Air Force

June 1, 2012

99th Air Base Wing celebrates 70th anniversary

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By Jerry White
99th Air Base Wing Historian

T/Sgt. James D. Cooper, South Main Street, Nicholasville, Kentucky, a former sales clerk for Chevrolet Motor Company, is now an aerial engineer-gunner for a 15th Air Force (99th BG) Flying Fortress outfit. Shown in his top turret “office,” Sgt. Cooper can cover the upper air with his twin .50 cal. Machine guns.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.—Today, June 1, celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the 99th Air Base Wing.  Following is an encapsulation of the Wing’s long and prestigious history:

“The 99th Bombardment Group, the World War II unit that is now the 99th Air Base Wing, was formally activated on June 1, 1942.

The wing had been created on paper on Jan. 28, 1942, but was not called to service until men and planes were available. Both were in short supply as the shift from slow pre-Pearl Harbor military expansion gave way to full wartime mobilization.

When officially activated on June 1, 1942, the 99 BG was more of an idea on a piece of paper than a unit. It was transferred four times in “paper moves” before the wing’s first airman was even assigned.

First Lt. Daniel M. Jones, 835 Freeman Street, Santa Ana, California, stepped from his job as motorcycle officer with the Santa Ana police force, to bombardier for a 15th Air Force (99th BG) flying fortress. The photo shows Lt. Jones at the bombsight in the nose of a B-17.

On September 25, the wing finally got its first personnel, transferred from another unit. Col Faye R. Upthegrove took command; he would train the 99 BG and lead it into combat.

By mid-October, trained crews began arriving along with a trickle of aircraft, with the wing initially getting just one B-17 per squadron. A series of five more moves within the U.S. followed as the unit slowly accumulated planes and personnel in preparation for a move to North Africa, which finally began January, 1943.

Even as the aircrews departed across the Carribean, crossing the Atlantic and then flying up the West African coast and to the wing’s first combat base in the North African desert, the wing’s ground crews were moved on to yet more training sites.

The flying squadrons initially set up operations in Algeria with the 97th and 301st Bomb Groups, already in combat, to “learn the ropes” while waiting for their own airfield at Navarin, Algeria to be completed. They moved there on March 25, followed almost immediately by their first combat mission on March 31, targeting an airfield on the island of Sardinia.

Until the ground crews showed up, the aircrew and “borrowed” troops from other units serviced the B-17s as best they could. Various delays in moving the ground personnel, including a ship with bad engines, meant they did not arrive until the end of May. By then, the wing had already flown 21 combat missions across the Mediterranean, over Sicily, Sardinia and mainland Italy.

99 BG crews flew 113 combat missions from Navarin, including a mission to Gerbini Airfield on Sicily, where the group earned its first Distinguished Unit Citation. They were credited with destroying 70 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground, paving the way for the successful landings in Sicily.

Walking the prop of a 15th Air Force (99th BG) Flying Fortress before a mission are (left to right) Sgt. Walter A. Griffith, Science Hill, Kentucky, and Cpl. Harry Ebersole, 119 Caroyl Avenue, Yonkers, New York, a former sheet metal worker. Both of these ground crewmen have been overseas 19 months. Griffith, after graduating from Danville, Kentucky High School seven years ago, joined the army, has been in ever since.

After an August 1, 1943 mission over Naples, the 99 BG moved to Oudna Field, Tunisia, where they continued to fly combat missions against targets in Italy, France and Germany. A final move to the Tortorello Aerodrome in the Foggia complex of airfields on the west side of Italy’s lower boot followed. Here, early missions supported ongoing combat operations in Italy, but shifted to include targets in Yugoslavia, Rumania, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany.

The 99 BG earned a second Distinguished Unit Citation for their mission against the Weiner-Neustadt Aircraft Factory on April 25, 1944, flying 36 fully loaded B-17 bombers as the lead unit for the 5th Bomb Wing (Heavy). Despite heavy opposition, and with 31 of 36 bombers damaged, they struck the target and inflicted significant damage while bringing all group aircraft back to home base.

In June 1944, they flew the first shuttle missions into Russia just prior to D-Day, followed by missions to the south of France in July in support of the Allied invasion.

Combat, weather and accidents took their toll. Over the course of their 25 months, 395 missions and 10,885 sorties in combat, the wing lost at least 65 planes in combat with many others damaged in accidents, out of the at least 181 B-17F and B-17G aircraft they flew.

The wing’s last mission was flown on April 26, 1945. After the official end to the war, personnel were sent back to the US, with many given orders to B-29 units that had been formed for the invasion of Japan. Most were instead discharged. The original 99 BG was finally inactivated in Italy on November 8, 1945.”

Congratulations to the 99th Air Base Wing and all personnel assigned to today’s Wing.

Amongst members of 99th Bomb Group air and ground crew personnel are actor and AAF pilot Jimmy Stewart (third from left), Lt. Col. Bernie Barr, 99th BG Operations Officer (fifth from left), and Col. Ford J. Lauer, 99th BG commanding officer (fifth from right).

99th Bomb Group air crew members receive a mission briefing.

PX and supply building at the 99th Bomb Group’s base in Tortorella, Italy.

After Rain at Tortorella, Italy.

Ceremony at 99th Bomb Group headquarters

A bomb train delivers ordinance as 347th Bomb Squadron B-17 bombers are visible in the background.

99th Bomb Group medical staff in front of the base hospital.

Dinner is served at the officer’s mess.

347th Bomb Squadron in formation.




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One Comment


  1. Ford J Lauer III

    Nice information page on history of the 99th. I am the grandson of one of the 99th’s former commanders, Col. Ford J Lauer. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you ever need additional information, photos, or copies of records…………….Ford J Lauer III



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