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5th Air Division

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Title: 5th Air Division  
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5th Air Division

5th Air Division
Active 1940–1941; 1942–1945; 1951–1958
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Role Command of deployed strategic forces
Equipment see "Aircraft / Missiles / Space Vehicles" section below
  • World War II
European Campaign (1942–1945)
5th Air Division emblem (approved 3 November 1954)[1]

The 5th Air Division (5th AD) is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with Strategic Air Command, based at Sidi Slimane Air Base, Morocco. It was inactivated on 15 July 1958.

The unit's origins begin with its predecessor, the World War II 5th Bombardment Wing (5 BW). This unit was initially part of Twelfth Air Force before being reassigned in November 1943 to the Fifteenth Air Force. The 5th BW engaged in heavy bombardment B-17 Flying Fortress operations against Germany.

During the Cold War, the 5th AD was an intermediate command echelon of Strategic Air Command, absorbed the resources and responsibilities of the USAF Mission to Morocco as part of Sixteenth Air Force in 1951.

Inactivated in end of 1957 when the USAF drew down its forces from Morocco at the request of the Moroccan government. It was replaced by the SAC 4310th Air Division which absorbed the mission and personnel of the 5th AD.


World War II

Tail Codes of the 5th Bombardment Wing, Fifteenth Air Force
B-17F of the 97th Bomb Group over the Alps
B-17G of the 301st Bomb Group, Italy 1944

The 5th Air Division (5th AD) originated on 19 October 1940 at McChord Field, Washington. Its initial mission was air defense of the northwest United States with three bombardment groups (12th, 17th and 39th) flying early B-17 Flying Fortresses (B-17C/D), as well as the B-18 Bolo and its B-23 Dragon variant.

With the United States' entry into World War II, the mission of the 5th Bomb Wing was changed to that of a strategic heavy bomber wing, in July 1942 being initially assigned to the new Eighth Air Force. However, the 5th Bomb Wing was reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force in October 1942, to support the Western Task Force being assembled for the Operation Torch landings, planned for November.

The 5th moved to North Africa in November, and its subordinate units began flying missions from French Morocco in late 1942. The 97th and 301st Bomb groups, both being transferred from Eighth Air Force, were the pioneer heavy bomb groups in North Africa.

Three weeks prior to the invasion saw a number of secret missions flown by the 97th BG. The first of these occurred on 18 October 1942 when General Mark Clark, commander of ground forces in the Western Task Force, flew to Gibraltar, along with a box containing $100,000 in gold 20 Franc coins, which were going to be paid to corrupt Vichy France officials in North Africa in order to secure their cooperation during the coming invasion. However after Clark landed in Gibraltar, the coins were lost overboard when they were on the final leg of their journey.

Also, on 5 November General Dwight Eisenhower and British General Kenneth Anderson was flown on a 97th BG B-17 were flown from Britainto Gibraltar. The following day, General James Doolittle, the newly named commander of Twelfth Air Force was flown to Gibraltar. Doolittle's B-17 was intercepted by four Ju-88s over the Bay of Biscay, forcing the pilot to dive sharply and make a run for it just above the ocean's surface. The co-pilot of the aircraft was injured by a strafing run of one of the German aircraft, and Doolittle reached for the first aid kit and attended to the wounded man. Afterward, Doolittle sat in the co-pilot's seat and helped fly the aircraft to Gibraltar.

Shortly after the invasion, the 97th and 301st moved from their bases in England to an airfield at Tafraoui, Algeria. The conditions in Algeria were sparse compared to that in England, but by 24 November the two groups attacked the docks at Bizerte, Tunisia.

As the American forces moved eastward, the 5th's units flew from Algeria beginning in January 1943, attacking coastal targets in Tunisia, and also concentrations of Rommel's Afrika Corps. The 5th BW moved to Tunisia in August. Targets included airdromes, marshalling yards, bridges, and troop concentrations. In February 1943, the 5th, in direct support of ground operations, bombed enemy troop concentrations in the Kasserine Pass. From its airfields in Tunisia, its subordinate units bombed Pantelleria, Sicily, and marshaling yards and airdromes on the Italian mainland. By October, the 5th Bomb Wing consisted of the two B-17 groups as well as two P-38 equipped fighter groups (1st, 325th FG).

On 1 November 1943, Fifteenth Air Force was established as a second American strategic air force in the European Theater. It was hoped that the 15th AF stationed in the Mediterranean would be able to operate when the Eighth Air Force in England was socked in by bad English weather. Twelfth Air Force would continue to operate, however it would be realigned as a tactical air force. The 97th and 301st were joined with three additional B-17 groups (2d, 98th 99th BG) with its reassignment to Fifteenth Air Force.

Missions were flown from Tunisia in November against a Messerschmidt assembly plant in Austria, and against some Italian targets, however the wing and its groups were in the process of moving to new airfields captured around Foggia in Italy in late September. Advanced echelons moved initially, working with engineering units to prepare the airfields and extend runways to accommodate the B-17. The 2d Bomb Group moved to Amendola airfield, while the 97th moved to the Foggia airfield, as its base at San Giovanni was still not ready. The 301st flew into Cerignola and the 99th into Tortorella.

Once settled into their new bases around Foggia the 5th began a series of raids, attacking enemy targets in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria. In June 1944, its groups began "shuttle bombing" and landing on airfields behind the Russian front. On these missions, American aircraft took off from airdromes in Italy, made a bombing attack, and landed on airdromes in the Soviet Union. Then they reversed the process. In August 1944, the 5th wing supported the invasion of Southern France.

The 5th Bomb Wing continued strategic bombing missions until the Germans surrendered in May 1945. It was inactivated in Italy on 2 November 1945.

Cold War

The 5th was reactivated and redesignated as the United States Air Force 5th Air Division on 14 January 1951, being assigned to Strategic Air Command. The USAF inherited several bases in Morocco after World War II, and the 5th Air Division absorbed the resources and responsibilities of the USAF Mission to Morocco as part of Sixteenth Air Force.

Early in the 1950s, SAC developed a series of bases, known as "Reflex bases" by which B-47 Stratojet wings would deploy overseas for extended duty as part of a dispersal program. Another reason for establishing Reflex bases was the relatively short range of the B-47, unlike the intercontinental range of the Convair B-36 Peacemaker and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress which could remain based permanently in the United States. Also, in this way SAC could spread out its potential as a Soviet target by placing its aircraft, weapons, and personnel on many more bases, with each bombardment wing having two additional installations to which it could disperse.

From its headquarters at Sidi Slimane Air Base, the 5th supported, manned, trained, and equipped assigned units and prepared installations at Ben Guerir, Boulhaut and Nouasseur in support of Reflex operations until the end of 1957 when the USAF withdrew from Morocco at the request of the Moroccan government.

The unit was inactivated on 15 January 1958, effectively being redesignated (though not in formal USAF lineage terms) the 4310th Air Division.


  • Established as the 5th Bombardment Wing on 19 October 1940
Activated on 18 December 1940
Inactivated on 5 September 1941
  • Activated on 10 July 1942
Redesignated 5th Bombardment Wing, Heavy on 1 January 1945
Inactivated on 2 November 1945
  • Redesignated 5th Air Division on 10 January 1951
Activated on 14 January 1951
Inactivated on 25 January 1952
Organized on 25 January 1952
Inactivated on 15 January 1958[1]





  • (Numerous Strategic Air Command Wings were attached to the Division while deployed from the United States to Morocco for rotating Operation Reflex deployments 1951–1958)[1]


See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f "Factsheet 5 Air Division". Air Force Historical Research Agency. Archived from the original on October 30, 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

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