315th Air Division

Activated at the height of the Korean War on January 10, 1951 during a reorganization of Far East Air Forces troop carrier resources, 315th Air Division replaced the FEAF Combat Cargo Command. Commanded by Major General John R. "Jock" Henebry, the division was initially headquartered at Ashiya AB, Japan but transferred to Fuchu within a few weeks. General Henebry was a World War II hero who had flown light and medium bomber "strafers" in the Southwest Pacific where he became well-acquainted with the troop carrier efforts of the 54th Troop Carrier Wing. Leaving the service at the end of WW II, General Henebry joined the reserves and came to Korea as commander of the 437th Troop Carrier Wing, which had been based at O'Hare Field outside Chicago. Two of Henebry's close friends from the 3rd Attack Group, Dick Ellis and Chuck Howe, would command the division in it's later history during the Vietnam War. During the Korean War 315th was the command headquarters for all troop carrier operations between Japan and Korea and elsewhere in the Far East. Assigned units included the 374th Troop Carrier Wing, which operated C-47s and C-54s, the 437th TCW, which flew C-46s and the 314th Troop Carrier Group, a Tactical Air Command TDY unit from Sewart AFB, Tennessee which flew C-119s as did the 403rd Troop Carrier Wing, which joined the division in 1952.  In 1952 the 437th was replaced by the 315th Troop Carrier Wing and the TAC TDY unit was replaced by the 483rd Troop Carrier Wing. In addition to the troop carrier wings and groups, 315th also included an air terminal unit which operated air terminals throughout the Far East. In 1952 the 374th TCW recieved two squadrons of giant Douglas C-124 Globemasters. During the Korean War 315th was responsible for logistical operations between Japan and Korea and within Korea and maintained air routes over which C-46s, C-54s and C-119s - and later, C-124s - transported cargo and personnel. The division's C-47s operated primarily within South Korea. Division C-46s and C-119s made direct deliveries to ground units in the field by parachute. Air evacuation of casualties from Korea to hospitals in Japan was also an important 315th AD responsibility. Lessons learned during the Korean War were incorporated into the design of the new C-130 transport that was then under development by Lockheed Aircraft.

As the war in Korea wound down to a stalemate, a new crisis developed in French Indo-China where the French were battling Communist guerrillas. President Dwight Eisenhower felt the US should come to the aid of the French and authorized the diversion of USAF C-47s to French control and also authorized the use of 315th Air Division C-119s "on loan" to France when necessary. The arrangement led to a new mission as 315th provided aircraft with French markings and trained French and American civilian pilots employed by Civil Air Transport, an American company with close connections to the new Central Intelligence Agency, to fly them. 315th Air Division maintained a relationship with CAT and Air America, it's parent company, until the division was inactivated in 1969. When the French role in Indochina ended in defeat at Dien Bien Phu, 315th C-124s and C-54s airlifted returning French POWs to Japan, where they boarded MATS and TAC transports for the flight to their homeland.

After the Korean War, 315th moved to Tachikawa AB, where it remained for the rest of its history. Two troop carrier wings, the 374th at Tachikawa with C-47s, C-54s and C-124s, and the 483rd at Ashiya with C-119s were assigned to the division along with the 7th Aerial Port Squadron and the 5th Communications Group. The 6485th Operations Squadron joined the division in the mid-1950s to provide air evacuation throughout the Far East.

A reorganization of USAF airlift in 1958 resulted in the deactivation of the 374th and the transfer of it's two C-124 squadrons, the 6th and 22nd Troop Carrier Squadrons to MATS. The 6th would eventually transfer to Hickam but the 22nd remained in Japan and although it had become part of MATS, the squadron's airplanes remained under the operational control of 315th. The division itself reported directly to  Pacific Air Forces headquarters at Hickam through PACAF's Western Transportation Office. The 21st TCS remained under 315th as a special unit responsible for providing airplanes and crews to support CIA-sponsored operations in the Pacific. In 1958 the division began replacing its C-119s with the new Lockheed C-130 Hercules, and the 21st TCS transferred to Naha AB, Okinawa. Two squadrons of the 483rd TCW at Ashiya, the 815th and 817th, replaced their C-119s with new C-130s. As the transition was beginning, Chinese Communist forces began shelling the Nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu, and 315th was tasked with the movement of air and ground combat untis to Formosa from elsewhere in the Pacific. Additional airlift capability was provided by TDY TAC C-130 squadrons sent to Japan from Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma and Sewart AFB, Tennesseee.

Ashiya AB closed in 1960 and the 483rd wing inactivated, with the wing's two squadrons transferring to Tachikawa where the 815th moved and Naha where the 817th joined the 21st TCS. All three squadrons reported directly to 315th AD. A special fifth flight was set up within the 21st TCS to continue the squadron's former mission of providing airplanes for CIA use, particularly in Tibet where the US was clandestinely supporting Tibetan guerrillas combating Chinese troops. The world's attention was focused on Southeast Asia and while 315th continued operations into South Korea, flights into South Vietnam and Thailand became more frequent. In 1958 315th C-119s were sent to Thailand to airdrop road-building equipment into Laos in order to influence national elections. Civil war broke out in Laos in 1962 and although US combat forces remained absent from the conflict, 315th AD was heavily involved by providing airlift of cargo to the region while the 21st TCS' E Flight provided airplanes flown by CAT crews for deliveries into Laos itself. The division was also heavily involved supporting the US missions to South Vietnam and Thailand, and when President John F. Kennedy decided to increase the US mission to South Vietnam, 315th received a TAC TDY squadron of Fairchild C-123s from Pope AFB, NC under Project MULE TRAIN and TAC C-130 squadrons were sent to Naha. 315th operations and communciations personnel set up Trasnportation Movement Centers (TMC) throughout Southeast Asia to control the division's C-130s and C-124s and the TDY TAC C-123s and C-130s.

In 1963 a fourth C-130 squadron was sent to PACAF as the 345th TCS left Sewart and transferred to Naha where it became the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron. A new unit, the 6315th Operations Group, was activated at Naha as the headquarters unit for the three Naha squadrons. The 815th at Tachikawa continued to report directly to 315th Air Division Headquarters. In 1963 General Richard "Dick" Ellis took command of the division. All theater airlift operations in the Western Pacific were the responsibility of 315th, including intra-theater operations within Southeast Asia. A transportation movement control center was set up in Saigon as part of Second Air Division, but was maintained by 315th. To handle air freight and passenger processing, 8th Aerial Port Squadron was set up in Saigon with detachments throughout South Vietnam. When a need for additional aerial port squadrons was needed in South Vietnam, the 2nd Aerial Port Group moved to Saigon. As operations in Southeast Asia continued to escalate, 6th Aerial Port was set up in Thailand with headquarters at Bangkok. The division's four C-130 squadrons were supplemented by TAC C-130 squadrons sent on TDY in reponse to various crisis situations, such as when flooding in South Vietnam increased the division's workload.

Although 315th was officially a combat cargo organization, its responsibility included a number of classified missions, some of which were only peripherally transport. Project HIGH GEAR was a nuclear mission that provided 315th aircraft and crews on alert to move nuclear weapons to forward locations in the event of all-out war. Propaganda operations against Communist countries in Asia were carried out throughout the 1950s and when the 35th TCS arrived at Naha, it was tasked with developing a leaflet delivery method to support the US Army's 7th Psychological Warfare Group on Okinawa. Although the 35th is recorded as having been given the mission in late 1963, operations with C-130s did not begin until early 1965 and missions were flown in the interim using C-47s. No explanation is given for the delay, but an unidentified USAF transport identified only as an "LT" was shot down by North Korean fighters just off the coast of North Korea on August 6, 1963 and is believed to have been a C-130. In April 1964 PACAF began reconnaissance operations over Laos, and there are indications that 315th C-130s began night operations with flares at the same time. Later that year the 6315th Operations Group began operations in the BARREL ROLL area of Laos, with the first acknowledged missions flown in November. It is possible - even probable - that Naha C-130 crews had begun flare operations even earlier in support of WATER PUMP T-28s that were sent to Thailand to support of  Laotian Royalist forces during the Laoation Civil War. By April 1965 315th was maintaining a detachment at Da Nang for FAC/Flare missions over Laos and North Vietnam. A sapper attack in July resulted in the destruction of two C-130As and a C-130B that happened to be at Da Nang on a cargo mission. The following spring the flare mission from Da Nang was discontinued and the airplanes and crews moved to Ubon. Thailand where FAC/Flare missions continued and were still in operation when 315th inactivated.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 led to a reinforcement of PACAF tactical forces including two squadrons of C-130s that began rotations to Clark AB, Philippines and Naha under Project ONE BUCK. From then on there were always TAC rotational C-130 squadrons under 315th AD control. The TDY C-123 force was increased to two squadrons in early 1962 and in 1963 was replaced by the permanent assignment of four squadrons of C-123s to the 315th Air Commando Group, which activated at Tan Son Nhut. Although the new unit carried the "air commando" designation, it was actually a troop carrier unit assigned to 315th Air Division. In April 1965 President Lyndon Johnson ordered the ROLLING THUNDER campaign against North Vietnam and additional TAC squadrons were sent to the Far East under Project TWO BUCK, including two more C-130 squadrons. Shortly after their arrival 315th C-130s and C-124s airlifted the first US combat troops to South Vietnam, the first being a USMC Hawk anti-aircraft missile battalion that was sent to Da Nang. They were followed by the 173rd Airborne Regiment which was moved to Bien Hoa, then 315th airlifted elements of the 1st Marine Division from Okinawa to Da Nang. USAF units were moving to the Pacific on such a regular basis that when a fifth TAC C-130 squadron from Pope AFB, NC went to Mactan Island in the Philippines, the movement was designated as SIXTEEN BUCK.

In Dember 1965 Headquarters USAF permanently transferred a number of TAC units to the Far East, including eight squadrons of C-130s and two wings. The 314th Troop Carrier Wing moved from Sewart AFB, Tennessee along with the 50th TCS and eventually ended up on Taiwan at Ching Chang Kuan Air Base, more commonly referred to as simply "CCK." Two more squadrons of C-130Es were transferred, one each from Dyess AFB, Texas (345th) and Pope AFB, NC (776th) to join the 314th. The entire 463rd TCW transferred from Langley AFB, Virginia with the headquarters and two squadrons of C-130Bs, the 772nd and 774th, moving to Mactan while the 773rd went to Clark where it was joined in early 1966 by the 29th TCS, a new C-130 that transferred from Forbes AFB, Kansas. A fifth squadron of C-130As, the 41st TCS, transferred to Naha where it joined the 6315th Operations Group in December 1965. With the transfers, 315th now included 12 squadrons of C-130s and four of C-123s along with the 6485th Ops Squadron which operated C-118s on air evacuation flights. In addition, the division had operational control over MATS 22nd TCS and it's C-124s. General Ellis returned to the US and was replaced by his and Jock Henebry;s good friend, Col. Charles W. Howe. Col. Howe came to Tachikawa from the Pentagon where he was chief of USAF Air Police but his background all the way back to the Korean War was in troop carrier and in C-130s. He had most recently commanded the 322nd Air Division in Europe until it was transferred to MATS control. Prior to that he had been at Sewart.

In June 1965 315th became responsible for a permanent C-130 rotation in South Vietnam and later that year would replace a C-123 mission in Thailand with C-130s. Previously, 315th C-130s had operated in South Vietnam both as needed and on "SEA Trainer" missions out of Saigon. The C-130 presence became permanent with the establishment of a rotation at Tan Son Nhut and by the end of the year 315th was providing C-130s and crews to rotational units at Vung Tau and Cam Ranh Bay as well. In May 1966 the 6315th Operations Group began a rotation to Cam Ranh and the Vung Tau operation moved to Nha Trang while the C-130Bs from the 463rd remained at Saigon. As the Vietnam War escalated with the introduction of American ground combat troops, 315th Air Division became increasingly involved in the combat role. While logistical support of the widespread US and South Vietnamese facilities throughout the country would remain a major mission, the C-123s and C-130s assumed more of a tactical role as well. Experiments with Vietnamese airborne operations using C-123s in 1963 and 1964 had been less than successful, but support of remote bases depended on airlift. The lack of a developed road and railroad infrastructure in South Vietnam combined with the lack of control of the countryside led to the use of airlift to transport nearly all of the passengers and a large portion of the cargo that was moved throughout the country. In October 1965 the first major engagement between US and South Vietnamese troops in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley convinced the US Army that it was not capable of supporting it's new air mobile division with its own resources as the 1st Cavalry Divisions helicopters and fixed wing Dehavilland CV2 Caribous were unable to deliver the quantities of fuel and ammunition needed to support the troops in the field. A single C-130 could transport as much fuel as four Caribous or two C-123s, and the Army decided that its future ground operations would be built around Air Force airlift support. As a result of the lessons learned, the Army agreed to transfer all of its Caribous to the Air Force in return for concessions related to future transport helicopter development.

The increased American presence in Southeast Asia led to the activation of Seventh Air Force in Saigon to control all Air Force operations in South Vietnam and in the skies over North Vietnam and Laos, including airlift. The 834th Air Division, a former TAC fighter division, transferred to Saigon to become the responsible agency for all airlift operations in South Vietnam. The 315th Air Commando Group and 8th Aerial Port, which had been elevated to a group, transferred to 834th, which also recieved the 483rd Troop Carrier Wing when it was reactivated to control the former Army Caribous which came into the Air Force as the C-7A. All PACAF C-130s remained under 315th, as did the 6485th Operations Squadron, which maintained air evacuation routes throughout the Western Pacfic, including within South Vietnam. As the parent organization for the three C-130 wings assigned to PACAF, 315th was responsible for providing airplanes, flight crews and maintenance personnel for the C-130 operating locations in Vietnam and for operating the C-130 mission in Thailand, which was not under 7th Air Force control. The reorganization also included the upgrading of the 6315th Operations Group Headquarters to wing status as the 374th Troop Carrier Wing reactivated to replace it. The C-130 operating locations in South Vietnam became detachments of 834th Air Division, but were staffed by 315th AD personnel on TDY status. Crews and airplanes went to Southeast Asia on 16-day rotations for what came to be known as "shuttles." On July 1, 1967 the familiar troop carrier designation was replaced by Air Force directive with the new designation of "tactical airlift." The reason for the change was given as that the new designation more closely reflected the actual mission of the former troop carrier units.

The year 1968 was a momentus one for 315th Air Division as division aircrews performed heroically in response to North Vietnam's increased role in the war in South Vietnam and the introduction of more powerful antiaircraft weapons and artillery. Reinforced by TAC C-130 squadrons for the first time since the transfer of the TAC squadrons in late 1965 and early 1966, the C-130 force achieved true heroic status during the resupply of the besieged USMC base at Khe Sanh and during the evacuation of the CIDG camp at Kham Duc during which several 315th officers earned the prestigious Air Force Cross.

As the Military Airlift Command became more capable with the introduction of the jet C-141 Starlifter, it assumed more and more of the intertheater airlift role in the Western Pacific, a role that had previously belonged to 315th Air Division. MAC was given responsibility for transporting cargo from Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines to Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the region. As MAC became responsible for the intertheater airlift mission, 315ths role diminished and since it's primary mission had become providing C-130s to 834th Air Division, Headquarters USAF decided there was no longer a need for its existence. 315th deactivated on April 15, 1969 and its assets transferred to the numbered Air Force in whose region of responsibility they were assigned.

Note - A collection of 315th Air Division "The Airlifter" newspaper that was presented to Vietnam editor Airman First Class Marion L. Ray at the time of his departure from the division in August 1968 was copied and made available to interested parties a few years ago. This collection of newspapers cover the time period from May 1966-1968, one of the most tumultus times in 315th history. The TCTAA is considering how to best make these newspapers available again. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, contact Sam McGowan at semcgowanjr@aol.com.

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374th Troop Carrier Wing History