The Quintessential 9th Air Force Fighter Group
The 406th Fighter Group and its Archive at Pima Air and Space Museum provides a window into what fighter groups experienced during World War II. Its history and solid combat record reflects the 9th Air Force and its operation throughout much of the European Theater of Combat.
Established as a tactical organization, the 9th Air Force's focus was the support of ground troops as armies fought and maneuvered in real time. This compared to the 8th Air Force, whose mission was more Strategic in nature such as bombing factories, oil fields and other aspects of the enemy's infrastructure used for waging war.
As the war progressed the value of concentrated tactical air warfare became increasing apparent and vital. It gave the army another arm at or near where the battle was being fought. In some cases sections of the line were left to the fighter groups to defend where ground troops were in short supply. Pilots flying P-47 Thunderbolts, with the excellent support of their ground personnel, slugged it out down on the deck... returning to a make-shift airfield for fuel and ammunition only to go out and do it again and then again.
Often it would go like this: A radio message to the 406th from tactical headquarters, a ground controller at the site of battle or a reconnaissance flight resulted in a swift response of heavily laden Thunderbolts attacking opposing forces, gun placements or intruding tanks. Then it was on to targets of opportunity or perhaps an engagement with ME109's. The 406th FG pilots were trained fighter pilots who also found themselves delivering tons of ordnance.
Equally effective to directly attacking the battlefront was the tactic of flying in just behind enemy lines where columns of troops might be approaching, or a load of ammunition was stored in a barn or a concentration of armor lay waiting. Rail yards and trains underway were also frequent targets. It was often reported that German troops were amazed at the destruction surrounding them behind the lines now in their path of retreat.
This is what fighter groups did; this is what the 406th Fighter Group did along with 18 other such units within the 9th Air Force. They didn't get a whole lot of media recognition, as did their brothers in arms over at the 8th Air Force. But, they got the job done. This in turns help to win battles and eventually the war itself with quiet efficiency.
The 406th happened to have a handful of men, such as Stanley Wyglendowski, who worked in media related jobs before the war. They instinctively filmed, photographed and maintain records resulting in the 406th Archives having more than their share of materials. To know the 406th is to know most of the fighter groups in the 9th Air Force and their dogged, steadfast contribution to Allied victory. The quintessential Fighter Group: We honor the 406th!