During World War II the 453rd Bombardment Group was an Eighth Air Force B-24 Liberator heavy bombardment group stationed in England. Its 733d Bombardment Squadron completed 82 consecutive missions without a loss, a record. James Stewart, of film fame, was Group Operations Officer from March 31st to July 1st, 1944.
Constituted as the 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) on 14th May 1943, it was activated on 1st June 1943. Trained with B-24’s. Moved to RAF Old Buckenham in East Anglia, December 1943 – January 1944, and assigned to Eighth Air Force. The group was assigned to the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing, and the group tail code was a “Circle-J”.
The 453rd BG entered combat on 5th February 1944 with an attack against an airfield at Tours. Throughout combat, the unit served chiefly as a strategic bombardment organization. Targets included a fuel depot at Dulmen, marshalling yards at Paderborn, aircraft assembly plants at Gotha, railway centres at Hamm, an ordnance depot at Glinde, oil refineries at Gelsenkirchen, chemical works at Leverkusen, an airfield at Neumünster, a canal at Minden, and a railway viaduct at Altenbeken.
The group took part in the concentrated attack against the German aircraft industry during Big Week, 20th–25th February 1944. Besides strategic operations, the group engaged in support and interdictory missions. Bombed V-weapon sites, airfields, and gun batteries in France prior to the invasion of Normandy in June 1944; on 6th June hit shore installations between Le Havre and Cherbourg and other enemy positions farther inland. Attacked enemy troops in support of the Allied breakthrough at Saint-Lô in July. Bombed German communications during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 – January 1945. Ferried cargo on two occasions: hauled gasoline, blankets, and rations to France in September 1944; dropped ammunition, focal, and medical supplies near Wesel during the airborne assault across the Rhine in March 1945.
James “Jimmy” Stewart, the Hollywood movie star, was Group Operations Officer at Old Buckenham during the spring of 1944. The actor Walter Matthau also served in the group as a radioman-gunner, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.
The 453rd Bomb Group flew its last combat mission in April. Initially it was prepared for possible redeployment to the Pacific theatre using B-29 Superfortresses. However hostilities in Europe had ceased before the group had time to start its movement. It returned to New Castle AAFld, Delaware on 9th May 1945 and was inactivated on 12th September 1945.
Stewart’s family on both sides had deep military roots, as both grandfathers had fought in the Civil War, and his father had served during both the Spanish–American War and World War I. Stewart considered his father to be the biggest influence on his life, so it was not surprising that, when another war came, he too was willing to serve. Members of his family had previously been in the infantry, but Stewart chose to become a flier.
An early interest in flying led Stewart to gain his private pilot certificate in 1935 and commercial pilot licence in 1938. He often flew cross-country to visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by the railroad tracks. Nearly two years before the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Stewart had accumulated over 400 hours of flying time.
Considered a highly proficient pilot, he entered a cross-country race as a co-pilot in 1939. Stewart, along with musician/composer Hoagy Carmichael, saw the need for trained war pilots, and joined with other Hollywood celebrities to invest in Thunderbird Field, a pilot-training school built and operated by Southwest Airways in Glendale, Arizona. This airfield became part of the United States Army Air Forces training establishment and trained more than 10,000 pilots during World War II.
In October 1940, Stewart was drafted into the United States Army but was rejected for failing to meet the weight requirements for his height for new recruits—Stewart was 5 pounds (2.3 kg) under the standard. To get up to 143 pounds (65 kg), he sought out the help of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s muscle man and trainer Don Loomis, who was noted for his ability to help people gain or lose weight in his studio gymnasium. Stewart subsequently attempted to enlist in the Air Corps, but still came in underweight, although he persuaded the enlistment officer to run new tests, this time passing the weigh-in, with the result that Stewart enlisted and was inducted in the Army on March 22nd, 1941. He became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.
Stewart enlisted as a private but applied for an Air Corps commission and Service Pilot rating as both a college graduate and a licensed commercial pilot. Soon to be 33, he was almost six years beyond the maximum age restriction for Aviation Cadet training, the normal path of commissioning for pilots, navigators and bombardiers. The now-obsolete auxiliary pilot ratings (Glider Pilot, Liaison Pilot and Service Pilot) differed from the Aviation Cadet Program in that a higher maximum age limit and corrected vision were allowed upon initial entry. Stewart received his commission as a second lieutenant on January 1st, 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, while a corporal at Moffett Field, California. He received his Service Pilot rating at that time, under the Service Pilot program established in March 1942 for experienced former civilian pilots. Although Service Pilots were normally restricted to noncombat flying, they were permitted to fly overseas on cargo and utility transports, typically with Air Transport, Ferry or Troop Carrier Commands. Under the regulations of the period, a Service Pilot could obtain an unrestricted Pilot rating after one year of USAAF service on flying status, provided he met certain flight experience requirements and passed an evaluation board, and some did in fact go on to combat flying assignments. Stewart’s first assignment was an appearance at a March of Dimes rally in Washington, D.C., but Stewart wanted assignment to an operational unit rather than serving as a recruiting symbol. He applied for and was granted advanced training on multi-engine aircraft. Stewart was posted to nearby Mather Field to instruct in both single- and twin-engine aircraft.
Public appearances by Stewart were limited engagements scheduled by the Army Air Forces. “Stewart appeared several times on network radio with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he performed with Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Huston and Lionel Barrymore in an all-network radio program called We Hold These Truths, dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.” In early 1942, Stewart was asked to appear in a film to help recruit the 100,000 airmen the USAAF anticipated it would need to win the war. The USAAF’s First Motion Picture Unit shot scenes of Lieutenant Stewart in his pilot’s flight jacket and recorded his voice for narration. The short recruitment film Winning Your Wings appeared in movie theaters nationwide beginning in late May and was very successful, resulting in 150,000 new recruits.
Stewart was concerned that his expertise and celebrity status would relegate him to instructor duties “behind the lines”. His fears were confirmed when, after his promotion to first lieutenant on July 7th, 1942, he was stationed from August to December 1942 at Kirtland Army Airfield in Albuquerque, New Mexico, piloting AT-11 Kansans used in training bombardiers. He was transferred to Hobbs Army Airfield, New Mexico, for three months of transition training in the four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress, then sent to the Combat Crew Processing Center in Salt Lake City, where he expected to be assigned to a combat unit. Instead, he was assigned in early 1943 to an operational training unit, the 29th Bombardment Group at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, as an instructor. He was promoted to captain on July 9th, 1943, and appointed a squadron commander. To Stewart, now 35, combat duty seemed far away and unreachable, and he had no clear plans for the future. However, a rumor that Stewart would be taken off flying status and assigned to making training films or selling bonds called for immediate action, because what he dreaded most was “the hope-shattering spectre of a dead end”. Stewart appealed to his commander, 30-year-old Lt. Col. Walter E. Arnold Jr., who understood his situation and recommended Stewart to the commander of the 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit that had just completed initial training at Gowen Field and gone on to final training at Sioux City Army Air Base, Iowa.
In August 1943, Stewart was assigned to the 445th Bomb Group as operations officer of the 703d Bombardment Squadron, but after three weeks became its commander. On October 12th, 1943, judged ready to go overseas, the 445th Bomb Group staged to Lincoln Army Airfield, Nebraska. Flying individually, the aircraft first flew to Morrison Army Airfield, Florida, and then on the circuitous Southern Route along the coasts of South America and Africa to RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. After several weeks of training missions, in which Stewart flew with most of his combat crews, the group flew its first combat mission on December 13th, 1943, to bomb the U-boat facilities at Kiel, Germany, followed three days later by a mission to Bremen. Stewart led the high squadron of the group formation on the first mission, and the entire group on the second. Following a mission to Ludwigshafen, Germany, on January 7th, 1944, Stewart was promoted to major. Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions as deputy commander of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing on the first day of “Big Week” operations in February and flew two other missions that week.
On March 22nd, 1944, Stewart flew his 12th combat mission, leading the 2nd Bomb Wing in an attack on Berlin. On March 30th, 1944, he was sent to RAF Old Buckenham to become group operations officer of the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that had just lost both its commander and operations officer on missions. To inspire the unit, Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on several missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe. As a staff officer, Stewart was assigned to the 453rd “for the duration” and thus not subject to a quota of missions of a combat tour. He nevertheless assigned himself as a combat crewman on the group’s missions until his promotion to lieutenant colonel on June 3rd and reassignment on July 1st, 1944, to the 2nd Bomb Wing, assigned as executive officer to Brigadier General Edward J. Timberlake. His official tally of mission credits while assigned to the 445th and 453rd Bomb Groups was 20 sorties.
Stewart continued to go on missions uncredited, flying with the pathfinder squadron of the 389th Bombardment Group, with his two former groups and with groups of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing. He received a second award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. He also was awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
Stewart served in a number of staff positions in the 2nd and 20th Bomb Wings between July 1944 and the end of the war in Europe, and was promoted to full colonel on March 29, 1945. Less than two months later, on May 10, he succeeded to command briefly the 2nd Bomb Wing, a position he held until June 15th, 1945. Stewart was one of the few Americans to ever rise from private to colonel in only four years during the Second World War.
At the beginning of June 1945, Stewart was the presiding officer of the court-martial of a pilot and navigator who were charged with dereliction of duty for having accidentally bombed the Swiss city of Zurich the previous March—the first instance of U.S. personnel being tried for an attack on a neutral country. The court acquitted the defendants.
Stewart continued to play a role in the Army Air Forces Reserve following World War II and the new United States Air Force Reserve after the official establishment of the Air Force as an independent service in 1947.
Stewart received permanent promotion to colonel in 1953 and served as Air Force Reserve commander of Dobbins Air Force Base, Georgia, the present day Dobbins Air Reserve Base. He was also one of the 12 founders and a charter member of the Air Force Association in October 1945. Stewart rarely spoke about his wartime service, but did appear in January 1974 in an episode of the TV series The World At War, “Whirlwind: Bombing Germany (September 1939 – April 1944)”, commenting on the disastrous mission of October 14th, 1943, against Schweinfurt, Germany. At his request, he was identified only as “James Stewart, Squadron Commander” in the documentary.
On July 23rd, 1959, Stewart was promoted to brigadier general. During his active duty periods, he remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command. On February 20th, 1966, Brigadier General Stewart flew as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on an Arc Light bombing mission during the Vietnam War. He refused the release of any publicity regarding his participation, as he did not want it treated as a stunt, but as part of his job as an officer in the Air Force Reserve.
Stewart, however, often did his part in publicizing and promoting military service in general and the United States Air Force in particular. In 1963, for example, as part of the plot in an episode of the popular television sitcom My Three Sons, Stewart appeared as himself in his brigadier-general’s uniform to address high-school students about the importance of science in society and about the many accomplishments of the select group of so-called “eggheads” being educated at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Five years later, after 27 years of service, Stewart officially retired from the Air Force on May 31st, 1968. Stewart received a number of awards during his military service and upon his retirement was also awarded the United States Air Force Distinguished Service Medal. On May 23rd, 1985, President Ronald Reagan awarded Stewart the Presidential Medal of Freedom and promoted him to Major General on the Retired List.
New 2nd Half 2018 Corgi Aviation Archive Catalogue Models !
New 2nd half 2018 Corgi Aviation Archive Catalogue models have just been announced and are available to pre-order at Flying Tigers today. If you want any of these models it is always safer to pre-order as quantities are limited.
Some of the second half catalogue models had already been announced and are shown here as a reminder and have already been heavily pre-ordered.
Don’t forget NO DEPOSIT necessary with Flying Tigers and if you order with your debit or credit card your payment is NOT taken until your model is available to dispatch.
We also offer a consolidation service , where we combine your orders at your request in order to save postage costs.
New Corgi Aviation Archive model arrivals this week.
The following models have been delivered by Corgi this week. Pre-ordered models are being sent out on arrival. There are very few left on the shelf . Please click on the images / links below to go to the model page, or CLICK HERE to see all models in the New Model Arrivals section.
That’s all for this week.
Thank you for reading this week’s Newsletter.