90TH Air Refueling Squadron KC-135R
Fly with the 90th Air Refueling Squadron in this hand crafted KC-135 model. Each piece is carefully carved from wood and hand painted to provide a model you’ll love. 18 inches.
World War II
Training and antisubmarine warfare in the United States
The squadron was first activated as the 390th Bombardment Squadron at Gowen Field, Idaho on 20 March 1942, but immediately moved to McChord Field, Washington, where it replaced the 77th Bombardment Squadron of the 42d Bombardment Group, which had deployed to Alaska following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and was attached to another group. When it joined the 42d, the group was dispersed on several bases in the Pacific Northwest to provide greater coverage for antisubmarine patrols with detachments at smaller fields. The group primarily used Lockheed A-29 Hudsons for its antisubmarine work, but also flew several other types. Most of the initial personnel of the 390th were drawn from the group’s headquarters squadron at McChord.
While antisubmarine patrols continued, the squadron trained North American B-25 Mitchell combat crews for the Alaskan Defense Command. It also tested incendiary bombs and bombing techniques at the ranges of Las Vegas Army Air Field. In February 1943 the squadron was alerted for overseas movement. Aircrews trained with B-25s at Hammer Field and McClellan Field in California before the air echelon departed for its new assignment on 6 March. The ground echelon assembled at Camp Stoneman for overseas shipment aboard the SS Catalina and the USAT Maui, departing for Noumea on 27 and 28 March.
Combat in the Pacific
Solomon and Russell Islands
The air echelon arrived at Nandi Airfield in late April 1943, where it joined its 69th and 70th Bombardment Squadrons, which were already there. After additional training, the air echelon moved to Carney Field, Guadalcanal in June and joined the ground echelon which had arrived the previous month. It launched its first attack on 25 June, when it struck the support areas of Vila Airfield, on Kolombangara.
The 390th attacked Japanese airfields, personnel areas, gun positions, and shipping. Shipping attacks relied on what were referred to as “snooper” missions, armed reconnaissance sorties, flown at night, searching for Japanese shipping to attack. On 20 July, squadron participated in a successful attack on Japanese combatant ships “Mitchells of the 69th Squadron . . . on all night shipping alert [had left a Japanese] light cruiser burning and dead in the water . . . At 0720 eight Mitchells of the 390th Squadron found the cruiser damaged in the previous night’s action creeping to friendly waters at a speed of 2 knots. Although sorely wounded, her defense was still vicious, pouring anti-aircraft fire from at least 30 stations. Feints at various quarters divided the fire and allowed individual planes to launch masthead attacks. Lieut. Schauffler ended the fray when one of his bombs exploded in the ship’s magazine. Two minutes later she slipped into the depths, carrying with her at least 75% of her crew.”
During most of this period, the 42d group could maintain only two squadrons in the Solomons at a time, and at the end of July 1943, the 70th and 75th squadrons moved forward, while the 390th and the 69th Bombardment Squadron moved to rear areas to refit. After returning to the Solomons, the squadron participated in a group attack on 6 October against the Japanese field at Kahili. Because of the critical need to avoid detection, this involved flying over 300 miles at minimum altitude over a route designed to avoid islands along the way from which the group’s Mitchells could be spotted. The successful strafing and parafrag attack shut down all enemy air forces in the area for the next two days, enabling the Navy to withdraw two crippled destroyers and rescue operations and cargo ships to offload troops and supplies at Barakoma airfield without air opposition.
On 22 October the squadron made a short move to Renard Field in the Russell Islands along with group headquarters and the 75th Bombardment Squadron. The 42d group began using the new airfield on Stirling Island as a staging point for strikes in early January and relocated there before the end of the month. However, space was not available for all the group’s squadrons on Stirling Island and the 390th continued to use Stirling as a staging base until July 1944, engaging primarily in the neutralization of enemy airfields and harbor facilities on New Britain, but it also supported ground forces on Bougainville Island and attacked shipping in the northern Solomons and the Bismarck Archipelago.
In July 1944, the squadron air echelon began moving to New Guinea and the Cyclops Airstrip and Sentani Airstrip near Hollandia. It was early September before the entire air echelon of the 42d group arrived in New Guinea, with the latecomers practicing skip bombing and participating in mock invasion exercises in the Russell Islands and Admiralty Islands. Through January 1945, it bombed airfields and installations on New Guinea, Celebes, and Halmahera, and flew reconnaissance missions. The squadron also detached Mitchells to act as navigation ships for Douglas A-20 Havocs of the 312th Bombardment Group attacking targets in southwestern New Guinea. The A-20s were not equipped with bombsights and could only make medium altitude attacks by “dropping on leader” (releasing their bombload at the same time as the lead aircraft, equipped with a bombsight, in a formation). Squadron aircraft also dropped food and supplies to isolated parties in the interior of the island. Little more than a week after the last elements of the air echelon arrived in the Hollandia area, the air echelon departed for the Mar Airstrip near Sansapor, linking up with its ground echelon, which had been there since late August, having arrived by ship from the Russell Islands. However, Mar was not ready for the unit’s planes and it operated from Middleburg Island for a few days until the pierced steel planking runway at Mar was ready.
The 390th moved to the Philippines in March 1945. By the time it had settled in at Puerto Princesa Airfield, its original flying cadre from the Solomons campaign had rotated back to the United States after flying the required number of missions. However, few of the ground crews were returned to the States, although many had expected to be relieved when rotation policies were announced, but then cancelled. From this base on Palawan the squadron attacked shipping along the China coast, struck targets in French Indochina, bombed airfields and installations in the Philippines, and supported ground operations on Mindanao. Ground support including air delivering DDT over the landing beaches to suppress disease-bearing insects. Its missions during the campaign in the Philippines earned it a Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.
The 390th was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its pre-invasion bombing of Balikpapan between 23 and 30 June 1945. Balikpapan was a center for oil refining on Borneo held by the Japanese. These attacks included bombing and strafing enemy shore installations. The round trip to the target was over 1700 miles and was among the longest flown by medium bombers during the war. Pre mission experiments determined that the squadron’s bombers could carry a bomb load over this distance with fuel tanks installed in their radio compartments despite having to take off from a runway damaged by enemy action. Four of the missions encountered severe tropical weather fronts. Despite intense and accurate flak, the squadron destroyed gun positions, warehouses, roadblocks, fuel and ammunition dumps, a radar station as well as huge stores of gasoline and oil which the enemy had placed in position to be released into shallow pits oil the beach and ignited when the Australian ground troops made their assaults. The unit attacked the beach while naval underwater demolition teams operated offshore without losing a man. The attacks were so effective that the Australian Seventh Division was able to come ashore without enemy opposition.
The squadron’s final combat action of World War II was attacking isolated Japanese units on Luzon during July and August 1945. In August it was alerted for a move to Okinawa. However, with the end of the war, the move was cancelled.
Strategic Air Command (SAC) activated the 90th Air Refueling Squadron at Castle Air Force Base, California in January 1954. The squadron received its personnel and Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers from the 340th Air Refueling Squadron, which moved without personnel and equipment to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Within months, the squadron deployed to Ernest Harmon Air Force Base, Labrador, where it provided forward based air refueling support for SAC bombers.
The squadron deployed to Sidi Slimane Air Base, Morocco for three months in April 1955. Shortly after returning, it moved on paper to Forbes Air Force Base, Kansas in August 1955, arriving as its parent, the 90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, was returning from a four month deployment to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. At Forbes, the squadron began building up again and began flying air refueling missions in February 1956. The squadron flew KC-97G Stratotankers in support of USAF operations on a worldwide basis. Starting in May 1958, the squadron also supported the Boeing RB-47 Stratojet combat crew training mission of the 90th Wing. The squadron continued periodic deployments to support Operation Reflex, which based SAC B-47 bombers in North Africa and Europe. In June 1960 the 90th wing became non-operational and the squadron was reassigned to the 40th Bombardment Wing, also located at Forbes, until it was inactivated with the phaseout of the KC-97 from SAC.
In September 1985 the 390th Bombardment Squadron and the 90th Air Refueling Squadron were consolidated into a single unit.
In June 2002 the consolidated squadron was redesignated the 90th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, converted to provisional status, and assigned to Air Mobility Command to activate or inactivate as needed. The unit was active at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey as a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker organization as part of the 385th Air Expeditionary Group. The squadron was manned by a mix of active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve airmen. It participated on Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. After 2005, the squadron mission changed from refueling fighter aircraft, focusing instead on refueling Lockheed C-5 Galaxys and McDonnell Douglas C-17 Globemaster IIIs entering and departing the area of operations. This forward refueling permits the transports to minimize the time they are on the ground, because they can load or offload their loads without spending additional time to refuel. In March 2013, the squadron departed Incirlik for another location in Southwest Asia.