458th Bombardment Group (H)
The 458th Bombardment Group (H):
The 458th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on July 28, 1943, at Gowen Field, Idaho. It was comprised of four squadrons – the 752nd, 753rd, 754th, and 755th. In September the group moved to Wendover Field, Utah where most of the combat crews were assigned for training. In late October 1943, the group moved to Tonopah, Nevada for Combat Crew training which began on December 1, 1943. It was at this time that LtCol James H. Isbell was appointed as group commanding officer, a post at which he would remain until March 1945.
In early January 1944, having been assigned to the 8th USAAF, the group moved overseas to the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The aircrews picked up brand new B-24 Liberators and flew them individually via the Southern Ferry Route to England. The ground echelon traveled via ship out of New York. The first aircrews started arriving at the end of the month at their new base, Horsham St Faith in Norwich, a permanent RAF airfield built in 1939. It was hereafter known as AAF 123.
The 458th’s first combat assignment came on February 24, 1944, during “Big Week”, flying a diversionary mission along the Dutch coast to draw enemy fighters away from Germany while experienced units struck deep into the enemy’s homeland. A similar mission was flown the next day along the French coast. Bombing sorties began on March 2nd with a strike on Frankfurt, Germany. All ships returned to base. On March 6th the 458th flew on the first mission the 8th Air Force completed to Berlin, losing five crews – the highest total loss of any single mission for the remainder of its combat tour.
Throughout the spring the group flew missions leading up to D-Day on June 6th. In late May, the 753BS was tasked with the testing of an experimental bomb, known as AZON which would allow the bombardier to remotely control the projectile to the target – the precursor of today’s smart bomb. A total of ten AZON missions were flown throughout the summer before the project was abandoned.
In September, the 96th Combat Bombardment Wing (458BG, 466BG, and 467BG) was pulled off combat operations and assigned to fly gasoline to the Continent. The 458th flew a total of 456 sorties, known as “Truckin’ Missions” throughout September, delivering 767,000 gallons of gas. They lost seven aircraft and 13 men either killed or missing in action in the process. Combat operations began again at the beginning of October and continued through the end of the war.
On April 15, 1945, the 458th participated in an unusual sortie to Royan, France. More than 120,000 enemy troops were still occupying an area along the Gironde Estuary. Using containers of “jellied gasoline”, this was the first successful use of Napalm in the ETO. The group’s last mission occurred on April 25th with a strike on a railroad target at Bad Reichenhall, Germany and it proved to be one of the few “milk runs” this Group had.
While the war in Europe was over, the war in the Pacific was still raging. The group was reassigned to March Field, California in August with the goal of transitioning to the B-29 Superfortress and joining the fight against Japan. Before training could begin the war in the Pacific came to an end and the group was deactivated on September 15, 1945.
During their operational period between February 24, 1944 – April 25, 1945, the 458th Bomb Group flew 240 combat missions in four campaigns: Air Offensive Europe – 57 missions, Normandy – 45 missions, Northern France – 33 missions, and Germany – 105 missions. The group lost 47 aircraft shot down with an additional 10 Liberators lost to combat-related incidents. Combat casualties of personnel resulted in 256 aircrew killed in action; 193 POWs; and 34 evading capture. An additional 60 aircrew were interned in either Switzerland or Sweden. A total of 14 aircraft were lost in non-combat related accidents, killing 53 aircrew and/or groundmen. The group’s gunners were credited with the destruction of 28 enemy aircraft.
The 458th was cited for outstanding performance by the 2nd Air Division on three occasions: completing 100 missions, the destruction of an important bridge at Blois St Denis, and the completion of 200 missions.
I grew up in the 1970’s knowing my father had served in the Eighth Air Force during World War II, but never heard him talk about it. I discovered his footlocker early on and the contents therein fueled my passion for World War II aviation. I read and re-read his combat diary and was privileged at the age of 16 to attend his crew reunion in Dayton, Ohio. When observing him with several of his fellow crew members, I could see the young man who had flown B-24s and fought as a navigator so long ago.
In the late 1990s, to document and preserve the history of my dad’s group, I created the 458th website. With the very generous help of so many veterans and their relatives, the number of materials quickly grew. My research also took me to the National Archives where the group’s records are stored. I was able to gather thousands of pages of official declassified documents, reports, and photos, many of which appear on this site.
In 2010, using the materials collected over a decade, I co-authored Liberators Over Norwich with Ron Mackay and Mike Bailey. This is the only comprehensive history of the 458th, telling the day-to-day story of the men flying out of Horsham St Faith to take the war to Germany.
It has been my great honor to help preserve the history of this group, and to bring to light the stories of the men who served to their families and friends.