The 23d Fighter Squadron, the "Fighting Hawks," was constituted on 22 December 1939, at Langley Field, Virginia, as the 23d Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) flying P-36 Hawk aircraft. The unit moved to Kelly Field, Texas, in January 1940, and was equipped with the YP-37.
The squadron was one of several deployed to the Caribbean and stationed on bases established as part of the 1940 Destroyers for Bases Agreement with Great Britain. The squadron left from Norfolk, Virginia on 1 February 1940 with several others bound for Puerto Rico aboard the USAT Chateau Thierry for what turned into 29 months of overseas service, taking station at Ponce (later Losey Field) on 6 January 1941. A detachment of the squadron was also established at Benedict Field, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. In both locations, the mission of the squadron was air defense.
After the Pearl Harbor Attack, the 23d engaged in antisubmarine warfare against German U-boats. The unit's P-39s and P-40s were loaded with 300 pound general purpose bombs and searched for submarines. While several subs were confirmed as "sighted", no claims were made. In early January 1942 a second detachment was established at Bourne Field, Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. On 28 January 1942 the squadron moved to an auxiliary aerodrome, Vega Baja Field, Puerto Rico 18°28′58″N 066°25′58″W to provide better interception coverage for the island. Like other squadrons attached to the Antilles Air Command, the unit was alerted on at least two occasions for a possible attack on Vichy French Martinique.
The squadron was renamed the 23d Fighter Squadron in 1942. When the Navy took over the antisubmarine mission, the squadron was redeployed back to the United States, moving to Morrison Field, Florida by 27 May, and it converted to the P-47 Thunderbolt in June 1943.
In March 1944, the 23d deployed to RAF Kingsnorth, England, and 9th Air Force's 36th Fighter Group. The squadron earned the Distinguished Unit Citation in September 1944 for missions flown from England and forward bases in France supporting the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
Between October 1944 and January 1945, while operating from airfields in Belgium, the squadron earned two citations in the Belgian Army Order of the Day as well as the Belgium Fourragère. The unit was awarded a second Distinguished Unit Citation for action in Germany during April 1945.
After being inactivated in March 1946, the squadron was reactivated in October 1946 at Howard Field, Panama Canal Zone, flying the P-47 and the P-80 Shooting Star. In July 1948, the squadron returned to Germany at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base. Here, the 23d helped form the Skyblazers, an aerial demonstration team and forerunner to today's Thunderbirds.
In November 1952, the squadron moved to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, as part of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. In September 1954, the squadron converted to the F-84 Thunderjet and was redesignated the 23d Fighter-Day Squadron. It was the first squadron in Europe to fly the F-86 Sabre (1956), the F-100 Super Sabre (1956), the F-105 Thunderchief (1961), and the F-4 Phantom II (1966). During this period, the squadron received two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.
The 23d Tactical Fighter Squadron moved to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and in January 1972 became part of the 52d Tactical Fighter Wing. The 23d converted to F-4E and F-4G Wild Weasels in 1982 and began flying defense suppression missions. In July 1987, the F-16 Fighting Falcon replaced the F-4E.
In January 1991, at the outbreak of the Gulf War, the 23d deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. During Operation Proven Force, squadron F-16Cs and F-4Gs flew nearly 1,000 defense suppression, combat air patrol and interdiction missions over Iraq without a single loss. The squadron earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor for its part in driving the Iraqi army from Kuwait.
In September 1991, the squadron's remaining F-4Gs were replaced by F-16Cs. In July 1993, the 23d was the first U.S. unit to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina for Operation Deny Flight. In January 1994, the squadron received the first F-16CJ Block 50 aircraft.
The squadron completed conversion to the latest version of the F-16CJ in January 1995 and became United States Air Forces Europe's only defense suppression squadron. In September of that same year, members of the 23d took part in Operation Deliberate Forge — the largest air assault in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) history. The unit flew 224 sorties during the air campaign against Bosnian Serb forces.
Pilots from the 23d were the first to employ high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM) in combat. The squadron's efforts contributed to the peace process and the resulting Dayton Agreement, which ended more than four years of bloody conflict in the Balkans.
For their outstanding contributions to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe's mission, the 23d was selected in May 1996 to receive the Commander's Trophy as the "Best Fighter Squadron in the Command," their third time to win this distinction.
From February to June 1999 the squadron deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, where it was assigned to the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing for Operation Allied Force. The squadron supported the NATO mission to degrade and damage the military and security structure that the President of Yugoslavia used to destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo. During Allied Force the 23d flew over 1000 combat sorties and fired 191 HARM shots to silence over 100 surface-to-air missile sites in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. The squadron was repeatedly noted for bravery in the face of danger while flying these combat operations in Allied Force.
From November 2000 to March 2001 the 23d deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch to patrol the southern no-fly zone over Iraq. During the deployment the squadron provided suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) in both air-to-ground and air-to-air roles. In March 2001, the 23d provided SEAD for the largest strike in Iraq since Operation Desert Fox. During the strike to take out command and control facilities in Iraq, the 23d ensured the safety of all allied strikers.
The squadron deployed again from April to July 2002 to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, for Operation Northern Watch to patrol the northern no-fly zone. During the deployment the squadron was called on to provide SEAD for strikes against ground targets located in northern Iraq. Squadron pilots came under fire numerous times while providing SEAD for coalition aircraft, once firing two HARM shots suppressing an Iraqi surface radar site that targeted friendly aircraft.
In January 2003, elements of the squadron forward deployed to Southwest Asia in support of U.S. Central Command and flew combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The squadron played a key role during the 27-day air war by fulfilling its mission of suppressing enemy air defenses and destroying Iraqi radar sites.
In April 2010 20 F-16Cs were flown from Spangdahlem to the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard, one F-16 was transferred to Edwards Air Force Base, California. All aircraft were from the 22nd Fighter Squadron. As a result of the drawdown of F-16s, the 22nd and 23d Fighter Squadrons were inactivated on 13 August 2010 and their personnel and equipment used to form a single "new" squadron, the 480th Fighter Squadron.Constituted as 23d Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 22 December 1939
Activated on 1 February 1940
Re-designated: 23d Fighter Squadron
on 15 May 1942
Re-designated: 23d Fighter Squadron, Single Engine
, on 20 August 1943
Inactivated on 31 March 1946
Activated on 15 October 1946
Re-designated: 23d Fighter Squadron, Jet Propelled
, on 27 October 1947
Re-designated: 23d Fighter Squadron, Jet
, on 17 June 1948
Re-designated: 23d Fighter-Bomber Squadron
on 20 January 1950
Re-designated: 23d Fighter-Day Squadron
on 9 August 1954
Re-designated: 23d Tactical Fighter Squadron
on 8 July 1958
Re-designated: 23d Fighter Squadron
on 1 October 1991
Inactivated 13 August 2010
36th Pursuit (later, 36th Fighter) Group, 1 February 1940 – 31 March 1946
36th Fighter (later, 36th Fighter-Bomber; 36 Fighter-Day) Group, 15 October 1946
36th Fighter-Day (later, 36th Tactical Fighter) Wing, 8 December 1957
52d Tactical Fighter (later, 52d Fighter) Wing, 31 December 1971
Attached to 7440th Composite Wing, 17 January – 15 March 1991
52d Operations Group, 31 March 1992 – 13 August 2010
World War II
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Proven Force
Operation Northern Watch
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Deny Flight
Operation Deliberate Forge
Operation Allied Force
Operation Iraqi Freedom