On 12 November 1942 the 355th Fighter Group, the wing's forbearer, activated at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida flying the P-40 Warhawks. Commonly, units formed during this period needed extra time to become fully manned in preparation for overseas movement. In February 1943 a readiness inspection team named "Pete the POM (preparation for overseas movement) Inspector" declared the group ready for shipment. However, instead of going to war in the P-40s they had been training with, they were scheduled to operate the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Pilots and crews carried out training with the new aircraft during the group's move up the East Coast, which commenced on 17 February and ended on 16 June 1943, when the group departed for England to aid the war effort.
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, 355th Fighter Group pilots, in conjunction with those form the 4th Fighter Group, conducted missions around Paris, a key staging and routing area for German forces in France. These were the only two 8 AF Fighter groups not tasked to fly over the beachheads. The 8 AF Commander selected these units specifically for their experience in both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations. On 18 September 1944, the 355th Fighter Group participated in the last shuttle escort mission of the war, when they escorted bombers on a three-day deep strike mission from England to Russia, Russia to Italy, and Italy to England. These missions allowed for uninterrupted escort when striking targets beyond fighter escort range. Despite the overwhelming challenges the 355th faced, their efforts ensured the success of many bombing missions made throughout the campaign.
The 355th flew its last mission in support of World War II on 25 April 1945. During this time, 56 pilots obtained "ace" status for destroying five or more aircraft; 22 of these were air aces, the remainder had a sufficient number of ground "kills" to achieve ace status. The 355th's two highest scoring individuals in air-to-air and air-to-ground, respectively, were Henry W. Brown with 32 (17.5 aerial, 14.5 ground) and William J. Cullerton with 27 (6 aerial and 21 ground) kills. These two pilots, among others, were shot down on air-to-ground missions and taken prisoner. In all, 355th Fighter Group pilots were credited with 365.5 aerial kills and 502.5 ground kills, for a total of 868 aircraft destroyed, the third highest overall, and the top in air-to-ground kills within 8 AF unit. However, this came at a high price: 175 aircraft lost in action, even more lost during training missions, and the accompanying tragic loss of life. Some members of the group went on to fight other wars, such as James Jabara who became the first jet ace in Korea, and second highest scorer in that conflict. The efforts and feats accomplished by these men are indelibly etched in our Air Force heritage.
Following the 355th Fighter Group deactivation in 1946, 9 years passed before the unit reactivated. On 18 August 1955 the unit reactivated as the 355th Fighter Group (Air Defense) at McGhee-Tyson Airport, Tennessee under Aerospace Defense Command due to increased tensions between the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War. The new mission included defending strategic targets from attack by the Russian Tu-95 Bear intercontinental bomber. The 355th's role in this mission consisted of flying the F-86L Sabre (aka Sabre Dog), a radar equipped version of the aircraft made famous in the Korean War, to defend the Oak Ridge Atomic Energy Plant and ALCOA aluminum production site. While they never fired a shot in anger, pilots of the group stood constant alert and made numerous practice launches against "enemy" bombers and fighters during their 3-year vigil. On 8 January 1958, the unit deactivated.
On 13 April 1962 the group reactivated at George AFB, California, and became the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing (355 TFW). Crews commenced operations with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, and after reaching proficiency in the aircraft, their mission expanded to include training new crews. Two years later, the 355th moved to McConnell AFB, Kansas and supported the conflict in Vietnam by temporarily deploying squadrons on combat rotations. With an increase in the bombing campaign against North Vietnam, Air Force leaders made the decision to relocate the wing to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on 8 November 1965. Following five years of uninterrupted support to the Vietnam conflict, the wing deactivated in Thailand in December 1970.
The 355th Tactical Fighter Wing moved from Thailand to its new home at Davis-Monthan and activated 1 July 1971. At this time, DM was home to a McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II training wing, as well as units operating drones (now called unmanned aerial vehicles). F-4 training declined in preparation to begin Vought A-7D Corsair II training. The A-7s were the major focus of training at DM in the years leading to the arrival of the A-10 Thunderbolt.
The 355 TFW hailed the arrival of the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II on March 2nd, 1976, while 11th Tactical Drone Squadron, with their Lockheed DC- and RC-130 Hercules and Ryan-34 series drones left the wing. On 30 September 1976, the 355th took control of DM after Strategic Air Command departed. As the A-10 systematically replaced the A-7, the wing was redesignated as the 355th Tactical Training Wing on September 1, 1979. The wing's mission rested solely on A-10 training from this point forward.
The A-10 saw combat for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991, destroying more than 1,000 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 military vehicles, and 1,200 artillery pieces. A-10s shot down two Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 Avenger Gatling gun. Seven A-10s were shot down during the war, far fewer than military planners expected. A-10s had a mission capable rate of 95.7%, flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict. This success is partly attributed to the burning oil wells that provided Iraqi tanks cover from advanced electronics and high-flying fighters such as the F-15 and F-16; however, the smoke proved ineffective cover from the trained eye of the attack pilot, armed with the mighty GAU-8 and its stable airborne platform.
Operation Southern Watch began on August 27, 1992 in effort to enforce Iraqi compliance of restrictions placed by the coalition following Operation Desert Storm. The 355th Fighter Wing supported this operation with deployments to Al Jaber, Kuwait in 1997, deploying 24 A-10s; and in 1998, deploying 16 A-10s; and again in 1999, deploying 14 A-10s--all to enforce the 33rd parallel southern no-fly zone. In 1999, in addition to the regular Operation Southern Watch A-10 rotations, the wing provided Compass Call assets to Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign over Serbia and Kosovo.
Following Southern Watch deployments, the 355th Fighter Wing mobilized to support the Global War on Terror. A-10s from the 355th Fighter Wing supported the invasion of Afghanistan, Operation Anaconda in 2001, retuned to Afghanistan again in March 2002, and supported Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
In October 2003 and again in September 2005, the 354th Fighter Squadron "Bulldogs" deployed on five month deployments to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. During these deployments, they provided 24-hour presence to reassure the Afghan population as it struggled with its emergent democracy, and provided key support during national elections. While the 2003 deployment saw limited action, the Bulldogs employed over 22,000 rounds of 30 mm during 130 troops-in-contact situations during the 2005 deployment.
The 354th Fighter Squadron returned to Afghanistan in May 2007 for a six month deployment. Again, they provided 24-hour presence and Close Air Support expertise to coalition forces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During this period, insurgent activity level was the highest recorded to date in OEF. The Bulldogs employed an unprecedented number of munitions during this deployment--over 150,000 rounds of 30 mm in support of over 400 troops-in-contact situations.
Today, the 355th Fighter Wing is composed of four groups: the 355th Operations Group, the 355th Maintenance Group, the 355th Mission Support Group and the 355th Medical Group. Together, along with their tenet organizations, they make up the 6,100 Airmen and 1,700 civilian personnel at Davis-Monthan AFB.