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United States Air Forces Southern Command
United States Air Forces Southern Command.png
USAF Southern Command emblem
Active 1940–1976
Country  United States
Branch Flag of the United States Air Force.png  United States Air Force
Type Major Command
Garrison/HQ Howard Air Force Base, Panama
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
  • World War II
American Campaign (1941–1945)
Hubert R. Harmon

The United States Air Forces Southern Command is an inactive Major Command of the United States Air Force. It was headquartered at Albrook Air Force Base, Canal Zone, being inactivated on 1 January 1976.

Formerly designated as Sixth Air Force, the command's mission was the defense of the Panama Canal and for USAF relations, including foreign military sales (FMS) and disaster relief assistance, with the Latin American nations. The command supported disaster relief to countries such as Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Colombia. It also assisted nations in Central and South America in purchases of United States military aircraft and trained their technicians in logistics and maintenance for the aircraft.


Pre-World War II activities

Sixth Air Force (1942–1946) Emblem

Caribbean Air Command (1946–1963) Emblem

The first United States air units arrived in the Canal Zone in February 1917, with the 7th Aero Squadron being organized on 29 March at Ancon. It was equipped with Curtiss JN-4 "Jennys" and Curtiss R-3 and R-4 floatplanes.

The squadron initially came under the control of Headquarters, U.S. Troops, Panama Canal Zone, and beginning on 1 July 1917, Army aviation units were assigned directly to the Panama Canal Department, which was the senior United States Army headquarters in the Canal Zone. During World War I, the 7th Aero was assigned to patrol for German U-Boats offshore of the Canal Zone under direction of Coast Defenses of Cristobal, from 1 June – 15 November 1918.

The 7th Aero Squadron was assigned to several fields during 1917 and 1918, those being Corozal (16 April); Empire (May); Fort Sherman (29 August); Cristobal (March 1918) before finding a permanent home at Coco Walk, which became France Field in May 1918.

A second permanent army airfield, Albrook Field, opened in 1932 due to France Field becoming too small for the numbers of aircraft being assigned to the Canal Zone, as well as having a poor landing surface; offering no room for expansion, and providing little defense for the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. A third airfield, Howard Field was built on the Canal Bruja Point Military Reservation, opening on 1 December 1939. By 1940, a rapid increase in the number of flying squadrons in both the Canal Zone as well as in Panama as a result of the pre–World War II mobilization of the Air Corps warranted a new organization, and the Panama Canal Air Force was created as a major command. After several organizational changes and the establishment of the United States Army Air Forces in 1942, Sixth Air Force became the controlling Air Force command authority for USAAF activities in the Caribbean, as well as in Central and South America. Through all these redesignations it was part of the Caribbean Defense Command, (10 February 1941 – 1 November 1947), which was the senior United States Army headquarters in the Canal Zone. The Caribbean Interceptor Command, was the Air Force component (10 February 1941 – 17 October 1941) of the CIC until being inactivated and replaced by VI Interceptor Command.

World War II

32d Pursuit Squadron P-36 Hawks at Ponce Field, Puerto Rico, 1941

An A-7D of the 355 TFS/354 TFW takes off from Howard AFB in the Panama Canal Zone during a 1977 deployment.

In early 1942 the German Navy, (Kriegsmarine), began anti-shipping operations using U-Boats in the Caribbean. The subs sank several tankers in the harbor at Sint Nicholaas, Aruba and even shelled an oil refinery on the island. It's important to note that the refineries at the island of Aruba and Curaçao possessed oil from wells in Venezuela and counted for one-third of the Allies supply of gasoline.

The first wartime mission of the newly created Sixth Air Force was to perform antisubmarine operations in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico areas and to cover Allied shipping convoys in the area. The Sixth Air Force expanded throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, stationing units from Cuba in the north to British Guiana and Surinam on the northern coast of South America to protect the Venezuelan oilfields. Air bases were established along the western coast of South America, in Peru, Ecuador as well as in the Galápagos Islands, Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica.[1] In order to protect the vital Air Transport Command South Atlantic Air Route to Europe and North Africa, Sixth Air Force combat units were stationed in Brazil to patrol the South Atlantic air routes.[citation needed]

Sixth Air Force had the responsibility for tracking down submarine wolfpacks, which consisted of groups of three of more subs attacking Allied shipping using a strategy now known as "Search and Destroy". As most shipping in the Caribbean was not in defensive convoys, aerial surveillance of the area was crucial to their safety. However, in the fall of 1942 the German Navy changed tactics and reduced their submarine activity in the Caribbean region to concentrate its activity on the North Atlantic convoy route and the approaches to northwest Africa. With the withdrawal of submarines from the Caribbean region the Sixth Air Force concentrated its efforts as a striking force on its primary function of guarding against possible attacks on the Panama Canal.

Post-war mission

With the end of the war, most of the wartime Caribbean air bases used for antisubmarine patrols were returned to civil authorities in late 1945 or early 1946. The Lend-Lease air bases from Great Britain, which were on 99-year leases were reduced to skeleton units and used largely as MATS weather stations. They were all closed for budgetary reasons in 1949.

The postwar Sixth Air Force, redesignated Caribbean Air Command as part of the 1946 USAAF reorganization, and its successor units returned to its prewar mission, the defense of the Panama Canal; support for friendly Latin American air forces, and to provide support to Latin American nations engaged in anti-communist activities during the Cold War. Howard Air Force Base became a focus for military air support, with many surplus USAF aircraft being transferred to Latin American air forces there, as well as the establishment of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, which provided technical training and education for airmen and officers from approximately 14 Latin American countries.

In the post Vietnam War drawdown of the USAF, the United States Air Forces Southern Command was inactivated in 1976 for budgetary reasons. Most of its functions and resources passed to the Tactical Air Command, which established the USAF Southern Air Division (later 830th Air Division; Air Forces Panama) as the USAF component of the United States Armed Forces in the Panama Canal Zone.


  • Established as Panama Canal Air Force on 19 October 1940
  • Activated as a Major Command on 20 November 1940
Redesignated as Caribbean Air Force on 5 August 1941
Redesignated as 6th Air Force on 18 September 1942
Redesignated as Caribbean Air Command on 31 July 1946
Redesignated as United States Air Forces Southern Command on 8 July 1963
  • Inactivated as a Major Command on 1 January 1976

Units assigned

  • Commands
VI Bomber Command, 25 October 1941 – 1 November 1946
VI Interceptor Command, 17 October 1941
Redesignated as: VI Fighter Command, May 1942 – October 1943
XXVI Fighter Command, 6 March 1942 – 25 August 1946
XXXVI Fighter Command, 21 August 1942 – 30 April 1943
VI Air Force Service Command, Undetermined
Antilles Air Command, 11 July 1941 – 22 January 1949
  • Wings
6th Fighter Wing, 25 August 1946 – 28 July 1948
13th Composite Wing, 1 November 1940 – 25 October 1941
19th Composite Wing, 25 January 1933
Redesignated: 19 Wing on 14 July 1937
Redesignated: 19 Bombardment Wing on 19 October 1940 – 25 October 1941
23d Fighter, 25 April – 24 September 1949
24th Composite, 1967–1976
36th Fighter Wing, 2 July 1948 – 13 August 1948
Attached to 6th Fighter Wing, 2–28 July 1948
5700 Composite, 1948–1949; Air Base, 24 October 1954 – 8 November 1967

  • Groups
25th Bombardment Group, 1 November 1940 – 25 October 1941
32d Pursuit Group, 1 January 1941 – 18 September 1942
36 Pursuit Group (Interceptor), 3 June – 25 October 1941
37th Pursuit Group (Interceptor), 19 November 1940 – 18 September 1942
53d Fighter Group, 1 January – 6 March 1942
  • Squadrons
4th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 25 August 1946 – 1 February 1948
20th Troop Carrier Squadron, 5 May 1945 – 17 June 1948
Attached to: 314th Troop Carrier Group [later, 314th Troop Carrier Group, Heavy; 314th Troop Carrier Group, Medium], c. November 1946-16 June 1948


  • Permanent
Albrook Air Force Station, Canal Zone, 1932–1976
France Air Force Base, Canal Zone, 1917–1949
Howard Air Force Base, Canal Zone, 1939–1976
Rio Hato Army Air Base, Panama, 1931–1948
Borinquen (later Ramey) Air Force Base, Puerto Rico, 1936–1971
(Assigned to Strategic Air Command, 26 May 1949)
  • Wartime/Lend-Lease

Aguadulce Army Airfield, Panama, 1941–1945
Anton Army Airfield, Panama, 1943
Arecibo Field, Puerto Rico, 1941–1943
Atkinson Air Force Base, British Guiana
APO 602, Antilles Air Command, 1941–1948
Batista Army Airfield, Cuba, 1942–1943
APO 632, Caribbean Base Command, Transferred to Air Transport Command, June 1943
Beane Air Force Base, Saint Lucia, 1941–1949
Belém Army Airfield, Brazil, 1941–1945
Benedict Army Airfield, Saint Croix, 1941–1942
Calzada Larga Army Airfield, Panama, 1942–1944
Camaguey Air Base, Cuba, 1942–1944
Carlsen Air Force Base, Trinidad, 1941–1949
Chame Army Airfield, Panama, 1942–1945
Coolidge Air Force Base, Antigua, 1941–1949
Saint Thomas Airport, Saint Thomas, 1942–1943
Dakota Army Airfield, Aruba, 1942–1944
APO 811, Antilles Air Command
David Army Airfield, Panama, 1941–1945
Edinburgh Field, Trinidad, 1942-1949
APO 687, Antilles Air Command

Guatemala City Air Base, Guatemala, 1941–1949
Hato Army Airfield, Curaçao, 1942-1945
APO 812, Antilles Air Command
La Chorrera Army Airfield, Panama, 1941–1944
Losey Army Airfield, Puerto Rico, 1941–1944
Madden Army Airfield, Panama, 1944
Patilla Point Army Airfield, Panama, 1944
Piarco Airport, Trinidad, 1941–1943
Pocri Army Airfield, Panama, 1944
Salinas Army Airfield, Ecuador, 1942–1943
APO 661. Sixth AF, Also used by United States Navy
Seymour Island Army Airfield, Galápagos Islands, 1942–1945
APO 662. Sixth AF, Closed 26 April 1945
Talara Army Airfield, Peru, 1942–1943
APO 817, Sixth AF (Limited use until 1947 by AAFCS)
Vernam Air Force Base, Jamaica, 1941–1949
Waller Air Force Base, Trinidad, 1941–1949
APO 695/803 Antilles Air Command
Zandery Army Airfield, Surinam, 1941–1946


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

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