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24th Pursuit Group: Wikis


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24th Pursuit Group

5th usaaf.png

Active 16 August 1941 – 2 April 1946
(Not equipped or manned, May 1942 – 2 April 1946)
Country United States
Branch United States Army Air Forces
Role Pursuit
Part of Far East Air Force
Engagements Philippine Islands (1941–1942)
Decorations Distinguished Unit Citations: Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg
   Philippines, 7 December 1941 – 10 May 1942
   Philippines, 8–12 December 1941
   Philippines, 6 January – 8 March 1942
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Presidential Unit Citation (Philippines).svg
Colonel Orrin L. Grover, 1 October 1941 – April 1942

The 24th Pursuit Group is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was wiped out in the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42). The survivors fought as infantry during Battle of Bataan and after their surrender, were subjected to the Bataan Death March, although some did escape to Australia. The unit was never remanned or equipped. It was carried as an active unit until 2 April 1946.





  • Constituted as 24th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) on 16 August 1941
Activated on 1 October 1941
Inactivated on 2 April 1946


  • Philippine Department Air Force 16 August 1941
Redesignated: Far East Air Force on 28 October 1941
Resesignated: 5 Air Force on 5 February 1942
Redesignated: Fifth Air Force on 18 September 1942 – 2 April 1946

Stations and components

  • Headquarters and Ground Echelon:
Clark Field, Luzon, 1 October 1941
Mariveles, Bataan, Luzon, c. 1 January — May 1942
Attached to Fifth Air Force Headquarters after 1 May 1942 until inactivation
Squadron operated from: Iba Airfield, Luzon, 1 September 1941
Squadron operated from: Nichols Field, Luzon, 9 December 1941
Squadron operated from: Ternate Field, Luzon, 12 December 1941
Squadron operated from: Del Carmen Field, Luzon, 25 December 1941
Squadron operated from: Nichols Field, Luzon, 5 December 1941
Squadron operated from: Clark Field, Luzon, 9–25 December 1941
Squadron operated from: Clark Field, Luzon, 1 October 1941
Squadron operated from: Lubao, Luzon, 25–31 December 1941
Squadron operated from: Nichols Field, Luzon, 1 November 1941
Squadron operated from: Lubao, Luzon, 25 December 1941 – 4 January 1942
Squadron operated from: Del Carmen Field, Luzon, 1 November – 25 December 1941
  • Air echelon of group operated from Bataan Airfield, along with airfields at Cabcaben and Mariveles c. 25 December 1941 – c. 8 April 1942
  • Ground echelon fought as infantry unit on Bataan 18 January – 8 April 1942
  • Air echelon of group operated from: Del Monte Airfield, Mindanao, c. 8 April – c. 1 May 1942


Operational history

The Group was activated in the Philippine Islands on 1 October 1941. Augmented by two attached squadrons (21st and 34th) and equipped with Seversky P-35s and Curtiss P-40s, this group comprised the entire pursuit force in the Philippines in December 1941 (80 P-40s; 40 P-35s).

After the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States military in the Philippines was given a reprieve of about nine and a half hours due to bad weather over Formosa. When enemy aircraft were first reported to be approaching Luzon on the morning of 8 December (local time), the 24th group attempted to intercept but failed because radar and visual sighting facilities were inadequate.

However when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service struck the American airfields on Luzon the group's planes either had landed for refueling or had run so low on fuel that they could not fight and were largely caught on the ground. Iba Field, a training base on Luzon's west coast, about ninety miles north of Manila was almost completely obliterated with considerable losses of personnel and aircraft of the 3d Pursuit Squadron, plus the destruction of one of the two operational RADAR units in the country. Almost simultaneously, Clark Field, the main air base on Luzon was devastated with nearly half of Fifth Air Force's combat aircraft destroyed on the ground, and most of the 24th Pursuit Group's aircraft destroyed in the attack. Clark Field was so heavily damaged it was essentially eliminated as an effective combat airfield. Four pursuit pilots ere killed as they courageously attempted to take off from Clark during the air raid, as were several from Iba who were landing after finishing their patrol and were caught in the Japanese attack. A complete breakdown of communications occurred and barley more than a dozen American aircraft met the Japanese attackers

In addition to the catastrophe at Clark and Iba Fields, the planes of the 17th Pursuit Squadron and two of the three flights of the 21st Squadron were patrolling over Manila Bay at the time of the attack, but inexplicably were not ordered into action. The P-35s at Del Carmen Field took to the air after seeing the clouds of smoke over nearby Clark Field, but were blown out of the sky by the Japanese Zeros, which were much faster and more maneuverable.

More bad weather delayed additional attacks until 10 December however the fighting strength of the 24th Group was reduced to about one-third of its strength. The second major Japanese air attack were focused on Nichols Field and the Naval facilities at Cavite. With only a few minutes notice of the attack, the remaining 24th pursuit pilots prepared to meet the enemy formations. However, the standing patrols being flown had left those planes in the air low on fuel and others were in northern Luzon engaged in a dogfight with Zeros attempting to attack Del Carmen. The planes on alert took off to attempt interception however before they could reach the altitude of the attacking Japanese bombers, they were swarmed on by Zeros. Dogfights broke out across the sky and although outnumbered nearly three to one, the 24th pilots did well, downing more Japanese aircraft than they lost. However as they ran out of fuel, they had to break off and land wherever they could find a field. By the end of the day, the fighting strength of the 24th Pursuit Group consisted of twenty-two P-40s and eight P-35s

In the days that followed, the group's strength declined rapidly, but the 24th flew some patrol and reconnaissance missions, engaging the enemy in the air, and attacked enemy airfields and shipping. Fifth Air Force Headquarters was faced with the fact that their depleted force would be driven to extinction by attrition. The P-40s were able to meet the Zeros on equal terms but it lacked the maneuverability of the lighter Japanese plane. In the ensuing days, the Japanese never appeared with less than 30 Zeros, and the Americans never met them with more than six P-40's. Often, the pilots of the 24th PG attacked with two, sometimes four-plane elements.

With no supplies or replacements available from the United States, ground crews, with little or no spares for repairing aircraft, used parts which were cannibalized from wrecks. Essentials, such as oil, was reused, with used oil being strained though makeshift filters, and tailwheel tires were stuffed with rags to keep them usable. The aircraft which were flying and engaging the Japanese seemed to have more bullethole patches on the fuselage than original skin.

By the time of the main Japanese invasion of Luzon along the east coast of Lingayen Gulf on 23 December, combat attrition had cut down the 24th's striking power to a total of twelve P-40's and six P-35's, but they proved sufficient to create confusion among enemy personnel in landing barges and around supply dumps ashore. The ground combat situation on Luzon quickly became desperate when a second set of major landings occurred along the shore of Lamon Bay in southern Luzon. The combat strength of the 24th had become so small that except for the few pilots required to fly these planes and the men necessary for their maintenance the surviving personnel of the group were designated as the 2d Infantry Regiment (Provisional), of the 71st Infantry division and ordered into ground combat. As an infantry unit, the men were engaged in beach defense of the Bataan peninsula.

With the withdrawal from Clark Field on 20 December, the 24th used dispersed landing fields on Luzon, some little more than grass to carry on the fight. Japanese forces were rapidly advancing from both the north and south. MacArthur ordered all American and Philippine forces to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula and all Fifth Air Force aircraft to withdraw from Clark and Nichols Fields. What was left of the group were based at temporary fields at Orant and Pilar in northern Bataan, and later withdrawn on 8 January to Bataan Field, located several miles from the southern tip of the peninsula. Bataan field consisted of a dirt runway, hacked out of the jungle by Army engineers. However, it was well camouflaged. It was attacked and strafed daily by the Japanese, however no aircraft were lost on the ground as a result of the attacks. Bataan Field, along with airfields at Cabcaben and Mariveles were kept in operation for several months during the Battle of Bataan.

The remaining pilots continued operations with the few planes that were left, cannibalizing aircraft wreckage to keep a few planes airborne in the early months of 1942. With the surrender of the United States Army on Bataan, Philippines on 8 April 1942, the remaining air echelon of the 24th Pursuit Group withdrew to Mindanao Island and began operating from Del Monte Airfield with whatever aircraft were remaining. The last of the group's aircraft were captured or destroyed by enemy forces on or about 1 May 1942. With the collapse of organized United States resistance in the Philippines on 8 May 1942, a few surviving members of the squadron managed to escape from Mindanao to Australia where they were integrated into existing units.

The 24th Pursuit Group and its squadrons were never remanned after the battle. They were simply left on the active list of Fifth Air Force organizations throughout the war. The unit and its subordinate squadrons were inactivated on 2 April 1946.

See also


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.


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