History of the 118th

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By Charles L. McMillin, Lt Col USAF (ret.)

From Chennault's Flying Tigers 1941-1945

Copyright 1982

14th Air Force Association, Inc.

Reprinted with permission

The 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron began World War Two as the 118th Observation Squadron, Connecticut National Guard, whose lineage dated back to the 118th Aero Squadron and duty in France in World War One. The 118th was called into federal service in February 1941, and at the time of Pearl Harbor, was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, after having been on maneuvers with the Army ground forces for most of that year. After Pearl Harbor, the 118th moved to Charleston, South Carolina, for anti-submarine patrol along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to North Carolina. In August 1942, the 118th was relieved from anti-submarine operations and returned to maneuvers with the Army in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee until June 1943, when training for overseas deployment as a reconnaissance squadron (fighter) began in earnest.

Redesignated the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in August 1943, the squadron continued preparations for overseas assignment and was committed to the China, Burma, and India (CBI) Theatre in October 1943, with its ultimate assignment to the 23d Fighter Group of the 14th Air Force. By this time, all of the original pilots and other National Guard officer personnel of the old 118th had departed, but many of the experienced NCOs and other enlisted personnel remained and formed the nucleus for the ground support element that served the squadron so well and contributed so substantially to its success in China.

The squadron, commanded by Major Edward O. McComas, left the U.S. in January 1944, destination India. Arriving there in February, the 118th, now equipped with P-40 aircraft in lieu of the P-51s they were supposed to have received before leaving the U.S., was soon assigned to local airdrome defense of newly established B-29 bases at Chakulia and Kharagpur, with squadron head quarters at Gushkara, India. Although most, if not all of the pilots had been through fighter RTU and had received some basic fighter pilot training, most of their experience had been as tactical reconnaissance pilots. Nevertheless, the 118th was assigned a fighter type role in India and continued in that role in China, with tactical reconnaissance becoming a distinctly secondary mission.

The 118th was relieved from its air defense mission in late May 1944, and on June 12 crossed the Hump from Chabua to Yunnanyi, losing one P-40 and one pilot in the process. Four days later the forward echelon was in Kweilin and within a week began combat operations in missions with the other squadrons of the 23d FG at Lingling, Kweilin, and Liuchow. Meanwhile, the rest of the squadron had crossed the Hump by C-46 and arrived at Chengkung, near Kunming, where the rear echelon would remain, providing support for the forward echelon in Kweilin and other bases in East and South Central China.

By mid July the 118th was operating on its own, from Ehr Tong airfield near Kweilin, as the 23d FG did its best to stop the Japanese advances on Kweilin and the network of bases in South Central China. With the eventual fall of Kweilin, the 118th moved to Liuchow, where the action continued fast and furious. The 118th still performed an essentially fighter-bomber role against Japanese ground forces and their lines of communication and support. While tactical reconnaissance was still definitely a secondary mission, there were still a few memorable low-level tactical reconnaissance photo missions, usually in conjunction with fighter sweeps against enemy airfields, suspected bivouac areas, and installations.

The 118th remained at Liuchow until 7 November, when the entire base was evacuated and destroyed in the face of imminent capture by the Japanese. The enemy was moving toward the conclusion of their ICHIGO campaign to neutralize the 14th Air Force bases in South Central China and secure their lines of communications with French Indo-China.

With the fall of Liuchow, the 118th returned to Chengkung for a few days rest and for reorganization for the battles still to come. Most of the original pilots and flight leaders who had survived the required number of missions were homeward bound and a new generation was ready to take over. Ed McComas, because of periodic physical problems, had at this point flown fewer missions than most of the original pilots and was still in command of the squadron, eager to continue the battle and to add to his personal score of enemy airplanes destroyed. The opportunity came on the 12th of November when the forward echelon moved to Suichwan, one of the few bases in East China not held by the Japanese. From there they performed some of the most difficult and successful missions accomplished by the 118th in China, including attacks on shipping in Hong Kong Harbor and the highly successful attacks on airfields in the Shanghai area in January 1945.

Shortly thereafter, the 118th was again forced to return to Chengkung as the Japanese completed their takeover of the East China bases. They remained at Chengkung until April, when they moved to a new base at Laohwangping where they were expected to help repel the Japanese advance on Chihkiang. However, by now the pressure from the East as U.S. forces advanced through the Southwest and Western Pacific was forcing a general withdrawal of the Japanese forces in China. By July, the air war in China was virtually over and there was much speculation about the future of the 118th. A planned move to Hsupuhsien was cancelled and the evidence seemed to indicate that the squadron would return to its original role as a tactical reconnaissance squadron in anticipation of possible allied landings on Mainland China. But with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the abrupt ending of the war, all such speculation ended.

With the cessation of hostilities the 118th returned once more to Liuchow, where its primary mission was to reconnoiter and observe the withdrawal of Japanese troops from occupied areas, and prepare the way for its own return to the United States. By early October most of the pilots and some of the other officers had been transferred to other squadrons of the 23d FG at Hangchow. There they remained until early December when they left for home by ship from Shanghai, arriving in the U.S. in early January 1946. The few officers that remained, and most of the enlisted personnel, were transferred to other units for return to the States by way of Calcutta, Ceylon, Suez and the Mediterranean to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey arriving there in early November. The 118th, then largely a paper organization, was officially deactivated in China in late October 1945. It was soon returned to National Guard status where it survives today as the 118th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the Connecticut Air National Guard.

The 118th, as a viable unit, served in China for only fifteen and one-half months and was engaged in strenuous combat for just a little more than six of those months (from mid June 1944 to late January 1945), but it compiled a truly enviable record during that relatively short period. Three of the squadron’s pilots achieved "Ace" status; Ed McComas, with 14 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and four on the ground; and Oran S. Watts and Russell D. Williams each with five destroyed in the air and one on the ground. Squadron commanders in China, in addition to Ed McComas, were Oran Watts from late January until mid May, Charles C. Simpson from mid May until early June, and Marv Lubner (an Ace with six victories from a previous tour with the 76th FS in China) from early June until the squadron ceased to function as a combat unit in late September or early October 1945.