|12th Reconnaissance Squadron|
12th Reconnaissance Squadron RQ-4 Global Hawk
2 June 1917 – 31 March 1946|
29 July 1946 – 28 March 1949
25 February 1951 – 8 March 1960
3 November 1965 – 30 September 1992
8 November 2001 – present
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||Air Combat Command|
|Garrison/HQ||Beale Air Force Base, California|
|Motto(s)||Know Your Enemy|
World War I|
World War II
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Lewis H. Brereton|
Robert Merrill Lee
|12th Reconnaissance Squadron emblem|
|Reconnaissance||RQ-4 Global Hawk|
The 12th Reconnaissance Squadron (12 RS) is a United States Air Force squadron, assigned to the 69th Reconnaissance Group at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, and operates from Beale Air Force Base, California.
The squadron traces its lineage to the Air Service, United States Army 12th Aero Squadron, activated on 2 June 1917 at Kelly Field, Texas. It earned seven Campaign Streamers in World War I flying the French Salmson 2A2 aircraft as a Corps Observation squadron. The squadron again flew tactical reconnaissance missions in France and Northern Europe during World War II as part of Ninth Air Force. As a United States Air Force squadron, it flew reconnaissance missions in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism.
Aircrews of the 12th have flown over 40 different aircraft since its beginnings in 1917, fought in more than 25 major campaigns, operated from over 60 stations, and received more than 20 unit citations. Today, it continues its history of reconnaissance, now equipped with the RQ-4 Global Hawk Unmanned Reconnaissance Vehicle (UAV).
The 12th Reconnaissance Squadron plans and executes worldwide high-altitude combat surveillance and reconnaissance missions including peacetime intelligence gathering, contingency operations and conventional warfare. Operating the RQ-4B Global Hawk Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), the 12 RS provides signals intelligence and near real-time imagery intelligence to fulfill operational requirements generated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in support of the Secretary of Defense and unified commanders.
World War I
- see 12th Aero Squadron for expanded World War I history
The 12th Reconnaissance Squadron is one of the oldest United States Air Force squadrons, having been involved in every armed conflict the United States has deployed forces into combat since World War I.
The 12th Aero Squadron was established in June 1917, shortly after the United States' entry into World War I. Formed at what would become Kelly Field, Texas, the squadron trained at Wilbur Wright Field, Ohio during the summer of 1917 before deploying to France in December 1917.
After a period of training in France, the 12th became an early photo-reconnaissance unit, flying over the trenches of the Western Front. Was attached to the French IV Army Corps and American I Army Corps; squadron moved frequently from one area of the front to another, usually staying at one location nor more than a week or two, taking air photos and gathering intelligence. After the Armistice with Germany in November 1918, the squadron remained in France and later Germany as part of the IV Army Corps with the Rhineland Occupation forces. Returned to the United States in June 1919.
- see also: United States Army Border Air Patrol
Arriving at Mitchell Field, New York in June 1919, most squadron members were separated from the Air Service and returned to civilian life. A small cadre of members remained on duty, and on the 8 October, Lt Alexander Pearson in a 12th Squadron De Havilland DH-4 took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island in the first transcontinental air race, a round trip to Crissy Field, San Francisco, California, which he won with a flying time of 48 hours, 37 minutes, and 16 seconds, or an average speed of 111.3 mph.
After a brief attachment to Scott Field, Illinois, the 12th was transferred back to Kelly Field, where it immediately began preparations for service along the Mexican Border. By February 1920, the squadron (less A Flight, which was detached to Douglas Field, Arizona) was settling in at Biggs Field, near El Paso, equipped with De Havilland DH-4s. Later that month, a terse telegram described one incident of this service: Lts G. L. Usher and L. M. Wolfe, "lost direction on patrol. Made forced landing near Nacozari Sonora Mexico. Plane reported broken. Commanding General Southern Department making arrangements for officers release from Mexico." Wolfe and Usher, on a flight from Columbus Airfield New Mexico to Nogales, Arizona on 2 February 1920, lost their way due to a bad compass and poor visibility, mistakenly following a railway some 80 miles (130 km) into Mexico. In landing near the village of La Noira, 15 miles (24 km) south of Nacozari, a wing was damaged. They were detained by Mexican authorities, although they were given the freedom of Nacozari and spent most of their time at the club of an American copper company. They were finally released on 24 February. Between the 4–11 April, the 12th moved to Nogales, where it operated for nearly a year until it joined the detached flight at Douglas Field, Arizona. On 28 September the squadron, reduced in numbers, returned to Biggs Field.
In February 1921, the same Lt Pearson and the 12th were again involved in a record-setting attempt, this time a planned transcontinental flight with only two stops to be completed in less than 24 hours. The flight was to be from Pablo Beach, Florida (near Jacksonville), to Rockwell Field, San Diego, with en-route servicing at Fort Worth and Biggs Field. Lt Pearson left Douglas for Florida on 7 February, but he was forced down in the desert with a broken crankshaft. Repairs were made the next day on the scene, and he flew on Biggs Field on the 9th, departing the next day for Kelly Field, San Antonio, but he didn’t make it. For the next six days, aircraft from five Texas bases searched for him in vain. Then, on the 16th, he arrived at Sanderson Border Patrol station on horseback, having made his way across country from his crash site in Mexico.
In June, the Border Patrol operation ended, with all airfields except Biggs Field being closed and most units returning to their permanent stations. The 12th Squadron, less A Flight again, which returned to Kelly Field, which remained in El Paso as part of the 1st Cavalry Division. On 30 September 1922, the unit was re-designated as the 12th Observation Squadron and in September 1923, it participated in maneuvers with the division at Marfa, Texas. It was during this period, from 1922 to 1923, that Captain Claire Chennault, of later "Flying Tiger" fame, served with the 12th as aviation engineer officer. In June 1926, the squadron went to Charlotte, Texas, for maneuvers, and in August it moved to Bayside Beach, Texas, for gunnery and bomb practice. The 12th returned to Bayside Beach in May 1932 and April 1933 for practice in aerial gunnery.
In 1934, the 12th took part when the Army was given responsibility for flying the mail after President Franklin Roosevelt cancelled all civilian contracts because of alleged rate-fixing by the airlines. 12th pilots were assigned to the difficult and dangerous CAA Route 18, from Salt Lake City, Utah to Oakland, California, via Elko, Nevada, and Sacramento, California. The aircraft they flew were primarily Douglas Y1B-7 bombers. On 1 June 1937, the 12th Observation Squadron left Texas to operate with the 7th Cavalry Brigade, the mechanized forerunner of the First Armored Division, at Fort Knox, Kentucky. While stationed at Fort Knox, the squadron participated in field maneuvers with the mechanized cavalry near Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1938; in the First Army maneuvers at Plattsburg, New York in 1939; and in the Third Army maneuvers in Louisiana in 1940. In the summer of 1940, the squadron was the first to be attached to an armored division – the First – and on 2 December, a base detachment was formed at For. Knox to manage Goodman Field, a new and modern airfield still under construction. Captain Robert M. Lee, commanding officer of the 12th, was also detachment commander. Along with the First Armored Division, the 12th Squadron played an active role in the Carolina and Louisiana Maneuvers from July to December 1941. After those maneuvers, the 12th returned to the recently completed Godman Field, where the unit supplied a cadre to organize the Headquarters Squadron of the 73d Observation Group.
World War II
After the Pearl Harbor Attack, the squadron left Godman Field on 17 March 1942 to join the 67th Observation Group at Esler Field, Louisiana. There it received extensive training in combat aircraft under Third Air Force. In late July the squadron was ordered overseas and split into a ground echelon and an air echelon. The ground echelon left Elser Field on 12 August 1942, and sailed for England on 28 August from Fort Dix, New Jersey aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth. It arrived at Gourock, Scotland, on 6 September 1942 and proceeded to its new station at RAF Membury, Berkshire, England. Meanwhile, the air echelon had remained at Elser Field, until 21 September. On that day it left by train for Fort Dix, where it sailed aboard the Dutch Troop Ship Marnix van St. Aldegonde on 26 September, arriving at Gurock on 7 October to join the rest of the squadron at Membury.
Operations from England
In England, the squadron went through an intensive training program with the Royal Air Force. On 17 October 1942, it was assigned Spitfire PR Mk XIs, and late in January 1943, it received its first A-20 Havoc. During those months the squadron participated in several maneuvers and became a very efficient organization. On 8 July, the unit was re-designated the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter). A little later, on 13 July, a reorganization took place and the A-20s, gunners, liaison pilots, and most of the observers of the squadron were transferred to the 153rd Liaison Squadron. The 12th was then equipped with P-51C Mustangs and F-6 Reconnaissance Mustangs. Late in October, the 12th Squadron was transferred from the VIII Air Support Command to the IX Fighter Command. The unit became highly mobile and proficient at changing airfields on short notice. It would fly form eight English bases before moving to the Continent.
On 13 November, the squadron was re-designated again, to the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Although the pilots of the 12th engaged in operations against the enemy while on detached service with the Royal Air Force, it was not until 2 January 1944 that the squadron began operations as a unit when Capt James L. Rose flew its first operational mission, a weather reconnaissance over France. On 4 January, the squadron, as part of the 67th Group, was assigned to the IX Air Support Command (re-designated IX Tactical Air Command in April 1944). After its first operational mission, the 12th helped to photograph 160 miles (260 km) of French coast and two inshore strips, each 120 miles (190 km) long using the Merton Oblique camera. On 20 March, after 19 days of extremely hazardous operation, the task was completed. Eighty-three missions were flown; 18 were aborted, 14 due to weather. The maps and photographs were an important contribution to the success of Operation Overlord, the invasion of the continent of Europe. The 12th shared a Presidential Unit Citation with the 67th group for the "most extensive low altitude oblique photographic assignment ever undertaken over enemy territory." Now the 12th TRS turned to photographing targets over Belgium and France – targets from Le Havre to Luxembourg, and from Leige to Lorient. One day it was marshalling yards in Belgium, another day bridges along the Seine River, then gun emplacements on the "Rocket Coast" plus targets in the Pas-de-Calais area. In May 1944, 66 out of 75 missions were successful.
Northern France Campaign
On 6 June 1944, D-Day, and for days afterwards, the 12th performed area and route reconnaissance missions as well as artillery adjustment missions over and immediately behind the front lines. The squadron flew 250 missions during the month and operated around the clock. Reconnaissance was a major factor in allied strategy, and the 12th kept higher echelons informed of enemy convoy and troop movements, and the location of troop concentrations. Effective 13 June, the 12th was officially transferred to the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. However, about 5 July 1944, the squadron moved with the 67th to Airfield A-9 Le Molay-Littry – the first of five airfields from which it would operate in France – and began supporting the United States First Army, which was massing for a breakthrough near Saint-Lô. After the breakthrough, the 12th followed General George S. Patton’s Third Army in its drive across France and supported him for the rest of the war. 
On 1 August 1944, the squadron was assigned to the XIX Tactical Air Command. Since no French airfield was ready for the 10th Group, the 12th had to handle the reconnaissance load for the first several days, flying 26 missions in five days with a 100 percent success rate. Although bad weather hampered its operations during the rest of the year, several outstanding missions were flown. On the 11th, the squadron was the first from the 10th TRG to move onto the newly captured Rennes Airfield (A-27). During September, in addition to its regular missions, the 12th flew 170 missions in nineteen days reconnoitering the area along and beyond the Siegfried Line where German armies were building up reserves. The pilots also spotted and photographed areas the Germans were strengthening and reconnoitered marshalling yards to see if reinforcements were being sent in from other parts of Germany. During November and December, missions were flown over the Ruhr and Rhine valleys and over such cities as Frankfurt, Mannheim, Wiesbaden, Koblenz, and Ludwigshafen, many of which were heavily defended.
During the German retreat after the Battle of the Bulge, the 12th kept its planes in the air, spotting enemy vehicles, troops, and supplies. Medium bombers had knocked out so many roads and bridges that thousands of German vehicles were trying to escape, but had no way to move. On 26 January, 12th TRS pilots spotted 4,000 vehicles and called in P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers in to finish the job. The 12th Squadron was commended by Generals Carl Spaatz and Weyland for its work during the German withdrawal.
Invasion of Germany
The 12th moved to Vogelsang Airfield (Y-61) Euren, Germany on 2 March 1945. During March, 320 missions were flown in support of the Third Army’s break through of the Siegfried Line. At this point, the squadron received an order stressing the fact that the 12th was a reconnaissance squadron and that engagements with the enemy should not be encouraged. Reconnaissance areas changed rapidly in keeping pace with Patton. During the first part of April, targets included Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Wurzburg, and Kassel. Later they were farther east – Gotha, Erfurt, Leipzig, and Chemnitz. Then the 12th moved south to Munich, Regensburg, and Nurnberg, and it finished the month by making long flights (with wing tanks) into Austria and Czechoslovakia, reconnoitering Prague, Pilsen, Linz, and Vienna. Although hostilities in general ceased in Europe on 7 May 1945, the 12th Squadron continued to fly photographic missions in support of Allied forces in Czechoslovakia, where the fighting did not stop until 10 May.
The 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron made a very impressive record during World War II. The unit’s historian reported that 2,732 missions were flown, 26 enemy planes destroyed, three probably destroyed, and ten damaged. The 12th Squadron lost nine planes. After the war, the 12th became part of the occupation air force in Europe. It remained at Furth Airfield, Germany, assigned to the 10th Reconnaissance Group of the XII Tactical Air Command. The squadron demobilized during late 1945 and early 1946, being reduced to an administrative unit. On 12 Funerary 1946 it was reassigned administratively to Bolling Field, Washington DC where it was inactivated on 31 March 1946.
United States Air Force
The squadron was re-activated at March Field, California on 31 August 1946 as the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, Photo (Jet Propelled). It was assigned to the 363d Reconnaissance Group, Ninth Air Force. However, because the rest of the group was stationed at Brooks Field, Texas, and later at Langley Field, Virginia, it was attached to Twelfth Air Force. The squadron, receiving FP-80 Shooting Star aircraft, claimed to be the first unit in the Air Force to use jet-photo equipment. Extensive aerial photography was performed by the 12th, including maps and layouts for the United States Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of Engineers, and many other agencies. On 24 July 1947, the 12th was reassigned once again to the 67th Reconnaissance Group, and in the months that followed, the 12th participated in many exercises and maneuvers. The squadron filled many requests for aerial photographs. Many layouts of dams and waterways were made for the Army Corps of Engineers, Army Mapping Service, and the Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service
On 5 February 1951, the unit was re-designated the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Night Photo. On 25 February, eight months after the Korean War started, it was activated at Komaki Air Base, Japan, and assigned to the 67th TRG once more. The 67th TRG was part of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, which had been formed in a reorganization of reconnaissance assets in Fifth Air Force. Personnel and equipment (RB-26s) came from the inactivated Ohio Air National Guard 162d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron which returned to the United States. On 15 March 1951, the unit moved to Taegu Air Base (K-2), South Korea, where the operations section had been located since the first part of the month. The primary mission of the squadron during the Korean conflict was to provide the night reconnaissance capability for the wing, both photographic and visual. During hours of darkness, the 12th Squadron was tasked to collect information on enemy activities, to make visual searches and perform route reconnaissance, to perform targeting, and bomb damage assessments, to determine the accuracy of SHORAN coordinates. In emergencies, the 12th was expected to assist the two day visual and photo recon squadrons.
In March 1951, the squadron’s first month in South Korea, the 12th flew a total of 256 effective sorties. One of its early tasks was to provide photographs of all enemy airfields in North Korea. It also flew sorties in conjunction with the preparation and execution of a parachute drop on 23 March. On 21 August, the squadron moved to Kimpo Air Base (K-14) at Seoul and remained there for the remainder of the war. The equipment compliment of the 12th Squadron necessarily influenced its performance of mission. The squadron was authorized 27 RB-26 Invaders for night reconnaissance missions, but it seldom possessed so many planes and several of the authorized aircraft were EB-26s modified for electronic reconnaissance. In the summer of 1953, the RB-26s covered the three main supply routes of the enemy each night: one route on each coast and one in the center of the peninsula. Special night photo missions were also flown against pre-briefed targets at which some particular enemy activity, was suspected on occasions the night photo planes photographed targets that for some reason could not be covered during daylight.
During the period 1 January to 30 June 1953, the unit’s pilots flew 1,117 missions and sighted 88,795 enemy vehicles. In July, the last months of the Korean conflict, the 12th flew 334 missions, including several daylight runs. Aerial reconnaissance seems to have been of even greater importance in the Korean fighting than in any previous war. According to a survey made shortly after hostilities ceased, air reconnaissance accounted for a considerable part of all intelligence used by ground units and for a high percentage used by the United Nations air forces.
Service in Japan
Following the end of the Korean War, the 12th TRS continued to operate from Kimpo until 8 November 1954, when it moved to Itami Air Base, Japan. The 12th maintained at least one RB-26 and crew on temporary duty at Kimpo until 28 July 1956 to provide the U.S. Army and the Republic of Korea Army with photo reconnaissance of South Korea and the demilitarized zone.
On 14 August 1956, the squadron moved from Itami to Yokota Air Base, which could accommodate the twin jet RB-66 Destroyers with which the 12th was soon to be equipped. On 22 December the first of the 12th's new planes arrived. In April 1958, two of the 12th's aircraft deployed to Bangkok, Thailand, to fly reconnaissance missions for a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) exercise, and in the following June its RB-66s took part in a joint Navy-Air Force exercise, providing navigational aid and escort for F-100Ds attacking the naval task force.
During January 1960, crews of the 12th ferried their planes to the United States, refueling from tankers over Wake Island and Hawaii. Not long after, on 8 March, the squadron was inactivated at Yokota.
On 3 November 1965, the outfit was re- designated the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Photographic) and assigned to Tactical Air Command. It was reactivated at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, on 1 July 1966, and organized there about 8 July, assigned again (temporarily) to the 67th TRW. At this time the unit was equipped with McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II reconnaissance aircraft. On 2 September of that year, the unit deployed to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, where it became a part of the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing on 9 September.
In the first four full months of operation in Southeast Asia, crews of the 12th TRS flew 2,014 combat sorties against pinpoint, strip, and area cover targets in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos. Approximately two-thirds of these were flown at night. Continuous information on enemy supply movements, troop concentrations, and fortifications was obtained from aerial photography taken by the 12th. In addition, photography taken by the unit was used in bomb damage assessment, base defense planning, and enemy air defense site detection. The 12th flew more than 26,000 combat sorties and 53,000 hours over a 5-year period. This was more than in both World Wars and Korea combined.
The 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron moved to Bergstrom AFB, Texas, on 20 August 1971, where it became – once again – a component of the 67th TRW. The unit made annual Salty Bee exercise deployments to USAFE bases in Europe, participated in exercises throughout North America, and was actively involved in the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO). Modifications to the RF-4C added the capability to designated targets for laser guided munitions. Crews and aircraft from the 12th deployed to the Middle East to take part in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. On 28 August 1992 with the retirement of the RF-4C Phantom, the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was inactivated at Bergstrom AFB, Texas.
Reactivated at Beale AFB, California in 2001 operating unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial reconnaissance aircraft as part of the Global War on Terror. In March 2013, the squadron was reassigned to the reactivated 69th Reconnaissance Group as part of the consolidation of the USAF Global Hawk mission. The 12th Reconnaissance Squadron still operates from Beale Air Force Base in California.
- Organized as 12th Aero Squadron on 2 June 1917
- Re-designated: 12th Aero Squadron (Corps Observation), 3 May 1918
- Re-designated: 12th Aero Squadron, 17 June 1919
- Re-designated: 12th Squadron (Observation) on 14 March 1921
- Re-designated: 12th Observation Squadron on 25 January 1923
- Re-designated: 12th Observation Squadron (Medium) on 13 January 1942
- Re-designated: 12th Observation Squadron on 4 July 1942
- Re-designated: 12th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter) on 31 May 1943
- Re-designated: 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron on 13 November 1943
- Inactivated on 31 March 1946
- Re-designated 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, Photographic (Jet Propelled) on 9 July 1946
- Activated on 29 July 1946
- Re-designated 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Photographic-Jet on 14 June 1948
- Inactivated on 28 March 1949
- Re-designated 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Night Photographic on 5 February 1951
- Activated on 25 February 1951
- Re-designated 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Night Photographic-Jet on 23 February 1959
- Discontinued on 8 March 1960
- Re-designated 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Photographic-Jet, and activated on 3 November 1965
- Organized on 1 July 1966
- Re-designated: 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron on 1 October 1966
- Re-designated: 12th Reconnaissance Squadron on 1 November 1991
- Inactivated on 30 September 1992
- Activated on 8 November 2001
- World War I
- Inter-War Period
- World War II
- United States Air Force
Awards and Decorations
- 12th Reconnaissance Squadron Beale AFB factsheet
- Brief History of the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, 1917–1992. Edited by Wayne Pittman, Colonel, USAF, Retired.
- Grand Forks stands up new group
- AFHRA 12th Reconnaissance Squadron Lineage and History sheet
- Official factsheet
- Short history and patches
- 12th TRS Korean War page
- July 14, 2008 – 90th anniversary commemoration of 1st Aero Squadron and 12th Aero Squadron in France during World War I
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