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The 15th Air Force

This "summary" was given to the men of the 58th Service Squadron subsequent to their return to the United States, Its purpose was to "furnish them with background information for their use in local newspaper articles or interviews, and a worthwhile personal history in the years to come when when such facts may be extremely vital to your own interests".

The Fifteenth Air Force In the 18 months of existence the 15th Air Force, operating principally from the complex of airfields in southern Italy, destroyed all gasoline production within its range in southern Europe; knocked out all the major aircraft factories in its sphere; and destroyed 6,282 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground.

The 15th crippled the enemy's transportation system over half of once-occupied Europe with repeated fighter and bomber attacks. On occasion it helped disperse enemy counter attacks and spearheaded the advances of our own armies.

The 15th dropped 303,842 tons of bombs on enemy targets in 12 countries of Europe, including military installations in eight capital cities. Its combat personnel made 148,955 heavy bomber sorties and 87,732 fighter sorties against the enemy.

It lost 3,364 aircraft and 21,671 personnel killed, wounded, missing and taken prisoner -- 20,430 bomber crewmen and 1,187 fighter pilots.

The 15th fought four broad campaigns: against enemy oil, enemy air force, enemy communications, and enemy ground forces. Most vital of the 15th's oil targets was the Ploesti complex of refineries, which contributed about 30% of the entire Axis oil supply and an equal amount of gasoline. Ploesti was protected by 150 first class fighters and 250 heavy flak guns when the 15th, with the cooperation of the RAF 205th Group of night bombers, began a series of attacks against it on April 5. The campaign continued until Aupust 19. 15th and RAF bombers flew 5287 sorties, dropping 12,870 tons of bombs. The cost was 237 heavies (15 of them RAF), 10 P-38 dive bombers and 39 escorting fighters. More than 2,200 American Airmen were lost. But results were good. At the end of the campaign the refineries were reduced to only 10% of their normal rate of activity and during the entire period from April to August the average production rate was reduced by 60%.

The 15th followed up the Ploesti attacks by dropping 10,000 tons of bombs in attacks on three synthetic oil plants in Silesia and one in Poland, reducing their combined production by February of 1945 to 20% of what it was in June of 1944.

By devastating attacks on Weiner Neustadt and Regenshurg, two of the three main enemy fighter manufacturing complexes, the 15th helped materially in the attainment of European air supremacy. By May 1944, estimated actual production stood at 250 aircraft a month within range of the 15th against a contemplated production of 650 aircraft per month.

Throught the counter-air force and oil campaigns, the 15th was also attacking enemy communications and transportation systems far behind the front lines, disrupting supply movements from industrial centers over an 8OO mile radius from the ItaIian airfields.

The 15th also supplied Allied Army cooperation bombing targets at Salerno, Anzio, and Cassino in the Rome campaign. On April 15, 1945 the 15th put up a record smashing 93% of its available aircraft to soften up the approaches to Bologna in one of the final missions of the Italian campaign.

A unique sidelight of the 15th's operations has been the rescue and repatriation of air crews shot down in enemy territory. No other air force has undertaken escape operations in so many countries. The 15th has returned 5650 personnel by air, surface vessel and on foot through enemy lines. In more than 300 planned "reunion" operations, men have been brought back safely from Tunisia, Italy, France,Switzerland, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Austria and Germany.

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