The flying circus

Throughout its more than two years of combat operations in the Pacific during World War II, the 380th Bombardment Group flying the B-24 "Liberator" bomber consistently played a major role in the long offensive which left the Japanese with only the remnants of a whitered and dying empire to surrender. The original target area in which the 380th BG conducted its combat operations during World War II was the largest in any war zone at that time. It's stretched over a million square miles, from the oil refineries at Soerabaja, Java and Balikpapan, Borneo, across factories, power plants, airdromes, rubber plantations and sea channels of the Netherlands East Indies, northward to the Philippines, eastward across Japanese airfields and supply bases in New Guinea to the naval bastion of Rabaul, New Britain Island. The 380th, operating B-24s without fighter cover, flew some of the longest and most hazardous missions in any theater of operations. The 380th Bombardment Group was affectionately known as "The Flying Circus" and as "King of the Heavies".

This distinguished and colorful history of the 380th Group dates back to 1942 when the unit was constituted. The Group was activated at Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, Arizona, on November 3, 1942. Men from the 39th Bombardment Group formed the nucleus of this new organization. Comprising the 380th Bombardment Group (Heavy) were the 528th, 529th, 530th and 531st Squadrons. Shortly after its activation, the group moved to Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, where it underwent extensive combat training. After completing its training at Biggs Field, the 380th proceeded to Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado, where it went through final combat training.. On April 6, 1943, the ground and air echelons of the 380th were separated and not reunited until they reached Australia. The ground echelon sailed for Australia aboard the USS Mount Vernon. On the 24th of that same month, the air echelon departed Topeka, Kansas, for Australia, arriving at Fenton Field, Northern Territory, in early May 1943. A month later, the ground echelon arrived at Camp Warwick, Sydney, Australia. Headquarters, 380th Bombardment Group and the 528th and 530th Squadrons were based at Fenton, while the 529th and 531st Squadrons were located approximately 100 miles away at Long Strip. On June 24, after two weeks at Camp Warwick, the ground echelon joined the air echelon at Fenton and Long Strip. The 380th Group, the only B-24 unit to be attached to the Royal Australian Air Force, was assigned to the Darwin area in the Northern Territory to secure Australia's safety against threatened Japanese invasion. During June, most of the missions were armed reconnaissance flights flown in conjunction with the 90th Bombardment Group to familiarize the 380th's crews with the enemy targets in the area. In this same period, the 380th also participated in the first major air raids against docks and shipping at Makassar, a vital harbor in the Celebes Islands. In July, the 380th Group began operations on its own. On August 13, the most sensational of the early raids was carried out by the 380th Group against Balikpapan, Borneo, the "Ploesti of the Far East", where oil refining installations supplied advance enemy bases with sorely needed aircraft fuel. The Group flew successive missions covering 1,300 miles to the Balikpapan target area. On two missions, 40,000 tons of enemy shipping was sunk. For this outstanding action in Borneo on the 13th, 15th and the 17th of August, the 380th Bombardment Group was awarded its first Presidential Unit Citation.

In August 1943, the 380th Group participated in the initial attacks against the vital nickel refinery and concentrating plant at Pomelaa, Celebes. This was an important target because it supplied over 80 percent of Japan's nickel. Due to highly effective repetitive attacks, the refinery and plant were kept completely out of commission until American forces recaptured these areas. In the fall of 1943, the 380th concentrated on the supply points far behind the Japanese forward bases. Among these were such vital targets at the oil refineries and dock areas at Soerabaja, Java, shipping and harbor installations at Makassar, Celebes, and shipping in the Halmahera Island area. On reconnaissance missions to the Netherlands Territory of New Guinea around Manokwari, Sorong, and Jefman, the B-24 "Liberator" of the 380th encountered enemy twin-engine fighters for the first time. From December 13 to January 4, 1944, two squadrons, the 529th and 530th, were staged at Dobodura, in Eastern New Guinea, to furnish direct support for the landings at Cape Gloucester and Arawe on New Britain Island, and Saidor, New Guinea. The Group helped soften the invasion beaches and thereby reduce enemy resistance in this area as combat forces moved through New Guinea. From February 28 to March 8 1944, the Group was called upon to support ground offensive operations. Personnel and aircraft were staged at Nadzab, New Guinea just behind Allied forward positions. Laboring under crude conditions and inadequate supply and maintenance, the Group participated in neutralization attacks on the northeastern coast of New Guinea in direct support of Allied operations against the Admiralty Islands preparatory to the invasions of Hollandia, Biak and Wakde. During April and May, the 380th engaged in the most intensive and sustained operations since its arrival in the Southwest Pacific, neutralizing the area bases through which the Japanese could reinforce their air forces in the Wadke-Hollandia area. The Group participated in almost continual daily raids against the network of airdromes which the Japanese built up to halt the Allied advance toward the Philippines.

As a result of these raids, the enemy's striking power was so weak that he was virtually forced to abandon Hollandia when it was invaded on April 22. Due to this outstanding operational record, the 380th Bombardment Group was awarded its second Presidential Unit Citation. Following these decisive activities the 380th turned again to the neutralization of enemy bases, installations and industries in the southern and central East Indies until the end of 1944. By February 1945, when the heavy bombardment unit was no longer needed in Australia, the entire 380th Bombardment Group started moving to Mindoro island, Republic of the Philippines. This transfer was designed to give Allied forces bomber support as they attempted to liberate the northern portions of the Philippine Islands near Legaspi and Luzon. Here for the first time, the group carried out its missions under the direct operational control of the V Bomber Command. On February 21, only one squadron, the 528th, was operational in the Philippines. A month later, the three remaining squadrons arrived and the Group began striking Formosan targets. Fragmentation bombs were dropped on airdromes at Okayama and Tainan, demolition bombs were hurled against the important enemy naval base, Mako, in the Pescadores Islands, and devastating aerial blows were dealt the industrial area of Taichu. In April, the 380th Group was relieved of its tedious ground support commitments in the Philippines and its full operational weight was focused on the continued neutralization of Formosa and the first heavy bomber strikes against targets in China and French Indo-China. With the coming of June, the 380th Group was placed under the operational control of the Thirteenth Air Force for pre-invasion attacks against Labuan and Balikpapan, Borneo. After the Borneo raids, the 380th flew its last missions to Formosa. The Group also participated in its last combat mission at that time. Staging at Kadena, Okinawa, the unit was scheduled to bomb Kure Naval base, Japan. However, because of bad weather, the missions was canceled and Kiang-Wan airdrome in Shangai was bombed instead.

During October 1945, the 380th Group was transferred to the Seventh Air Force, under which it participated in the Sunset Project, the return of B-24 aircraft and their crews to the United States. In November, the 380th Group was moved to Manila and in December, the personnel of the Group were drastically reduced. At the same time, the organization was placed under the control of Headquarters, Far East Air Forces. One month later, the 380th Bombardment Group was inactivated.

Then, during May 1947, it was redesignated Headquarters, 380th Bombardment Group, Very Heavy, and activated at MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida as a reserve unit. The Group remained in a reserve status as a corollary unit of the 307th Bombardment Group at MacDill until May 1, 1951. At this time, it was ordered to active duty to support the Korean conflict. Fifteen days later, after all airmen were returned to active duty, the unit itself was inactivated with personnel being assigned to various Air Forces organizations.

Four years later, the 380th Bombardment Group was again activated on July 11, 1955. At this time, the World War II unit was redesignated the 380th Bombardment Wing (Medium) and was assigned to Plattsburgh Air Force Base, N.Y., along with three of its original four squadrons, the 528th, the 529th and the 530th. On January 31, 1984, by order of the Secretary of the Air Force, the 380th Bombardment Group was inactivated and consolidated with the 380th Bombardment Wing.

 

380th Bomb Group

The 380th Bomb Group Association's website.

 

The 380th Bomb Group Reunion.

Herky

"Herky", 528th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)

Lil Beaver

"Lil Beaver", 529th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)

Bugs Bunny

"Bugs Bunny", 530th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)

Donald Duck

"Donald Duck", 531st Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)