|463rd Bombardment Group History|
463rd Group Insignia
General Order No. 79, dated May 29, 1943, issued from Second Air Force Headquarters at Fort George Wright, Washington, activated the 463rd Bombardment Group (H), one of the last two B-17 units to go into training for overseas service in the European Theatre of Operations. Actual date of activation was set at August 1, 1943. The Group would be made up of four squadrons, the 772nd, 773rd, 774th, and 775th. According to the General Order, the Group was to reach 100 percent of T.O. strength by October 28.
By the 17th of August, fifteen officers and eighteen enlisted men had reported for duty at Camp Rapid, Rapid City, South Dakota. Camp Rapid, a small tent city, was serving as a gathering point for newly activated Groups of the Second Air Force. There the Groups received their key personnel who were later sent to AAFSAT for a 30-day period of combat training. Temporarily in command of the Group was Lt. Col. Elmer H. Stambaugh. On August 27th, Lt. Col. Frank Kurtz, a former member of the 19th Bombardment Group and a veteran of the South Pacific campaign, assumed command of the 463rd. Lt. Col. Stambaugh was appointed Group Executive Officer .Col. Kurtz called a meeting of the officers on the afternoon of his arrival and outlined his methods and plans for the Group. He emphasized that the Group was a closed corporation, and that if there were any rough spots to be ironed out that he wanted to know about it from first hand sources. He recalled his experiences during many years of flying, both as a civilian and an Army pilot, and pointed out that the most important thing he had learned was that this war was not a one man show. Col. Kurtz emphasized that "Only by close and harmonious cooperation could the Group accomplish its mission".
During the last week in August, 135 officers and enlisted men who made up the key personnel of the Group, had reported for duty, and on September 1st left Rapid City to move to move to the AAF School of Applied Tactics at Orlando, Florida. While at Orlando, each squadron planned several simulated raids over occupied Europe and the Southwest Pacific. Briefings were held to acquaint the men with standard procedure for the planning of heavy bombardment missions. Upon completion of the Ground School program, the group moved to Montbrook, Florida, a small satellite base approximately 127 miles north of Orlando. Four B-17s were picked up, one for the model crew of each squadron. The model crews continued their training throughout the month of September, flying simulated bombing missions over cities throughout the Southeast. They returned to Camp Rapid on September 29. More personnel had continued to arrive and by October 23 there were 83 officers and 707 enlisted men in the Group. During this time at Camp Rapid, an intensive Ground School program was conducted. Model crews continued to fly their planes, which were based at the Rapid City Army Air Base. While full strength had not yet been achieved and there was a shortage of combat crews, the Group moved to McDill Field at Tampa, Florida where they would begin additional training.
MacDill Field, until the arrival of our Group, was a twin-engine base, and the Third Air Force was hard put to supply the field with equipment necessary for heavy bombers in operation. By the third week in November these matters were better organized and the combat crews were flying daily training missions. Each squadron had four planes and combat crews were making low and high altitude formation flights, and practicing bombing, gunnery and navigation. On November 10, while on a formation flight near Tampa, two planes of the 774th Squadron collided in midair. One of the planes crashed, killing four officers and six enlisted men. The other plane returned safely to the base in spite of a badly damaged wing.
Group strength reached 196 officers and 1596 enlisted men by the end of November. A change was made when Capt. Carroll LEcluse, Commanding Officer of the 774th Squadron, and Maj. Nolan D. Baker, Deputy Group Commander exchanged jobs. Other squadron commanders at this time were Capt. George D. Burges, 772nd; Capt. James W. Patton, 773rd; and Capt. Robert H. Allyn, 775th Squadron. Capt. Allyns squadron at this time acquired the title of "Allyns Irish Orphans", and with usual Army logic, the title was adopted because of the scarcity of Irishmen in the Squadron.
On December 3rd, 42 new combat crews arrived from Dyersberg, Tennessee, to join the Group, and on December 5th, eleven more full crews joined up. Now the Group was full strength in both air and ground personnel. Two squadrons had seventeen crews, and two squadrons had eighteen crews each, making a total of 70 crews in the Group. Early in December, Capt. LEcluse again took over the 774th Squadron. Capt. Patton was relieved as Commanding Officer of the 773rd by Maj. Dodge Dean. Capt. Patton was appointed Group Air Inspector and Deputy Group Commander.
On December 6th, Second Phase Air and Ground School training was begun for the entire Group. Older crews that had arrived several weeks earlier served as flight leaders, while model crew members in most instances were used as instructors. The Group at this time had 27 planes. Second Phase Training meant long hours in the air and on the ground attending classes for the combat crews. Each member of a crew had to complete a prescribed number of hours in the air with bombing, gunnery, and navigational training. Formation flying held a high priority on the training program. On Friday, December 17, the 773rd Squadron ran the first large formation flight, a mission that included a full scale briefing and interrogation. The simulated target was an airport at Waycross, Georgia. Fighter cover and attack were to be provided by several squadrons of P-47s stationed near Savannah. Eleven planes took part in this mission. The following day the 774th ran a similar mission to Columbia, S. C. which was followed by another mission by the 775th to Brunswick, Georgia. Camera bombing at the simulated target was done on each of these missions.Preparations were being made at this time, late in December, for the movement of the Group to Drane Field, Lakeland, Florida.The movement to Drane Field, 25 miles from MacDill, was made by motor transport in three stages on January 1, 2, and 3rd. One week after arriving at Drane Field, Third Bomber Command inspectors arrived to observe the Group in action and to check on the various training requirements. While the inspectors were here, the 773rd Squadron ran a full scale mission which duplicated as closely as possible the conditions in a theatre of combat. The simulated target was an airfield at Harris Neck, Georgia.
Seventeen B-17s took part in this mission. The target was found in spite of heavy overcast and the rendezvous with the fighters was also accomplished. No sooner had the Bomber Command finished its inspection than the officers representing the POM arrived to make the final inspection. This began on January 10, 1944. Approximately fifteen new B-17s had arrived. These were to be the ships we would take overseas.By the 15th of January, the Group has 48 of the "Flyaways", and more were arriving each day. The squadrons continued to fly practice missions and to make last minute changes and adjustments.
Early in February, on the 2nd and 3rd, the ground echelons and some combat crews departed for the Port of Embarkation at Newport News, Virginia ..Camp Patrick Henry. The crews flew their B-17's from Florida via the Caribbean, Brazil, North Africa and Sicily. When the Group met again, it would be at its new home base, Celone Airfield in Foggia, Italy. It was the sixth and last B-17 group to arrive in the MTO as part of the newly formed 15th Air Force.
The 463rd BG entered combat on March 30, 1944. The target was the airdrome at Imoski, Yugoslavia. Thirty-nine planes dropped 117 tons of bombs from 20,000 feet. Although slight flak was encountered, all planes returned safely. The group flew a total of 156 missions in 1944 primarily against targets in Italy, Germany, Austria, Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece.
The Group’s first Unit Citation was awarded after the May 18, 1944 mission to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. Exceedingly bad weather and poor visibility caused the Air Force to send out a recall signal which was received by all bombs groups participating in the raid except the 463rd. As a result, the formation of 35 planes from the 463rd made the run on Ploesti alone. Taking advantage of the situation approximately 150 of Goering’s Yellow Nose fighters attacked. In the ensuing battle, six of the Group’s planes were lost to flak and fighters. The gunners of the 463rd claimed seventeen definites and thirty-two probables. In the nick of time, a large force of P-38s appeared and drove off the Luftwaffe saving the formation from even more losses.
During mid-1944, the 463rd BG aircraft attacked lines of communication in the campaign to liberate Rome. Then in August 1944 it participated in the invasion of southern France by striking many targets, including bridges and gun positions.
March 1945 marked the beginning of the group’s second year in combat. Fittingly, it was also the month in which the 463rd was awarded its second Unit Citation for its role in the March 24 raid on the Daimler-Benz tank works in Berlin. The 5th Wing of the 15th AAF led by thirty-one planes from the 463rd BG, flew the longest (1,800 miles roundtrip) escorted heavy bombardment mission in the history of the European Theatre of Operations. En route to the target, the formation encountered intense opposition from anti-aircraft batteries as well as cannon and rocket fire from fifteen enemy jet-propelled fighters. Despite the confusion caused by this unexpected barrage and the resulting loss of aircraft, the group reformed and continued to the target for what was reported as an exceptionally successful bombing run.
The 26th of April 1945 was the 222nd, and final, combat mission flown by the 463rd BG. Final statistics for the Group’s operations were:
Total Sorties 6,966
Combat Hours 45,764
Bomb Tonnage Dropped 16,868
Enemy Planes Destroyed 80
Probably Destroyed 44
463rd Planes Lost In Combat 106
Awards for the 463rd not only the two Unit Citations described above but also 22 Silver Stars; 313 DFC’s; 303 Purple Hearts; 2,196 Air Medals; 4 Legion of Merits; 6 Soldier’s Medals; and 42 Bronze Stars.
Homebound Task Force
The 463rd BG together with the 483rd BG would make up the Homebound Task Force whose job it was to fly the infantry troops of the Fifth Army from Naples to Casablanca which was the first leg of their journey back to the States. In a little over a month of operations, over 10,000 passengers were handled. The Homebound Task Force was so successful that Air Transport Command asked that operations be slowed down temporarily until the backlog in Casablanca could be depleted. During July and August the Homebound force continued to operate and what would amount to several Army divisions were ferried to Casablanca for the next leg of their journey home.
By early September the 463rd BG retained only a small number of its personnel in Celone. Most of the officers and enlisted men had either been shipped back to the States or were waiting awaiting shipment home. Others had been transferred to various units around Europe.
On September 15, 1945, approximately 28 months after General Order No. 79 had activated the 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), “The Fighting 463rd” was officially deactivated.
We would like to acknowledge the efforts of Hal Rubin who served as the 463rd’s Intelligence Officer throughout the War. His narrative history of the 463rd served as the primary source of material for much of this section.
463rd Historical Society
P.O. Box 11045
Santa Ana, Ca. 92711