AAF Antisubmarine Command
- See Also: 1st Search Attack Group
On 22 September 1942 the USAAF began to organize the Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command (AAFAC), using the I Bomber Command as its core for combat units, personnel and aircraft. The First Air Force had been engaged in anti submarine war for almost a year. During that time it had laid the basis for an effective organization and made plans for a larger anti submarine force. The new AAFAC was constituted on 13 October and activated on 15 October. Simultaneously, I Bomber Command was inactivated the same day.
The principal mission of AAFAC was to be "the location and destruction of hostile submarines wherever they may be operating". As a necessary means to this end it had the secondary mission of training crews and developing devices and techniques. The command was a direct reporting agency to the Commanding General, United States Army Air Forces, although its operations on the United States Navy Eastern and Gulf Sea Frontiers were to be conducted under the tactical control of Naval officials. The former I Bomber Command furnished the units, personnel, aircraft, and equipment for the new organization. By 20 November 1942, the AAFAC had organized the squadrons it had inherited from I Bomber Command into the 25th and 26th antisubmarine Wings with headquarters at New York and Miami respectively.
Initially, AAFAC had 19 operational antisubmarine Squadrons and only 20 B-24 Liberators, the aircraft type most useful for long range anti-submarine patrolling. The command grew rapidly until, by September 1943, there were 25 antisubmarine squadrons, most being equipped with B-24's specially modified for antisubmarine warfare. AAFAC squadrons were eventually located in the Americas from Newfoundland south to Brazil, and in Europe, based in Dorset, England, and French Morocco, with operating units as far east as Tunisia.
With the increasing number of RADAR-equipped B-24s over the Atlantic coastline and Gulf, the Germans found the hunting more profitable in the area of Trinidad until mid 1943. AAFAC consequently based B-18 Bolos s at Edinburgh Field, Trinidad, from early January until August 1943. In November and December 1942, German submarines sank 18 ships. Increased aerial patrols paid off with no losses of friendly ships near Trinidad from January to July 1943. During this time, the AAF B-18's engaged mostly in convoy escort and coverage missions. In July–August, German submarines sank four merchant vessels. The AAF anti submarine squadrons, flying both B-24's and B-18's, made six attacks and participated in two killer hunts to foil the enemy offensive in Trinidad waters.
In addition to the Trinidad area, the German submarines operated extensively in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1943, where merchant vessels sailed independently because there was no convoy system. AAFAC sent a detachment of B-24 aircraft in May from Trinidad to Natal, Brazil, to patrol the South Atlantic sea lanes at ranges beyond the reach of the Brazilian Air Force and flew patrols over the South Atlantic Ocean until August 1943.
In October 1941, far to the north, an Air Force detachment of four to six B-17 Flying Fortresses had begun anti submarine patrols over the northwest Atlantic Ocean from RCAF Station Gander, Newfoundland. The B-17's were armed with machine guns and bombs but carried no RADAR or depth charges. In July 1942, the 421st Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), also flying B-17's and with a primary mission of long range bombardment training, replaced the detachment. The squadron cooperated with Royal Canadian Air Force and United States Navy organizations in Newfoundland to carry on its secondary mission of anti submarine war. Then, in the fall of 1942, AAFAC made anti submarine patrol the squadron's primary mission, redesignating it the 20th Antisubmarine Squadron (Heavy).
During the 1943 Allied Conference in Casablanca, French Morocco, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed to deploy B-24 aircraft to patrol the mid Atlantic gap. Modified B-24's, with a radius up to 1,000 miles (1,609 km), could fly day or night in all but the worst weather to detect and attack submarines. The British immediately began operating Liberators, the Royal Air Force designation of the B-24, from bases in Ireland and Iceland to cover the eastern part of the gap, but the U.S. Navy did not send any aircraft to cover the western stretches of the mid Atlantic. During February 1943 21 ships totaling almost 200,000 tons were lost, mostly in the western gap. The next month in the Atlantic, the Allies lost 38 ships of 750,000 tons and an escort in four convoys.
On 18 March a B-24 detachment of the 25th Antisubmarine Wing established a headquarters at St. John's, Newfoundland, and began anti submarine patrols on 3 April 1943. By the end of the month AAFAC had three B-24 squadrons operating from RCAF Station Torbay and RCAF Gander in Newfoundland. The squadrons engaged in convoy coverage and in broad offensive sweeps ahead of the convoys. In April and May they made 12 sightings of German submarines, which resulted in three attacks, but the B-24's did not sink a submarine.
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