The Killer Bees

Air National Guard History

After World War I, there was a great interest on the part of the National Guard in military aviation. In Massachusetts, the Archie Club, composed of former Army Air Service pilots, lobbied the adjutant general to request an aviation squadron for the Massachusetts National Guard. The War Department agreed that the Guard should organize aviation squadrons as an organic part of the 18 infantry divisions assigned to the National Guard.

On June 27, 1921, the adjutant general of Massachusetts authorized the organization of the 101st Observation Squadron. Within weeks, 15 veteran World War I pilots were commissioned and assigned to the 101st under the command of Capt. James K. Knowles. The 101st was stationed at the U.S. Army Air Corps base at Jeffries Point, East Boston which later became Logan Airport in honor of Maj. Gen. Edward L. Logan, commanding general of the 26th Division, 1923-1928.

The 101st was federally recognized as a National Guard unit on Nov. 18, 1921, but it did not receive its own JN-4D aircraft for over a year. The 101st also had to raise $15,000 on its own in order to complete runways since state funding did not cover all the costs. Nevertheless, the 101st drilled weekly and “Jennies” were always available for pilots to fly. The squadron raised public awareness of military aviation throughout New England by flying their “Jennies” at air shows, county fairs and other events.

In 1933, the 101st occupied new hangers and administrative buildings at Logan Airport. The 101st was also ordered into state service in 1936 and 1938 during a devastating flood and hurricane to fly observation missions and to drop food and equipment to stranded fisherman and the residents of Isle au Haut, Maine.

In 1940, the 101st separated from the 26th Division and in November was ordered into active federal service for intensive training. The 25 officers and 133 enlisted men assigned to the 101st remained at home station until July 31, 1941 when the unit moved to Otis Field, Camp Edwards named in honor of 1st Lt. Frank J. Otis, Jr., 101st flight surgeon killed in a flight accident in 1938. The 101st participated in the North Carolina maneuvers in the fall of 1941 and returned to Otis Field on Dec. 6, 1941.

With the outbreak of World War II, the 101st was assigned to fly antisubmarine patrols off the coast of New England until Sept. 10, 1942. By then many of its original members had been reassigned during the expansion of the Army Air Forces. During the next two years the 101st was transferred between several bases. On May 20, 1944, its mission changed when it was re-designated as the 39th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. As the 39th, the squadron deployed to the European Theater in Dec. 1944 with 45 officers and 297 enlisted men. The 39th flew both P-38s and P-51s during operational missions from Jan. 1945 to the end of the war in May. The 39th returned to the U.S. in Aug. 1945. The unit was re-designated as the 101st Fighter Squadron in May 1946 and inactivated two months later. During the summer of 1946, 101st veterans and Army Air Forces veterans reorganized the 101st at Logan Airport. The squadron was equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt and was federally recognized on Oct. 15, 1946.

Immediately after World War II, the National Guard Bureau began making plans for the expansion of the Guard’s Army Air Forces units. The Massachusetts allotment of units was: HQ, 67th Fighter Wing composed of the 101st and 131st Fighter Squadrons; the 202nd Air Service Group; the 601st Signal Construction Company; the 101st Communications Squadron; the 101st Air Control Squadron; the 151st Air Control and Warning Group; the 567th Air Force Band; the 101st Weather Flight; and the 1801st Aviation Engineer Company.

The period from 1946-1950 was a time of organization and expansion of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. The new units had to be organized, federally recognized, equipped and stationed. The first several years were difficult as units had to contend with worn-out World War II aircraft while the Air Force converted to modern jet fighters. Air Guard units were under funded and largely left to themselves to conduct training with little assistance and supervision by the Air Force. Most of the personnel in these new units were Army Air Forces veterans and most of the units were stationed at Logan Airport.

The most unique unit was the 1801st Engineer Aviation Company stationed in Somerville. When the Air Force separated from the Army in 1947, it did not have its own engineer units, so the Army agreed to provide engineer personnel to the Air Force and Air Guard for several years. Designated as Special Category Army with Air Force units, a number of Army Guard engineer Soldiers were assigned to the 1801st.

Several units were ordered into federal service during the Korean War, including the 1801st; the 151st Air Control and Warning Group; the 101st Air Control Squadron; the 101st Radar Calibration Detachment and the 1801st Engineer Aviation Company. While the Massachusetts Air National Guard fighter squadrons were not mobilized, a number of pilots volunteered for active duty and flew combat missions over Korea.

The period during the Korean War also brought several force structure changes to the Massachusetts Air National Guard. On Nov. 1, 1950 the 67th Fighter Wing was inactivated and replaced by the 102d Fighter Wing. Its mission was to command the 101st and 131st Fighter Squadrons and other Air Guard squadrons in New England as part of the runway alert program. While the 102nd remained in Guard status, it served at a high alert level with the mission of intercepting enemy aircraft. The squadrons were issued F-84Bs, however, these aircraft were recalled by the Air Force and obsolete F-51s were flown until 1954 when the F-94 replaced the Mustangs. In 1952 the 253d Combat Communications Group was activated while the 131st Fighter Squadron occupied new hangers and buildings at Barnes Field.

After the Korean War, the Massachusetts Air Guard began to modernize and expand. In 1956 the 102nd was re-designated as the 102nd Air Defense Wing consisting of the 102nd and 104th Fighter Groups. All units of the wing began attending annual training at Otis Air Force Base. The air defense mission ended in 1958 when the 102nd and its squadrons were reorganized as tactical fighter units and converted to F-86H Sabre jets. During the 1950s and early 1960s, better training and equipment, and closer relations with the Air Force greatly improved the readiness of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

U.S. relations with the Soviet Union worsened during the fall of 1961 over control of Berlin. President Kennedy mobilized hundreds of Army and Air Force Reserve Component units as a threat against Soviet intentions in Germany. On Oct. 1, 1961, virtually the entire Massachusetts Air National Guard was mobilized for active duty. The entire 102nd Fighter Wing, some 1,706 airmen, was mobilized along with the 101st Air Control Flight. The 102nd was ordered to deploy to Phalsbourg Air Base, France as part of U.S. Air Forces Europe. With the wing’s deployment to France, an air bridge of 75 fighters departed for France on Nov. 5 1961. During the 102nd’s service in France, it was visited by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara; Gen. Curtis Lemay, Chief of Staff of the Air Force; Gen. Lauris Norstad, Supreme Allied Commander; and Gen. Truman H. Landon, Commander in Chief, U.S. Air Forces Europe. The 102nd flew hundreds of missions in support of the Seventh U.S. Army. The wing redeployed back to Massachusetts in Aug. 1962 and reverted back to state control on Aug 20.

After the Berlin Crisis, the readiness status of the Massachusetts Guard greatly improved under the “gaining command concept”, whereby U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command was responsible for overseeing the training of the 102nd. Operational readiness inspections also honed the edges of the wing. In 1964, the 102nd converted to the F-84F; the Air Guard was always one generation of fighter aircraft behind the Air Force during this time.

On Aug. 11, 1968, the 102nd Fighter Wing took part in its final review at Logan Airport. After 47 years at Logan, the state, the Massachusetts Air National Guard and the Air Force all agreed that the 102nd should move to Otis Air Force Base for readiness and operational reasons. The 102nd occupied old hangers and quarters at the largest Air Defense Command base in the U.S. It was several years before military construction funding became available for new hangers and buildings. Meanwhile, the 101st Fighter Squadron converted to the F-100 in May 1971 and to the F-106 one year later.

With the move to Otis came a change in mission. On June 10, 1972, the 102nd and 101st were re-designated as fighter interceptor units and the 102nd replaced an active duty wing at Otis. The 102nd and its units were assigned to protect U.S. skies as the Air Guard began assuming the air sovereignty mission from the Air Force.

The 104th Fighter Group remained as a tactical fighter unit flying the F-100 until July 1979 when it converted to the A-10A Warthog. This was the first time in its history that it received new aircraft. The 102nd Fighter Interceptor Wing assumed a greater responsibility on Dec. 31, 1973 when it took over command and control of Otis Air National Guard Base. For the first time in its history, the 102nd was no longer a tenant unit. The Air National Guard of the U.S. was given the air sovereignty mission to protect American skies and the 102nd routinely launched to identify unknown aircraft entering U.S. airspace. During the Cold War, F-106 Delta Darts from the 102nd intercepted Soviet “Bear” bombers that tested the responsiveness of the Air Guard. The 102nd converted to the F-15 in 1988 and for the first time in many years, the Massachusetts Air Guard flew a top of the line aircraft.

Even as the Cold War was ending, the Massachusetts Air National Guard was called upon to meet new challenges. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in Aug. 1990 led to a U.S. response with air, ground and naval attacks during Operation Desert Storm. While no flying units of the Massachusetts Air Guard were mobilized, six mission support units provided personnel to backfill deploying Air Force units in the U.S. The Total Force Policy of the Department of Defense stipulated that the Reserve Components were to play a large role in the nation’s defense. For most of its existence, the Air Guard had been a reserve force for use only in wartime. By the 1980s, the Air Guard was an integral part of daily Air Force operations. As a result, the Massachusetts Air Guard took on more missions.

From Aug. to Oct. 1995, some 400 Airmen of the 104th Fighter Wing deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy as part of the NATO mission to repel Serb forces in Bosnia. This was the first time that the 131st Fighter Squadron flew combat sorties. Four years later, in 1999, elements of the 104th mobilized and flew sorties over the skies of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. As part of an Air Guard A-10 group, the 131st attacked Serb forces in Kosovo.

The 102nd Fighter Wing continued to maintain 24-hour protection of the skies of the East Coast of the U.S. For the first time since 1962, elements of the 102nd mobilized for overseas service and deployed to Southwest Asia. Beginning in early 1999, F-15s of the 101st Fighter Squadron, supported by the 102nd Wing, began enforcing the “no-fly zone” over Iraq. Pilots of the 101st successfully flew hundreds of combat missions while patrolling the skies of Iraq. The 102nd returned to Otis Air National Guard Base in May 1999. The 102nd deployed to Southwest Asia again in November 2000 to once again enforce the “no-fly zone.” Veteran 101st pilots picked up where they left off and flew combat missions for several months into 2001.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed America forever. In the case of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, things have never been the same. Two F-15s of the 102nd Fighter Wing responded to the hijacking of two commercial aircraft and their subsequent crash into the World Trade Center Towers on that day. Within hours, all Air National Guard air defense aircraft launched into the skies to guard against further attacks. On Sept. 28, 2001, the 102nd was ordered into active federal service to support Operation Noble Eagle which provided continuous air cover over several major American cities.

Under Total Force, most of the A-10 “tank buster” aircraft were assigned to the Air Guard. In 2003, the 104th Fighter Wing flew hundreds of combat missions with the A-10 in support of U.S. Army and Marine operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. During March and April 2003, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 131st Fighter Squadron A-10s supported the U.S. Army by flying combat missions that interdicted enemy forces. The 104th played a major role with its air support.

While the flying units were engaged in the Global War on Terrorism so were the mission support units. The 253d Combat Communications Group, including the 267th Combat Communications Squadron, mobilized personnel for service in Southwest Asia and supported Air Force operations in Afghanistan. The 212th Engineer Installation Squadron deployed teams to Southwest Asia, Europe, and Cuba to install critical communications and electronics infrastructure.

An important unit that contributes to civic, patriotic and military events is the 567th Air Force Band also designated as the “Air National Guard Band of the Northeast.” The history of the 567th goes back to 1942 when it was an Army Air Forces band. As the only Air Guard band in New England, the 567th is always in demand for performances, parades and other events.

The Massachusetts Air National Guard has never been busier in its existence then the past three years. Despite the heavy commitment in the Global War on Terrorism, the units of the Massachusetts Air Guard continue to meet every challenge and assigned mission.


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