In 1954 the U.S. deployed several Air Force fighter-interceptor units to the East coast of England. The Korean War had ended the year before, and a Westward attack was a possibility. The purpose of this deployment was to protect the U.K. by providing a means to interdict enemy air attack from across the North Sea. (See red line on map.) The 87th Fighter Squadron at Sioux City, Iowa was one of the units chosen to be deployed.
WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY
The 87th had been at Sioux City for some time training in the F-51 which was our third fighter committed to battle in Korea. The piston powered F-51 had been sent to augment the F-80's and F-82's. But they still needed more help to counter the very efficient enemy MiG-15 jet fighter.
The magnificent F-86A Sabre, America's first swept wing jet fighter was committed to combat in Korea shortly after the MiG-15 was. The 86's turned the tide in the air war. At the end of the war it was determined that the 86A had achieved a 15:1 kill ratio over the MiG-15, and had enabled 39 American jet Air Aces. This was accomplished primarily with its six .50 caliber machine guns and range-only radar.
The hot war was over and the cold war began. The beautiful 86A and the 51 were both now obsolete and the new generation of 86's was on hand. The aircraft chosen to re-equip the 87th Fighter Squadron was the newer, larger, faster F-86D Sabre , known affectionately as the "Dog" because of its "D" designator's position in the old phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, etc). It was our nation's first single seat, all weather/night fighter. It was equipped with intercept radar, two dozen Mighty Mouse rockets, afterburner, and dive brakes among other niceties. A formidable war machine to be sure. Just exactly what we needed to perform guard duty over the North Sea. Now we had a new squadron of airplanes, a new assignment, a new place to go, and needed new people to fly and service the new planes. Every man in the unit was hand picked from all the fighter outfits all over the U. S. as the best suited for this deployment. The squadron was now complete.
In December of 1954 all the support equipment was crated up, and together with the men, shipped by train and sea to a place in England known as RAF Bentwaters. The planes were flown over later. The place was a WWII Royal Air Force base, operated by the USAF 81st FBW, cleaned up a little, and expanded somewhat to accommodate our new unit of about 250 men and 25 jet fighters. It was located on that big bulge in the East coastline known as East Anglia. (See the green spot on the map.) The area had been used extensively by the USAAF during WWII.
Soon after its deployment the unit was redesignated 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. No one yet knew that the "512th" was to become famous, but it had all the potential. The squadron was commanded by a WWII fighter ace named Mike Quirk, a colonel who earned his fame flying fighters out of East Anglia, protecting U.S. bombers over Europe. His second in command was Frank Bohn, a major who gained his fame over WWII North Africa in a P-39 Airacobra, shooting up Rommel's tanks with its 37mm cannon. Mike's maintenance officer was a real prize; a "take no nonsense" old Captain by the name of Roy Sweigard who had been on the ship when Doolittle did Tokyo. He really knew how to run a maintenance group.
The 512th pilots were mostly a top notch group of young, recent grads from F-86D school with plenty of hours in the type. The backbone of any fighting organization, the senior non-commissioned officers, were all experienced individuals on their second or third hitches, ready for anything. The lower ranking men were the best available including a bunch of college boys. We were ready to go to work.
USAF 87th/512 FIS
The 512th squadron was constituted during World War II and activated on 1 March 1943 in Mississippi as a dive bomber squadron. It was redesignated a fighter bomber squadron on 10 August 1943 and entered combat in the European Theater flying the P-47 Thunderbolt in May 1944. The squadron remained in Germany after the end of the war, and was deactivated on 20 August 1946 at Nordholz Germany.
The 512th was reactivated on 10 July 1952 in England as a fighter bomber squadron flying the F-84E Thunderjet and assigned to the 406th Fighter Bomber Wing. The 512th was one of three squadrons assigned to the 406th Fighter Bomber Wing, the other two being the 513th and 514th. In late 1953, the squadron began to replace its F-84E with the F-86F Sabre and on 1 April 1954, was redesignated the 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.
At about this time, the Netherlands had agreed to station an Air Force unit in the country under the auspices of NATO. As a result, the 512th was redesignated again, on 8 August 1954, as the 512th Fighter Day Squadron, and moved to Soesterberg AB, Netherlands on 1 November 1954. It continued to operate at Soesterberg, detached from the 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing, until 8 September 1955 when it was redesignated the 32nd Fighter Day Squadron and reassigned to the 36th Fighter Day Wing at Bitburg AB, Germany while continuing to operate from Soesterberg.
This was just one part of a complicated exchange of identities, however. On 1 November 1952, the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron had been activated at Sioux City, Iowa where it was equipped with the F-86D Sabre. It continued to operate from there until December 1954, when it was transferred to RAF Bentwaters in England and “attached” to the 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing. At the same time, the 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing began to transition from the F-86F to the F-86D interceptor, receiving its first F-86D in October 1954.
The 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron continued to operate from RAF Bentwaters, attached to the 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing, from December 1954 until 8 September 1955, the same day the 512th Fighter Day Squadron, now at Soesterberg, was redesignated the 32nd Fighter Day Squadron. Simultaneously, the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was redesignated the 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and formally assigned to the 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing. In turn, the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron designation was returned to the U.S. where it was reactivated at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio on 8 April 1956. On paper, the 512th continued to be assigned to the 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing, but it was in fact, two separate squadrons.
The “new” 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron remained stationed at RAF Bentwaters while the 513th and 514th remained stationed at RAF Manston.
The runway at RAF Bentwaters required repair and extension and was closed in the fall of 1956 to begin work. Most of the squadron maintenance personnel/pilots remained quartered at Bentwaters but the aircraft, flying operations and maintenance were moved to RAF Woodbridge. This meant a 10 km trip to work & back every day.
While at Bentwaters/Woodbridge during 1957 the 512th won the competition as the best air defense squadron in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard and was awarded the Hughes Trophy. The squadron was also awarded an Outstanding Unit citation.
In March 1958 the 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was transferred from RAF Woodbridge to Sembach AF Base, West Germany and was reassigned to the 86th Fighter Interceptor Wing. During late July 1958 twelve aircraft, with pilots and maintenance personnel were given 24 hour notice to move to Incirlik Air Base, Adana, Turkey. The squadron was part of the first deployment of an American Expeditionary Force AEF since WWI. The squadron provided Air Defense and joined units from Europe and the United States in the 1958 Lebanon Crisis. The detachment remained at Incirlik until early October. The remaining squadron aircraft and personnel at Sembach AB continued to provide Air Defense capability on a 24/7 alert basis until the squadron was back to full strength. The squadron was awarded a second Outstanding Unit Award.
The 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was deactivated on 1 July 1959 at Sembach AB as Air Force defense strategies and aircraft were upgraded.
The 87th/512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at RAF Bentwaters, England and Sembach AF Base, West Germany had an outstanding history during the Cold War.
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