Activated in 1942 as a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber squadron. Trained under II Bomber Command in Idaho, Utah and in Iowa.
Deployed to Eighth Air Force in England, June 1943 at RAF Knettishall (AAF-136), England. Entered combat in June 1943 by attacking an aircraft factory in Amsterdam. The squadron functioned primarily as a strategic bombardment Organization in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) until the war ended. Targets included industries, naval installations, oil storage plants, refineries, and communications centers in Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, Norway, Romania, and the Netherlands.
The squadron attacked many significant enemy targets, including aircraft factories in Kassel, Reims, and Brunswick; airfields in Bordeaux, Paris, and Berlin; naval works at La Pallice, Emden, and Kiel; chemical industries in Ludwigshafen; ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt; and marshalling yards in Brussels, Osnabrück, and Bielefeld. Operations also included support and interdictory missions. Helped prepare for the invasion of Normandy by attacking military installations in France, and on D-Day struck coastal guns, field batteries, and transportation. Continued to support ground forces during the campaign that followed, hitting such objectives as supply depots and troop concentrations. Bombed in support of ground forces at Saint-Lô in July 1944 and at Caen in August. Covered the airborne assault on the Netherlands in September 1944 by attacking military installations and airfields at Arnhem. Aided the final drive through Germany during the early months of 1945 by striking targets such as marshalling yards, rail bridges, and road junctions.
Demobilized in England after V-E Day, aircraft flying back to the United States throughout the summer of 1945, station personnel sailing on the Queen Elizabeth from Greenock on 5 August 1945, and arrived in New York on 11 August 1945. A skeleton unit of the squadron was established at Sioux Falls AAFd, South Dakota, and inactivated there on 28 August 1945.
The unit was active in the organized reserve from June 1947 to June 1949, being stationed first at Orchard Place Airport in Park Ridge, Illinois, and later at Gen. Mitchell Field in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In November 1953, the 561st Fighter-Bomber Squadron started flying F-86 Sabres at Clovis Air Force Base in New Mexico. The entire wing shipped to Europe during November 1954. Never out of action, the crisis in the Suez Canal area and the takeover of Hungary in 1956 provided flying time for the crews of the 561st out of Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base in Germany.
After the squadron completed transition training and became combat ready in F-100 Super Sabres, it was inactivated on 10 December 1957.
The life of the 561st was resumed when the 23d Tactical Fighter Wing (the famous Flying Tigers) renumbered its squadrons the 560th, 561st, 562d, and 563d Tactical Fighter Squadrons. The 561st, 562nd and 563rd deployed to SEA in 1965, the 561st being assigned to Takhli in Thailand and Da Nang in South Vietnam. "Wild Weasel" operations became the squadron’s primary mission in mid-1970, when the squadron exchanged its F-105B/D models for F-105/Gs. On 4 April 1972 General Giap launched a three-pronged attack into South Vietnam with 200,000 troops and in April 1972, the 561st was deployed to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand from McConnell AFB in Kansas immediately following a mobility alert. With only 69,000 American troops left on the ground in Vietnam, the US turned heavily towards air power. In his novel "Lawrence of Vietnam" Michael M. Peters, who served with the 561st, wrote "That's what war is like, you're heading towards hell, death and damnation and you're in a hurry to get there". Throughout Linebacker I and Linebacker II, the 561st flew over 1,900 combat sorties accumulating nearly 6,000 combat hours, and was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" for valor, a very rare award. The 561st also received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation. Of the 200,000 invading North Vietnamese troops, 40,000 were killed, the North Vietnamese retreated back across the border and General Giap (who had defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu) was defeated by the US Air Force and was relieved of command. From 18 Dec. to 29 Dec. of 1972 the Christmas bombing (humorously called by the Americans the "Twelve Days of Christmas") forced the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table where they were made to sign The Paris Peace Accords, thus ending the war. A plane from the 561st was the last F-105 shot down in the Vietnam War (F-105G, 63-8359); it was hit by a SAM on 16 November 1972; the crew was rescued. The casualty rate for all Wild Weasel aircraft over the course of the Vietnam War was 63%. Of the 12 F-105G's assigned to the 561st during this time, four were shot down and one was lost to operational accident. One of the surviving aircraft from the original 12 airplanes of the squadron, S/N 63-8320, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force; this plane is credited with three MiG kills in the Vietnam War. Wild Weasels became so effective in the Vietnam War that 90% of North Vietnamese radar sites would turn off if Wild Weasels were in the vicinity.
On 1 July 1973, the 561st moved to George Air Force Base and joined the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 561st transitioned from the F-105/G when the base received its first shipment of the F-4G Advanced Wild Weasel in 1978.
In August 1990, the Wild Weasels deployed to Sheikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain and during Operation Desert Storm flew over 2,400 sorties logging more than 8,000 combat hours. Inactivated at George AFB after the war, and reactivated at Nellis Air Force Base on 1 February 1993, the 561st soon deployed to Incirlik Air Base in support of Operation Provide Comfort and returned to Southwest Asia at Dhahran Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia, supporting Operation Southern Watch and Operation Vigilant Warrior.
In 1994, the 561st became the largest fighter squadron in the United States Air Force. The 561st's presence over Iraq was continuous from just after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. However, despite their mission over Iraq, the 561st was also employed as an "Aggressor" squadron during RED FLAG exercises.
With the retirement of the F-4G Phantom II from the USAF on 26 March 1996, the 561st inactivated and the SEAD mission was assumed by F-16s in different squadrons.Constituted 561st Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on 19 December 1942
Activated on 24 December 1942
Re-designated 561st Bombardment Squadron, Heavy
, on 20 August 1943
Inactivated on 28 August 1945
Re-designated 561st Bombardment Squadron, Very Heavy, on 5 May 1947
Activated in the Reserve on 12 June 1947
Inactivated on 27 June 1949
Re-designated 561st Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 5 November 1953
Activated on 23 November 1953
Inactivated on 10 December 1957
Re-designated 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron, and activated on 1 May 1962
Organized on 1 October 1962
Re-designated 561st Fighter Squadron
on 1 November 1991
Inactivated on 30 June 1992
Activated on 1 February 1993
Inactivated on 1 October 1996
388th Bombardment Group, 24 December 1942 – 28 August 1945
338th Bombardment Group, 12 June 1947 – 27 June 1949
388th Fighter-Bomber Group, 23 November 1953 – 10 December 1957
Attached to 388th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1 Jul – 10 December 1957
Tactical Air Command, 1 May 1962
388th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1 October 1962
23d Tactical Fighter Wing, 8 February 1964
Attached to 41st Air Division, 6 Mar – 8 July 1965
832d Air Division, 1 July 1972
Attached to 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1–14 July 1973
35th Tactical Fighter Wing, 15 July 1973
37th Tactical Fighter Wing, 30 March 1981
35th Tactical Fighter (later, 35th Fighter) Wing, 5 October 1989 – 30 June 1992
Attached to 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, Provisional, 16 August 1990-March 1991
57th Operations Group, 1 February 1993 – 1 October 1996
B-17 Flying Fortress, 1943–1945
F-86 Sabre, 1954–1956
F-100 Super Sabre, 1957
F-105 Thunderchief, 1964–1980
F-4 Phantom II, 1981–1992, 1993–1996