1st Air Commando Group

It is well known that Britain's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, ordered the formation of the first special operations commandos used during WW II. The American military disliked the idea of a "special" operational organization but the successes of the British SOE could not be ignored. The 1st Air Commando Group was formed to support Wingate's Raiders behind enemy lines in Burma and was a mixed unit (bombers, transports, fighters, enlisted pilots for reconnaissance, O.S.S., personnel) that carried out a wide range of tasks across Burma and beyond. The 1st Air Commando Group was originally an experimental group, designed to be a self-supporting air force capable of supporting a Chindit style deep penetration. It thus had a mix of fighters, transport aircraft, bombers and gliders. Although the group performed well in special operations, the rapid expansion of American air power allowed the similar tasks to be performed by standard (non-special operations) unit types and some of the new Air Commando Groups that had been formed for Burma went to the South-West Pacific instead. The USAF eventually learned it needed special operations and now has the USAF Special Operations Command.

The group was formed in India in March 1944 and was originally formed into six sections - bomber section (B-25 Mitchell), fighter section (P-51 Mustang), light plane section (Stinson L-1 Vigilant, Stinson L-5 Sentinel and early helicopters), transport section (C-47), glider section (Waco CG-4A and TG-5 Grasshopper) and light-cargo section (Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman). After its first assignment of operations the group was reorganized and by the end of 1944 consisted of two fighter squadrons, three liaison squadrons and one troop carrier squadron.

The group entered combat almost immediately, operating in support of Wingate's men behind Japanese lines. It carried out a mix of supply drops and casualty evacuations to directly support the troops, close air support, as well as attacking Japanese airfields and transport links. The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its actions between March 1944 and the end of the first phase of operations in May 1944. The group was caught up to a certain extent in the complex command arrangements in India and Burma. As late as November 1943 it was the only USAAF unit that was officially committed to Mountbatten's South East Asia Command - all other American units in the area reported either to the American chiefs of staff or to Chiang Kai-shek. By the autumn of 1944 the group formed part of the 1st Combat Cargo Task Force, which reported to the Fourteenth Army and in October 1944 had 167 transport aircraft provided by the 1st Combat Cargo Group, 1st Air Commando Group and No.177 Wing, RAF. In December 1944 the group was used to fly Chinese troops and their supplies back to China from Burma. For the rest of the war it was used to support Allied troops in Burma, flying a mix of supply, casualty evacuation and liaison duties.

As well as transport missions the group took part in ground attack missions. In May 1945 it was involved in the attacks on the rail network on Formosa, destroying two engines in an attack on 28 May. The group was used to attack Japanese troops, transport links and oil facilities across Burma and also provided some fighter escorts early in 1945. The group returned to the United States in October 1945 and was inactivated on 3 November 1945. It took decades and the evolvement of the War on Terror to bring about the formation of a dedicated Special Operations Command (USAF, US Army and US Navy - U.S Marine Corps).

The WW II1st Commando primarily operated out of Hailakandi Field and Asanol Field, India, and many behind-the-lines operations side-by-side with the O.S.S. in India and Burma. Its aircraft included: B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt, Stinson L-1 Vigilant & L-5 Sentinel, C-47 Skytrain/Dakota, Waco CG-4A Glider, TG-5 Grasshopper, & Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman (plus a few 1st generation helicopters).