|501st Combat Support Wing|
Emblem of the 501st Combat Support Wing
|Active||1944–46, 1956–58, 1982–91, 2005–|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||United States Air Forces Europe|
|Motto(s)||Family first, Mission focused|
The 501st Combat Support Wing (501 CSW) is a United States Air Forces in Europe unit based at RAF Alconbury, England. The wing traces its history to a World War II bombardment group which served in the Pacific, mostly bombing mainland Japan, in 1944–45. Successor tactical missile units carrying the 501st's heritage served in Europe during the Cold War.
Today the 501st CSW ensures three UK-based Air Base Groups are resourced, sustained, trained and equipped to exacting command standards in order to provide mission support that enables US and NATO war fighters to conduct full spectrum flying operations during expeditionary deployments, theater munitions movements, global command and control communications to forward deployed locations, support for theater intelligence operations and joint/combined training.
The 501 CSW currently oversees and supports four Air Base Groups operating a total of seven installations and operating locations in the U.K. and Norway. These are:
- 421st Air Base Squadron at RAF Menwith Hill
- 422d Air Base Group at RAF Croughton, RAF Fairford and RAF Welford
- 423d Air Base Group at RAF Alconbury, including RAF Molesworth, and Stavanger Air Base, Norway.
The 501st CSW also serves as the administrative agent for NATO in the United Kingdom. The mission of each of the installations is unique, but the goal is the same—to enable today’s war-fighter. Each mission has a direct impact on the Global War on Terrorism and military (and civilian) operations throughout the world.
The wing has almost 2,600 U.S. military and civilian employees directly assigned, including non-appropriated fund employees. There are also 117 U.K. personnel who work directly for the wing in appropriated and non-appropriated positions and more than 180 U.K. Ministry of Defense police assigned, along with a wide range of contractor support positions, This does not include personnel working for vital support agencies such as Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), Defense Commissary Agency, Department of Defense Schools and our many tenant units along with family members and retirees who reside in the United Kingdom. See the unit's public website at 
The wing's lineage and honors can be traced not just through its own history, but through the history of three earlier organizations:
- The 501st Bombardment Group (501st BG) (1944–1946)
- The 701st Tactical Missile Wing (701st TMW) (1956–1958)
- The 501st Tactical Missile Wing (501st TMW) (1982–1991)
The 501st BG was a World War II United States Army Air Forces combat organization serving primarily in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II. The 501st BG was part of Twentieth Air Force and engaged in very heavy bombardment B-29 Superfortress operations against Japan. Its aircraft were identified by a "Y" inside a diamond painted on the tail.
501st Bombardment Group
The unit was established in early 1944 at Dalhart Army Air Field, Texas, being formed as a B-29 Superfortress Very Heavy bombardment Group. The unit was formed with three reassigned bomb squadrons (21st, 41st and 485th). The 21st was formed in late 1940 and was deployed to Alaska as part of Eleventh Air Force, became part of forces engaged in combat against Japanese forces in the Aleutian Campaign, flying B-24 Liberators. In mid-1943 it participated in the first USAAF raid against Japan, attacking the Kuril Islands of northern Japan. At the end of the Aleutian campaign, the squadron was inactivated in November 1943. The other squadrons (41st and 485th) had been previously assigned to other B-29 groups training in Nebraska, but were inactivated due to aircraft and equipment shortages.
In August 1944, the newly formed group was sent to its training station at Harvard Army Airfield, Nebraska. Due to a shortage of B-29s, the group was equipped with former II Bomber Command B-17 Flying Fortresses previously used for training heavy bomber replacement personnel. The 502d eventually received Atlanta-built B-29B Superfortresses.
The B-29B was in fact unique, for it was equipped entirely with the only true variant of the B-29 ever manufactured. These aircraft were actually stripped-down versions of the normal B-29, bereft of the General Electric gun system and a variety of other components, in order to save weight and increase bomb-carrying capacity. The resultant unladen weight of 69,000 pounds was a vast improvement, lessening the strain on engines and airframe and enabling the payload to be increased from 12,000 to 18,000 pound ordnance. The only armament on these aircraft was in the tail, where two .50 caliber machine guns were installed. The elimination of the turrets and the associated General Electric computerized gun system increased the top speed of the Superfortress to 364 mph at 25,000 feet and made the B-29B suitable for fast, unescorted hit-and-run bombing raids and photographic missions.
In addition, the B-29Bs of the 501st were equipped with the new AN/APQ-7 "Eagle" radar sets which gave a much clearer presentation of ground images through a wing-shaped radar vane slung beneath the fuselage. It also gave a biplane effect in appearance. The "Eagle" was the product of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Eagle radar development group. It had been designed especially for night missions. During World War II this special antenna and equipment for precision night radar missions was so secret that no B-29s were ever shown with it, and there are no actual official photographs in existence. Missions had to be planned and prepared so that briefing material could be slanted from the radar point of view.
The 501st was deployed to Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) in April 1945, being assigned to the XXI Bomber Command 315th Bombardment Wing in the Northern Mariana Islands; being stationed at Northwest Field, Guam. Upon arrival the group's personnel were engaged in Quonset hut construction. By mid-June most personnel were able to move into the huts from the initial tents which they were assigned on arrival. As the crews arrived they commenced ground school and shakedown missions over Rota, Pajoros and Truk. Entered combat on 19 June 1945 when its B-29’s bombed Japanese fortifications in the Truk Islands. Flew its first mission against Japan on 27 June 1945, and afterward operated principally against the enemy’s petroleum industry on Honshu. Received a Distinguished Unit Citation for attacks on the Maruzen oil refinery at Shimotsu, the Utsubo oil refinery at Yokkaichi, and the petroleum center at Kawasaki.
All the Wing's missions were night attacks. This gave the crews the benefits of daylight take-offs and landings. No formation flying was employed by the Wing. The attacks were all by individual aircraft using what was called the compressibility factor. Planes were staggered on their altitudes going to the target. The last ships, in what amounted to each element of three ships, were given the altitude with the most favorable wind. Then all flew according to the cruise control practices, they would reach the target area at approximately the same time, thus giving the effect of formation flying. This type of attack was extremely successful as attested to by the damage assessment reports and the lessened physical strain
501st BG crews flew 15 combat missions before ending combat operations as a result of the Japanese Capitulation in August 1945. After V-J Day, the 501st dropped supplies to Allied prisoners, participated in show-of-force missions, and flew over Japan to evaluate bombardment damage. In September 1945, several flights were made to Chitose Airfield in Hokkaido near Sapporo with gasoline for the first nonstop flight from Japan to the United States by Generals Giles and LeMay.
The Sunset Project gradually drained the group airfleet, in which B-29s were flown back to the states for mothballing. By Christmas, the group fleet was reduced to 30 or less planes and consolidation of the Groups became an impending probability. Merging of the various groups of the 315th BW began in February 1946, with the 16th, 331st and 502nd Groups merging into the 501st. The other groups were inactivated on 15 April 1946.
On 5 May, many of the remaining veterans signed for "any conditions of travel" to get home, arriving three weeks later in Oakland, where troop trains scattered them for points of discharge close to their homes.
The 501st Bombardment Group was formally inactivated on 10 June 1946.
701st Tactical Missile Wing
The 701st Tactical Missile Wing was established on 3 August 1956 and activated on 15 September 1956 at Hahn Air Base, West Germany. The first tactical missile wing in the U.S. Air Force when activated, it replaced the 738d Guided Missile Group (Tactical) and controlled three tactical missile groups.
- 585th Tactical Missile Group (Bitburg AB)
- 586th Tactical Missile Group (Hahn AB)
- 587th Tactical Missile Group (Sembach AB)
Each of these groups were equipped with the Martin MGM-1 Matador. This was the first operational surface-to-surface cruise missile built by the United States, similar in concept to the German V-1 flying bomb.
The wing was inactivated on 18 June 1958 and replaced by 38th Tactical Missile Wing.
501st Tactical Missile Wing
The Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile in 1975 caused major concern in the NATO alliance. The longer range, greater accuracy, mobility and striking power of the new missile was perceived to alter the security of Western Europe. In 1980 it was announced that the United States would deploy the General Dynamics BGM-109G Ground Launced Cruise Missile (GLCM) to Europe to counter this threat.
The wing was redesignated as the 501st Tactical Missile Wing on 11 January 1982, it was activated on 1 July 1982, at RAF Greenham Common, Britain, to operate GLCMs. The honors and history of the inactivated 701st TMW were consolidated into the reactivated 501st. The first squadron of the 501st Tactical Missile Wing received its weapons in November 1983; they were flown onto the base by C-5 Galaxys.
A series of meetings held during August and September 1986 culminated in a summit between United States President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the CPSU Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík, Iceland, on 11 October 1986. To the immense surprise of both men's advisers, the two agreed in principle to removing INF systems from Europe and to equal global limits of 100 INF missile warheads.
The 501 TMW was inactivated on 31 May 1991 after ratification of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty resulted in decommissioning of the BGM-109G.
The USAFs first GLCM wing when it stood up, it was also the last GLCM wing to be inactivated.
501st Combat Support Wing
The unit was redesignated the 501st Combat Support Wing on 22 March 2005 and activated on 12 May 2005 at RAF Mildenhall, England
The wing's mission is to manage and support geographically separated USAF units, installations and activities in the United Kingdom not directly supporting operations at RAF Mildenhall or RAF Lakenheath.
Effective 1 May 2007, it relocated to RAF Alconbury.
501st Combat Support Wing
- Established as 501st Bombardment Group, Very Heavy, on 25 May 1944
- Activated on 1 June 1944
- Inactivated on 10 June 1946
- Redesignated 501st Tactical Missile Wing and consolidated with 701st Tactical Missile Wing, 11 January 1982
- Activated on 1 July 1982.
- Inactivated on 31 May 1991.
- Redesignated 501st Combat Support Wing on 22 March 2005
- Activated on 12 May 2005.
701st Tactical Missile Wing
- Established as 701st Tactical Missile Wing, 3 August 1956
- Activated on 15 September 1956
- Inactivated on 18 June 1958, personnel and equipment reassigned 38th Tactical Missile Wing
- 585th Tactical Missile Group: 15 September 1956 – 18 June 1958
- 586th Tactical Missile Group: 15 September 1956 – 18 June 1958
- 587th Tactical Missile Group: 15 September 1956 – 18 June 1958
- 11th Tactical Missile Squadron: 1 October 1982 – 31 May 1991 (96 missiles)
- 501st Tactical Missile Maintenance Squadron: 1 July 1982 – 31 May 1991
- 21st Bombardment Squadron: 1 June 1944 – 10 June 1946 (not operational, c. 21 May 10 June 1946)
- 41st Bombardment Squadron: 1 June 1944 – 10 June 1946 (not operational, c. 21 May 10 June 1946)
- 485th Bombardment Squadron: 1 June 1944 – 10 June 1946 (not operational, c. 21 May 10 June 1946)
- 28th Photographic Laboratory Squadron
Aircraft and missiles
Unit Decorations and Honors
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Streamer
- Air Offensive, Japan
- Eastern Mandates
- Western Pacific
- Distinguished Unit Citation Japan 6 – 13 July 1945
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award 15 September 1956 – 30 April 1958
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award 1 July 1982 – 30 June 1984
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award 1 July 1987 – 31 May 1989
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award 1 June 1989 – 31 May 1991
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award 1 January 2006 – 31 December 2007
- Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
- Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
- U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles, (2009), George Mindling, Robert Bolton ISBN 978-0-557-00029-6
- Air Force Historical Research Agency
- The Short, Happy Life of the Glick-Em
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