40th Airlift Squadron Plaque
A carefully carved and hand painted plaque of the 40th Airlift Squadron.
14 inches in length.
After these two battles, the 40th established and operated air routes across Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. The pace of operations did not slacken and the squadron engaged in a wide variety of tactical airlift actions. Primarily, these included airlifting troops, reinforcements, supplies, and equipment into combat, and evacuating the wounded. It dropped paratroopers during airborne assault operations, and delivered equipment and supplies by airdrop. Other secondary missions included carrying captured Japanese troops to rear areas, providing quick transportation for commanders to and from combat areas, and conducting training with airborne troops.
Assault on Lae
The 40th’s next major battle occurred on 5 September, when Allied Forces assaulted the island of Lae. The squadron joined the rest of the 317th Troop Carrier Group in an air assault on the Nadzab plain. General Kenney, Fifth Air Force commander, later said, “I truly don’t believe that another air force in the world today could have put this over as perfectly as the Fifth Air Force did. Three hundred and two airplanes in all, taking off from eight different fields in the Moresby and Dobodura areas made a rendezvous right on the nose over Marilinan, flying through clouds, passes in the mountains, and over the top. Not a single squadron did any circling or stalling around but all slid into place like clockwork and proceeded on the final flight down the Watut Valley, turned to the right down the Markham River and went directly to the target.”
Move across New Guinea
As Allied troops pressed westward across New Guinea, the squadron moved to Ward Airdrome at Port Moresby. This move, accomplished on 6 October 1943, placed the squadron closer to combat, and eliminated many of the long flights back to Australia. The 317th Group soon became known as the “Jungle Skippers”. Heavily loaded and unarmed, the C-47s were often flown unconventionally by their hard-pressed crews. Counting on stealth and surprise to help even the odds, the pilots slipped their transports down river valleys and through mountain gaps skipping and skimming across the jungle and rain forests. Throughout the rest of 1943, and into 1944, the 40th continued its support of the Allied advance. On 21 April 1944, the squadron moved to Finschhafen, New Guinea, and again in May to Cyclops Field, Hollandia.
Invasion of the Philippines
During Operation Table Tennis, the 40th airdropped troops on the island of Noemfoor during July 1944. In November, the squadron airdropped supplies to American troops on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. In January 1945, the squadron transferred to Leyte. From there it made covert airdrops to Filipino guerrillas and commandos operating throughout the island chain. The squadron’s last major action of World War II came on 16 February with the invasion of Luzon. The 317th Group was tasked with dropping the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment troopers onto Corregidorc The only suitable drop zones were an old American parade ground and a golf course. At precisely 0830, fifty-one C-47s began wheeling over the two small drop zones in counter-rotating orbits dropping eight men per pass. With Colonel Jack Lackey, the 317th Group commander in the lead aircraft, the 39th and 40th Squadrons dropped on the former golf course while the 41st and 46th Squadrons racetracked to drop on the parade ground. While most of the aircraft were hit by intense ground fire, none were lost. For its efforts in this assault, the squadron won its second Distinguished Unit Citation. The squadron also participated in the airdrop of the 11th Airborne Division on Mindoro Island, and the airdrop of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment on Los Banos, on the Batangas Peninsula of Luzon. In February 1945, the squadron carried the “most valuable cargo ever moved in the Southwest Pacific Theater.” It brought 120 doctors and nurses to Mabalacat to care for American prisoners liberated from Japanese prisoner of war camps after three years of imprisonment. In March, the squadron moved to Clark Field, Philippines. While at Clark, the squadron dealt with raids by fanatical Japanese who penetrated the security around Clark to make hit and run attacks against the barracks and flight line. On 15 April, the squadron launched a short career as a strategic bombing squadron. Japanese troops holed up on Carabao Island, Cavite were threatening Allied shipping. Conventional bombing failed to make an impact, so the 40th’s C-47s were loaded with 55 gallon drums filled with napalm. These were rolled out of the cargo doors and were credited with killing 2700 Japanese.
Move to Okinawa
In August, the squadron moved, this time to Naha Airfield, Okinawa. On 6 August, the first nuclear weapon was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, the United States dropped another on Nagasaki. On 14 August, the Japanese agreed to surrender. On 29 August, four 40th C-47s flew from Naha to Tokyo carrying an advance party for the surrender ceremony. These were the first US aircraft to land on the Japanese homeland at the end of hostilities. However, the occasion was marred when the lead aircraft misinterpreted the direction of the wind while coming in to land. This caused the entire formation to land downwind much to the consternation of the Japanese commander who had assembled his staff at the ‘correct’ end of the runway to greet the arriving victors.
Occupation of Japan
After the surrender of the Japanese, the 40th took part in the occupation of Japan. In 1947, the squadron received new Douglas C-54 Skymasters. The squadron became the 40th Troop Carrier Squadron, Heavy in May 1948, and was assigned to Far East Air Forces.
In June 1948, the Soviet Union attempted to force its wartime Allies, now cold war enemies, France, Great Britain, and the United States from the city of Berlin. The Allied powers immediately began an airlift into the city, but it soon became apparent that they needed more aircraft. In September, the 39th and 41st Squadrons from the 317th Troop Carrier Group were transferred to Germany. In November, the 40th followed. Soon after arriving in Germany, the 40th began flying into Berlin from Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany, before transferring to RAF Celle, Germany in December. From the time the 40th began operating at Wiesbaden until shortly after the Berlin blockade was lifted the following summer, the squadron flew approximately 10,550 round trips to Berlin transporting a grand total of 100,000 tons of supplies into the besieged city. When the Berlin Airlift ended, the entire 317th Group, including the 40th Squadron, was inactivated at RAF Celle on 14 September 1949.
The squadron was reactivated on 14 July 1952 as the 40th Troop Carrier Squadron, Medium at Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany. After its reactivation, the 40th joined its reactivated sister squadrons, the 39th and 41st, under control of the 317th Troop Carrier Wing supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization while flying the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. In May 1953, the 40th transferred from Rhein-Main Air Base to Neubiberg Air Base, Germany. In October, the squadron began operations as part of the Air Logistics Service, a regularly scheduled series of airlift flights throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East which later became known as channel missions. In addition to its regular airlift schedule, the 40th airdropped 45,000 sandbags near the town of Regensburg, Germany, for emergency flood relief, transported supplies into India and Pakistan following floods, and stood alert during the 1956 Arab-Israeli War. During this crisis, the 40th staged to advanced fields with a United Nations Emergency Force.
C-130 and move to France
In October 1957, the squadron received its first Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Two months later, the squadron transferred from Neubiberg Air Base to Évreux-Fauville Air Base, France. The 40th completed its transition into the C-130 in June 1958, just in time for the new plane to gain its first taste of action.
Lebanese Civil War
When Lebanon exploded into civil war in July 1958, the 40th both airlifted personnel, equipment, and supplies of the 24th Infantry Division into Beirut, and deployed aircraft to Incirlik Combined Defense Installation, Turkey. The squadron continued to fly into Lebanon until October 1959 when the civil war ended and the troops moved out.
On 1 July 1960, Belgium granted the Congo its independence. Within a week, the country had descended into anarchy. The locals began slaughtering Europeans, and looting and burning all European built buildings, businesses and facilities. When Belgium sent in its Dragon Rouge Paratroopers, they responded with similar ferocity against the local population. The United Nations quickly moved to stop the carnage and restore order to the area. On 8 July, the 40th, as part of the 322d Air Division, went on alert for action in Operation New Tape, the Congo airlift. From July, and well into the next year, the squadron flew across most of Africa carrying troops and hundreds of tons of cargo into the Congo. From the very beginning, all 40th aircrews were involved in the airlift. The first UN aircraft to land in the Congo was a 40th C-130 carrying Lt Col Francis E. Merritt, commander of the 40th. He was tasked as the combat Airlift Support Unit commander. Most of the airport facilities had been destroyed and the one forklift which Lt Col Merritt’s crew brought with them soon broke. Despite the many problems and continuing unrest, including heavy gun battles around the airport, the ground crews under Lt Col Merritt continued to unload each arriving C-130, frequently by hand,. As the airlift developed, missions spread to include landings at dirt strips and runways throughout the region. Crews from the 40th found themselves eating C-rations cooked at tiny jungle airstrips. They carried thousands of refugees and troops from nations as far away as Algeria, South Africa, Morocco, and Somalia. The massive operation in support of the United Nations continued until the summer of 1961.
Main article: 1962 Buin Zahra earthquake
The 40th continued its humanitarian efforts in 1962, when a hit Iran. Within hours of the disaster, 40th aircraft were in the air loaded with supplies for the people of Iran. The 40th flew nearly a third of all missions flown into Iran, carrying rations, tents, blankets, a 100-bed hospital, and several helicopters.
In 1962, the 40th took part in another little publicized, but highly critical mission, airlift operations in the Sino-Indian War. On 21 November 1962, twelve C-130s departed France on a mass deployment to New Delhi, India. The deployed to support the Indian government in its defense against an invasion by Communist China. All of the aircraft arrived in New Delhi on 23 November, twenty-four hours ahead of schedule. When China invaded India, the Indian Air Force’s Russian-built transports proved incapable of carrying troops and equipment into the high altitude Himalayan airfields. The 40th’s C-130As easily handled the altitude, and quickly carried all of the Indian reinforcements and equipment into the area. During the first eleven days, the twelve crews carried over five hundred tons of supplies and over 5000 troops for a total of 203 sorties without an aborted launch. The mission was originally to last only a few months, but as usual, stretched out for over a year. The Indian government later stated that the efforts of the American C-130s prevented the Chinese from gaining any advantage after their initial invasion.
Main article: 1963 Skopje earthquake
As the Indian airlift wound down in 1963, the squadron was again called upon for humanitarian assistance, this time to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. An earthquake had devastated the town of Skopje, killing and injuring thousands of people. Three crews from the 40th flew in the initial group of C-130s carrying relief supplies into the area.
Move to Ohio
In November 1963, the 317th Troop Carrier Group began planning its move from Évreux-Fauville Air Base, France to its new home, Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio. In June 1964, the 40th returned to the United States for the first time since January 1943. During its many years away from the United States, the squadron had flown combat operations stretching from the Far East to the Middle East, and humanitarian missions throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It was now time for the squadron to relax. Or so it thought.
Invasion of the Dominican Republic
In April 1965, the Dominican Republic elected a socialist president. The United States encouraged the Dominican military to stage a coup which degenerated into a civil war between the army and supporters of the democratic system. President Lyndon Johnson used this situation as an excuse for American intervention. The initial plan called for a massive airdrop invasion of the island by over one hundred C-130s. Orders went out, and the 40th deployed all of its planes to Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where it joined the invasion force. After the formation became airborne, the president changed the invasion from an airdrop to an air land assault. The 40th diverted into Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico to allow the crews to rerig the loads, then flew into the Dominican Republic to combat offload the cargo. For the remainder of the operation, the 40th flew from both Pope and Ramey. When the fighting ended in June, the 40th returned to Lockbourne.
In 1964, the 40th began Operation Cross Switch rotations to Europe. During these rotations, the entire squadron deployed for two to four months each year from Ohio to Europe to augment the theater airlift forces. At first, the rotational base was located at Évreux-Fauville, France, but after the French left NATO in 1966, the rotation was split between RAF Mildenhall, England, and Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany. At the same time that the squadron began its regular rotation to Europe, it also began a regular rotation of crews and planes to Panama. The rotation to Panama continued into the 1980s when the Air National Guard assumed responsibility for it.
In October 1965, a C-130 Replacement Training Unit was established at Lockbourne. The 40th devoted a portion of its training to the unit.
The Sixties and Seventies
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of intense social unrest in the United States. On several occasions, the 40th carried troops into cities ravaged by riots or massive anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. The airlift of riot control troops, known as Operation Garden Plot took the 40th from Detroit to Washington, DC, to New Haven, Connecticut. As the nation began to heal in the seventies these operations slowly dwindled, then faded away. The social changes that swept through American culture in the sixties impacted the squadron in the seventies. In July 1970, Lockbourne Air Force Base received its first women. The base integrated the women into existing squadrons because it lacked a female-only squadron, which many other bases had. At first the commander were unsure of the roles of these new recruits, but soon found positions for them in squadron administration. In 1973, the All-Volunteer Force came into effect, and with higher pay, better living conditions, and improved facilities as the Air Force faced the fact that, if it did not improve the life style of its troops, they would leave.
The seventies also saw an attempt to form “hard crews,” a dismal failure; the flight system, a management nightmare; and the removal of maintenance from the squadron, then its return, then its removal again. The seventies also brought the move of all C-130s into Military Airlift Command, a reversal of the consolidation into Tactical Air Command which occurred in the sixties.
Through all of the changes, the mission of the 40th remained the same. Hurricane Camille, the worst hurricane in the history of the United States, hit the east coast in August 1969. In the first of a series of hurricane relief efforts, the 40th launched aircraft full of supplies for the stricken area. Hurricanes continued to decimate the east coast of the United States, and the 40th continued to respond. Hurricanes David and Frederick in 1979, Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 all brought out the 40th on missions of mercy. From 1969 on, the 40th flew humanitarian mission for a litany of disasters. Mud slides in Bogotá, Colombia in September 1970, an earthquake on the border between Peru and Ecuador a month later, floods in Bolivia, and a volcanic eruption in Nicaragua in 1971, floods in Virginia and Pennsylvania in July 1972, and an earthquake in Nicaragua six months later, in 1973 Operation Authentic Assistance, a massive drought and famine relief operation in Mali, an earthquake in Turkey in 1976, blizzards in New York in 1977, and again in Massachusetts in 1979 all proved the squadron’s worth as an instrument of humanitarian relief as well as war. This is only a small handful of the many humanitarian relief operations throughout the history of the 40th. To name them all would take far too much space, but this short list illustrates the immeasurable service the squadron has given representing the United States to the world.
Pope Air Force Base
In June 1971, the 40th began preparations for the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing’s move-this time to Pope Air Force Base where it replaced the 778th Tactical Airlift Squadron, which inactivated and transferred its personnel and aircraftto the 40th. The move to Pope brought some mission changes as well. The squadron lost its obligation as a Replacement Training Unit, but gained the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System (AWADS) mission. Previously, C-130 squadrons at several bases had AWADS, but it was gradually consolidated into the three squadrons at Pope. The 40th also gained a rotational commitment to Southeast Asia in addition to its regular rotations to Europe and Panama. It soon became common for crews to spend ninety days in Germany, come home for a few weeks, deploy to Panama for six weeks, come home again for a short rest, then depart for the Pacific.
The 40th crews were first based at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan, and came under the control of the 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron. In 1974, they moved to U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand. From both bases, they flew high altitude AWADS drops in South Vietnam, as well as standard airlift missions. As many as eight 40th crews could be in the region at one time taking part in combat actions including the sieges of An Lộc and Phnom Penh, and Operations Easter Bunny and Constant Guard. The squadron received no official recognition for its involvement in the Vietnam War because many of its action in the war came after the United States officially ended its participation. At the end of 1974, the 40th pulled its crews out of Southeast Asia, and turned over its responsibility for the adverse weather airdrop mission to the Thai Air Force and Bird Air-a regional civilian contract service flying C-130s.
In 1979, while the squadron was on rotation in Europe, radical Muslims overthrew the Shah of Iran. The 40th flew into Iran rescuing American citizens working in the country. The squadron flew from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey and Tehran, Iran into small dirt strips carrying in supplies and evacuating both civilian and military personnel.
Invasion of Grenada
The squadron gained its first combat experience in nearly a decade in 1983. Fighting among various factions among the island of Grenada’s communist government led to fear that American medical students on the island could be taken hostage. President Ronald Reagan responded with Operation Urgent Fury, an invasion of the island. The 40th provided two of the five crews for the initial airborne assault on Point Salines Airport. After the initial assault, the numerous Squadron crews flew follow on missions into the island carrying troops, supplies, food, and ammunition. On the return trips the crews carried out Cuban soldiers who had been working on several large military construction projects, and the American medical students who has been caught on the island by the unrest. Despite outrage on the part of Liberals Americans, the people of Grenada profusely thanked the United States from rescuing them from a government they did not want.
Invasion of Panama
Relations between the United States and Panama, a former ally of the U.S., deteriorated in the late 1980s. By 1989, the two countries were in nearing a state of undeclared war. That winter, president George H. W. Bush launched a massive invasion-Operation JUST CAUSE-to remove Noriega. On 19 December 1989, the 40th joined the other two Pope squadrons, and the 50th Tactical Airlift Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base, for a fifteen aircraft airborne assault on Rio Hato Airport, Panama. The aircraft launched for a late night assault of Army Rangers. After flying down the western Caribbean, across Panama, and out over the Pacific, the formation turned and began its run for Rio Hato. The first few aircraft flew unscathed across the drop zone, but Panamanian soldiers quickly found their range and poured a withering ground fire into the formation. After the drop, the formation flew to Howard Air Force Base, Panama where the aircraft received hasty repairs and fuel before launching back to the United States. Many of the planes managed to make it to the coast before landing at commercial airports because of severe battle damage. The squadron continued to support Just Cause into 1990. As the last of the fighting wound down in Panama, the 40th deployed to England for its 60-day rotation to RAF Mildenhall. The squadron returned to Pope in June.
Desert Shield/Desert Storm
On 2 August 1990, the 40th placed its crews on alert. Iraq had just invaded Kuwait, one of the United States’ strongest allies in the Middle East. Six days later, the squadron launched all sixteen airplanes, and every member of the squadron to the Middle East. On 9 August, the squadron landed at Masirah Air Base, Oman. Seventeen hours later the squadron launched its first mission in support of the American build up. For the first few weeks the squadron flew up to twenty-hour days carrying cargo throughout the Arabian Peninsula, living out of tents on the barren island of Masirah, known to the squadron as Moon Island. While the living conditions were miserable, and the missions long and tiring, the squadron never gave up. Everyone pulled together and achieved one great milestone after another making the C-130 the backbone of the war effort. Without it, the war could never have happened. While cargo poured into the theater by way of strategic air and sealift, it took the C-130 to distribute it to the troops. In January, the 40th took part in one of the great deceptions in military history. While the fighters and bombers distracted the Iraqis, the squadron’s C-130s carried the 82nd Airborne Division from northeast Saudi Arabia across the Iraqi front line to land the soldiers in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia. All of these mission were flown under strict radio silence, with no navigational aids. Aircraft flew along corridors, often with little or no visibility at the same altitude as other aircraft flying the return route. When the ground war began in February, the Iraqis found a division on their western flank they thought was in front of them. If not for the 40th, and the other C-130 squadrons, it could not have been done.
When the squadron arrived home in March 1991, it was to rest. The rest lasted only a few months before it was again back into action, this time to Turkey, where Operation Provide Comfort, a massive humanitarian relief effort to the Kurds in northern Iraq, was taking place. Hard on the heels of that operation came Operation Authentic Assistance, aid to the Baltic Republics of Latvia and Lithuania, Operation Provide Transition, Angolan disarmament and election, then finally, Operation Provide Promise, the United Nations’ relief operation to the former nation of Yugoslavia. The squadron flew into the former Yugoslavia from the summer of 1992 until its inactivation in July 1993. At first, the effort consisted of airland missions into Zagreb and the ravaged city of Sarajevo. After Serbian forces blocked relief convoys from entering U.N. safe areas, the squadron resorted to airdrops. The intense fighting forced the crews to reintroduce high-altitude AWADS airdrops, a procedure not used since Vietnam, and one which the Air Force had allowed to lapse because it was considered an irrelevant capability.
On 16 July 1993, the 40th was inactivated. With the United States’ victory in the Cold War, the military began to demobilize. As part of this process, the squadron and its parent organization, the 317th Airlift Wing, were inactivated. At first it appeared that the 40th would be inactive for an indeterminate time, but the Air Force’s senior leadership decided to move the squadron’s designation to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.