquarters Army Air Forces inactivated the group Nov. 7.

During one year of combat operations, 50th FG had earned six campaign streamers and two distinguished unit awards. Pilots had scored 51 confirmed aerial victories and Capt. Robert Johnston had become the wing's only ace, scoring six confirmed victories.

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