Tactical Air Command

One of the lessons of World War II was that the airplane was invaluable in the support of ground forces, both in the close air support and transport role.  When the Army Air Force reorganized in 1946, Tactical Air Command was established as one of it's three major commands.  Within TAC, Troop Carrier Command was organized to control its troop carrier units. When the war ended, the C-47 was the primary troop carrier aircraft, but surplus C-54s that had been originally purchased for the Air Transport Command had become available for troop carrier use. New designs, particularly the Chase/Fairchild C-82 and Douglas C-74 were entering the inventory.  When Soviet forces blockaded Berlin, TAC C-54s were sent to Germany to replace the C-47s that began the airlift to sustain the blockaded city. At least one C-82 participated in the airlift for several weeks.

In June 1950 North Korean troops invaded South Korea and within a few weeks, TAC's 314th Troop Carrier Group was on the way to Japan to introduce the C-119 to the conflict.  The 314th was ordered to Japan primarily to support the 187th Regimental Combat Team, an Army airborne unit that was on the way to Japan by ship, but when the crews arrived, they found themselves heavily involved in logistical support operations between Japan and Korea as well as airdropping cargo and the occasional airborne operation.  In 1951 TAC began receiving the new Douglas C-124 Globemaster, and once the crews were checked out, they went to work supporting the Military Air Transport Service in logistical operations from the CONUS to Japan. TAC troop carrier squadrons also continued operating the venerable C-47 and trained crews for duty in Korea even though the mainstay of troop carrier operations had become the Fairchild C-119.  In 1953 TAC's troop carrier mission was reorganized as the Eighteenth Air Force was established at Donaldson AFB, SC as the troop carrier air force.  Aerial port squadrons were established at TAC troop carrier bases to be ready to deploy at a moment's notice. TAC also recieved the former "pathfinder" mission from the Army and combat control sections were established within the new aerial ports.

The advent of the Jet Age saw TAC with a new mission, as it became the focal point for a new military philosophy based on the rapid deployment of heavily armed TAC fighter/bomber units and Army airborne and light infantry units to overseas "troublespots" before conflicts could escalate into full-scale war.  To assist TAC's troop carrier wings, the command was authorized to draw transports from MATS, particularly for transport of items of cargo too large for airlift in C-119s.  The outset of the Korean War led to the development of a brand new jet-prop powered transport for TAC, with deliveries of the new C-130 beginning at the end of 1956.  TAC also took deliveries of the Fairchild C-123 Provider, a twin-engine transport designed for assault operations into landing zones that had been only rudimentarily prepared. With the advent of the C-130, TAC established the Composite Air Strike Force, commonly known as a CASF, which was centered around troop carrier C-130s supplemented by MATS aircraft to deliver support personnel and cargo for TAC fighter/bombers to overseas destinations at a moment's notice.  A reorganization of troop carrier forces included the transfer of TAC's heavy-lift C-124 wings to MATS, where they retained their troop carrier identity and were remained dedicated to support TAC on troop deployments.

Beginning with the deployment of a CASF to Turkey in 1958 in response to a military coup in Iraq, TAC C-130s were involved in a series of deployments to both sides of the globe in the late 50s and early to mid 60s. Immediately after the Lebanon Crisis, TAC deployed a CASF to the Far East in response to troubles in the Formosa Straits. A TAC C-130 squadron was in place at Ashiya, Japan where the 315th Air Division's 483rd Troop Carrier Wing was beginning the transition to the C-130. Overseas rotations became a regular part of troop carrier life as TAC maintained TDY units in Europe supporting 322nd Division and in the Far East supporting 315th Air Division, both of which had their own C-130 squadrons.  

The Laotian civil war led to a deployment of TAC C-130s to Okinawa, where they remained as a TAC rotation  until a squadron from Sewart went PCS to increase the size of 315th Air Division's own C-130 force two years later. In November 1961 TAC was alerted to move a squadron of C-123s to Clark Field, Philippines for further deployment to South Vietnam. In early December a squadron of C-123s left Pope AFB, NC for the move to Clark. In early January the squadron began operating in South Vietnam. The 464th Troop Carrier Wing maintained two TDY squadrons of C-123s in South Vietnam until mid-1963, when they were replaced by personnel on permanent assignment.  Pope's C-123s transferred to Hurlburt Field, Florida and became part of the Air Commando mission, which had been established in 1961 to provide advisors and counter-insurgency forces to America's allies.

Original Air Force plans were for TAC troop carrier to have two wings of C-130s, the 314th and 463rd, both of which began converting to the new turboprop transport in early 1957, with the 463rd receiving its first airplanes in mid-December of the preceeding year. The two wings consolidated at Sewart AFB, Tennessee when the 463rd's base at Ardmore, Oklahoma was placed on the closing list. Two other wings were to be based overseas, one on either side of the globe. When the Air Force contracted for a new version of the C-130, the B-model, a third C-130 wing was activated at Dyess AFB, Texas. The requirement to support construction of the Defense Early Warning System in Greenland and Northern Canada and Alaska led to the development of a ski-equipped version of the Hercules, which were assigned to the 314th TCW at Sewart. In the early 1960s as low intensity conflicts began breaking out throughout the Third World, the Air Force was authorized to equip three more wings with a new version of the C-130 which had been developed as an interim for MATS until a new jet transport could be developed.  By 1964 the 464th at Pope was transitioning into C-130Es while a former SAC B-47 wing at Forbes AFB, Kansas was equipping with B-models that were being replaced with brand-new C-130Es at Sewart.  The wing at Dyess had undergone a redesignation (the Air Force personnel people refer to such events as "replacement") and had given up it's C-130As and equipped with E-models.

The year 1964 was a big one for TAC troop carriers. Early in the year the 317th TCW transferred from France to Lockbourne and TAC became responsible for providing C-130s for airlift operations in Europe. An earthquake in Alaska saw TAC C-130s and helicopters deployed to Elmendorf for relief operations. A rebellion in the Congo led to the deployment of a detachment of C-130s from the 464th at Pope to Leopoldville. The Gulf of Tonkin Crisis in August led to the deployment of One Buck, which included three TAC C-130 squadrons. One squadron returned home after deploying TAC fighters but the other two set up rotational squadrons in the Philippines and at Naha, Okinawa that would remain until late 1965 when they were replaced by PCS squadrons. November 1964 saw one of the most dramatic moments in troop carrier history when C-130s from the 464th TCW rotational squadron at Evereux, France dropped and airlanded Belgian paratroopers at Stanleyville and Paulis in the former Belgian Congo to rescue hostages held by Simba rebels. The 464th was awarded the prestigious MacKay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year.

While 1964 was big, in some ways 1965 was even bigger. In April President Johnson commenced the ROLLING THUNDER bombing of North Vietnam and two more TAC squadrons deployed to the Pacific, bringing the total to four. A fifth squadron deployed to the tiny island of Mactan later in the year.  TAC had troop carrier squadrons deployed on both sides of the world while another was operating in the Canal Zone. In late April TAC troop carrier crews found themselves engaged in a combat operation in the Caribbean when a large force of over 140 C-130s took off from Pope to drop paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division onto San Isidro airfield in the Dominican Republic. The mission changed while the assault force was in the air and the paratroopers were landed, rather than being delivered by parachute. For the next year TAC C-130s supported by MATS aircraft operated between Pope and San Isidro. In 1965 TAC troop carrier picked up a new mission when specially modified C-130Es equipped with the Fulton Recovery System were assigned to the  779th TCS at Pope. The new mission involved supporting US Army special forces teams operating deep inside hostile territory.

In June 1965 the Air Force decided to officially base C-130s in South Vietnam, where they had been operating for several years, and TAC C-130s TDY to 315th Air Division began supporting a rotation at Tan Son Nhut. President Lyndon Johnson introduced US ground combat troops into the war for the first time and the need for C-130s in South Vietnam where five squadrons of C-123s were operating  became apparent. TAC C-130s also were operating a mission in Thailand, supporting the up-country bases where TAC and PACAF fighters were operating from on missions against North Vietnam. Later that year Headquarters USAF decided to transfer several TAC units to the Pacific, and all of TAC's troop carrier wings were affected. Pope, Dyess, Lockbourne, Sewart and Forbes each lost one squadron while the entire 463rd wing at Langley transferred to the Philippines and the 314th wing headquarters left Sewart and ened up at Ching Chang Kuan Air Base on Taiwan. All in all, TAC lost eight squadrons of C-130s and a ninth would transfer to Taiwan three years later.

After the 463rd left Langley, TAC was authorized to activate a new C-130 wing at Langley. A new wing was also activated at Sewart to replace the 314th. Readiness Training Units were set up at Sewart, Pope and Lockbourne to train crewmembers for the new squadrons at Langely and to replace those who rotated back to the US from bases overseas. TAC continued maintaining rotational squadrons in Europe, first in France then at Mildenhahl, England after the French threw all US military personnel out of France. The new Military Airlift Command which replaced MATS was heavily tasked supporting the war in Vietnam and TAC C-130s began flying "Rare Date" cargo missions to Europe. TAC's troop carrier role in Southeast Asia had come to a temporary end, but in early 1968 TAC C-130s, now referred to as "tactical airlifters", returned to the Pacific to augment 315th Air Division's C-130 force, which now consisted of twelve squadrons. TAC rotational squadrons from four wings supplemented the PACAF squadrons. TAC tactical airlift squadrons remained on rotation in the Pacific through 1968, then were withdrawn when the ninth TAC squadron went PCS to CCK from Dyess. TAC's tactical airlift force was increased when all of the C-130Es operated by MAC transferred to TAC, with squadrons going to Dyess and Langley.

TAC C-130s returned to the war in Southeast Asia in 1972 when North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in force in the spring. The PACAF C-130 force had been substantially reduced as US ground troops and air units were withdrawn from the war, and was down to only five squadrons, one of which was in the process of deactivation. TAC squadrons from Pope and Little Rock were sent to Taiwan and Thailand to augment the PACAF C-130 force. The TAC airplanes were equipped with the new all-weather air drop system referred to as AWADS and were put to work dropping cargo and supplies to friendly forces in South Vietnam and Laos.

The war in South Vietnam ended in April 1975. One of the "lessons" learned from the war was that there was a large duplication of aerial port facilities between MAC, TAC and PACAF and a study group recommended the consolidation of all airlift forces as a money-saving measure. In 1975 all of TAC's C-130 units transferred to MAC.  The TAC troop carrier legacy that dated back to World War II had come to an end.

All airlift remained under MAC until after the Gulf War in 1990, where problems resulted due to the lack of control over airlift by the theater commanders.  When the Air Force was reorganized (again) in 1991, most of MAC's C-130s left the command and went to the Air Combat Command, which had replaced TAC. Once again, transport crews wore the flaming sword of TAC on their flight suits. The arrangment lasted for just under a decade. At the end of the 1990s, most of the Air Combat Command tactical airlift squadrons returned to MAC, which had been redesignated as the Air Mobility Command.

Updated 5/2/2016

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