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44th Bombardment Group (Heavy)

Activated on January 15, 1941 and equipped with B-24 Liberators, the 44thinitially served as an operational training unit and on antisubmarine duty. The group moved to England in August 1942 with its constituent 66th, 67th, and 68thbombardment squadrons. Combat operations with Eighth Air Force included attacks against strategic targets in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Austria, Poland, and Sicily. The 44thattacked submarine installations, industrial facilities, airfields, harbors, shipyards, and other objectives. The 506th Bombardment Squadron joined the group in March 1943. The 44th received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for an extremely hazardous mission against naval installations at Kiel on May 14. 

On this occasion the group carried incendiary bombs to be dropped after three B-17 Flying Fortress groups had released high explosives, and flew in the wake of the main formation. This made its B-24s more vulnerable to enemy interceptors because they flew outside the consolidated firepower of the main force, and their vulnerability increased when they opened their own formation for the attack. Despite these hazards, the 44thsuccessfully blanketed the target with incendiaries.

Staff Officers of the 44th Bombardment Group, September 1, 1944.

In June 1943 a detachment from the group moved to North Africa to support the invasion of Sicily, bombing airfields and marshalling yards in Italy. This detachment flew in the famous low-level raid on the Ploesti oil fields on August 1. The 44thwas awarded a second DUC for its part in this raid, and its commander, Col. Leon Johnson, received the Medal of Honor for his daring leadership during it. In September the group struck airfields in Holland and France, and sent another detachment to North Africa to support the Salerno landings. From November 1943 through April 1945 the 44thbombed airfields, oil installations, and marshalling yards in northern Europe. It participated in the intensive “Big Week” bombing campaign (February 20-25, 1944) against the German aircraft industry.

B-24 Liberators from the 68th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group in flight.

In preparation for the Normandy invasion the 44th bombed airfields, railroads, and V-weapon sites. During the invasion it attacked strong points in the beachhead area and transportation targets behind enemy lines. The group supported the Caen offensive and the St. Lo breakthrough in July, and dropped food, ammunition, and other supplies during the airborne assault into Holland in September. During the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 to January 1945) the 44thstruck bridges, tunnels, choke points, rail and road junctions, and communications in the battle area. It attacked airfields and transportation assets during the advance into Germany, and flew resupply missions during the airborne assault across the Rhine in March 1945. The group flew its last combat mission on April 25 and returned to the United States in June. It was re-designated as the 44thBombardment Group (Very Heavy) in August 1945 and trained with B-29s. The 44thBombardment Group was assigned to the Strategic Air Command on March 21, 1946 and inactivated on July 12.

Campaigns: Antisubmarine, American Theater; Air Combat, EAME Theater; Air Offensive, Europe; Sicily; Naples- Foggia; Normandy; Northern France; Rhineland; Ardennes-Alsace; Central Europe