3D Wing

Activation and Early Aviation

In the aftermath of World War I, as the fledgling air service struggled for peacetime legitimacy, the first predecessor unit of the 3D Wing was born. Activated as the Army Surveillance Group on 1 July 1919, the group was a loosely organized band of World War I veterans and newcomers serving on detached duty at scattered outposts along the Rio Grande--from Brownsville, Texas, to Nogales, Arizona. The group patrolled the U.S. Mexican border following several cross-border incidents instigated by unrest in northern Mexico. Though activated on 1 July, the group did not coalesce into a recognizable unit until its headquarters element activated as the 1st Army Surveillance Group on 15 August 1919. The group joined two other operational groups to form the 1st Wing--a composite organization of bombers, scouts, and pursuit planes.
Of the three original groups that formed the 1st Wing at Kelly Field, Texas, only the 1st Army Surveillance Group did not see action in World War I. However, the group's initial complement of squadrons--the 8th, 12th, 13th (formerly the 104th), and 90th Observation Squadrons--each saw action in World War I, and the 19 Maltese victory crosses that grace the border of the 3rd Wing emblem represent their aerial victories from that war. The missions flown by the observation squadrons were considered paramount in World War I. They apprised commanders of enemy ground movements and troop concentrations. During the last great offensive of the war, the observation squadrons expanded their usefulness by taking on close air support missions and firing their machine guns against German ground positions just before Allied troops.
From its humble and scattered beginnings, the group wrote important chapters of airpower history over the following 100 years. Flying the unreliable DeHavilland DH-4, the original surveillance mission did not hold much glamour or relevance by the early 1920s. The days of Pancho Villa and Mexican border guerrillas had primarily ended when the group was in place, and on 15 September 1921, the 1st Army Surveillance Group passed into history. After that, the group became the 3rd Attack Group—the numerical designation and mission that remains intact today.
The 3rd Attack Group became an essential experimental organization. Its squadrons contributed resources and personnel to noteworthy aviation firsts, such as Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle's transcontinental flight in 1922--the first to take place in under 24-hours.
In 1927, the 3rd Attack Group flew mail to Calvin Coolidge's "Summer White House" in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After a revolution in Mexico in 1929, the group began to fly its old border patrol missions again, though only briefly. By 1934, the group had started to fly mail again, taking over for commercial contractors. The group's route was from Casper, Wyoming to Chicago, Illinois, and lasted from February to May 1934.

By the mid-1930s, worldwide tensions were clearly on the rise. From Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, the group played an essential role in training the air leaders of World War II. Indeed, the tactics of dive-bombing and medium-altitude light bombing were in a revolutionary period. From 1939 to 1941, the group rapidly dispersed its alumni around the greatly expanding Air Force, including future Generals Nathan Twining, Hoyt Vandenberg, and Earl Partridge. While stationed at Barksdale, the group also participated heavily in the famous prewar Louisiana Maneuvers, a series of exercises designed to test US military capabilities in the months before the US entry into World War II.

World War II

At the start of World War II, the 3rd Attack Group flew the revolutionary A-20 attack bomber; however, that plane was not available in sufficient quantities to outfit its four squadrons. In addition to lacking equipment, when the war started, most of the group's senior leadership transferred to other assignments, leaving the group under the command of 1st Lieutenant Robert F. Strickland. After flying a few antisubmarine patrols over the Gulf of Mexico from its base near Savannah, Georgia, the group received orders to move en masse without planes or equipmentto San Francisco, California. On 19 January 1942, they left Georgia for a cross-country train ride to Fort Mason, California, awaiting transportation to an undisclosed destination. On 23 January, they boarded the U.S.S. Ancon, bound for Brisbane, Australia. They traveled overland to their final destination, Charters Towers, Australia, arriving there on 25 February 1942. They became the first U.S. air-based unit to come into that country following the U.S. entry into the war.

The 3rd Attack Group took part in the desperate early fighting against the Japanese. As was generally the case in the very early days of World War II, the 3rd Attack Group conducted very hazardous operations against a superior force despite being undermanned and very poorly equipped. Outnumbered and often unescorted, the group suffered high losses but soldiered on, always known for its esprit de corps. They began calling themselves "the Grim Reapers," a reference to the emblem of the 13th Bombardment Squadron, one of the group's original squadrons that briefly flew missions against the Japanese from a secret base in Mindanao before the Philippines fell.

In September 1942, the Army changed the group's designation to the 3rd Bombardment Group (Dive), and shortly after that, it changed it once more to the 3rd Bombardment Group (Light). The group was still short of supplies and aircraft--they only had enough equipment to outfit a single squadron--but through the employment of innovation and creative acquisition of aircraft and supplies, the group soon began wartime operations with A-20s, A-24s and B-25s. The A-24 Dauntless proved unsatisfactory; almost all of the group's complement became operational losses. After that, the group flew the A-20 and B-25 medium bombers exclusively.

By March 1943, the group was a taut, warfighting organization attacking the Japanese in the tense battle for New Guinea with as much strength as possible. In attacks on a convoy of ships entering the Bismarck Sea, 3rd Bombardment Group A-20s and B-25s decimated the enemy fleet. This Battle of the Bismarck Sea changed the complexion of the war. The Japanese retreated into a series of unsuccessful holding operations, no longer able to supply its forward bases at Lae, New Guinea. The 3 March 1943 battle was considered one of the most decisive of all time for airpower. The 90th Bombardment Squadron experimented with low-level "skip bombing" for many weeks on a rusting merchant hulk near their airfield. Also, Maj Paul "Pappy" Gunn devised an ingenious field modification of a B-25C that involved replacing the forward bombardier with four forward-firing .50 caliber machine guns, supplemented with two twin .50 caliber gun packages side-mounted on the fuselage. The rear machine gun and lower turret were discarded. This change made the B-25 into a fearsome low-level attack plane. During the Bismarck Sea operations, pilots attacked ships from just above mast height, firing the forward-firing machine guns to silence the ship's antiaircraft fire. This engagement allowed the 90th Bombardment Squadron to score the most impressive battle hits, with eleven of the twelve attacking B-25s scoring direct hits on Japanese ships. Later that afternoon, the 90th was one of the few squadrons that beat the weather to find the remnants of the convoy and claimed another eight hits on enemy ships. At least 12 Japanese ships were sunk by the end of the battle, and any pretenses they retained toward air superiority inexorably vanished.

The 3rd Bomb Group helped to reduce the Japanese bastion at Rabaul, New Britain, in 1943 and 1944. The Group spearheaded low-level assaults on surrounding enemy airfields and later led attacks against enemy shipping. In an attack on Rabaul Harbor on 2 November 1943, the 3rd Group led the striking force, eventually claiming 95,000 tons of shipping. In the process, Maj Raymond H. Wilkins--a veteran of the Group's darkest days, a former A-24 pilot and Commander of the 8th Bombardment Squadron, lost his life drawing enemy cruiser fire away from other bombers under his command. They had established a choke-point at the neck of the harbor and shot a withering variety of anti-aircraft artillery and large-caliber ammunition in an attempt to break up the attacks. Major Wilkins subsequently received a posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The 3rd Bombardment Group continued to serve with distinction throughout the remainder of the Pacific campaign, helping to permanently reduce Japanese air capacity at Wewak, New Guinea, and acquiring new A-26 Invader aircraft for the final assault on the Japanese mainland. Acquisition of the A-26 had future significance for the Group. For the better part of the next decade, the Group flew the A-26 as their primary aircraft.

Post War and Korea

After World War II, the 3rd Bombardment Group moved to Iwakuni Air Base, Japan, as part of the U.S. occupation force. The group took on new peacetime missions and its attack mission in the A-26, especially that of photographic reconnaissance in a motley assortment of aircraft from the F-2 (C-45 Expediter) to the F-9 (Photographic version of the B-17). On 18 August 1948, the new Air Force organizational configuration was in place, and the 3D Wing was activated. Wings in the new Air Force were configured very closely to the organization of the old groups, and the Air Force perpetuated the history of the 3rd Bombardment Group by bestowing its combat record and history on the newly formed 3D Bombardment Wing.

Still flying the Invader (which had been redesignated "B-26" after the active retirement of Marauders from the inventory, confounding aircraft purists ever since) from Iwakuni Air Base, the Wing was in a position to intervene on the Korean Peninsula when hostilities began in June 1950. The first aerial victory over North Korea came from Sergeant Nyle Mickly, a B-26 gunner assigned to the 3D Bombardment Wing, when he shot down a North Korean YAK-3 on 30 June 1950. As in World War II, the group built a distinguished record of service in Korea. Its gloss-black Invaders flew night interdiction missions and became specialists in the art of locomotive busting (destroying over 300 engines during the war). On one such mission, 14 September 1951, Capt John S. Walmsley of the 8th Bombardment Squadron attacked a train until he ran out of ammunition. He radioed for a follow-up strike and remained in the target area, illuminating the train with a spotlight for the subsequent strikes. His aircraft naturally came under intense fire as he illuminated the target, but he bravely persisted until he was shot down, but the target was destroyed. Like Major Wilkins, Captain Walmsley received a posthumous Medal of Honor.
In 1951, the 3D Bombardment Wing moved to Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea, where it remained for the duration of the war. The 3D Wing, one of the first air units to intervene on the side of the United Nations in 1950, was also the last air unit to drop ordnance on the North on 27 July 1953. After the cease-fire, the Wing moved back to Iwakuni, where it underwent a slight mission realignment in the mid-1950s and redesignated the 3D Bombardment Wing, Tactical. There, the Wing flew its final missions with the propeller-driven B-26s in 1956 with their new aircraft, B-57 Canberra medium bombers.


By 1964, the 3D Bombardment Wing as it had previously existed slipped away, and the Air Force gave it a new designation, the 3D Tactical Fighter Wing. Without personnel or equipment, it also moved to England AFB, Louisiana, where the Wing assumed a multi-dimensional attack mission, flying the B-57, F-100, A-1, and F-5 aircraft. As it had done at Barksdale before World War II, the Wing trained and equipped for an escalating conflict, this time the war in Southeast Asia. Detached elements of the Wing were involved in the conflict from almost the beginning, and the Wing physically moved to Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, on 25 November 1965. The headquarters and operational elements of the Wing engaged in furious combat throughout Southeast Asia, flying more than 200,000 operational sorties while often coming under attack from insurgents.
During one such attack during the infamous Tet Offensive, the airfield came under intense fire from Viet Cong forces. Unlike other air bases in South Vietnam, the ground defense of Bein Hoa was totally in the hands of the 3D Security Police Squadron and 100 Airmen on security augmentee duty, with no heavy artillery backup. The only obstacle standing between the Viet Cong and the flight line was Bunker Hill 10, a reinforced concrete bunker built by the French in the late 1940s, manned by two security police and a security augmentee. No one knows precisely how many Viet Cong attacked the base, but the outstanding efforts of the defenders, especially those of two members of the Wing, typified the actions of the base defense team. Captain Reginald V. Maisey directed the defense from Bunker Hill 10 during the most intense early stages of the attack, often exposing himself to enemy fire to communicate with the Security Command Post and direct the defenders' efforts in the bunker until he was hit and killed by the enemy. He received the Air Force Cross and Bronze Star with a "V" device for his valor in keeping the base from falling. Staff Sergeant William Piazza, the NCO in charge of four ammunition resupply teams on duty at the time of the attack, drove through enemy positions to resupply the troops defending the base. He joined the battle, engaging the enemy with his M-16 and a 40 mm grenade launcher.
Attack helicopters and gunships joined the battle and provided flares to help defenders see the attacking force.
When the helicopters ran out of flairs, SSgt Piazza threw out hand-held flares and directed fire outside the bunker. His efforts resulted in his award of the Silver Star.
At the end of the attack, the official reports disagreed on the number of enemy casualties--one said 139 attackers were killed while another said 153 with 25 prisoners--but only two Airmen died in the attack, Captain Massey and a sentry caught out in the open in the initial assault. All 3D Tactical Fighter Wing operations in Vietnam ceased on 31 October 1970, and personnel and equipment were reassigned to other units in preparation for the Wing's departure to Korea the following spring.

Clark Air Base, Philippines

On 15 March 1971, the Wing moved to Kunsan Air Base, Korea, where it assimilated the equipment and personnel from the 475th Tactical Fighter Wing. Thousands of people witnessed the Wing's rebirth as a formation of F-4Ds formed a three during a flyover. After becoming a proficient F-4 combat wing, the 3D Tactical Fighter Wing moved to Clark AB, the Republic of the Philippines, on 18 September 1974, replacing the 405th Fighter Wing, where it remained for 17 tumultuous years.
The first order of business for the Wing in the Philippines was establishing an orderly transit point for personnel and equipment returning from Vietnam as that conflict wound down. During the evacuation of Saigon, the Wing supported the "Operation Babylift" and "Operation Newlife" evacuations and received an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its tireless actions for the period from 5 April to 31 May 1975.
The 3D Tactical Fighter Wing became synonymous with Clark Air Base in the ensuing years. The Wing focused on an air superiority role during the late 1970s. Its various aircraft sported shark's mouth markings--the most colorful in the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). In 1976, the Wing hosted the PACAF Cope Thunder exercises at the Crow Valley Range and other weapons ranges in the Philippines. These were the premier tactical weapons exercises in the Pacific at that time.
Political instability in the Republic became increasingly acute in the 1980s, and governmental turmoil caused the Wing to maintain a constant vigil. In 1986, the Wing won another Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for supporting the Air Force mission during the tenuous transition of power from Ferdinand Marcos to the newly installed democratic government. After the fall of the Marcos regime, bases in the Philippines came under increased pressure from the newly elected government. Nationalists wanted an end to the American presence. Others wanted to renew the base treaties with the United States but at an extremely high price. Negotiations with the Philippine Government plodded on for many months. The tension was palpable as increased terrorist activity began to restrict the free movement of U.S. personnel. This general instability required the Wing to send only a detachment of F-4G Wild Weasel personnel, but no planes, to support Operation Desert Storm.
When Mount Pinatubo erupted on 14 June 1991, the Wing's future in the Philippines was decided by nature. Clark AB, covered with debris, was hastily evacuated and the extended American presence in the Philippines, dearly-won in 1944, summarily ended. The Wing, the longest continuously serving unit of its kind in the Air Force, needed a new home.

North to Alaska

Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska, the premier base of the Eleventh Air Force, proved to be the perfect location. Billy Mitchell considered Alaska the most strategic place globally due to its proximity to the arctic air routes that significantly speeded travel to points around the globe. From its new home, the relocated Wing could rapidly answer the call to move anywhere required. Redesignated the 3D Wing in the months before its relocation to Alaska, the new name indicated a general mission carried out by many types of aircraft. Since 19 December 1991, the 3D Wing has maintained vigil over the North Pacific.
When the Wing activated in Alaska, it included the 43D and 54th Fighter Squadrons flying F-15 C/Ds, and the 90th Fighter Squadron with F-15Es. Shortly after that, the Wing added the 517th Airlift Squadron (C-130s) and the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron (E-3s), making it a composite wing.
While the Wing continued to operate F-15s at Elmendorf in the ensuing years, the only fighter squadron that remained unchanged was the 90th Fighter Squadron. The 19th Fighter Squadron replaced the 43D Fighter, and the 12th Fighter Squadron took over for the 54th, all flying F-15 s. Then, in 2007 the 517th Airlift Squadron exchanged its C-130s, the only aircraft the squadron flew since activating in Alaska in 1964, with a fleet of C-17s, and the Wing added a new squadron, the 525th Fighter Squadron to join the 90th flying the Air Force’s fifth-generation fighter, the F-22. An era officially ended in September 2010 when the last F-15 assigned to the Wing departed.
At the end of 2011, the Wing included five operational squadrons flying C-12s, C-17s, C-130s, E-3s, and F-22s with Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Associate Squadrons.
The 302nd Fighter Squadron, assigned to the 477th Fighter Group (Air Force Reserve), flew 3D Wing F-22s, and members of that organization deployed along with their active-duty counterparts for the first time in 2010. The 249th Airlift Squadron provided people to work on and fly C-17s from the 517th Airlift Squadron, and many missions included crews with representatives from each squadron working together. In 2011 the 176th Wing (Air National Guard) moved to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from Kulis Air National Guard Base at the Anchorage International Airport. The 3D Wing activated the 537th Airlift Squadron as an active duty reverse associate unit with the 144th Airlift Squadron. They deployed to Korea and Japan in 2012, where they provided airlift support to the Headquarters Pacific Air Forces inspector General during inspections in Korea and Japan. However, the 537th Airlift Squadron was inactivated in September 2013.
The most significant single change to the Wing in more than 50 years occurred in June 2010, when the Mission Support and Medical Groups inactivated as part of the joint base initiative as directed by Congress. When Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson stood up, the 3D Wing became a tenant organization on the base, supported by the 673D Air Base Wing. This move left only the Operations and Maintenance Groups active within the Wing but kept its mission unchanged, allowing the wing commander to focus on that mission.