The 93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) came into existence early in 1942 when experienced personnel from the 44th BG began training flight and maintenance crews for the new group at Barksdale Army Air Field, outside Shreveport, Louisiana. After training at Barksdale, the fledgling 93rd moved a few hundred miles further to the southeast to take up temporary residence at Ft. Meyers, Florida. While operating from Fort Meyers, the men of the 93rd continued to train while also flying antisubmarine missions over the Gulf of Mexico. During their stay at Ft. Meyers the men of the 93rd drew first blood against the Nazis as they were credited with three U-boats, one of which was sunk by the crew commanded by Lt. John L. Jerstad. After three months at Ft. Meyers, the 93rd moved north to Grenier Field, New Hampshire and began making preparations to fly across the North Atlantic to their new base at Alconbury, England.
On September 5 the B-24s left New Hampshire, but were weathered-in in Newfoundland for five days before they were able to continue on to Foggy England. Tragedy struck the 93rd as one of the group's B-24D Liberators and its crew was lost at sea. The group's ground personnel crossed the Atlantic aboard the Queen Elizabeth. With their arrival in England, the infant 93rd became the first American B-24 outfit to arrive in Europe.
On October 9, Colonel Ted Timberlake led 24 group airplanes on the 93rd's first combat mission against locomotive manufacturing facilities at Lille, France. The first mission was typical of things to come. German fighters attacked the formation as they were inbound to the target and the skies filled with flak as the Liberators began their bomb run. Several airplanes were hit by ground fire but, miraculously, only one B-24 failed to return from the mission. Captain Alex Simpson's Big Eagle was hit by flak over Dunkirk and went down. Five members of the crew were killed in action while Simpson, Lt. Nick Cox, Lt. Carl Garrett and Sgt. Michael Reardon became POWs. Sergeant Arthur Cox managed to evade capture and made his way to neutral Spain, with the assistance of the French underground. Several of the returning bombers had been hit by flak or fire from the fighters. When the strike photos were developed, they showed that damage to the factory had been minimal. After their baptismal mission, the men of the 93rd were prevented by bad weather from flying any more missions in October, but in November 1942 the group flew eight missions to targets in France that were aimed primarily at U-boat bases and maintenance facilities. While the rest of the group was engaged in bombing activities, the 330th squadron was detached to the Coastal Command for antisubmarine activities over the Bay of Biscay.
On November 13 the group received a distinguished visitor as King George VI made his first visit to an American heavy bomber base. Early December brought bad weather in England and no missions were flown. Then General Ira Eaker, the Eighth Air Force commander, notified Colonel Timberlake to take three of his squadrons and go to North Africa for a 10-day mission. The 10 days would turn into nearly that many weeks. The 328th, 330th and 409th squadrons left their base at Alconbury, England on a long flight that would end at Tafarouri Aerodrome, a former French airfield outside Oran in Algeria. The 329th squadron remained behind, along with most of the maintenance and other support personnel. The 93rd was sent TDY to supplement the fledgling Twelfth Air Force, which had been recently activated in North Africa. The airfield at Tafarouri was very muddy, and even though two missions were flown, the group was moved to Gambut Main, an airfield in Libya, where the men of the 93rd were now attached to the Ninth Air Force. From Libya the 93rd flew missions against German and Italian targets on both sides of the Mediterranean in support of the North African Campaign. In Libya the 93rd worked with the 98th Bomb Group, which had arrived from the United States, and the 376th Bomb Group, which was in the process of forming in Libya from an assortment of B-24s that had been operating from Egypt after arriving in the theater piece-meal. Major Keith K. Compton, the 93rd's operation officer, was transferred and promoted to take command of the new 376th.
The group remained in Africa until late February, when orders came down to return to England. But instead of returning to Alconbury from whence they had departed, the 93rd was going to a new base at Hardwick, which had been constructed during their absence. While the rest of the group was in Africa, the 329th squadron stayed in England. The squadron moved to Flixton Aerodrome at Bungay in early December, when the rest of the group was told to relocate to Hardwick for the construction of what was to become the group's permanent base. At Flixton, the 329th airplanes were equipped with sophisticated electronic navigational equipment that allowed "blind bombing" through overcast. The men of the 329th took part in an experiment called "Moleing" which consisted of sending out individual bombers to strike cities by bombing through the overcasts in an attempt to disrupt the German factory workers. On January 2, 1943 four 329th B-24s were the first American bombers to penetrate German airspace as they headed for targets in the Ruhr Valley. Ironically, the weather CLEARED as the bombers approached their targets, and under explicit orders not to risk the loss of the airplanes and their equipment, the crews aborted the mission and dropped their bombs in the North Sea. Since they had not bombed, the mission was not reported in the press. In addition to the "Moleing" missions, the 329th flew missions with the 44th Bomb Group, which had arrived in England shortly after their parent group.
After the return of the man body of the 93rd to England, the group resumed bombing missions with the Eighth Air Force and the 44th group, which at the time was the only other B-24 group in England. By May some crews and airplanes were reaching the magic number of 25 missions at which point the crews were supposed to be allowed to return to the United States. On May 3 Captain "Shine" Shannon departed Alconbury to return to the United States in "Hot Stuff," which was the first American heavy bomber to complete 25 missions. On board the airplane was Lieutenant General Frank Andrews, who at the time was the highest-ranking US Army officer in England. Andrews had been summoned back to Washington for a special meeting with General of the Army George Marshall. Though they were supposed to refuel at Prestwick, Scotland before heading out over the Atlantic, the crew elected to overfly Prestwick and proceed to their next destination, Reykjavik, Iceland. They arrived to find the weather at their destination down in snow squalls, low clouds and rain. After several landing attempts, the B-24 crashed into the side of a mountain. Only the tail-gunner survived the crash.
The 93rd continued to fly missions from England through May, but in early June the group was taken off of operations along with the 44th to begin training in very low-altitude operations. The two veteran B-24 groups were joined by the newly arrived 389th Bomb Group, which had just arrived from the United States and had yet to fly a mission. In mid-May Colonel Timberlake was given command of the 210th Provisional Bomb Wing, which included the 93rd, 44th and 389th. Lt. Col. Addison Baker, the former squadron commander of the 328th BS, took command of the group. On June 26, 1943 Baker led the 93rd out of England for La Senia Aerodrome at Oran. The 93rd was back in North Africa, but this time the whole group was there, along with two other Eighth Air Force B-24 groups. On June 27 the group moved again, this time to Terria, a base in Libya. The three Eighth Air Force B-24 groups joined the 98th and 376th of the Ninth Air Force as every available B-24 in the ETO was concentrated in North Africa. After their arrival in Libya the 93rd joined other Liberator groups on missions to Italy and Sicily in support of the invasion of Sicily, which took place on July 9. Ten missions were flown out of Libya against targets on the north shores of the Mediterranean, including the first mission to Rome on July 19, and then the group stood down in preparation for the most famous Liberator mission of the war, and possibly the most dangerous mission ever flown by American bomber crews - the low-altitude mission against the Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania. Located in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps, Ploesti was the major source of petroleum products for Axis forces in the Mediterranean.
In the belief that a "knockout blow" against Ploesti would shorten the war in Europe, the Allied leadership at the Casablanca Conference decided to attack the refineries. Col. Jacob Smart, a planner on the staff of Army Air Forces commander General Henry H. Arnold, believed that a low-altitude attack would not only allow pinpoint accuracy, it would also catch the defenders by surprise and reduce casualties, which were expected to be very heavy. The plan called for the 93rd to be the second group in the lead formation, with the group split into two forces. Force A was to hit the Concordia Refinery complex while Force B was to hit the Standard Petrol and Unirea Sperantza blocks, which were labeled Targets White Two and Three, respectively. "Tidal Wave," as the mission was named, started to go wrong when German detection devices in the Alps picked up the ignition systems of the 178 Liberators as soon as they took off from their bases around Benghazi on Sunday, August 1, 1943. All Axis air defenses were alerted that a major mission was underway. Though the Allies did not appreciate it's magnitude, a massive defense system had been built up around the refineries, making Ploesti possibly the most heavily defended target in the world. Dozens of large caliber antiaircraft guns had been installed around the complex while literally hundreds of smaller automatic weapons defended against attack by low-flying aircraft. Barrage balloons were position around the refineries, though the planners had anticipated that the wings of the low-flying B-24s would cut their tethers. There were also several squadrons of German and Romanian fighters based in the region, as well as in neighboring Bulgaria and other countries along the route.
The lead elements of the Tidal Wave force reached the vicinity of the refineries before they were attacked. An unfortunate error by Col. K.K. Compton led the formation into a turn short of the Initial Approach Point. The formation of B-24s was headed for Bucharest, though Colonel Baker and other pilots and navigators in the formation were aware of the error. Seeing the stacks of the refinery through a veil of rain showers to his left, Colonel Baker led the 93rd into a left turn to attack the refineries, even though they were out of position for an attack on their assigned target. By this time enemy fighters had found the formation and the Battle of Ploesti was underway. After breaking formation with the errant 376th, Colonel Baker took the two forces of the 93rd down to treetop altitudes. As they approached the refinery complex, the low-flying B-24s encountered terrible ground fire. Since the targets for which they had been briefed were on the other side of the city, the 93rd made for targets of opportunity, which happened to be the targets that had been assigned to the 98th and 44th groups, which had fallen behind the lead formation and lost all visual contact with the airplanes that preceded them. Airplane after airplane was hit by ground fire; crew members were killed and wounded and some airplanes were shot down, but the two elements of the 93rd group held their formation. Colonel Baker's airplane took numerous hits as it approached the refinery and caught fire, but the 93rd group commander held his course and led Force A over the target he had selected as the stricken bomber continued to take hit after hit. Two miles from the bomb line Baker jettisoned his bombs in attempt to keep the Liberator in the air. After crossing over the stacks, the airplane pitched over on one wing and crashed in a wheat field. Baker and his copilot, Major John Jerstad, would be awarded the Medal of Honor for leading their group over the target in their burning airplane. Of the thirty-nine 93rd B-24s that took off from Benghazi, thirty-four reached the target. Only fifteen came away from the target in formation and of those, only five escaped with little damage.
To replace Lt. Col. Baker, Colonel Leland Fiegel, who had been with the 93rd for a brief time in the United States, was brought to Africa to take command of the group. There was a stand-down of a week and a half after Ploesti, then on August 13 crews from the group participated in the first US attack on the aircraft factories at Wiener-Nuestadt, Austria. Three days later the B-24s bombed Foggia, then went there again three days after that. On August 24 the Eighth Air Force groups began their return to England. When the group returned to England, the surviving veterans who had completed the required 25 missions were sent home and their places were taken by replacement crews that had just arrived from the United States. The battle-weary B-24Ds also began to be replaced, by brand-new B-24H and J-models that featured a power turret in the nose. Because of their limited strength after Ploesti, the B-24 groups were assigned primarily to diversion missions to draw fighters away from the B-17s and for attacks on targets in France.
But only a little more than two weeks after they returned to England, the men of the 93rd, along with their peers in the 44th and 389th, were alerted to return to North Africa, this time to Tunis. Once in North Africa, the B-24 groups joined the remnants of the two Ninth Air Force Liberator groups in attacks on targets in Italy and Austria, including a second attack on Wiener-Nuestadt, a mission that turned out to be another costly day for the B-24s. Fortunately for the men of the 93rd, most of the losses were taken by the 44th, which had a reputation as a "hard-luck" outfit. After Wiener-Nuestadt, the 93rd and the rest of the Second Air Division returned to England. For the rest of the war the Eighth Air Force B-24s would operate along with their sister groups which flew B-17s in the aerial assault on Germany. Even though the group was no longer "travelling," it was still very much in the war. The 93rd arrived back in England with the other two Eighth Air Force Liberator groups as the US Army was beginning a huge buildup of heavy bomber forces to attack German targets in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. The Circus arrived back in Europe just in time for their first anniversary as a combat unit. The 93rd had flown 72 missions in one year of combat, including the most dangerous bomber mission of World War II. But there was more to come. While the Eighth Air Force Liberators were in Africa, their B-17 counterparts had continued a bombing campaign against targets in Germany and occupied Europe. The 93rd jointed the other Liberator groups and the B-17s in a continuation of the air war against Germany. The first missions were flown against targets such as submarine pens at Vegasack and Danzig, Poland. On October 14 eighteen 93rd Liberators joined the mission to Schweinfurt, Germany. But the B-24 groups were unable to assemble in the bad weather that had built-up in their assembly area and only the 93rd and 392nd were able to depart for the target. Colonel Leland Fiegel, the 93rd commander, was in the lead airplane. When his force had dwindled down to only 22 airplanes, he realized they were too small to continue on to the target. Instead, he led the Liberators on a diversion mission to draw attention away from the B-17s who ran into disaster over the target.
By this time few of the original 93rd crews remained in action. Those who had finished their missions were rotating back to the US, while the unlucky ones were either KIA or imprisoned in Nazi POW camps. New crews and new, better-equipped, airplanes joined the group's four squadrons. In October the Army Air Forces began using pathfinder crews flying airplanes equipped with special navigational equipment and radar bombsights to find targets even when they were enshrouded by clouds. The 329th Bomb Squadron became a Pathfinder unit, and its crews were detached to other groups to fly as lead planes. In early 1944 Lt. General James H. Doolittle took over the Eighth Air Force. One of his first actions was to increase the number of required missions from 25 to 30, an action that did not endear the famous race pilot and leader of the raid on Tokyo to his new subordinates. But Doolittle was determined to win the war. His orders were to destroy the German air force, both in the air and on the ground. In late February Doolittle launched what came to be known as "Big Week," as Eighth Air Force B-17 and B-24 crews were sent against targets connected to the German aviation industry. "Big Week" was followed by the first daylight raids against Berlin, the German capital.
Other missions were aimed at German V-bomb sites in the Pas de Calais region of France and still others were against German oil refineries and synthetic oil production plants. As the planned - though secret - date for the planned invasion of Normandy approached, the heavy bombers were dispatched against transportation targets in France. On D-Day itself, 93rd crews joined other Eighth Air Force heavy bomber crews on missions in support of the landings. With Allied ground troops on French soil, the heavy bombers were used primarily in a tactical role for several weeks. It wasn't until June 18 that 93rd crews returned to strategic bombing, in a mission against fighter bases in the vicinity of Hamburg. From then on for the rest of the war, 93rd and other Liberator groups alternated between strategic and tactical targets. In early August the Allies broke out of the Normandy beachhead and began a rapid advance across France. General George Patton's Third Army moved so fast that his tank columns quickly outran their lines of supply. The Ninth Air Force troop carrier groups were heavily burdened, so some Liberator groups, including the 93rd, were taken off of bombing operations and assigned to transport duty. The airplanes were filled with 5-gallon "Jerry" cans of gasoline, and were flown into newly captured German airfields in France where the cargo was transferred to trucks for delivery to the advancing tanks. Fuel was not the only cargo carried by the B-24s. Some missions transported "mercy" supplies, such as blood plasma as well as food, automobile parts and even drinking water. By the end of August more than 25% of the 93rd's strength was devoted to transport missions. The most dangerous of the "trucking" missions, as the Liberator crewman referred to the cargo missions, were the airdrops in support of the Allied airborne army which landed by parachute and glider in the vicinity of Arnhem, in Holland.
Since the Ninth Air Force Troop Carrier Command was heavily tasked with moving reinforcements to the area, the job of delivering supplies fell to B-24 crews, including the 93rd. On September 18 the 93rd dispatched 18 Liberators on a drop mission in support of the paratroops. The drops required very low altitude flying that brought back memories of the Ploesti mission of the year before. As the low-flying Liberators approached the drop zone, German antiaircraft gunners opened up on them. Two 93rd Liberators were shot down on the drop mission that day, while five others were lost by other groups. In December the Germans launched a massive counterattack against Allied forces in Belgium. Bad weather kept the heavy bombers on the ground for several days, but on Christmas Day the weather finally broke and the 93rd joined other Liberator groups attacking German transportation in support of the troops fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. The German offensive lost steam as the motorized battalions ran out of fuel. Their lack of fuel was a tribute to the tremendous work that had been done by Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force heavy bombers over the preceding years. As the new year dawned, it became more and more apparent that the war in Europe was winding down. Though the German Luftwaffe was still a potent threat, it's lack of fuel and experienced pilots kept it from living up to it's potential.
By April the mission planners in England were running out of targets. On April 30, 1945 the entire Eighth Air Force stood down because there were no targets left to bomb. The air war in Europe was over. When the war in Europe ended, the Circus had achieved an unparalleled record. Not only had the 93rd flown more missions than any other B-24 equipped group, it had done so while achieving the lowest rate in casualties. While flying 396 missions and 8,169 sorties, the 93rd lost only 100 airplanes in combat. Forty other 93rd airplanes were lost in non-combat related incidents and accidents. Casualties among the men of the Circus were 670 KIA/MIA. Gunners assigned to 93rd airplanes were credited with 93 enemy fighters and 41 probables. Two men from the 93rd, Lt. Col. Addison Baker and Major John Jerstad, were awarded the Medal of Honor, both posthumously. The group was awarded 16 campaign ribbons and two Distinguished Unit Citations.