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VIII Fighter Command
RAF Debden - 8th Fighter Command P-51D Mustangs on Line.jpg
P-51D Mustangs (CV-Q) of the 359th Fighter Group, (LC-D) of the 20th Fighter Group, (LH-V) of the 353rd Fighter Group and (C5-Q) of the 357th Fighter Group, at RAF Debden, home of the 4th Fighter Group, 1945.
Active 1942-1946
Country United States
Branch United States Army Air Forces
Brigadier General Frank O’Driscoll Hunter
Emblem of the VIII Fighter Command Viiifightercommand-emblem.jpg

The VIII Fighter Command was a United States Army Air Forces unit of command above the Wings and below the numbered air force. Its primary mission was command and control of fighter operations within the Eighth Air Force. In the World War II European Theater, its primary mission was air superiorty. Its last assignment was with the United States Air Forces in Europe, being stationed at RAF Honington,

It was formed at Selfridge Field, Michigan in February 1942. In May, the headquarters moved to England to conduct combat operations over Occupied Europe. After the end of the European War in May 1945, VIII Fighter Command took part in the occupation of Germany until May 1946 while simultaneously coordinating its own demobilization. It inactivated in March 1946 at RAF Honington, the last Royal Air Force station used by the USAAF to be returned to the British Air Ministry.

Operational history[edit | edit source]

The VIII Fighter Command was constituted initially as "VIII Interceptor Command" at Selfridge Field, Michigan on 19 January 1942. Equipped with the 4th and 5th Air Defense wings, the command's mission was air defense over the north central United States. The command's mission was changed as it was ordered to deploy to Britain in February 1942 as first it was reassigned to Charleston AAF on 13 February, then shipped overseas to England where on 12 May it set up headquarters at Bushey Hall, near Watford, Hertfordshire.

During much of 1943, bomber escort for VIII Bomber Command was the primary mission for VIII Fighter Command. Fighter groups had a mix of aircraft models of the fighter type plus some administrative utility and liaison types. During 1942-1943, the assigned fighter groups flew three types of aircraft during 1942-43: the Supermarine Spitfire, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The Command itself was engaged in command and control, without a complement of aircraft for combat.

Eventually the fighter groups were organized into three Fighter Wings. These were the 65th, 66th and 67th. When the Eighth Air Force converted from Bombardment Divisions to Air Divisions, the Fighter Wings came under operational control of the three Air Divisions.

Combat operations[edit | edit source]

North American P-51 Mustangs of the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st FG, summer 1944

The effect of the Mustang on the Luftwaffe was swift and decisive. The result was that the Luftwaffe was notable by its absence over the skies of the Europe after D-Day, and the Allies were starting to achieve air superiority over the continent. Although the Luftwaffe could (and did) mount effective attacks on the ever-increasing number of Allied heavy bomber formations, the sheer numbers of Allied bombers attacking targets throughout occupied Europe overwhelmed the German fighter force, which simply could not sustain the losses the Eighth Air Force bombers and fighters were inflicting on it.

When Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle took command of the Eighth Air Force in January 1944, he initiated a policy change. Previously, fighters were largely tied to the bombers, but Doolittle and Kepner freed many fighters to go "down on the deck" and allowed them to become far more aggressive. The fighters were now able to seek out the Luftwaffe and actively attack their airfields. This resulted in Luftwaffe losses rising to unsustainable levels, increasing pressure on the German fighter arm, with an attendant reduction in USAAF bomber losses, while fighter losses inevitably rose.

By mid-1944, Eighth Air Force had reached a total strength of more than 200,000 personnel (it is estimated that more than 350,000 Americans served in Eighth Air Force during the war in Europe.) At peak strength, Eighth Air Force had forty heavy bomber groups, fifteen fighter groups, and four specialized support groups.

In September 1944, the VIII Fighter Command attached its fighter wings to the Eighth Air Force's Bombardment Divisions. This administrative move allowed each division operational control of several fighter groups to fly escort to their heavy bomb wings. The 65th Fighter Wing was attached to the 2nd Bombardment Division, the 66th Fighter Wing to the 3rd Bombardment Division, and 67th Fighter Wing to the 1st Bombardment Division. This reassignment of the three fighter wings created the Air Divisions within the Eighth Air Force, replacing the Bombardment Divisions.

VIII Fighter Command also attacked German transport, logistics centers, and troops during the Normandy campaign, though tactical operations in the European Theater largely were the realm of the Ninth Air Force. During the Battle of the Bulge in late December 1944, several VIII Fighter Command groups were attached to Ninth Air Force Tactical Air Command to relieve the Army's ground forces with close-air support. After the initial German attack was blunted by early January, the units remained attached until February 1945, assisting the counter-attack by Allied forces.

First seen by Allied airmen during the late summer of 1944, it wasn't until March 1945 that German Jet aircraft started to attack Allied bomber formations in earnest. On 2 March, when Eighth Air Force bombers were dispatched to attack the synthetic oil refineries at Leipzig, Messerschmitt Me 262s attacked the formation near Dresden. The next day, the largest formation of German jets ever seen, most likely from the Luftwaffe's specialist 7th Fighter Wing, Jagdgeschwader 7 Nowotny, made attacks on Eighth Air Force bomber formations over Dresden and the oil targets at Essen, shooting down a total of three bombers.

However, the Luftwaffe jets were simply too few and too late to have any serious effect on the Allied air armadas, now sweeping over the Reich with near-impunity. V-1 and V-2 rocket sites were gradually overrun and the lack of fuel and available pilots for the new jets had virtually driven the Luftwaffe from the skies. The Me-262 was an elusive foe in the skies for the P-47s and P-51s, which outclassed the American fighters. Despite its great speed advantage. Allied bomber escort fighters would fly high above the bombers — diving from this height gave them extra speed, thus reducing the speed difference. The Me 262 was less maneuverable than the P-51 and trained Allied pilots could catch up to a turning Me 262. However, the only reliable way of dealing with the jets, as with the even faster Me 163 Komet rocket fighters, was to attack them on the ground and during takeoff and landing. Luftwaffe airfields that were identified as jet bases were frequently bombed by medium bombers, and Allied fighters patrolled over the fields to attack jets trying to land. The Luftwaffe countered by installing flak alleys along the approach lines in order to protect the Me 262s from the ground and providing top cover with conventional fighters during takeoff and landing. Nevertheless, in March and April 1945, Allied fighter patrol patterns over Me 262 airfields resulted in numerous losses of jets and serious attrition of the force.

On 7 April, the Eighth Air Force dispatched thirty-two B-17 and B-24 groups and fourteen Mustang groups (the sheer numbers of attacking Allied aircraft were so large in 1945 that they were now counted by the group) to targets in the small area of Germany still controlled by the Nazis, hitting the remaining airfields where the Luftwaffe jets were stationed. In addition, almost 300 German aircraft of all types were destroyed in strafing attacks. On 16 April, this record was broken when over 700 German aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

The Luftwaffe was, simply, finished.

At war's end the 8th's fighters had claimed 5,280 enemy aircraft shot down and 4,100 more claimed destroyed on the ground. Losses were 2,113 in total. Some 260 VIII FC pilots became aces, each with five or more aerial victories, though the command also recognized planes destroyed on the ground. The top aces were Lt. Col. Francis S. Gabreski (28) and Capt. Robert S. Johnson (28) of the 56th Fighter Group plus Maj. George E. Preddy (26.83) and Lt. Col. John C. Meyer (24) of the 352nd. Gabreski was shot down and captured in July 1944, and Preddy was killed in December. Some 5,000 pilots served with the VIII FC of which 2,156 made at least one part share claim for a kill. Just 57 pilots made claims into double figures.

Lineage[edit | edit source]

  • Constituted as VIII Interceptor Command on 19 January 1942
Activated on 1 February 1942
Redesignated VIII Fighter Command in May 1942
Inactivated on 20 March 1946
Disbanded on 8 October 1948

Assignments[edit | edit source]

Components[edit | edit source]


Groups (assigned to VIII Fighter Command)

RAF Goxhill
RAF Bushey Hall; RAF Debden
RAF Kings Cliffe
RAF Atcham; RAF Westhampnett
RAF Eglinton
RAF Nuthampstead
RAF Kings Cliffe; RAF Horsham St Faith
RAF Goxhill; RAF Duxford
RAF Duxford

RAF Bodney
RAF Goxhill; RAF Metfield
Assigned to Ninth Air Force under operational control of VIII Fighter Command
RAF Greenham Common; RAF Boxted; RAF Lashenden
RAF Steeple Morden
  • 361st Fighter Group, (P-47; P-51) 30 November 1943 – 12 December 1943; 1 February 1945 – 10 April 1945
RAF Bottisham; RAF Little Walden
  • 495th Fighter Training Group**: November 1942-February 1945
RAF Atcham
  • 496th Fighter Training Group**: August 1942-January 1945
RAF Goxhill

* Formed in England by Eighth Air Force; reassigned to Twelfth Air Force.
** Training unit with no permanent aircraft assigned.

Groups (assigned to wings)

  • 6th Fighter Wing
Wing and assigned groups reassigned to Twelfth Air Force, 14 September 1942
1st Fighter Group: (P-38), 16 August-14 September 1942
RAF Goxhill; RAF Kirton In Lindsey; RAF Ibsley
14th Fighter Group: (P-38), 14 August-14 September 1942
RAF Atcham
31st Fighter Group: (P-38), 16 August-14 September 1942
RAF Westhampnett
52d Fighter Group (Spitfire) 18 August-14 September 1942
RAF Eglinton; RAF Goxhill
  • 65th Fighter Wing

4th Fighter Group, (Spitfire, P-47, P-51) 30 June 1943
RAF Debden
Attached to: 2d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944-November 1945
56th Fighter Group, (P-47) 30 June 1943
RAF Horsham St Faith; RAF Halesworth; RAF Boxted
Attached to: 2d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 10 October 1945
78th Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 30 June-18 August 1943
RAF Duxford
355th Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 18 August 1943
RAF Steeple Morden
Attached to: 2d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 3 July 1945

361st Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 8 August-15 September 1944
RAF Bottisham; RAF Little Walden
Attached to: 2d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September-24 December 1944
Further attached to: XIX Tactical Air Command, 24 December 1944 – 1 February 1945 (Battle of the Bulge)
Attached to: 2d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 10 April-3 November 1945
479th Fighter Group, (P-38, P-51) 15 May 1944
RAF Wattisham
Attached to: 2d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 22 November 1945

  • 66th Fighter Wing

55th Fighter Group, (P-38, P-51) 5 October 1943
RAF Nuthampstead; RAF Wormingford
Attached to: 3d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 20 July 1945
78th Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 18 August 1943
RAF Goxhill; RAF Duxford
Attached to: 3d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 10 October 1945
339th Fighter Group, (P-51) 4 April 1944
RAF Fowlmere
Attached to: 3d Bombardment (later Air) Division 15 September 1944-October 1945

353d Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 18 August 1943
RAF Goxhill; RAF Metfeld; RAF Raydon
Attached to: 3d Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 10 October 1945
357th Fighter Group (P-51) 31 January 1944
RAF Raydon
Attached to: 1st Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 8 July 1945
359th Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 20 October 1943 – 1 November 1943
RAF East Wretham
361st Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 12 December 1943 – 11 March 1944
RAF Bottisham; RAF Little Walden

  • 67th Fighter Wing

20th Fighter Group, (P-38, P-51) 6 October 1943
RAF Kings Cliffe
Attached to: 1st Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 11 October 1945
352d Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 6 October 1943
RAF Bodney
Attached to: 1st Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 13 April 1945
Further attached to: IX Tactical Air Command, 23 December 1944 – 13 April 1945 (Battle of the Bulge)
356th Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 8 August 1944
RAF Martlesham Heath
Attached to: 1st Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 2 November 1945

359th Fighter Group, (P-47, P-51) 1 November 1943
RAF East Wretham
Attached to: 1st Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 2 November 1945
361st Fighter Group, (P-51) 11 March-8 August 1944
RAF Little Walden
364th Fighter Group, (P-38, P-51) 10 February 1944
RAF Honington
Attached to: 1st Bombardment (later Air) Division, 15 September 1944 – 3 November 1945

Stations[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

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  • Miller, Kent D. Fighter Units & Pilots of the 8th Air Force September 1942 – May 1945. Volume 1 Day-to-Day Operations - Fighter Group Histories. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7643-1241-3.
  • Miller, Kent D. and Nancy Thomas. Fighter Units & Pilots of the 8th Air Force September 1942 – May 1945. Volume 2 Aerial Victories - Ace Data. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-7643-1242-1.
  • Ramsey, Winston G. [Editor]. Airfields of the Eighth. London: 1978.
  • Scutts, Jerry. Lion in the Sky: US 8th Air Force Fighter Operations, 1942–1945. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1987.
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  • Werrell, Kenneth P. & Robin Higham. Eighth Air Force Bibliography : An Extended Essay & Listing of Published & Unpublished Materials. Manhattan, Kansas: Military Affairs - Aerospace Historian, 1981 (Second Edition 1997, Strasburg, Pennsylvania: 8th Air Force Memorial Museum Foundation, 1997).
  • Woolnough, John H. (Ed.) The 8th Air Force Album: The Story of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in WW II. Hollywood, Florida: 8th AF News, 1978.
  • Woolnough, John H. (Ed.) The 8th Air Force Yearbook: The current Status of 8th AF Unit Associations, 1980. Hollywood, Florida: 8th AF News, 1981.
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  • United States Army Air Forces, 8th Air Force
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External links[edit | edit source]

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