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Operation Carpetbagger

Operation Carpetbagger

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During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Operation Carpetbagger was a general term used for the aerial resupply of weapons and other matériel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

to resistance
Resistance during World War II
Resistance movements during World War II occurred in every occupied country by a variety of means, ranging from non-cooperation, disinformation and propaganda to hiding crashed pilots and even to outright warfare and the recapturing of towns...

 fighters in France, Italy and the Low Countries by the U.S. Army Air Forces that began on 4 January 1944.


In late 1943, the 22nd Anti-Submarine Squadron of the Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

 was disbanded at RAF Alconbury
RAF Alconbury
RAF Alconbury is an active Royal Air Force station in Cambridgeshire, England. The airfield is adjacent to the Stukeleys [Great and Little] and located about northwest of Huntingdon; about north of London....

 and its aircraft used to form the 36th and 406th Bomb Squadrons. After some shuffling of commands, these two squadrons were placed under the 801st Bomb Group (Provisional) at the beginning of 1944, and the first "Carpetbagger" missions were carried out by this unit under the control of General "Wild Bill" Donovan's Office of Strategic Services
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...


In April 1944, the group moved to RAF Harrington
RAF Harrington
RAF Harrington is a former World War II airfield in England. The field is located west of Kettering in Northamptonshire south of the village of Harrington across the B576 road, now the A14.-USAAF use:...

 (Station 179), a more secluded and thus more secure airbase. A month later, in advance of the expected invasion of Europe, it was expanded to four squadrons to increase its capabilities and to pick up workload from RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

; the two new squadrons were the 788th and 850th Bomb Squadrons.

The Group had already adopted the nickname of "Carpetbaggers" from its original operational codename. In August 1944, the Group dropped the Provisional status and absorbed the designations and men of the 492nd Bomb Group from RAF North Pickenham
RAF North Pickenham
RAF North Pickenham is a former Royal Air Force base near North Pickenham, in Norfolk. It was originally opened in 1944 and finally closed in 1965.-USAAF use:...

, but stayed in place at Harrington; its squadrons were now designated the 856th, 857th, 858th and 859th Bomb Squadrons.

From January 1944 to the end of the war, the Group, in liaison with the British Special Operations Executive
Special Operations Executive
The Special Operations Executive was a World War II organisation of the United Kingdom. It was officially formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers and to instruct and aid local...

 and later the Special Forces Headquarters (SFHQ) in London, dropped spies and supplies to the Resistance forces of France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Norway.

During a hiatus in operations which lasted from mid-September 1944 to the end of 1944, the Group ferried gasoline to depots on the Continent for two weeks to supply advancing Allied armies, then three squadrons went into training for night bombing operations, whilst the 856th participated in the return of Allied airmen on the Continent who had either evaded capture or had walked out of Switzerland after that country relaxed its internment practices. This exercise was carried out mostly in C47s
C-47 Skytrain
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain or Dakota is a military transport aircraft that was developed from the Douglas DC-3 airliner. It was used extensively by the Allies during World War II and remained in front line operations through the 1950s with a few remaining in operation to this day.-Design and...

 assigned to the group originally for insertion operations during the previous summer.

In December 1944, the 859th was sent on Detached Service with the Fifteenth Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
The Fifteenth Expeditionary Mobility Task Force is one of two EMTFs assigned to the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command . It is headquartered at Travis Air Force Base, California....

 in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations
Mediterranean Theater of Operations
The Mediterranean Theater of Operations, United States Army was originally called North African Theater of Operations and is an American term for the conflict that took place between the Allies and Axis Powers in North Africa and Italy during World War II...

 with the 2641st Special Operations Group at Brindisi, Italy. The 856th Bomb Squadron, after completing the personnel recovery mission, resumed Carpetbagger operations on a limited basis during the bad weather of the winter of 1945, while the remaining two squadrons (the 857th and 858th) participated in medium altitude bombing from late December 1944 through March 1945.

In the spring of 1945, Carpetbagger operations resumed, but not to the extent of the previous year. The 857th was detached and sent to RAF Bassingbourn
RAF Bassingbourn
RAF Bassingbourn is a former military airbase located in Cambridgeshire approximately north of Royston, Hertfordshire and south west of Cambridge. During World War II it served first as an RAF station and then as a bomber base of the U.S. Eighth Air Force...

 (91st Bomb Group
91st Bomb Group
The 91st Bomb Group was an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. Classified as a heavy bombardment group, the 91st operated B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft and was known unofficially as "The Ragged Irregulars" or as "Wray's Ragged Irregulars", after the...

) at the end of March 1945, while the 856th and 858th dropped small numbers of agents and sabotage teams into Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Germany. Operations came to an end at Harrington at the end of April 1945, though a few special OSS missions, such as returning dignitaries to formerly occupied countries, carried on until the Group disbanded and returned to the United States in early July 1945.


The B-24 bombers
B-24 Liberator
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and a small number of early models were sold under the name LB-30, for Land Bomber...

 used for the flights were modified by removing the belly turret, nose guns and any equipment unnecessary for the mission, such as oxygen equipment, in order to lighten them and provide more cargo space and speed. The rear guns were kept as protection from night fighters.

Agents and crated supplies were dropped by parachute through the opening left by removal of the belly turret. In addition, supplies were loaded into containers designed to fit inside the bomb-bay and released from there by the existing equipment. Targets were given by exact longitudes and latitudes, thus making precise navigation imperative.

All flights were made on moonlit nights so that visual navigation could be made by using rivers, lakes, railroad tracks, and towns as check points. The pilot, copilot, and bombardier all had maps to aid them in keeping track of their location, whilst the navigator kept position by dead reckoning, with all four of these officers staying in close interphone contact.

All flights were individual, each navigator choosing his route in consultation with the pilot. On flights to French targets the aircraft crossed the coast at around six thousand feet to avoid light anti-aircraft fire, dropping to five hundred feet or so to avoid night fighters once inland and to make it possible to verify location at all times, assuring that checkpoints on the ground correspond exactly to the area being looked at in the cockpit and nose of the aircraft. Limited visibility at higher altitude would make this more difficult if not impossible. Since drops were made at 400 to 500 feet at the pilot's discretion, being already at such a height made the drops more efficient.

When only a few miles from the target area all available eyes began searching for the drop area, which would usually be identified by three high powered flash lights placed in a row, with a fourth at a 90 degree angle to indicate the direction of the drop. Coming towards the target, the aircraft slowed to between 120 and 125 mph and dropped to an altitude of four hundred feet, higher in hilly country: agents were dropped first, with supplies on a second drop. Often, pilots had to fly several miles farther into enemy territory after completing their drops to disguise the actual drop location should any enemy observers recognize the aircraft's turning point as the drop location.

In some cases multiple drops in isolated areas were made at different intervals and bonfires would be used as drop indicators instead of flashlights. In rare cases air to ground oral radio contact would be made, these being of great importance.

Long-term effects

The group has been generally recognized as the ancestor of today's Air Force Special Operations
Air Force Special Operations Command
Air Force Special Operations Command is the Special Operations component of the United States Air Force and the US Air Force component command to the United States Special Operations Command , a unified command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida...


External links