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Eighth Air Force History

During World War II, Eighth Air Force earned a reputation as a great warfighting organization. Originally, the U.S. Army Air Forces activated the Eighth at Savannah, Georgia, on 28 January 1942 with three major subordinate units: the VIII Bomber Command (BC), the VIII Fighter Command (FC), and the VIII Ground Air Services Command (GASC).

The modern day Eighth Air Force traces its lineage to the VIII BC, which came to life on 1 February 1942 at Langley Field, Virginia. About 23 February, the VIII BC moved to England, first to Daws Hill and later to High Wycombe, where it established its wartime headquarters in the Wycombe Abbey school for girls. On 22 February 1944, the Army reorganized its Air Forces in Europe by renaming Eighth Air Force as the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (now known as the United States Air Forces in Europe). That same day, the VIII BC became Eighth Air Force.

During World War II, under the leadership of such generals as Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, the VIII BC (then Eighth Air Force) formed the greatest air armada in history. By mid-1944, the unit had a total strength of more than 200,000 people, and it could send more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single mission against enemy targets in Europe. For this reason, Eighth Air Force is commonly known as the "Mighty Eighth."

From May 1942 to July 1945, the Eighth planned and precisely executed America's daylight strategic bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe, and in doing so the organization compiled an impressive war record. That record, however, carried a high price. For instance, the Eighth suffered about half of the U.S. Army Air Force's casualties (47,483 out of 115,332), including more than 26,000 dead. The Eighth's brave men earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. The Eighth's combat record also shows 566 aces (261 fighter pilots with 31 having 15 or more victories and 305 enlisted gunners), over 440,000 bomber sorties to drop 697,000 tons of bombs, and over 5,100 aircraft losses and 11,200 aerial victories. 

After the war in Europe, the Mighty Eighth moved to Okinawa in July 1945, where the unit started to train new bomber groups for combat against Japan. The Japanese, however, surrendered before the Eighth's first combat sortie in the Pacific. In June 1946, the headquarters relocated to MacDill Field, Fla., to join the new Strategic Air Command (SAC). That base assignment lasted until November 1950, when SAC transferred the Eighth to Carswell AFB (formerly Fort Worth Army Air Field), Texas.

Eighth Air Force spent its first decade in the continental U.S. building up its strategic capabilities. That buildup limited the Eighth's Korean War involvement to the deployment of its 27th Fighter Escort Wing. After Korean War, on 13 June 1955 SAC moved the unit to Westover AFB, Massachusetts, where it transitioned to the jet age. Within a few years, B-47 medium and B-52s heavy bombers replaced the Eighth's older B-29, B-50, and B-36 bombers. The Eighth's weapons inventory also changed to include KC-135 air refuelers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (the Atlas, Titan I and Titan II, and all Minuteman models.) 

In 1965, Eighth Air Force entered combat again, this time in Southeast Asia. At first, the Eighth deployed its B-52 bomber and KC-135 tanker units from the U.S. to operating bases in Guam, Okinawa and Thailand. Then in April 1970, SAC moved the Eighth to Andersen AFB, Guam, to take over the direction of all bombing and refueling operations in Southeast Asia. The intensive bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong during 11days in December 1972, known as LINEBACKER II, was but one highlight of those war years. Importantly, the Eighth's bombing effectiveness influenced the North Vietnamese to end hostilities. After the Southeast Asian war, Eighth Air Force moved on 1 January 1975 to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

The Mighty Eighth's modern history is equally impressive. Notably, the Eighth's units played a key role in the 42-day Gulf War in 1991. An Eighth Air Force unit, the 2d Bomb Wing, spearheaded the air campaign by dispatching B-52s from Barksdale to launch conventional air-launched cruise missiles against Iraqi targets. Eighth Air Force bomb wings, stationed in the Persian Gulf region, also attacked Iraq's Republican Guard forces and numerous key strategic targets, while other units provided air refueling and tactical reconnaissance throughout the conflict. As a headquarters, the Eighth had another important role in victory over Iraqi forces--operating the logistics supply and air refueling bridge between the U. S. and gulf region.

Fifteen months after Operation DESERT STORM, the Air Force reorganized. Notably, the 1 June 1992 change inactivated SAC and the Tactical Air Command (TAC), and reassigned the Mighty Eighth to the new Air Combat Command (ACC). Under ACC, the Eighth received control over active duty, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard units in the central U. S. and two overseas locations. Then in January 1994, ACC reorganized Eighth Air Force as a general purpose Numbered Air Force (NAF) with a warfighting mission to support the U.S. Joint Forces and U.S. Strategic Commands. Support to the latter command included the operation of Task Force 204 (bombers).

Since 1994, the Eighth has participated in a string of contingency operations, such as the 1996 Operation DESERT STRIKE against Iraq, the 1998 Operation DESERT FOX against Iraq, which featured the B-1B in its combat debut, and 1999 Operation ALLIED FORCE against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which involved the B-2A Spirit in its first combat. The ALLIED FORCE campaign also marked the Eighth's return to Europe and the participation of U.S. bombers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) first combat operation. Altogether, the Eighth's bombers flew 325 sorties to drop over 7 million pounds of ordnance on enemy targets in that campaign. 

In the year 2000, the Air Force decided to integrate information operations into Eighth Air Force. The integration process started on 1 February 2001, when the Air Force realigned the Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) under ACC and assigned the 67th Information Operations Wing and the 70th Intelligence Wing to the Eighth. The reorganization transformed the Eighth into the only information operations and bomber NAF in the Air Force. For the Mighty Eighth, that change heralded an interesting future, one that bring further restructuring, different aircraft systems, and a new challenging mission to the NAF.

While posturing itself for that mission change, the Eighth also supported Operation ENDURING FREEDOM against terrorists in Afghanistan, and NOBLE EAGLE for the homeland defense of America. Throughout the first six months of ENDURING FREEDOM, the Mighty Eighth's bombers were instrumental in the destruction of key targets and illusive enemy forces in Afghanistan. With each step through 2002, the Eighth continues to add more feats to its growing legacy.