The 406th Occupier
Get First Unit Citation
T he next step in the 406th Fighter Group's operational history was a short one; it actually lasted just over 21 days, but it was so filled with activity, both in the air and on the ground that it stands out distinctly. The air echelon moved into A-36 the first few days in September before construction was completed to be followed by the flight and ground echelons nearly a week later. From the beginning missions came fast and furious under the control of the 100th Fighter Wing, the third Wing with whom we had operated on the continent. The work varied nearly half and half between supporting the 79th Infantry Division—2nd French Armored combination that was sweeping through Eastern France and aiding in the all out assault to reduce the fortress of Brest.
to watch the Thunderbolts take off and land.
As the Seventh Army began to drive north out of Southern France, forcing the enemy to make for the Belfort Gap, planes of the Group ranged into the foothills of the Vosges on armed reconnaissance, making particularly effective attacks in the vicinity of Dijon. When the final assault on Brest began, the Group along with other units of the 19th, figured heavily in the campaign by bombing dug-in positions immediately in front of the advancing infantry and on one mission even venturing into the harbor to successfully attack enemy shipping with bombs and rockets. At this same time to the South of the Loire River 19th Tactical Air Command had been given the task of protecting with air power the exposed and extended flank of the Third Army.
On September 7, at 1400 hours in the afternoon TAC pilots of the Command spotted a large column of enemy vehicles, horse drawn carts, ammunition carriers and personnel between Chateaureux and Issoudun, France. Taking off s soon as possible, the Group located the road clogged with all kinds of enemy transport and attacked the column up and down its full length until their ammunition and load were expended, leaving over 300 vehicles destroyed and the road strewn with personnel and wreckage. Returning to base and reloading as fast as possible, the Group returned to the scene of the previous attack and again worked it over, adding another 150 or 200 claims to the total.
For this decisive mission the Group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and immediately following the terrible destruction, which hit the enemy from the air, he surrendered the balance of his troops south of the Loire to the Ninth U.S. Army with the Commanding General of 19th Tactical Air Command participating in the ceremony.
The Group finally solved most of the problems of living under field conditions at A-36. Though completely in tents, the areas were so arranged as to be convenient, the messes were quickly set up, field showers constructed and office space out to the barest operational necessity. The part of France surrounding Le Mans had suffered little from the destruction of the war because of its swift progress and being a rich rural area, personnel of the Group headquarters ventured out among the natives more than ever before. Recently liberated Paris was the object of frequent visits, and hardly a night passed that didn't see a dinner party at nearby Lafleche.
It was a beautiful September and for this short period at least it was good to live in the open. As September drew to a close, Third Army reached the Moselle and the Group began to work on the first interdiction campaign of Alsace-Lorraine, running many missions on the marshaling yards at Saarbruken, Zabern, Saarburg and many other key rail centers. These targets soon became heavily defended and an added problem arose in taking off of the unusually short runway with external load necessary to reach the target and effectively attack it. The difficulty was eased some by frequent use of advanced strips for rearming and reloading and as soon as Brest was taken, freeing the organization to go forward, and as airfields were constructed the inevitable signs of moving began to appear on the horizon.