air components were put under MAAF command:
MASAF (Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force)
led by Major General Nathan Twining, MACAF (Mediterranean Alliea Coastal Air Force) led by Air
Vice Marshal Hugh Lloyd and MATAF (Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force) led by Major General
John K. Cannon. At the same time MASAF was the
southern component of the U.S. Strategic Air Force,
Europe (USSTAF). As of January 4, 1944, the 15th Air
Force was fully transferred under MAAF and MASAF command.
The 15th Air Force was formed from the heavy
bombing groups equipped with four-engined B-24
Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers
transferred from 12th and 9th Air Forces. During
the first weeks of its existence however the 15th AF
inventory comprised also several bombing groups
equipped with the B-25 Mitchell and B-26 Marauder medium bombers which later returned under
the 12th AF command. At the time when the combat activities commenced in November 1943, there
were six bombing groups under 15th AF command.
The fighter cover was provided by four fighter
groups: 1st FG, 14th FG and 82nd FG equipped with
the twin-engined P-38 Lightning fighters and 325th
FG equipped with P-47 Thunderbolt. As of December 1, 1943, the 15th AF Headquarters was located in
Bari, southern Italy.
The main goal of putting the 15th and 8th AF under
USSTAF command was the coordination of the bombing operations over Germany. The 8th AF operations, conducted from the west out of Great Britain
bases were to be coordinated with the 15th AF operations led from the south, out of the Italian bases.
The daylight missions of both American Air Forces
were supplemented by the RAF Bomber Command
15TH AIR FORCE IN COMBAT
The first 15th AF mission was the raid of 28 B-25s
from 321st BG on the railway station in Rimini on
November 1, 1943. The first continuous bombing
campaign the 15th AF took part in was the support of the Anzio landing (Operation Shingle) which
commenced on January 22, 1944. The first series
of such coordinated raids, the operation Argument,
was code-named “Big Week”. It was executed during the week of April 20-25, 1944, and its goal was
to cripple the German aviation industry and hamper
the new aircraft supplies to the Luftwaffe. Within
the operation Argument the 15th AF flew its first
raid on Germany when 183 bombers attacked the
Messerschmitt factories in Oberstraubing near
Regensburg. 14 bombers were lost during this miJuly 2022
P-51D-5 formation from 308th FS,
ssion. The following day the 15th AF dispatched 102
bombers to attack the ball bearing factory in Steyr,
Austria. On February 24, 180 Liberators attacked
the factory in Gotha manufacturing Messerschmitt
Bf 110s and lost 28 airplanes. On February 25, 114
B-17 and B-24 were sent again to Steyr and lost 17
bombers in the action.
On April 5, the “Fifteen” joined the Allied bombing offensive against the German fuel industry
dispatching 235 bombers on the targets around
Ploesti in Romania. In the opening stage of the
offensive the 15th AF attacked the oil refineries in
south-eastern Europe, primarily Romania but also
in Austria, Bavaria, Hungary, northern Italy and the
Yugoslav territory. From the end of October 1944,
it joined the intense bombing of the synthetic fuel
factories in Saxony, Czechoslovakia and Silesia.
During this time the 15th AF took over from 8th AF
the task of bombing the synthetic fuel factories
in Saxony and Czechoslovakia including the STW
factory in Most (Brux) which became the most frequently bombed target in the Czechoslovak territory – 16 heavy American raids and two British night
attacks. The 15th AF continued with these raids
practically until the end of war.
In June 1944 the 15th AF bombed the railway infrastructure throughout the south-eastern Europe in
support of the Soviet summer offensive in Romania.
In the summer of 1944, the Austrian aviation factories in Wiener Neustadt were bombed. On June 2 the
“Fifteen” flew its first “shuttle” mission when 130
B-17s escorted by P-51D landed on the Soviet-controlled territory having bombed the Hungarian tar-
31st FG, photographed in June 1944.
gets. After refueling and rearming they returned
to their home base in Italy. Altogether the 15th AF
completed three of these shuttle missions. Starting in the summer of 1944 it also joined the support of the Yugoslav partisans and in August it focused its efforts on supporting the Allied landings
in southern France (Operation Dragoon). The 15th
AF bombers attacked Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble and
Toulon. In the fall the 15th AF resumed the raids on
the fuel and military facilities and the transportation infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe.
On March 24, 1945, the “Fifteen” flew its only raid
on Berlin when its 666 bombers attacked the Third
Reich’s capital as well as Munich and other targets
in Germany and Czechoslovakia. At the end of the
war, in April 1945, the attacks concentrated on the
railway infrastructure were conducted not only by
bombers but fighters as well. Actually, those flew
these missions even earlier on a regular basis.
On April 25, the last large operation took place
when 467 bombers hit the railway targets in Austria and interrupted the communications to Czechoslovakia. On May 1, the 15th AF flew its very
last bombing mission when 27 B-17s escorted by 51
P-38s from 14th FG attacked the railway targets in
the vicinity of Salzburg.
After the German surrender in Italy the 15th AF aircraft started to drop the supplies over Yugoslavia
and repatriate the Allied POWs and its last missiINFO Eduard