The 406th Occupier
Group Activated at Key Field March 1, 1943
T he group was activated March 1, 1943, by General Order 28, Headquarters Key Field, Meridian, Miss., as the 406th Bomb Group (Dive) under the command of Lt. Col. Bryan B. Harper. It was composed of the 628th, 629th, 630th and 631st Squadrons and was a part of the III Air Support Command, Birmingham, Ala., and the III Air Force, Tampa, Florida. Original cadre personnel were assigned March 4, 1943 and the 41 officers and 73 men were immediately attached to the parent organization, the 48th Bomb Group (Dive), for quarters, rations and duty. In April and May 1943 all personnel attended AAF School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida, for the Air Support course. In June and July the organization was brought to fifty percent of full strength and received its first planes - 1 A-35, 1 - A-24 and 1 - BC-1 per Squadron. This period was one of organization, training of key personnel and acquiring equipment.
In August, 1943 the group was reorganized and redesignated the 406th Fighter Bomber group composed of the 512th, 513th and 514th Squadrons and transferred to command of the III Fighter Command, Drew Field, Tampa, Florida. In September 1943, a change of station was ordered and the group moved to Congaree Army Air Base, Columbia, South Carolina. By October 1, 1943 the organization was to full strength in ground personnel and half strength in flying personnel, had received P-39 type aircraft, and begun a combat readiness training program prescribed by the III Fighter Command. A tactical inspection at the end of October brought about the transfer of all flying personnel. This reorganization, the group's second, was based on inadequate fighter time of the pilots. Though experienced in dive-bombers they averaged less than 100 hours in fighters. Lt. Col. Anthony V. Grossetta, the combat Commanding Officer, assumed command from Lt. Col. Harper on November 6, 1943. This web site developer was assigned to the 512th squadron as a pilot on October 15, 1943 and on December 1, 1943, the present flying personnel together with P-47 type planes were assigned. The Group's “modern” history may be said to date from this date. The period December 1, 1943 to March 1, 1944 was one of successive stages of training, principally gunnery, dive-bombing, formation and mission. This period too was marked by intense preparation for overseas movement. A final P.O.E. Inspection was passed in mid February and movement orders received March 1, 1944. On March 13, 1944 the organization proceeded to the port of embarkation and sailed for the ETO March 23, 1944 arriving April 4, 1944, where it was assigned to the XIX Tactical Air Command of the Ninth Air Force.
On February 7 came the long awaited day and arrival of the P.O.E. inspection team. They "looked us over" for three days found amazingly few discrepancies and pronounced us ready. The reaction was immediate - every one began arranging for leave and furlough. Fortunately, enough time existed between P.O.E. inspection and Movement Order date for leaves to be granted. All personnel with few exceptions had a few days at their respective homes between Feb. 7 and February 25. It would be impossible to over estimate the effect of this fact on the morale of the organization. Movement orders were received March 1, 1944, one year to the day from Activation, and for twelve days, all worked like mad packing personal and organizational equipment and arranging personal affairs. One week before movement the Group was restricted to the Base. The highlight of this week was a going away party given at expense and instigation of the Base Organization.
Embarkation and Boat Life
On Monday morning, March 13, 1944 at 0900 to the tune of Auld Lang Syne the Group, henceforth known as 1404N (Shipment Number), entrained for the New York Port of Embarkation, an uneventful thirty six hour train ride followed. This was the turning point, the culmination of years work - and even longer for many as individuals. None could express their feelings, but few suppressed their thoughts. There was a quiet look of anticipation on the faces of all. Arrival was at the previously undisclosed Staging Area, Camp Shanks, New York. Immediately on arrival the group was billeted together, established a headquarters and began an intensive processing. Security and censorship orientation was given; organizational and personnel equipment checked records inspected and physical examinations taken. Because of the previous preparation, the Group was processed in short order and four days after arrival was released for passes to New York. Last trips and "flings" in the city marked the next two days. Restriction came on 20 March 44 and on the 22nd the organization boarded HMT "Stirling Castle" of the Union Castle Line via Weehawken Ferry. Again, the embarkation was made to music. In the early morning of March 23, 1944, the Stirling Castle sailed and we knew we were on our way.