With its origins going back over a century to 1912, the command was officially established on 6 May 1941 as the Philippine Department Air Force at Nichols Field, Luzon, Philippines. Fifth Air Force was a United States Army Air Forces combat air force in the Pacific Theater of World War II, engaging in combat operations primarily in the Southwest Pacific AOR.
During World War II, Fifth Air Force units first engaged the Japanese during the Philippines Campaign (1941–1942), then afterward withdrawing to Australia after the Japanese conquest of the islands. Rearmed, it engaged the Japanese in New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies and then as part of the liberating forces in the Philippines Campaign (1944–45). In the postwar era, Fifth Air Force was the primary USAF occupation force in Japan. During the Korean War, Fifth Air Force was the primary command and control organization for USAF forces engaged in combat operations over Korea, and during the Cold War was the main USAF defense force in Japan.
The United States Army Philippine Department was established on 11 January 1911 in the Unincorporated Philippine Territory. Fifth Air Force traces its roots to the Philippines with the activation of the Air Office of the Philippine Department in March 1912.
The First Company, 2d Aero Squadron, was activated at Fort William McKinley, Luzon, on 3 February 1916. This unit was a training school, operating Martin S Hydro seaplanes, first produced in the United States in 1915. The unit operated under the Air Office until 15 October 1917, when it was inactivated when the early aviators returned to the United States as a result of the American entry into World War I. In 1917 outside Fort Stotsenburg, Luzon, construction began on a half-mile long dirt runway, hangars and other support facilities to bring the local army units into the air age. Construction was completed in 1919. A permanent Army Air Service presence in the Philippines began in December 1919 with the activation of the 3d Aero Squadron at the facility. The unit was initially equipped with de Havilland DH-4 medium bombers. The next year it moved to the new Clark Field on 15 October 1920 where, combined with some support units, the 1st Observation Group was formed.
Clark Field became the Army Air Corps headquarters overseas, and was the only American air base west of Hawaii. In 1923 the Air Service withdrew all of the DH-4s, along with Liberty motors and spare parts, previously sent to the Philippines to be stored as a reserve, came back to the United States for conversion to DH-4Bs. When workmen at Rockwell Field outside San Diego, California opened one of the crates, they found a motor with a remarkable history. Built in Detroit, it went to France, back to the United States, then to the Philippines, and now to Rockwell-without ever being used.
In 1922, a second unit, the 28th Bombardment Squadron, was activated at Clark Field with DH-4s. in 1923, the 3d Aero Squadron was re designated the 3d Pursuit Squadron and received new Boeing Thomas-Morse MB-3 fighters. With that, the 1st Observation Group at Clark was re-designated as the 4th Observation; and later the 4th Composite Group. The 4th Composite would be the mainstay of United States air power in the Philippines until 1941, under the nominal command of the Air Officer of the Philippine Department.
In addition to Clark Field, additional airfields at Kindley Field on Corregidor in Manila Bay (Opened September 1922), and one at Camp Nichols (Nichols Field, 1920) were constructed. The 3d Pursuit and 28th Bombardment moved from field to field during the 1920s, with the 4th Composite Group having its headquarters at Nichols until World War II. Over time, various aircraft were sent to the Philippines, the Martin NBS-1 night bomber in 1924 (28th BS); Boeing PW-9 fighters in 1926 (3d PS); Keystone LB-5 bombers in 1929 (28th BS).
Beginning in 1930, the 3d Pursuit Squadron received Boeing P-12E fighters; the 28th Bombardment Squadron, receiving Keystone B-3A bombers in 1931. The 3d Pursuit squadron also received some Douglas O-2 and Thomas-Morse O-19 observation aircraft. These would be the last new aircraft received in the Philippines until 1937 due to funding shortages caused by the Great Depression.
In 1935, the Philippine Army Air Corps was established as part of the gradual decision by the United States to establish the Philippines as an independent nation. Its Army counterpart, the Philippine Scouts, had been established in 1901. In 1937, the 4th Composite Group began receiving Boeing P-26 Peashooter fighters and Martin B-10 bombers, its older aircraft being transferred to the Philippine AAC. By 1940, the corps had around 40 aircraft and 100 pilots.
In 1940 as part of the overall mobilization of the Army Air Forces and in response to the increase of tensions between the United States and the Japanese Empire, two additional pursuit squadrons were transferred from the United States to the 4th Composite Group at Nichols Field:20th Pursuit Squadron, 18 November 1940 (Seversky P-35)
17th Pursuit Squadron, 5 December 1940 (Seversky P-35)
In addition, additional obsolete Boeing P-26 Peashooters were sent from the United States. In January 1941, however, the three pursuit squadrons began receiving a few Seversky P-35As. These little Severskys had originally been consigned to Sweden, but on last-minute orders from Washington the shipment was diverted to the Philippines. Because the plane had been designed for the Swedish Air Force they were considerably more powerfully armed than the U.S. model, which carried only two .30-caliber machine guns firing through the propeller. Before this, their standard equipment had been obsolete Boeing P-26 Peashooters. The pilots of the 17th and 20th Squadrons, arriving from the States in November 1940, had been surprised, to put it mildly, when they found themselves back in the obsolete type of plane from which they had graduated a year before at Selfridge Field, Michigan. In fact, when they scratched the paint off a few of these antique numbers, they found some of the identical aircraft that they had trained in back in the States.
"In spite of suggestions by radical Air Force officers, no guns were installed in the wings of our planes; but the Swedes, being practical fellows, had ordered an extra .50-caliber gun in each wing. Some difficulties occurred in assembling the planes and in pilots' transition to them, for they were naturally equipped with Swedish instrumentation and no English version of technical orders was available. However, by the end of May the transition had been successfully accomplished and the 3d, 17th and 20th pursuit squadrons were equipped, if not with actual first-line planes, at least with machines that did not threaten to come apart in the fliers' hands."
July 1941, however, proved a turning point in the effort to prepare the Philippines for war. On the 27th, General Douglas MacArthur, who had been recalled to active duty, was placed in command of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). For the Air Forces the new command involved further shifts in organization, and on 5 August the Philippine Department which had controlled air units since March 1912 was redesignated Air Forces, USAFFE. As relations between the United States and Japan worsened, the Army Air Corps felt it needed an upgraded command structure in the Philippines to accommodate the general expansion program of 1939/1940. The Philippine Department Air Force was activated on 20 September 1941.
In the meantime, though, the squadrons suffered from a shortage of pilots. The 17th and 20th Pursuit Squadrons, which had arrived with a full complement, were continually losing men through transfers to other organizations more seriously understaffed. Pilot reinforcements began to come in February, but not until July were the three pursuit squadrons brought back to strength, when pilots fresh out of training school landed at Manila. As these men all required further training, a unit for that purpose had to be set up at Clark Field. By then the 17th and 20th had lost about 75 per cent of their original personnel, and ultimately the 17th went into the war with only five of the pilots who had come out with the unit and 35 younger pilots who had received their training in the Philippines for periods varying from one to ten months.
The Manila civilian Nielson Airport was taken over in October 1941 and became Nielson Field, giving the Air Force a third operational airfield on Luzon. Additional fields were constructed at Iba, Ternate, and Del Monte on Mindanao. Clark Field, 60 miles north of Manila, was the only first-class field—it was, as a matter of fact, the only first-class field in the Philippines, for Del Monte had not yet been developed. Del Monte had no hard runways, but was entirely surfaced with turf.
Nielson Field, at which the Air Headquarters was to be located, lay just south of Manila, between the city and Fort McKinley. It was classed as a fighter field, but had few facilities and was little used by combat planes then or later. Iba Field, on the Zambales coast well north of Subic Bay, had been a training camp for the Philippine Constabulary. It was to be used for a few short months by the Air Force as a gunnery training field, but it lacked facilities for extended operations.
This left Nichols Field as the principal fighter field. It was about six miles south of the heart of Manila and near the shore of Manila Bay, from which it was divided by the constricted, ramshackle barrio of Baclaran and a curve of the Parañaque River. The only approach to the field was down the main road that doubled as Baclaran's village street and then sharp left along a narrow lane that crossed the Parañaque River on a flimsy two-lane bridge. Except by air, there was no other access and a single bomb, rightly placed, could entirely isolate the airdrome.
Throughout the second half of 1941, additional units were deployed to the Philippines to deter Japanese aggression in response to the proposal by Chief of the Army Air Forces, Major General Henry H. Arnold, who in July 1941 proposed sending four heavy bombardment groups (340 aircraft) and two pursuit squadrons (260 aircraft) to the Philippines.
An increasing stream of reinforcements now began to arrive from the United States. By October, it had become necessary to move one of the fighter squadrons out of Clark Field to make room for the expected arrival of the 19th Bombardment Group. The 17th Pursuit Squadron was therefore transferred to its old base at Nichols Field, and shortly afterward, on 26 October, the 3d Pursuit Squadron took its place at the new Iba Airfield and began gunnery training. Work on the landing strips at Nichols Field had not been completed, and their poor condition resulted in a high accident rate for the 17th Squadron. However, these two squadrons, and the 20th, which stayed at Clark Field, had now finally reached the fields on which they were still based when the news of the Pearl Harbor Attack came, near dawn of 8 December.
With the arrival of the 19th Bombardment Group, the 4th Composite Group would become an unwieldy organization. On 26 September, therefore, the 24th Pursuit Group was created, including the three squadrons, now at the three separate fields, as well as Headquarters and a Headquarters Squadron, which were based at Clark Field. On 16 November 1941, the 19th Bombardment Group arrived from the United States at Clark Field and the 4th Composite group was disbanded. On 20 November, two more squadrons, the 21st Pursuit Squadron and the 34th Pursuit Squadron, both from the 35th Pursuit Group, arrived from the States and were attached to the 24th Pursuit Group pending the arrival of the rest of the 35th group, which of course never came. These two squadrons were at only half strength. They also arrived without their planes, for they expected to find new ships ready when they disembarked from San Francisco.
To reflect the expanded scope of the defensive forces the United States was sending to the Philippines, the Philippine Department Air Force was re-designated as Far East Air Force on 16 November 1941 with the Philippine Army Air Corps being incorporated as part of the new organization.
The mission of Far East Air Force on 7 December 1941 was air defense of the Philippine Islands. Its commander was Major General Lewis H. Brereton. Its order of battle was as follows:
5th Bomber Command19th Bombardment Group, Clark Field (B-17D/E Flying Fortress, 35 Aircraft)
14th Bombardment Squadron Del Monte Airfield, Mindanao
28th Bombardment Squadron
30th Bombardment Squadron
32d Bombardment Squadron
38th Reconnaissance Squadron
93d Bombardment Squadron Del Monte Airfield, Mindanao
A light bombardment group, the 27th Bombardment Group (Light), ground echelon had arrived at Fort William McKinley, however the A-24 Banshee dive bombers had not yet arrived from the United States. They were diverted to Brisbaine, Australia after the Japanese Invastion on 8 December 1941 and were not used in the ensuing Battle of the Philippines. The ground echelon was assigned as Army Air Corps ground forces as 27th Bombardment Group Provisional Infantry Regiment (Air Corps)
A second B-17 group, the 7th Bombardment Group with four squadrons of aircraft, had not arrived by the time war broke out on 8 December. It was diverted to Archerfield Airport, Brisbane, Australia, on 22 December 1941 due to the deteriorating situation in the Philippines.
5th Interceptor Command (Hq Nielson Field) provided RADAR defense of Luzon.
Iba Airfield had the only working SCR-271 air defense radar site in the Philippines. A second SCR-271 radar set may have been installed outside of Manila at Nielson Field, but that is unconfirmed. A third SCR-271 set was en route to the northwest tip of Luzon, about 60 miles from Aparri and a SCR-270 mobile radar set was on its way to site south of Manila when it got stuck in a swamp and its crew had to destroy it. The radars had a maximum search range of 110 mi (180 km) for aircraft flying as high as 25,000 ft (7,600 m). Actual detection distances ranged between 50 and 100 miles; with altitudes from 5,000 to 20,000 feet. Due to issues with the Philippine telephone system, reliable communications between Iba Field and headquarters at Nichols Field were unreliable, and radio communications between the radar site and headquarters was at best, uncertain.
24th Pursuit Group, HQ, Clark Field (P-25, P-35, P-40, 81 aircraft)
3d Pursuit Squadron, Iba Field (P-40E)
17th Pursuit Squadron, Nichols Field (P-40E)
20th Pursuit Squadron, Clark Field, (P-40B)
21st Pursuit Squadron, Nichols Field (P-40E)
34th Pursuit Squadron, Del Carmen Field (P-35A)
6th Pursuit Squadron, (Philippine Army Air Corps) Batangas Field (P-26)
2d Observation Squadron, Nichols Field (O-46, O-52)
The first indications of war between the Japanese Empire and the United States began on the night of 2 December 1941 when a single plane flew over Clark Field on four consecutive nights. It came about 05:00 in the morning, but no origin for its flight could be found at any Luzon airfield. After its second appearance, orders were given to force the plane to land and, if the pilot committed any overt act, to shoot him down. A six-ship flight from the 17th Pursuit Squadron, was therefore ordered to attempt interception on the night of 4–5 December; but their search mission was unsuccessful, largely due to the lack of air-ground communication. The radios in their P-40s were ineffective beyond a maximum range of 20 miles. The 20th Pursuit Squadron also made an unsuccessful attempt to intercept on the night of 5–6 December. Though, on the night of 6–7 December, all aircraft were grounded except the 3d Pursuit Squadron; and the antiaircraft at Clark Field were alerted to shoot the plane down that night, however, the plane did not come.
When the newly installed radar at Iba Airfield which first picked up the tracks of unidentified planes off the Zambales coast on 3 December and Clark Field reported its lone plane overflight for the second successive night Colonel George, now Chief of Staff of the 5th Interceptor Command, had gone to Far East Air Force headquarters at Nielson Field immediately to report not only the presence of the planes but his belief that the two flights were co-operating with each other and were the immediate preliminary to Japanese attack. Yet he had great difficulty in persuading some higher officers that these tracks represented hostile aircraft and not merely some unidentified private or commercial planes.
At this time the decision was reached to send all the B-17s to Del Monte Field on Mindanao to get them out of range of direct attack by Japanese land-based planes on Formosa. If war came, the B-17s could themselves stage out of Clark Field, picking up their bombs and gasoline for the run to Formosa. But at FEAF Headquarters the latest information was that the 7th Bombardment Group, which was scheduled to deploy to FEAF, could be expected at any time with four full B-17 squadrons. Their plans called for basing the 7th Bomb Group at Del Monte Field as soon as it arrived, and, since the field there could accommodate at most six squadrons; only two of the 19th Group's squadrons at Clark were dispatched. All planes were to have cleared the field by midnight of the 5th. They began taking off singly beginning at 22:00 and it was nearly three hours before they completed their formation and headed south.
At lba Field, the men watching the radar scope saw more incoming tracks on the screen. Outside on the blacked-out field the 3d Squadron's new P-40s stood on the line. However, the Japanese aircraft did not come in all the way; they stayed offshore, as though there were a point in time for them to meet before they turned hack. Then at the end of the runway one of the P-40s took off alone. The pilot made a long search but could not find them.
War did not come to the Philippines on 7 December, as it did to Pearl Harbor. Due to the International Date Line, Sunday, 7 December, remained a day of grace. The war between Imperial Japan and the United States, instead, began in Hawaii, by which time it was 8 December in the Philippines.
About 4:30 am on 8 December the first fragmentary news of the Attack on Pearl Harbor was received in Manila. There had been an even earlier flash, caught about 3:30 by the commercial radio station at Clark Field, but as no verification had come through, no action was then taken beyond notifying the base commander. The Navy, however, had had the news since 3:00 am and most of their installations were alerted by 3:30. A radio operator had picked up a message in the clear, in Morse Code. It was twice repeated, and he recognized the sending technique of the operator at Pearl Harbor. This message was sent to Admiral Hart and to General MacArthur's Headquarters. Apparently it reached General MacArthur at about 4:00 am and within a few minutes Air Headquarters also had been notified. Official confirmation did not come through, at least to the 24th Pursuit Group, till about 4:45. At 5:30 am General Headquarters issued an official statement that Pearl Harbor had been heavily attacked by Japanese submarines and planes and that a state of war existed between the United States and the Empire of Japan.
Combat was already beginning to break out in the Philippines. Japanese planes attacked a Philippine radio station at Aparri, on the north coast of Luzon. And just at dawn a line of Japanese dive bombers, heading in from the Pacific, caught two of the Navy's PBYs sitting on the water of Davao Gulf and sank them out of hand. Only by adroit maneuvering did the tender William B. Preston succeed in dodging the bombs and later evade four Japanese destroyers entering the gulf in obvious search of her. At about 08:00 while one shift of the flight crews were eating breakfast, the 17th Pursuit Squadron received orders to cover Clark Field, as a heavy fleet of Japanese bombers were reported north of Luzon heading down Lingayen Gulf towards the central plain. At Clark Field itself the B-17s were taking the air as a precautionary move in case the Japanese bombers broke through the fighter patrol lines.
FEAF commander General Brereton sought permission from theater commander General Douglas MacArthur to conduct air raids against Japanese forces in Formosa, but was refused. It was a little before 08:00 when Brereton returned to Air Headquarters at Nielson Field. As he entered his office he asked what decision the staff had reached, but on being told said, "No, We can't attack till we're fired on" and explained that he had been directed to prepare the B-17s for action but was not to undertake offensive action till ordered. However, a photo-reconnaissance mission was authorized over Formosa which was requested either by Brereton or Sutherland. Later, about 1100 on 8 December a combat strike was approved by FEAF against Formosa, to take place that day, and the B-17s which were sent to Del Monte Field were recalled to Clark to stage for the strike. The B-17s were back a Clark Field after 11:30 and that MacArthur planned an attack against Formosa for the morning of 9 December.
Initially, an air attack on the radar site at Iba Field by Japanese planes took place about 11:00 am. By that time, all but one of the B-17's was lined up on the line at Clark and the fighters were just getting ready to take off. However, after the warning of the Pearl Harbor attack, and after the loss of several valuable hours because of bad weather over Formosa, the Japanese pilots did not expect to find so rich a harvest of American aircraft on the ground at Clark Field. But they did not question their good fortune. The first flight of Japanese planes consisted of twenty-seven twin-engine bombers. They came over the unprotected field in a V-formation at a height estimated at 22,000 to 25,000 feet, dropping their bombs on the aircraft and buildings below, just as the air raid warning sounded. As at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese achieved complete tactical surprise.
The first flight was followed immediately by a similar formation which remained over the field for fifteen minutes. The planes in this formation, as in the first, accomplished their mission almost entirely without molestation. American antiaircraft shells exploded from 2,000 to 4,000 feet short of the targets. After the second formation of bombers, came thirty-four Zeros- which the Americans believed were carrier based-to deliver the final blow with their low-level strafing attacks on the grounded B-17's, and on the P-40's with their full gasoline tanks. This attack lasted for more than an hour.
Before dawn of the 9th seven Japanese naval bombers struck Nichols Field. Naval planes took off about 10:00 on 10 December to strike Luzon again. First warning of the approach of Japanese planes reached 5th Interceptor Command at Nielson Field at 11:15, and American fighters were immediately dispatched to cover Manila Bay. Japanese aircraft hit the Del Carmen Field near Clark, and the Nichols and Nielson Fields, near Manila. American planes returning to refuel were attacked by Zeros and destroyed. There was no antiaircraft fire and no fighter protection over the field; all the pursuit planes were engaged over Manila Bay.
After three days of combat, FEAF was largely destroyed on the ground by Japanese air attacks from Formosa. The few remaining aircraft flew until the fall of Bataan, but accomplished little.After being alerted of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, the B-17s of the 19th Bombardment Group at Clark Field were ordered into the air on the morning of 8 December while FEAF commander Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton sought approval to attack Japanese airfields on Formosa (Taiwan) in accordance with pre-war war plans. After two hours, Brereton received approval to carry out a late afternoon strike and recalled the B-17s to Clark to refuel and load bombs. P-40s on patrol over Luzon ran short of fuel and also landed shortly before noon local time. Of the 19 bombers based at Clark, one was in the air on a reconnaissance flight and another took off to flight test a newly repaired generator. A 20th B-17 was nearing Clark, having been sent up from Mindanao to repair a wing fuel tank. Three squadrons of P-40s took off just before noon to continue patrols but none were assigned the area of Clark Field. Radar and observers detected a large force of Japanese aircraft, delayed several hours on their bombing mission by fog over their bases, but poor communications and other errors failed to alert Clark of their approach. 108 Japanese naval bombers in two formations struck the field shortly after 12:30, destroying all but four P-40s on the field preparing to take off, and causing immense destruction to facilities. A wave of 80 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters arrived shortly after, and unopposed, strafed the base for 45 minutes, destroying all but five of 17 B-17s caught on the ground, and damaging three of the others so that they did not fly again. Within a week, only 14 of the original 35 based in the Philippines remained operational, stationed at Del Monte Airfield on Mindanao, attempting to remain out of range of Japanese air attacks. Beginning on 17 December, the surviving B-17s, badly in need of maintenance, began evacuate to Batchelor Field near Darwin, Australia.
The 27th Bombardment Group, less one squadron, arrived at Fort William McKinley by ship on 20 November; however all of its A-24 aircraft had not yet arrived by 6 December. To avoid capture or destruction, the ship carrying the crated planes was diverted to Australia when the Japanese isolated the Philippines. The personnel of the 27th were formed into the "2nd Provisional Infantry Regiment" on Bataan. The 27th Bomb Group became the only Air Force unit in history to fight as an infantry regiment, and were the only unit to be taken captive in whole. After surrendering, they were forced to endure the infamous Bataan Death March. Of the 880 or so Airmen who were taken, less than half survived captivity. The air echelon of the 27th Bomb Group eventually reformed in Australia in 1942 and fought in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea campaigns.
The 24th Pursuit Group flew its last interception on 10 December and made several small-scale attacks on Japanese landing forces, but ceased to exist as an operational air combat organization by 24 December 1941. Its personnel were also sent into Bataan as the "1st Provisional Infantry Regiment" as a reserve force to the Philippine Division. Although destroyed as a unit, the group remained on the list of active AAF units until the end of the war.
After the Japanese land invasion of the Philippines on 24 December 1941, the mission of Fifth Interceptor Command changed to provide ground defense of Luzon, with ground and air echelon personnel of unequipped Far East Air Force units on Luzon attached to fight as ground infantry units during the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42) after their aircraft were destroyed or evacuated to locations away from Luzon. Most members of the unit surrendered on 9 April 1942 after the Battle of Bataan. Some survivors escaped to Corregidor Island in Manila Bay, Philippine Islands and surrendered on 6 May 1942, ending all US organized resistance to the Japanese in the Philippines. Some survivors possibly fought afterwards on Luzon as unorganized resistance (May 1942 – January 1945).
14 B-17 Flying Fortresses that survived the Battle of the Philippines left Mindanao for Darwin, Australia, between 17 and 20 December 1941, the only aircraft of the Far East Air Force to escape. After its evacuation from the Philippines on 24 December 1941, FEAF headquarters moved to Australia and was reorganized and redesignated 5 Air Force on 5 February 1942, with most of its combat aircraft based on fields on Java. It seemed at the time that the Japanese were advancing just about everywhere. The remaining heavy bombers of the 19th Bombardment Group, based at Malang on Java, flew missions against the Japanese in an attempt to stop their advance. They were joined in January and February, two or three at a time, by 37 B-17Es and 12 LB-30s of the 7th Bombardment Group. The small force of bombers, never numbering more than 20 operational at any time, could do little to prevent the invasion of the Netherlands East Indies, launching valiant but futile attacks against the masses of Japanese shipping, with six lost in combat, six in accidents, and 26 destroyed on the ground.
The 7th Bombardment Group was withdrawn to India in March 1942, leaving the 19th to carry on as the only B-17 Fortress-equipped group in the South Pacific. About this time it was decided that replacement B-17s would not be sent to the southwest Pacific, but be sent exclusively to the Eighth Air Force which was building up in England. By May, 5 Air Force's surviving personnel and aircraft were detached to other commands and the headquarters remained unmanned for several months, but elements played a small part in the Battle of the Coral Sea (7–8 May 1942) when the 435th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group saw the Japanese fleet gathering in Rabaul area nearly two weeks before the battle actually took place. Because of the reconnaissance activity of the 435th Bomb Squadron, the US Navy was prepared to cope adequately with the situation. The squadron was commended by the US Navy for its valuable assistance not only for its excellent reconnaissance work but for the part played in the battle.
Headquarters Fifth Air Force was re-staffed at Brisbane, Australia on 18 September 1942 and placed under the command of Major General George Kenney. United States Army Air Forces units in Australia, including Fifth Air Force, were eventually reinforced and re-organised following their initial defeats in the Philippines and the East Indies. At the time that Kenney had arrived, Fifth Air Force was equipped with three fighter groups and five bombardment groups.
In addition, Fifth Air Force controlled two transport squadrons and one photographic squadron comprising 1,602 officers and 18,116 men.
Kenney was later appointed commander of Allied air forces in the South West Pacific Area, reporting directly to General Douglas MacArthur. Under Kenney's leadership, the Fifth Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force provided the aerial spearhead for MacArthur's island hopping campaign.
On 4 November 1942, the Fifth Air Force commenced sustained action against the Japanese in Papua New Guinea and was a key component of the New Guinea campaign (1942–1945). Fifth Air Force engaged the Japanese again in the Philippines campaign (1944–45) as well as in the Battle of Okinawa (1945).
Fifth Air Force along with Thirteenth Air Force in the Central Pacific and Seventh Air Force in Hawaii were assigned to the newly created United States Far East Air Forces (FEAF) on 3 August 1944. FEAF was subordinate to the U.S. Army Forces Far East and served as the headquarters of Allied Air Forces Southwest Pacific Area. By 1945, the three numbered air forces were supporting operations throughout the Pacific. FEAF was the functional equivalent in the Pacific of the United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) in the European Theater of Operations.
LEGEND: ACG – Air Commando Group, FG – Fighter Group, NFS – Night Fighter Squadron, BG (L) – Light Bomb Group, BG (M) – Medium Bomb Group, BG (H) – Heavy Bomb Group, RG – Reconnaissance Group, CCG – Combat Cargo Group, TCG – Troop Carrier Group
When the war ended, Fifth Air Force had an unmatched record of 3,445 aerial victories, led by the nation's two top fighter aces Major Richard Bong and Major Thomas McGuire, with 40 and 38 confirmed victories respectively, and two of Fifth Air Force's ten Medal of Honor recipients.
Shortly after World War II ended in August, Fifth Air Force relocated to Irumagawa Air Base, Japan, about 25 September 1945 as part of the Allied occupation forces. The command remained in Japan until 1 December 1950 performing occupation duties.
for the units, stations and type aircraft flown in combat during the war (25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953)
In 1950, Fifth Air Force was called upon again, becoming the main United Nations Command combat air command during the Korean War, and assisted in bringing about the s:Korean Armistice Agreement that formally ended the war in 1953.
In the early morning hours of 25 June, North Korea launched a sudden, all-out attack against the south. Reacting quickly to the invasion, Fifth Air Force units provided air cover over the skies of Seoul. The command transferred to Seoul on 1 December 1950, remaining in South Korea until 1 September 1954.
In this first Jet War, units assigned to the Fifth Air Force racked up an unprecedented 14.5 to 1 victory ratio. By the time the truce was signed in 1953, Fifth Air Force had flown over 625,000 missions, downing 953 North Korean and Chinese aircraft, while close air support accounted for 47 percent of all enemy troop casualties.
Thirty-eight fighter pilots were identified as aces, including Lieutenant Colonel James Jabara, America's first jet ace; and Captain Joseph McConnell, the leading Korean War ace with 16 confirmed victories. Additionally, four Medals of Honor were awarded to Fifth Air Force members. One other pilot of note was Marine Major John Glenn, who flew for Fifth Air Force as part of an exchange program.
With the end of combat in Korea, Fifth Air Force returned to normal peacetime readiness Japan in 1954.
Not only concerned with maintaining a strong tactical posture for the defense of both Japan and South Korea, Fifth Air Force played a critical role in helping the establishment of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force as well as the Republic of Korea Air Force. These and other peacetime efforts lasted a decade before war clouds once again developed in the Pacific.
This time, the area of concern was Southeast Asia, beginning in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis. Fifth Air Force furnished aircraft, aircrews, Support personnel, and supplies throughout the eight years of combat operations in South Vietnam and Laos. Since 1972, the Pacific has seen relative calm, but that doesn't mean Fifth Air Force hasn't been active in other roles. The command has played active or supporting roles in a variety of issues ranging from being first on the scene at the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shoot down in 1983 to deploying personnel and supplies for the Persian Gulf War in 1990.
During this time span, the size of Fifth Air Force changed as well. With the activation of Seventh Air Force in 1986, fifth left the Korean Peninsula and focused its energy on continuing the growing bilateral relationship with Japan.
The Fifth Air Force's efforts also go beyond combat operations. Fifth Air force has reacted to natural disasters in Japan and abroad. These efforts include the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 and Super Typhoon Paka which hit Guam in 1997. Fifth Air Force has reached out to provide assistance to victims of floods, typhoons, volcanoes, and earthquakes throughout the region.
Today, according to the organization's website, major components include the 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan; the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, and the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base. Kadena AB hosts the 18th Wing, the largest combat wing in the USAF. The Wing includes F-15 fighters, KC-135 refuelers, E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, and HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, and represents a major combat presence and capability in the Western Pacific. The 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan, includes two squadrons equipped with the most modern Block 50 F-16 variant, dedicated to the suppression of enemy air defenses. The final formation is the 374th Airlift Wing, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.Established as Philippine Department Air Force on 16 August 1941
Activated on 20 September 1941
Redesignated: Far East Air Force
on 16 November 1941
Redesignated: 5 Air Force
on 5 February 1942
Redesignated: Fifth Air Force
* on 18 September 1942.
Fifth Air Force is not to be confused with a second "Fifth" air force created as a temporary establishment to handle combat operations after the outbreak of hostilities on 25 June 1950, in Korea. This numbered air force was established as Fifth Air Force, Advance, and organized at Itazuki AB, Japan, assigned to Fifth Air Force, on 14 July 1950. It moved to Taegu AB, South Korea, on 24 July 1950, and was redesignated Fifth Air Force in Korea at the same time. After moving, it apparently received command control from U.S. Far East Air Forces. The establishment operated from Pusan, Taegu, and Seoul before being discontinued on 1 December 1950.Philippine Department, U.S. Army, 20 September 1941
US Forces in Australia (USFIA), 23 December 1941
Redesignated: US Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA), 5 January 1942
American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), 23 February 1942
Allied Air Force, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), 2 November 1942
Far East Air Forces (Provisional), 15 June 1944
Far East Air Forces, 3 August 1944
Redesignated: Pacific Air Command, United States Army, 6 December 1945
Redesignated: Far East Air Forces, 1 January 1947
Redesignated Pacific Air Forces, 1 July 1957—present
2nd Combat Cargo Group: October 1944-15 January 1946
CommandsV Air Force Service: 18 June 1943 – 15 June 1944
V Air Service Area: 9 January 1944 – 15 June 1944
5 Bomber (later, V Bomber): 14 November 1941 – 31 May 1946
V Fighter: 25 August 1942 – 31 May 1946
5 Interceptor: 4 November 1941 – 6 April 1942
Became Army Air Force Infantry unit during Battle of the Philippines (1941–42) (20 December 1941 – 9 April 1942)
Far East Air Service (later, 5 Air Force Base; V Air Force Base): 28 October 1941 – 2 November 1942
Divisions39th Air Division: 1 September 1954 – 15 January 1968
41st Air Division: 1 September 1954 – 15 January 1968
43d Air Division: 1 September 1954 – 1 October 1957
313th Air Division: 1 March 1955 – 1 October 1991
314th Air Division: 31 May 1946 – 1 March 1950; 1 December 1950 – 18 May 1951; 15 March 1955 – 8 September 1986
315 Air Division (formerly, 315 Composite Wing): 1 June 1946 – 1 March 1950.