A Short History of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing

55 Fighter Group Patch (Circa 1941)

55 SRW Patch (modern)

World War II

The 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was constituted as the 55th Pursuit Group on 20 November 1940 at Hamilton Field, California. The Group was activated the following January, and began training with the P-43 aircraft which was the predecessor to the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Later the unit began training with the P-38 Lightning. In May 1942 the Group was redesignated the 40th Fighter Group and in August 1943 the group moved to England. Assigned to 8th Air Force, the unit began combat operations on 15 October, with a fighter sweep over Holland. The Group mission was bomber escort, providing protection for B-17s and B-24s. Later the unit performed strafing missions in support of ground forces opposing the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes. By the end of the war the unit was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations. The unit flew its last combat mission of World War II on 21 April 1945. It had flown over 600 combat missions in seven different campaigns. It destroyed more than 400 enemy aircraft and damaged more than 100. The 55th had 16 aces with over 90 victories to their credit. In July the Group moved to Germany and was reassigned to 9th Air Force. On 4 April 1946 the Group received the Lockheed p-80 Shooting Star, America's first operational jet fighter. The Group continued to operate P-51s and A-26s. The Group was inactivated on 20 August 1946.


Post-WW II

The unit was reactivated as the 55th Reconnaissance Group (Very Long Range, Mapping) on 24 February 1947. The 55th was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, and was based at MacDill Field, Florida. The Group flew F-13, F-2, and RB-17 aircraft from 1947 to 1949. In June 1948 the unit group moved to Forbes AFB in Topeka, Kansas. At this time the unit was redesignated the 55 Strategic Reconnaissance Group. In October 1949 the unit was inactivated, but with the outbreak of the Korean War it was reactivated on 1 November 1950 at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana and immediately transferred to Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico and was again redesignated as the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. The unit first had RB-17s, B-29s, and RB-29s assigned, later RB-50s and C-28s were added to the inventory. In 1952 the unit returned to Forbes AFB. In June 1954 the unit converted to the all-jet RB-47. The following year they began to fly KC-97 "Strato-Tanker" aircraft, which gave the unit a world-wide operational capability through inflight refueling.


The Cold War Era

The 55th came to the attention of the world when an RB-47H dissappeared near the Arctic Circle, north of Norway, on 1 July 1960. Following a massive search of the area by U.S., Norwegian, British, and Soviet forces, the Soviet Union announced it had shot down the aircraft for violating Soviet Airspace. The U.S. claimed the Aircraft never flew over Soviet territory and Denounced the Soviet claim as innacurate. On 25 July the despute was brought before the United Nations. Meanwhile, four of the six crewmen died in the attack and two were taken prisoner by the Soviets. One body of the missing four was recovered and returned to the U.S. President-elect John Kennedy negotiated the release of the two prisoners with Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev and the two prisoners were finally returned to the U.S. in late January 1961.

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6 Jun 99