3939th Bomb Group (VH)

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The real history of the 39th Bomb Group begins at Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas on 12 April 1944. On that date, the Group was activated as a very heavy bombardment unit to participate in the then new B-29 Superfortress program. 

In reality this activation was a re-activation, for there had been an old B-17 training Group called the 39th. However, records of that organization are scanty and, not being a combat unit, it bears little or no relationship to the "Fighting 39th," as the Group is known by the men who were in it during the days when it was helping to bomb Japan out of the war. 

During April and the early part of May 1944, personnel was being assigned to the new Group in small numbers. A fourth Squadron, the 402nd, was deactivated and the men in that outfit were assigned to the other three Squadrons, the 60th. 61st, and 62nd. 

On 15 May, orders were received to move the organization from Salina to Dalhart, Texas, the "Pride of the Panhandle." It was from Dalhart that almost all of the ground personnel and key flying personnel were brought into the Group. 

A concentrated program of ground training was nearing completion when Colonel Potter B. Paige, the Group's permanent commander, came to Dalhart and assumed command on 15 June 1944. Four days later Lieutenant Colonel Frank P. Sturdivant was assigned to the position of Deputy Group Commander.

Things rolled along at Dalhart for many weeks, with everybody sweating out an imminent move back to Salina where flying training was to take place. Actually, it was not until well into August and September that most of the Group managed to get to Smoky Hill. 

There it was found that the 499th Bomb Group still held the field for training and that the 39th would have to wait until the 73rd Wing, of which the 499th was a part, went overseas.  In the Meantime, the 39th was attached to the 499th, and the men of the former learned what they could from their predecessors. 

In the period of waiting, the lineup of personnel crystallized into what was virtually its final and permanent form. The 60th Squadron went under the command of Colonel Woodward B. Carpenter; Colonel William J. Crumm took over the 61st, and Colonel Robert W. Strong took the reins of the 62nd. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell Weir handled the job of Group Executive and Lieutenant James H. Thompson directed things from the Operations Officer's chair. 

On the first of July, a large contingent of officers and enlisted men from the 39th went to the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics at Orlando, Florida, for thirty days' training in B-29 bombardment technique. 

At long last, in October, came the eagerly awaited departure of the 499th Group for its overseas station at Saipan. The leaving of this organization meant that Smoky Hill was now clear, and that all facilities could be devoted to the job of training the 39th for the time when it, too, would be assigned to an operational base in the Pacific. 

Flying training under the direction of Colonel Thompson picked up again, and class after class of ground school instruction began for all men of the unit. Overnight bivouacs, designed to prepare the men for field conditions, were conducted, and finally the acetate and the grease pencils showed that everyone was trained and ready to go into combat operations. 

The final phase of flying training began on 15 January when units of the air and flight echelons went to Batista Field, Cuba for flying and bombing training. With the completion of this work, the Group could consider itself ready to combat, and, indeed, on 8 January 1945, the ground echelon left Salina for the Port of Embarkation at Seattle, Washington, where it would board the S. S. Howell Lykes for an ultimate destination at North Field, Guam. 

The Howell Lykes left Seattle on 18 January and one month later arrived at Guam. Many were the tales of life aboard an Army transport as told by the men of the ground echelon - the enlivening of the long voyage by a stop at Pearl Harbor, and the enjoyment of the songs and patter of Danny O'Halloran. 

In the meantime, the flight echelon had returned from Cuba and the Group was in the last stages of preparation for the ferrying of personnel and the new flyaway B-29s to the Marianna’s base. 

Shortly after the event took place, Colonel Paige was succeeded as Group Commander by Colonel John G. Fowler, who had returned from Guam, where he was Deputy Commander of the 314th Wing. His job was to take the 39th overseas. 

Then, toward the latter part of March, the airplanes of the organization began their departure from Smoky Hill, and, after processing at Herington, Kansas, set out for the west coast and the long flight over the Pacific to Guam and whatever might lie ahead. The members of the air echelon went by train to San Francisco and thence by Air Transport to Guam. 

Training was over. The real thing was at hand. To paraphrase Colonel Thompson just a bit, "Men, this is it!"

This page was created on 28 November 2000
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