24th Fighter SquadronThe 24th Fighter Squadron is an active United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the 6th Fighter Wing, based at France Field, Canal Zone. It was inactivated on 15 October 1946. Constituted Oct 2019
HistoryThe 24th Fighter Squadron was originally formed on 1 May 1917 as Company F, Provisional Aviation School Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas. It then became the 19th Provisional Aviation School Squadron on 14 June 1917 and the 24th Aero Squadron (Observation) 23 July 1917. On 11 November 1917, the original squadron was divided, with half of the squadron being re-formed into the 185th Aero Squadron.
World War I: see: 24th Aero Squadron for expanded history of the unit during World War I
The unit actually deployed to England after the U.S. entry into World War I on 9 January 1918, and from there moved on to France after a training period in England, on 18 July 1918, positioned first at St. Maxient and later at Ourches (Meuse)
During its World War I campaign, the 24th Aero was assigned to the First Army Observation Group. Its first combat mission came on 12 September 1918, and 13 more missions were flown during the preceding 10 days. The unit's first confirmed combat victory came on 15 September 1918 when 2LT Roe E. Weils (Pilot) and 2LT Albert W. Swmebroad (Observer) shot down a German aircraft. The unit also lost three aircraft during the same period, and of the crews from these aircraft, two men became POW's.
The unit went on to fly 155 missions from Gondreville and Viocourt Airfields from 22 September 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and claimed 11 confirmed aerial victories. Of these missions, 22 were termed "special combat missions" in which they were sent out by Army Headquarters to obtain aerial reconnaissance information most urgently needed to support ground operations, all of which were conducted at "extremely low altitude." For these special duties, teams were detached from the squadron and sent to Army Headquarters at Souilly between 9 and 18 October. On one such mission, 1st Lt. Raymond P. Dillon (Pilot) and 2d Lt. John B. Lee III engaged nine enemy aircraft and claimed three of them.
After the November 1918 Armistice with Germany, the squadron was part of the Occupation of the Rhineland, returning to the United States on 1 October 1919 and being demobilized.
Panama Canal DefenseThe unit was reconstituted as the 24th Squadron (Pursuit) at Mitchel Field, New York, and assigned to the 6th Composite Group, France Field, Panama Canal Zone on 22 April 1922. Ground elements departed 30 April 1922 from the port of New York on the USAT Somme en route to the Canal Zone. Air elements concurrently departed Mitchel Field and arrived several days later at France Field, CZ. Re-designated the 24th Pursuit Squadron in 1923.
The unit remained at France Field until October 1932 when it was transferred to the newly completed Albrook Field, where it became an element of the 16th Pursuit Group. For the rest of its existence, the Squadron's mission was the defense of the Panama Canal. The Squadron was progressively redesignated, in keeping with the changes sweeping through the Army Air Corps, becoming first the 24th Pursuit Squadron in 1923; 24th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) in 1939, and finally the 24th Fighter Squadron on 15 May 1942.
The Great Depression in the United States and lack of funding to the Army Air Service and later Army Air Corps led to the fortunes of the unit being at a rather low ebb by 1 January 1939, at which time the squadron consisted of six flying officers and 93 other ranks, the Squadron was equipped with the Boeing P-26A Peashooter. With the breakout of World War II in Europe during September 1939, the Squadron was one of the first to be brought up to strength when, on 7 September 1939, 25 new Second Lieutenants arrived from Barksdale, Selfridge and Langley Fields in the United States. Between the date of their arrival and the Pearl Harbor Attack on 7 December 1941, 13 of these young officers were reassigned to other Pursuit squadrons in the Canal Zone, and this marked the beginning of a policy whereby most of the Squadrons of the 16th and 32d Pursuit Groups grew, almost literally, out of the 24th Pursuit Squadron.
In October 1939, the Squadron received word that it was to re-equip with the new Curtiss P-36A Hawks. By the end of 1939, the Squadron was "up to strength," with 12 P-36A's (the Squadron color was yellow at the time), one Captain (the Squadron Commander), 11 Second Lieutenants and 142 enlisted ranks. The year 1940 passed in an endless series of training maneuvers, and personnel replacements and reassignments. Due to training accidents, as of 31 December 1940, the unit had but eight of its P-36A's left, and officer strength had dwindled to one Captain, one First Lieutenant and six Second Lieutenants, but enlisted strength had grown to 158. In June 1941, the Squadron received nine new Curtiss P-40C Warhawks and, with these, a number of long-range navigational flights were undertaken, one going so far as Trinidad.
World War IIAfter the Pearl Harbor Attack in December 1941, the squadron initially remained on standing alert at Albrook, but dispatched "C" flight to Salinas Airport, Ecuador, to provide aerodrome defense for that strategic point on 2 February 1942. The remainder of the Squadron moved to the La Joya #2 Aerodrome on 12 March 1942, where they remained until returning to Albrook on 30 September, having been re-designated as the 24th Fighter Squadron on 15 May. For the first four months that the unit was at La Joya #2, they had operated off the very primitive dirt runway there. This field was 25 miles north east of Albrook, just off the main Pan-American Highway to Chepo. It was, however, well situated as, just off the runway was heavy jungle growth, which offered excellent revetments and camouflage. The unit had also transitioned from its P-40C's to Bell P-39D Airacobras starting 2 May 1942, when it acquired 10 of these aircraft From the 53d Fighter Group. The field at La Joya became flooded (due to the rainy season) in September 1942, forcing the return of the unit, somewhat ahead of schedule, to Albrook, where conditions were very crowded. By then, the P-39D's had been exchanged for 14 P-39K's.
On 15 October 1942, eight P-39K's were dispatched on a mission near Rio Hato to graphically illustrate the effectiveness of the cannon-armed fighter as a ground-attack aircraft. The Airacobras attacked a column of derelict trucks positioned there and, when the dust settled, all but five of the 115 vehicles had been completely destroyed. In addition, between November 1942 and 11 January 1943, the Squadron also had a solitary Douglas P-70 night fighter, which it maintained and operated on behalf of the XXVI Fighter Command at Albrook. This was the rather weak Sixth Air Force response to a concern over the lack of night fighter defenses for the Panama Canal.
The respite at Albrook was short-lived, however, as it had now become the policy of Sixth Air Force to rotate its Fighter Squadrons in and out of remote bases for practical as well as for morale purposes. Thus, on 17 January 1943, (with a total of 17 aircraft on hand) the Squadron took up residence again at La Joya #2, following the arrival of the dry season, where it stayed until 28 May, when it returned once again, briefly, to Albrook. However, just prior to the return to Albrook on 24 May, 12 P-39K's flew in support of three Navy PT Boats in a simulated dive-bombing and strafing attack on two Navy Destroyers some 10 miles south east of Taborquilla Island.
The next move, however, was to Howard Field (after being yet again flooded out at La Joya), on 9 June 1943, although Flight "E" was detached to serve on Rey Island in the Bay of Panama on 15 June (Punta Coco Airfield,at southern tip la Esmeralda peninsula). Also, the Squadron, for reasons unknown, received four P-39D's which had previously been stationed at Losey Field, Puerto Rico. Fortunately, however, the Squadron flew its last P-39 missions on 25 June 1943 and, ironically, these were replaced on 27 June 1943 by two refurbished Curtiss P-40C's and on 29 June two new P-40N Warhawks. From that point through until August, the Squadron transitioned into new P-40N's, 22 of which were on hand by the end of that month. Meanwhile, the detachment at Rey Island ("E" Flight) was joined by "F" Flight, and these were amalgamated into one very large "E" Flight, still on Rey Island.
On 27 August 1943, flying their new P-40N's, "A" and "B" Flights flew a most interesting mass cross-country to Costa Rica. The next day, they flew down the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama – completely undetected – and made a successful surprise "attack" on the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. "B" Flight made three dive-bombing attacks from 10,000 feet while "A" Flight made four strafing passes. Defending interceptors, finally alerted to the proceedings, didn't show up until the attack was completely over. Effective 1 November 1943, the Squadron was officially assigned directly to the XXVI Fighter Command and, by 31 December, had totally re-equipped with P-4ON's.
The Squadron was moved again to Madden Army Airfield (near Madden Dam) on 8 March 1944 and, shortly following, again re-equipped, this time with Bell P-39Q-5's and P-39Q-20's, and Piper L-4s and North American AT-6 Texans were also assigned. A "hack" Northrop RA-17 as well as a Curtiss RP-40C and a North American AT-6D were also assigned. By March a single Vultee BT-13A Valiant had also been added, to augment the instrument training program. In July 1944, the Squadron was once again tasked to make mock attacks on Panama Canal installations and, later in the same month, conducted very intensive interceptor exercises against various VI Bomber Command elements. By the end of that month, 23 P-39Q's were on hand, of which 21 were combat ready.
On 15 August 1944, the Squadron moved again, this time to France Field and, by October, the unit had reached perhaps its highest state of combat readiness, with 23 of 24 P-39Q's airworthy, the highest percentage in XXVI Fighter Command at the time.
By January 1945, the unit had been formally redesignated as the 24th Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine) and this signaled the advent of the sleek Lockheed P-38 Lightning into Squadron service. The first P-38 known assigned was P-38J 44-23072, which also suffered a landing accident on 25 February 1945. The Squadron moved once again, although the main body was still stationed at France Field, this time to Chame Field, Panama, and by March 1945 had a mixed strength consisting of 16 P-39Qs, 11 P-38Js, and single examples of the Cessna UC-78, North American AT-6F (44-82129) and a Vultee BT-13A (42-42753). By June 1945, the P-38 Lightnings predominated, with 20 P-38s on hand and but five P-39Qs, although one of the P-38s was lost that month to an accident, the earlier P-38J's having been augmented by P-38Ls (including 43-50301 and 50318). A Beech UC-45F (44-87029) was also assigned to the Squadron to serve as a conversion trainer to twin-engined equipment, augmenting the UC-78.
With the end of the war in September 1945, the squadron reduced its activities, and many personnel were transferred back to the United States for separation. The squadron was placed in an inactive status on 1 November 1945, and formally inactivated on 15 October 1946. Its remaining aircraft were transferred to the 43d Fighter Squadron.