Military Air Transport Service: Wikis

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Military Air Transport Service
MATS.jpg
Military Air Transport Service emblem
Active 1948–1966
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
United States Navy
Type Global Airlift

The Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was a major command of the United States Air Force from 1948–1965. Established on 1 June 1948 by the Department of Defense, MATS was a consolidation of the the United States Navy Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) and the United States Air Force Air Transport Command (ATC) into a single, joint, unified command.

MATS was deactivated on 1 January 1966 due to the withdrawal of the naval units and the demands of the expanding Vietnam War. MATS Air Force assets were assigned to the new Military Airlift Command (MAC). Naval assets and personnel were reassigned to Naval Air Transport Units under Navy control.

Contents

History

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Lineage

  • Established and activated as Military Air Transport Service on 1 June 1948
Mission and operational control of Air Transport Command, established on 29 May 1941, consolidated into organization same date.
Air Transport command discontinued and inactivated same date.
Mission and operational control of Naval Air Transport Service, established on 12 December 1941, consolidated into organization same date.
Naval Air Transport Service disestablished, 1 July 1948
Redesignated: Military Airlift Command on 1 January 1966

Assignments

Components

Services

Redesignated: Aerospace Rescue Recovery Service (ARRS)

Divisions

Headquartered: Kelly AFB, Texas
Redesignated: Western Transport Air Force, (WESTAF) 1 Jul 1958 – 1 Jan 1966
Headquarters moved to: Travis AFB, California
Headquartered: Westover AFB, Massachusetts
Redesignated: Eastern Transport Air Force, (EASTAF) 1 Jul 1958 – 1 Jan 1966
Headquarters moved to: McGuire AFB, New Jersey
  • Pacific Division, 1 Jun 1948 – 30 Jun 1958
Headquarters: Hickam AFB, Territory of Hawaii
Inactivated, units reassigned to WESTAF

Major Bases and Units

1254th Air Transport Wing, 10 July 1961 – 31 Dec 1965
1100th Special Air Missions Group (Wing), 1 Jun 1948 – 10 Jul 1961
1608th Air Transport Wing, 15 Jan 1954 – 31 Dec 1965
1607th Air Transport Wing, 1 Aug 1953 – 31 Dec 1965
1502d Air Transport Group (Wing), 1 Jun 1948 – 31 Dec 1965
1700th Air Transport Group (Wing), 25 Aug 1948 – 25 Jun 1958
1705th Air Transport Wing, 24 Aug 1950 – 31 Dec 1965
1611th Air Transport Wing, July 1, 1954 – January 8, 1966
1707th Air Transport Wing, 20 Jul 1952 – 30 June 1959
1405th Aeromedical Transport Group (Wing), 26 Aug 1948 – 31 Dec 1965
1707th Air Transport Wing, 30 June 1959 – 31 Dec 1965
  • Tachikawa AFB Japan
1503rd Air Transport Wing 1952–1966
1503rd Air Transport Wing, Tachikawa Japan.
1501st Air Transport Group (Wing), 1 Jun 1948 – 31 Dec 1965
1600th Air Transport Group (Wing), 1 Jun 1948 – 1 Apr 1955

Major aircraft assigned

Specialized aircraft used

Used by Aeromedical Transport Wing
Used by Special Air Mission
Used by Air Photographic and Charting Service
Used by Air Rescue Service, Air Resupply And Communications Service
Used by Air Weather Service

Origins

With the end of World War II, the United States Army Air Force Air Transport Command found itself in limbo. Senior USAAF authorities considered ATC to be a wartime necessity that was no longer needed, and expected its civilian personnel, including former airline pilots, to return to their peacetime occupations. Senior ATC officers, on the other hand, thought that ATC should be developed into a national government operated airline, an idea that was soundly opposed by the airline industry. While the war had firmly established the necessity of a troop carrier mission, most military officers believed the role performed by ATC should be provided by contract carriers.

When the United States Air Force was established as a separate service in 1947, the Air Transport Command was not established as one of its major commands. The ATC commander and his staff took it upon themselves to convince the new civilian leadership of the newly created Department of Defense (DOD) (and Secretaries of the Army and Air Force) that ATC had a mission. They seized upon testimony by former I Troop Carrier Command commander General Paul Williams that the Air Force should have a long-range troop deployment capability, and began advocating that ATC transports could be used to deploy troops. Williams had been pressing for the development of a long-range troop carrier airplane when he made his statement.

The DOD believed it should have its own air transport service and decided that ATC should become the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), supported by the Air Force, even though not listed as a formal military mission. Also, as a cost saving measure, MATS would combine the resources of Air Transport Command with those of the Naval Air Transport Service. This way the command would be sanctioned by the Department of Defense, and not by either the Air Force or the Navy.

MATS would organizationally be under the Department of the Air Force, as the vast majority of its equipment and personnel of ATC had been inherited by the Air Force with the inactivation of the USAAF. Although MATS was a Major Command of the United States Air Force, the United States Navy was a full partner in the command and operational components of the organization. MATS was the first Joint-Service command and Naval aircrews participated in every major MATS airlift operation. During the Berlin Airlift, Naval aviators flew transport aircraft from the United States to European supply depots; in the Korean War, MATS Navy Squadrons airlifted some 17,000 battle casualties. In its original organization, a Rear Admiral commanded the MATS Pacific Division and another rear admiral served as MATS vice-commander. During the 1958 reorganization, senior Naval officers were on the staffs of the commanders of both EASTAF and WESTAF, and at MATS Headquarters.

Major Naval components of MATS were Naval Air Transport squadrons. VR-3 was assigned to McGuire AFB and VR-22 was assigned to the Naval Air Transport Station at Naval Station Norfolk/Chambers Field, Virginia. Together they constituted MATS EASTAF's Naval Air Transport Wing, Atlantic. On the Pacific Coast, Naval Air Transport Wing, Pacific, consisted of Air Transport Squadron VR-7 and Maintenance Squadron VR-8, both at Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California. A detachment of VR-7 was also stationed at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan.

Naval aviators flew scheduled MATS routes to Newfoundland, Iceland, Scotland, West Germany, Italy, Puerto Rico and Africa. In the Pacific, MATS Naval aviators flew to all MATS stations from Hawaii to Japan to South Vietnam, Bangkok, India and to Saudi Arabia.

Also Air Force pilots flew MATS Navy planes, just as Naval aviators could be found piloting Air Force transport aircraft.

Organization

Routes of the Eastern Transport Air Force, 1964
Route map of the Western Transport Air Force, 1964

During World War II, the USAAF Air Transport Command provided worldwide transport ervice to every continent on the globe. Inheriting that legacy, MATS continued that service and organized it into three major transport divisions;

.*Note: Eliminated on 1 July 1958, with mission divided between Eastern Transport Air Force, (EASTAF) and Western Transport Air Force (WESTAF)

MATS also amalgamated several other missions into its organization:

The Special Air Mission was the transport of the President of the United States; Vice-President; Cabinet Members; Member of Congress; Senators, and designated other individuals, such as Foreign Heads of State.

Provided rescue of downed military service members in enemy occupied areas; humanitarian relief to civilians in emergency conditions (floods, hurricanes, earthquakes)

Weather forecasting for military airfields; hurricane hunters.

  • Air Photographic and Charting Service (APCS)

Mapping the world providing accurate aerial charts to military aviators wherever they need to be. Also producing all Air Force training flims; public relations films; monthly newsreels, and coordinating with private filmmakers with regards to use of Air Force equipment and facilities.

  • Aeromedical Transport Wing (AMTW)

Evacuation of wounded military personnel from combat zones; transport of critically ill military personnel (and dependents) to military medical facilities for treatment.

Performed unconventional warfare missions during the Korean War and early years of the Cold War (1950–1956).

Major Operations

MATS Lockheed C-141A-10-LM Starlifter 63-8090 in 1965 just after delivery to the 1501st Air Transport Wing at Travis AFB. Retired on 7 Aug 1996, Scrapped 29 Jul 2003.
Douglas C-133B-DL Cargomaster (s/n 59-0529) of the 1501st Air Transport Wing over San Francisco Bay in 1960. Retired 1971. This aircraft was on display at New England Air Museum, Bradley, Connecticut (USA), but was destroyed by a tornado on 3 October 1979. Nose and other pieces now at AMC Museum, Dover AFB.
Douglas C-124C Globemaster II 52-1036
MATS Lockheed C-121C-LO Super Constellation 54-0168 at Tachikawa AB,Japan, 1952
C-97 in MATS markings
Douglas C-54E-10-DO Skymaster 44-9093. Converted to MC-54M in 1951. To civil registry as N4989K. Last known still in service by Contract Air Cargo, Fort Lauderdale, Florida flying in Africa.
MATS United States Navy R5D-3 Skymaster transports from VR-8 evacuating wounded from South Korea, 1952
63d TCW C-124 at Hamilton AFB, California being prepared to load a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter being transported to Formosa, 1958

Berlin Airlift (1948–1949)

MATS was established on June 1, 1948, less than a month before the commencement of the Berlin Airlift -- "OPERATION VITTLES" where at peak operations, planes were landing and departing every ninety seconds or so shuttling in thousands of tons of supplies, food, and fuel each day - but they were not MATS airplanes. The Soviet Union had blocked all surface transportation in the western part of Berlin. Railroads tracks were destroyed, barges were stopped on the rivers, and highways and roads blocked. The only avenue left was through the air. On June 26, 1948, the airlift began. Troop carrier transports from around the globe began making their way to Germany, where they were assigned to United States Air Forces, Europe. Squadrons transferred from as far away as Hawaii and Japan, and included two of the U.S. Navy's air transport squadrons assigned to MATS. MATS itself was not "in charge" of the airlift, although several MATS staff officers were sent to Germany to serve in the Airlift Task Force in an administrative role. Lt. General William H. Tunner was placed in overall command of airlift operations, reporting to the commander of United States Air Forces, Europe. The airlift itself was a USAFE operation and all airplanes assigned to it were assigned to one of five troop carrier groups that were sent to Europe to operate the airlift. MATS played a supporting role, including ferrying C-54s to and from the airlift bases and maintenance depots in the United States and the MATS C-54 training school trained pilots for temporary duty in the airlift. MATS transports delivered crucial aircraft parts to the airlift bases in Europe. This operation would continue for some 15 months until the Soviets lifted the blockade. MATS would provide numerous humanitarian airlifts of global proportions. The U.S. Navy was an integral part of MATS, providing five transport squadrons to the joint service effort, but they operated under USAFE while they were part of the airlift.

Korean War (1950–1953)

The organization's next major test was the bootstrap supply operations supporting the United Nations troops under General Douglas MacArthur in the country of South Korea which was nearly overrun by the time UN forces were mobilized. The MATS role was purely logistical, and operated from the U.S. to Japan. Theater transport forces assigned to the Far East Air Forces Combat Cargo Command, which became the 315th Air Division, operated supply routes into Japan and provided troop carrier services for UN forces.

Suez, Lebanon and Taiwan Straits Crisis (1956–1958)

During the 1956 Suez Crisis, MATS MATS airlifted 1,300 Colombian and Indian troops from Bogota and Agra to the United Nations staging area in Naples, Italy, to supplement the UN police force in the Suez area. In 1958, MATS airlifted 5,500 tons of cargo and 5,400 troops to the Middle East in support of the Lebanese government, also supporting the move of a TAC Composite Air Strike Force to the area. Also in 1958, MATS flew 144 airlift trips to the Far East when the crisis arose in the Formosa Straits, supporting the move of a Composite Air Strike Force, and airlifting a squadron of F-104 Starfighters to Taiwan.

Operation Deep Freeze (1957–1963)

In December, 1962, MATS Douglas C-124 Globemasters ended six years of seasonal flying as members of the Air Force-Navy team resupplying scientific stations in the Antarctic. During that time the aircraft, operated by the 63d Troop Carrier Wing stationed at Donaldson Air Force Base, South Carolina, air-dropped about 4,000 tons of supplies from the main Antarctic base at McMurdo Sound to remote stations near and at the South Pole. Beginning in 1963, Lockheed C-130E Hercules, newer, faster, and longer range, picked up the MATS portion of the mission. The performance of the C-124's in the Antarctic cold strengthened the concept of airlift flexibility by doing in a few weeks (each year) a job that would have taken surface transportation several months. During Deep Freeze III, a C-124 air-dropped a seven-ton tractor to an isolated site, and during Deep Freeze 62 (October-December, 1961), three C-124's made the longest flight in Antarctic history, a 3,100-mile round trip to airdrop supplies. Also during Deep Freeze 62, Lt. Gen. Joe W. Kelly became the first MATS commander to visit the operation. MATS vice commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond J. Reeves, visited Deep Freeze 63.

Congo Airlift (1960–1963)

MATS C-124 Globemasters and C-118 Liftmasters (and in November, 1962, pure-jet C-135 Stratolifters) by the end of November had chalked up more than 2,000 missions in history's longest airlift reaching 5,000 miles from Europe around Africa's West Coast to Leopoldville in the Congo. MATS entered the United Nations airlift under direction of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) 322d Air Division, July 16, 1960, and at the peak had 60 aircraft committed. By the end of 1962, about 49,000 troops and 11,000 tons of cargo had been airlifted to and from points as far away as New Delhi, India.

Berlin Crisis (1961)

As a result of the Soviet construction of the Berlin Wall and the ending of free crossing to and from their occupation zone of Berlin, More than 100 MATS global airlift aircraft from EASTAF and WESTAF participated in deployments of American forces from the United States to West Germany and France.

When the Reserve Forces were called to active duty in October, 1961, MATS airlift force and technical units provided support for their movement to Europe. Operation Stair Step was the name given to the deployment of Air National Guard fighter units overseas to NATO bases in France, and Operation High Top was the redeployment, June-August, 1962. In High Top, for example, more than 260 missions were flown by MATS aircraft of all types, including the C-97's which themselves had been called to active duty. These aircraft returned more than 9,600 ANG personnel and 1,400 tons of equipment.

On addition, the 101st Airborne Division was airlifted from Fort Campbell, Kentucky to locations in Turkey. Approximately 2,000 personnel and 900 tons of equipment were airlifted (Exercise Checkmate II). During the exercise, about 300 MATS airmen and officers lived in tents for about three weeks handling maintenance and communications. Lt. Gen. Joe W. Kelly, MATS commander, was on hand to greet the first arriving aircraft, Despite "miserable" weather, no accidents or incidents occurred.

Throughout 1962, tensions were high in Europe and in January, Exercise Long Thrust II was commenced in which MATS new four-engined jets, the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter, made their first appearance in a major airlift when 12 of them airlifted nearly 500 Army troops over the Arctic Circle from Fort Lewis, Washington, to central West Germany. They made the nonstop trip in little more than 10 hours compared to the piston-engined aircraft which averaged between 30 and 35 hours along normal routes. Altogether, more than 200 MATS aircraft moved 5,300 troops of three battle groups of the Army's 4th Infantry Division in the deployment phase. The jets brought one battle group back. In West Germany, the troops participated in ground maneuvers with NATO forces.

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

In the midst of one of the heaviest airlift schedules it has ever had (more than 17 airlifts under way or developing during October and November), MATS was called on to support the buildup of forces in the southeastern part of the United States. On October 16, MATS began working at its wartime activity rate. Between October 16 and the end of the month, MATS airlifted thousands of troops and thousands of tons in hundreds of sorties from bases throughout the country into Florida and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Included in this was the first major airlift of United States Marines and their combat gear by MATS. Also, during this buildup, MATS lost its first C-135 Stratolifter jet while it was engaged in an ammunition airlift to Guantanamo Bay. All three of the technical services stepped up activities to provide close weather, rescue, and documentation support to the buildup.

During the airlift operation, MATS was called on to react to a call for arms to India in early November to stem the Communist Chinese invasion. The airlift required the movement of 980 tons of small arms more than 6,000 miles from Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, to Dum-Dum Airport, Calcutta. This "no notice" airlift was accomplished in eight days by MATS C-135 Stratolifter jets.

Operation "Big Lift" (1963)

In the first time that a full United States Army division and elements of a Tactical Air Command Strike Force were ferried across the ocean in one big airlift, 15,358 officers and men of the 2nd Armored Division, their support troops, and 504 tons of battle equipment were airlifted by 204 MATS aircraft from eight bases in the South and southwestern United States to France and Germany. They were accompanied by 116 tactical fighters and reconnaissance aircraft of the Composite Air Strike Force (CASF) who flew across the Atlantic. The entire operation was accomplished in 2 1/2 days, employing 234 missions. The C-135 Stratolifter jets made the 5,600-mile trip in 10 1/2 hours nonstop, carrying 75 troops each. It took the C-124 Globemasters three times as long, with refueling stops in Bermuda and the Azores to carry 80 troops and cargo. Following the NATO ground maneuvers in Europe, the troops were lifted back to the United States on 21 November 1963

Vietnam War

Beginning in 1948, MATS flew airlift missions into French Indochina, providing airlifts of military equipment and supplies to the French government and colonial Vietnamese forces fighting the Viet Minh. In 1954, at the request of the French, wounded Legionnaires from Dien Bien Phu were transported from Tan Son Nhut Airport to either Algeria or France. Initially flown from Saigon to Tachikawa AB near Tokyo on C-124s, over 14,000 wounded soldiers received stabilization medical care. From Japan, the wounded were airlifted across the Pacific Ocean to the Western United States on MATS C-97s. At each of the subsequent stops at Hickam AFB, Hawaii; Travis AFB, California, and Westover AFB, Massachusetts, there were layovers of about a day. This portion of the journey was carried out by MATS' Pacific Division. From Westover, the Atlantic Division took charge and airlifted the wounded to Orly Air Base in France and Oran Airport in Algeria. From start to finish, the mission took about a month to complete.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s military aid was shipped to the South Vietnamese government by MATS airlift flights into Tan Son Nhut. In addition, military flights were made to Don Muang Airport in Bangkok which were designated for the Thai Militarily to protect their border along the Mekong River, or clandestinely to the Laotian Government, who were fighting communist rebels in Laos.

As the United States built up its forces in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s, the number of MATS flights to the area increased. MATS C-124s and C-133 Cargomasters were common sights. After the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and the decision being made to escalate United States involvement in the Vietnam War, MATS performed a critical role in the air transport of personnel and equipment to the war zone. Throughout 1964 and 1965 MATS flew large numbers of United States Army and United States Marines to South Vietnam. Large MATS aerial ports were established at Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay and Tan Son Nhut in South Vietnam, as well as at Don Muang Airport in Thailand to support the United States forces there. The first large scale MATS jet transport flights of C-141A Starlifters were to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1965.

Military Airlift Command

On 31 December 1965, as a result of the Navy announcing the withdraw of its components, MATS was deactivated. The Military Airlift Command (MAC) stood up and was activated as a new United States Air Force major command on 1 January 1966 inheriting the MATS strategic airlift mission, along with its lineage and honors.

The R5D Skymasters of Naval Transport Squadron Seven Alpha (VR-7A) were retired in July 1966 and the unit inactivated. VR-7, flying C-121/RV-7 Super Constellations remained attached to MAC until 31 Jan 1967, and the Naval Air Transport Wing (Pacific) was inactivated on 23 Mar 1967. VR-8 and VR-22 at NAS Moffett Field withdrew its C-130s from MAC on 20 April. The last naval squadron, VR-3, flying C-130s from McGuire AFB, was inactivated on 30 June and the formal DOD program action directive relieving the Navy from MAC responsibilities became effective 1 July 1967.

Most passenger transport missions except the Special Air Mission were contracted out by MAC to commercial airlines such as Pan American, TWA, United, Continental, Northwest and charter companies such as Flying Tiger, using the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). This provided commercial airline pilots and aircrews valuable training, and during the years of the Vietnam War, seeing Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 commercial airliners at MAC aerial ports in Southeast Asia was a common sight.

On 1 Dec 1974, MAC expanded its mission by acquiring the theater troop carrying and tactical airlift mission (i.e., C-130 Hercules, C-123 Provider, C-7 Caribou) previously performed by the combat commands (TAC, PACAF, USAFE). In 1987, MAC was designated as the Air Force component of the United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) unified joint-service command.

In June 1992, MAC was reorganized and redesignated as the Air Mobility Command (AMC) with a broadened mission of aerial refueling (i.e., KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender), acquired from the inactivating Strategic Air Command.

References

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

  • Stanley M. Ulanoff, MATS: The Story of the Military Air Transport Service, 1964, The Moffa Press, Inc.
  • Office of Air Force History, The United States Army Air Forces in World War II, edited by Craven and Cate
  • James Lee, Operation Lifeline - History and Development of the Naval Air Transport Service, 1947, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company
  • Nicholas M. Williams, Aircraft of the Military Air Transport Service, 1948–1966,1999, Midland.'

External links


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