97th Bombardment Group (Second World War)

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The 97th Bombardment Group took part in the first Eighth Air Force heavy bomber mission of the Second World War, but soon afterwards was transfered to the Mediterranean, where it spent the rest of the war, ending up in Italy.

The 97th was formed in Florida in January 1942 with the same four squadrons that it contained for the rest of the war. The group was eqipped with the B-17 Flying Fortress, and used that aircraft until it was inactived in Italy at the end of the war.

The group underwent training in Florida and also flew some antisubmarine patrols off the US East Coast. It moved to England in May-July 1942 and joined the 1st Bombardment Wing; VIII Bomber Command, Eighth Air Force. Seven weeks of intense training followed before the group was ready for combat. On 17 August it became the first heavy bombardment group of the Eighth Air Force to become operational. As such it was the only USAAF heavy bomber unit to take part in the failed attack on Dieppe, launching a diversionary attack on a German airfield at Abbeville-Drucat (19 August).

Boeing B-17F Alabama Exterminator II
Boeing B-17F
Alabama Exterminator II

On 17 August 1942 the group took part in the Eighth Air Force's first heavy bomber operation, a short-range attack on a marshalling yard at Rouen, supported by an escort of four RAF Spitfire squadrons. The group spent the next few months attacking targets in France and the Low Countries, including docks, German naval bases, airfields and factories relatively close to the coast. The first combat loss came on 6 September during a raid on the Avions Potez factory at Meaulte. Six of the crew survived and spent the rest of the war as prisoners.

In November 1942 the group was transferred to the Mediterranean to support the Allied invasion of North Africa. It became part of the Twelfth Air Force and operated from bases in Algeria and Tunisia. On 16 November it carried out the first USAAF raid on German forces in Tunisia when six B-17s from the 340th Bombardment Squadron attacked Sidi Ahmed airfield at Bizerte. Between November 1942 and May 1943 it operated in support of the Allied armies in North Africa, attacking transport targets across North Africa, southern France, southern Italy, Sardinia and Sicily. The fighting wasn't one-sided, and German raids forced the group to move from Maison Blanche back to a less vulnerable base at Tafaraoui.

After the end of the fighting in North Africa the group took part in the bombardment of Pantelleria (June 1943), an Italian-occupied island in the same area as Malta. The bombardment shattered the morale of the island's defenders and it fell without a struggle.The group then attacked targets on Sicily and in Italy, including a period of concentrated attacks on Messina, on the main supply line from the mainland to Sicily.

In November 1943 the squadron was transfered to the Fifteenth Air Force and returned to its earlier strategic bombing role. Heavy bombers based in Italy attacked targets across southern and central Europe, reaching Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece and even Germany. The group was awared two Distinguised Unit Citations, one for an attack on Steyr, Austria on 24 February 1944 and the second for an attack on the oil facilities at Ploesti on 18 August 1944.

The group was also used to support Allied troops fighting in Italy, most notably at Anzio and Cassino and during the advance into the Po valley late in the war. The group was also used to to bombard German defences in the south of France before the Allied invasion.

On 23 June 1944 2nd Lt David R. Kingsley won a postumous Medal of Honor while flying with the 97th Bombardment Group. His aircraft was badly damaged during a raid of Ploesti. The tail gunner was injured and his parachute damaged. Kingsley gave the gunner his own parachute, and died when the B-17 crashed in flames.




1942-1945: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress


28 January 1942 Constituted as 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy)
3 February 1942 Activated
May-July 1942 To England, Eighth Air Force
17 August 1942 Combat Debut
November 1942 To Mediterranean, Twelfth Air Force
November 1943 To Fifteenth Air Force
29 October 1945 Inactivated in Italy

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Col Cornelius W Cousland: Feb 1942
Col James H Walsh: c. Jul 1942
Col Frank A Armstrong Jr: c. 2 Aug 1942
Brig Gen Joseph H Atkinson: c. 27 Sep 1942 *
Col Stanley J Donovan: 5 Jan 1943
Col Leroy A Rainey: 29 Jun 1943
Col Frank Allen: Nov 1943
Col Jacob E Smart: 7 Apr 1944
Col Frank Allen: 11 May 1944
Col Elmer J Rogers Jr: Jun 1944
Col Nils O Ohman: 22 Aug 1944
Col William K Kincaid: May 1945

* Promoted to command 5th Bombardment Wing January 1943

Main Bases

Dill Field, Fla: 3 Feb 1942
Sarasota, Fla: 29 Mar-c. 16 May 1942
Polebrook, England: c. 13 Tun-c. 9 Nov 1942
Maison Blanche, Algeria: c. 13 Nov 1942
Tafaraoui, Algeria: c. 22 Nov 1942
Biskra, Algeria: c. 25 Dec 1942
Chateaudundu-Rhumel, Algeria: c. 8 Feb 1943
Pont-du-Fahs, Tunisia: c. 1 Aug 1943
Depienne, Tunisia: c. 15 Aug 1943
Cerignola, Italy: c. 20 Dec 1943
Amendola, Italy: 16 Jan 1944
Marcianise, Italy: c. 1-29 Oct 1945

Component Units

340th Bombardment Squadron: 3 Feb 1942-29 Oct 1945
341st Bombardment Squadron: 3 Feb 1942-29 Oct 1945
342nd Bombardment Squadron: 3 Feb 1942-29 Oct 1945
414th Bombardment Squadron: 3 Feb 1942-29 Oct 1945

Assigned To

1942: 1st Bombardment Wing; VIII Bomber Command; Eighth Air Force
1943: 5th Bombardment Wing; XII Bomber Command; Twelfth Air Force
1943-1945: 5th Bombardment Wing; Fifteenth Air Force

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 September 2012), 97th Bombardment Group (Second World War) , http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/97th_Bombardment_Group.html

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