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Third Air Force

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The Third Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Forces in Europe
United States Air Forces in Europe
The United States Air Forces in Europe is the United States Air Force component of U.S. European Command, a Department of Defense unified command, and is one of two Air Force Major Commands outside of the continental United States, the other being the Pacific Air Forces...

 (USAFE). It is headquartered at Ramstein Air Base
Ramstein Air Base
Ramstein Air Base is a United States Air Force base in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. It serves as headquarters for the United States Air Forces in Europe and is also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization installation...

, Germany.

3 AF is responsible for all United States Air Forces in Europe
United States Air Forces in Europe
The United States Air Forces in Europe is the United States Air Force component of U.S. European Command, a Department of Defense unified command, and is one of two Air Force Major Commands outside of the continental United States, the other being the Pacific Air Forces...

 operations and support activities in the USEUCOM area of responsibility.

One of the four original pre–World War II numbered air forces, 3 AF was activated on 18 December 1940, at MacDill Field, Florida with a mission of air defense of the Southeastern United States and Gulf Coast
Gulf Coast of the United States
The Gulf Coast of the United States, sometimes referred to as the Gulf South, South Coast, or 3rd Coast, comprises the coasts of American states that are on the Gulf of Mexico, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and are known as the Gulf States...

 regions. During the war, its primary mission became the organization and training of combat units prior to their deployment to the overseas combat air forces.

3 AF is commanded by Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc
Frank Gorenc
Lieutenant General Frank "Gork" Gorenc is Commander, Third Air Force, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. As the U.S. Air Forces in Europe component numbered air force for U.S...

. Its Command Chief Master Sergeant is Chief Master Sergeant Dennis L. Vannorsdall.

Overview


The command directs all USAFE forces engaged in contingency and wartime operations in the United States European Command
United States European Command
The United States European Command is one of ten Unified Combatant Commands of the United States military, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Its area of focus covers and 51 countries and territories, including Europe, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, and Israel...

 (EUCOM) area of responsibility. It also has a unique mission as the U.S. military's primary liaison to the British government, which is conducted through the command's 3 AF-UK headquarters at Royal Air Force Station Mildenhall, England. As an integral part of America's commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Third Air Force's area of responsibility includes missions and personnel in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Norway, Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, Denmark, Luxembourg
Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

, and portions of France.

The command also serves as Headquarters European Command
United States European Command
The United States European Command is one of ten Unified Combatant Commands of the United States military, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Its area of focus covers and 51 countries and territories, including Europe, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, and Israel...

's "single point of contact" for representing U.S. forces in negotiations with the British government, Third Air Force oversees host nation support agreements for all American military forces based in the United Kingdom through the command's 3 AF-UK headquarters at RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall is a Royal Air Force station located at Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. Despite its status as an RAF station, it primarily supports United States Air Force operations and is currently the home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing...

.

Through the Partnership for Peace program, Third Air Force manages military contact and assistance programs for a number of countries in Eastern Europe. Third Air Force is also responsible for contingency planning and support of American security interests in Africa.

It is composed of more than 25,000 military people, and more than 35,000 family members. Third Air Force is assigned more than 200 aircraft, while tasked to provide support servicing to thousands of other transient aircraft that visit its bases each year.

Units


Major operational units under Third Air Force are:
  • 31st Fighter Wing
    31st Fighter Wing
    The 31st Fighter Wing is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe Third Air Force. It is stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy where it is also the host unit....

     Aviano Air Base
    Aviano Air Base
    Aviano Air Base is a NATO Air Base under U.S. Air Force administration in northeastern Italy, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. It is located in Aviano municipality, at the foot of the Carnic Pre-Alps, or Southern Carnic Alps, about 15 kilometers from Pordenone.-Units:Aviano is hosted by the...

     Italy
    Italy
    Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

     (F-16C/D Block 40)
  • 48th Fighter Wing
    48th Fighter Wing
    The 48th Fighter Wing is part of the United States Air Force Third Air Force, assigned to HQ Air Command Europe, and is based at RAF Lakenheath, England. The 48 FW is the only F-15 wing based in Europe...

     RAF Lakenheath
    RAF Lakenheath
    RAF Lakenheath, is a Royal Air Force military airbase near Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. Although an RAF station, it hosts United States Air Force units and personnel...

     United Kingdom (F-15C/D, F-15E,HH-60)
  • 52d Fighter Wing
    52d Fighter Wing
    The 52d Fighter Wing is a wing of the United States Air Force stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.-Mission:The 52 FW maintains, deploys and employs F-16CJ and A/OA-10 aircraft and TPS-75 radar systems in support of NATO and the national defense directives...

     Spangdahlem Air Base
    Spangdahlem Air Base
    Spangdahlem Air Base is a United States Air Force base located near the small German town of Spangdahlem, approximately 30 km NNE of the city of Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate.-Units:...

     Germany (A-10, F-16C/D Block 50)
  • 86th Airlift Wing
    86th Airlift Wing
    The 86th Airlift Wing is a United States Air Force wing, currently assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe. The 86th AW is stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany-Mission:...

     Ramstein Air Base
    Ramstein Air Base
    Ramstein Air Base is a United States Air Force base in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. It serves as headquarters for the United States Air Forces in Europe and is also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization installation...

     Germany (C-130, C-20, C-21A, C-37A)
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing
    100th Air Refueling Wing
    The 100th Air Refueling Wing is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe Third Air Force. It is stationed at RAF Mildenhall, England. It is also the host wing at RAF Mildenhall....

     RAF Mildenhall
    RAF Mildenhall
    RAF Mildenhall is a Royal Air Force station located at Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. Despite its status as an RAF station, it primarily supports United States Air Force operations and is currently the home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing...

     United Kingdom (KC-135R)
  • 435th Air Ground Operations Wing  Ramstein Air Base
    Ramstein Air Base
    Ramstein Air Base is a United States Air Force base in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. It serves as headquarters for the United States Air Forces in Europe and is also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization installation...

     Germany
  • 501st Combat Support Wing
    501st Combat Support Wing
    The 501st Combat Support Wing is a United States Air Forces in Europe unit based at RAF Alconbury, England. The wing traces its history to a World War II bombardment group which served in the Pacific, mostly bombing mainland Japan, in 1944–45...

     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....

     United Kingdom


In addition, there are numerous minor units assigned to Third Air Force by HQ USAFE.
  • 603d Air and Space Operations Center
  • 603d Air And Space Communications Squadron
  • 21st Operational Weather Squadron
  • 4th Air Support Operations Group

Lineage

  • Established as Southeast Air District on 19 October 1940
Activated on 18 December 1940
Redesignated: 3 Air Force on 26 March 1941
Redesignated: Third Air Force on 18 September 1942
Inactivated on 1 November 1946
  • Activated and organized on 1 May 1951
Inactivated on 1 November 2005
  • Redesignated Third Air Force (Air Forces Europe) on 29 November 2006
Activated on 1 December 2006.

Assignments

  • General Headquarters Air Force
(later, Air Force Combat Command), 18 December 1940
  • Eastern Theater of Operations, 24 December 1941
  • Air Force Combat Command
(later, United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

), 5 January 1942
  • Continental Air Forces, 13 December 1944
  • Tactical Air Command
    Tactical Air Command
    Tactical Air Command is an inactive United States Air Force organization. It was a Major Command of the United States Air Force, established on 21 March 1946 being headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia...

    , 21 March 1946 – 1 November 1946
  • United States Air Forces in Europe
    United States Air Forces in Europe
    The United States Air Forces in Europe is the United States Air Force component of U.S. European Command, a Department of Defense unified command, and is one of two Air Force Major Commands outside of the continental United States, the other being the Pacific Air Forces...

    , 1 May 1951 – 1 November 2005; 1 December 2006 –.

Stations

  • MacDill Field, Florida, 18 December 1940
  • Tampa
    Tâmpa
    Tâmpa may refer to several villages in Romania:* Tâmpa, a village in Băcia Commune, Hunedoara County* Tâmpa, a village in Miercurea Nirajului, Mureş County* Tâmpa, a mountain in Braşov city...

    , Florida, 8 January 1941
  • Greenville AAB
    Donaldson Air Force Base
    Donaldson Air Force Base is a closed facility of the United States Air Force. Currently known as Donaldson Center, the former Air Force Base is located south of Greenville, South Carolina....

    , 28 March 1946 – 1 November 1946
  • Victoria Park Estate
(later, U.S. Air Base, South Ruislip; South Ruislip Air Station), England, 1 May 1951
  • RAF Mildenhall
    RAF Mildenhall
    RAF Mildenhall is a Royal Air Force station located at Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. Despite its status as an RAF station, it primarily supports United States Air Force operations and is currently the home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing...

    , England, 15 April 1972 – 1 November 2005
Ramstein AB, Germany, 1 December 2006 – .

Major components


Commands
  • 1 Ground Air Support
(later, I Air Support; I Tactical Air Division; III Tactical Air Division; III Reconnaissance)
12 August 1942 – 21 March 1946
II Air Support (later, II Tactical Air Division): 25 January 1943 – 25 October 1945.
3d Air Force Service (later, 3d Air Force Base): 1 October 1941 – 19 May 1942
3d Air Support: 1 September 1941 – 16 March 1942
3d Bomber (later, III Bomber): 5 September 1941 – 21 March 1946
3d Interceptor (later, III Interceptor; III Fighter): 17 June 1941 – 21 March 1946
III Ground Air Support (later, III Air Support; III Reconnaissance; III Tactical Air)
27 May 1942 – 24 October 1945.


Division
  • 49th Air
    49th Air Division
    The 49th Air Division is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the United States Air Forces in Europe, based at RAF Sculthorpe, England. It was inactivated on 1 July 1956.-History:...

    : 5 June 1952 – 1 July 1956.

History



One of the four original numbered air forces, Third Air Force was activated as the Southeast Air District of the GHQ Air Force on 18 December 1940, at MacDill Field, Florida. It was redesignated Third Air Force on 26 March 1941 with a mission for the defense of the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico regions of the United States.

World War II


Headquartered at MacDill Army Airfield, Florida during World War II, Third Air Force initially provided air defense for the southeastern United States (1940–1941) and flew antisubmarine patrols along coastal areas of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

 from after Pearl Harbor until October 1942. In addition, the command performed training through Army Air Forces Training Command of units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations.

In 1942, the antisubmarine patrols were turned over to the Coast Guard
Coast guard
A coast guard or coastguard is a national organization responsible for various services at sea. However the term implies widely different responsibilities in different countries, from being a heavily armed military force with customs and security duties to being a volunteer organization tasked with...

 and other agencies and the command was engaged primarily in training replacements for combat units. It supported Army Air Forces Training Command
Army Air Forces Training Command
Army Air Forces Training Command was a command of the United States Army Air Forces. It was redesignated Air Training Command on 1 July 1946 as part of the reorganization of the Army Air Forces after World War II....

's mission of training of units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations. After personnel graduated from AAFTC flight schools; navigator training; flexible gunnery schools and various technical schools, Third Air Force organized the personnel, aircraft and equipment into combat groups and squadrons. The newly-formed units received secondary training prior to their assignment to the deployed combat air forces in the various overseas theaters. Third Air Force primarily trained B-25 Mitchell
B-25 Mitchell
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was used by many Allied air forces, in every theater of World War II, as well as many other air forces after the war ended, and saw service across four decades.The B-25 was named...

 and B-26 Marauder
B-26 Marauder
The Martin B-26 Marauder was a World War II twin-engine medium bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. First used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, it was also used in the Mediterranean Theater and in Western Europe....

) medium bomber groups and A-20 Havoc and A-36 Apache light bomber groups. It also trained replacement fighter pilots, initially using P-39 Aircobra and P-40 Warhawks in 1942, later with P-47 Thunderbolt
P-47 Thunderbolt
Republic Aviation's P-47 Thunderbolt, also known as the "Jug", was the largest, heaviest, and most expensive fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single reciprocating engine. It was heavily armed with eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to...

s and P-51 Mustang
P-51 Mustang
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and in several other conflicts...

s beginning in 1943 and 1944 as they became available. Third Air Force also provided support to the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics operated by Army Air Forces Training Command
Army Air Forces Training Command
Army Air Forces Training Command was a command of the United States Army Air Forces. It was redesignated Air Training Command on 1 July 1946 as part of the reorganization of the Army Air Forces after World War II....

 in Florida. By 1944, most of the Operational Training of groups ended, with the command concentrating on the training of replacement personnel, using Army Air Force Base Units (AAFBU) as training organizations at the airfields controlled by Third Air Force.

Also by 1944, the majority of the Numbered Air Forces of the USAAF were fighting in various parts of the world, such as 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....

 in Europe and the Twentieth Air Force
Twentieth Air Force
The Twentieth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming.20 AF's primary mission is Intercontinental Ballistic Missile operations...

 in the Pacific. They were supported by four numbered air forces located within the United States (known as the Zone of the Interior, or "ZI".) On 13 December 1944, First, Second, Third and Fourth Air Force were all were placed under the unified command of the Continental Air Forces, the predecessor of the later established Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

, Tactical Air Command
Tactical Air Command
Tactical Air Command is an inactive United States Air Force organization. It was a Major Command of the United States Air Force, established on 21 March 1946 being headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia...

, and Air Defense Command, which were all established in 1946.

Postwar era


When the Army Air Forces reorganized in 1946, Tactical Air Command
Tactical Air Command
Tactical Air Command is an inactive United States Air Force organization. It was a Major Command of the United States Air Force, established on 21 March 1946 being headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia...

 (TAC) was established as one of its three major commands. The USAAF Troop Carrier Command (TCC) was inactivated as part of this reorganization and Third Air Force was reassigned to TAC to control the troop carrier units formerly part of TCC. It was headquartered at Greenville AAF
Donaldson Air Force Base
Donaldson Air Force Base is a closed facility of the United States Air Force. Currently known as Donaldson Center, the former Air Force Base is located south of Greenville, South Carolina....

, South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

. The C-46 Commando
C-46 Commando
The Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando was a transport aircraft originally derived from a commercial high-altitude airliner design. It was instead used as a military transport during World War II by the United States Army Air Forces as well as the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps under the designation R5C...

 and C-47 Skytrain
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...

 were the primary troop carrier aircraft, but surplus C-54 Skymaster
C-54 Skymaster
The Douglas C-54 Skymaster was a four-engined transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces and British forces in World War II and the Korean War. Besides transport of cargo, it also carried presidents, British heads of government, and military staff...

s that had been originally purchased for the Air Transport Command
Military Air Transport Service
The Military Air Transport Service is an inactive Department of Defense Unified Command. Activated on 1 June 1948, MATS was a consolidation of the United States Navy Naval Air Transport Service and the United States Air Force Air Transport Command into a single, joint, unified command...

 (ATC) were made available for troop carrier use.

Third Air Force was inactivated on 1 November 1946 and TAC's troop carrier mission was reassigned to Ninth Air Force
Ninth Air Force
The Ninth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force's Air Combat Command . It is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina....

 with its return from Europe and reassignment to Donaldson.

Cold War


With Allied victory in Europe and the end of World War II came the demobilization and withdrawal of all U.S. Air Force units from the United Kingdom. By the end of 1945, both wartime air forces in the UK, the Eighth and Ninth were withdrawn. Their absence, however, was short lived.
3d Air Division


In August 1948, in response to the Berlin blockade
Berlin Blockade
The Berlin Blockade was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War and the first resulting in casualties. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway and road access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied...

, the U.S. deployed long-range B-29 Superfortress
B-29 Superfortress
The B-29 Superfortress is a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing that was flown primarily by the United States Air Forces in late-World War II and through the Korean War. The B-29 was one of the largest aircraft to see service during World War II...

 strategic bombers to four East Anglian bases. The USAFE 3d Air Division
3d Air Division (United States)
The 3d Air Division is an inactive United States Air Force organization. Its last assignment was with Strategic Air Command, assigned to Fifteenth Air Force, being stationed at Hickam AFB, Hawaii...

was activated to receive, support and operationally control the B-29 units deployed in England for training. It also provided aircraft maintenance support at RAF Burtonwood
RAF Burtonwood
RAF Burtonwood was a Royal Air Force station in England, 2 miles north-west of Warrington, Lancashire. During World War II and the Cold War it was used by the United States Air Force and was also known as USAAF station 590.- Overview :...

 for C-54 Skymaster
C-54 Skymaster
The Douglas C-54 Skymaster was a four-engined transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces and British forces in World War II and the Korean War. Besides transport of cargo, it also carried presidents, British heads of government, and military staff...

 aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift. When the Berlin Airlift ended in 1949, the division participated in the Military Assistance Program in England and began an extensive air base construction program through May 1951

Briefly elevated to the Major Command level from 3 January 1949 – 21 January 1951, the 3d Air Division controlled large numbers of USAF organizations based in the United Kingdom and supervised a tremendous airfield construction program.

However With the advent of the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

 and the growing Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 threat of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, the U.S. and UK agreed to an even greater U.S. military presence in the United Kingdom. The resulting growing size and complexity of the American military presence required a larger command and organizational structure that could meet the needs of the increased operations.
Reactivation of Third Air Force







In early 1951 two USAF organizations were activated in England. One to conduct strategic operations, and one to conduct tactical, logistics and support programs.

The 3d Air Division was discontinued on 1 May 1951, and in its place the USAFE Third Air Force was activated to oversee tactical air operations. The Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 7th Air Division
7th Air Division (United States)
The 7th Air Division served the United States Air Force with distinction from early 1944 through early 1992, earning an outstanding unit decoration and a service streamer along the way....

controlled deployed bombardment and reconnaissance forces with Third Air Force providing its logistical support. From its headquarters at South Ruislip Air Station near London, Third Air Force carried out that mission basically unchanged through 1966, when the 7th Air Division was inactivated.
Tactical Air Operations

The first tactical unit to come to England under Third Air Force was the 81st Fighter Bomber Wing based at RAF Bentwaters
RAF Bentwaters
RAF Bentwaters, now known as Bentwaters Parks, is a former Royal Air Force station about 80 miles NE of London, 10 miles ENE of Ipswich, near Woodbridge, Suffolk in England...

 on 6 September 1951. The next assigned unit was the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing, assigned to RAF Wethersfield
RAF Wethersfield
MDPGA Wethersfield is a Ministry of Defence facility in Essex, England; it is located north of the village of Wethersfield—about north-west of the town of Braintree...

. These Republic F-84 Thunderjet/Thunderchief
F-84 Thunderjet
The Republic F-84 Thunderjet was an American turbojet fighter-bomber aircraft. Originating as a 1944 United States Army Air Forces proposal for a "day fighter", the F-84 flew in 1946...

 and North American F-86 Sabre
F-86 Sabre
The North American F-86 Sabre was a transonic jet fighter aircraft. Produced by North American Aviation, the Sabre is best known as America's first swept wing fighter which could counter the similarly-winged Soviet MiG-15 in high speed dogfights over the skies of the Korean War...

 units worked with Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 Fighter Command providing air defense for England. In addition, the attached Tactical Air Command
Tactical Air Command
Tactical Air Command is an inactive United States Air Force organization. It was a Major Command of the United States Air Force, established on 21 March 1946 being headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia...

 47th Bombardment Wing
47th Flying Training Wing
The 47th Flying Training Wing is a United States Air Force pilot training wing based at Laughlin Air Force Base, near Del Rio, Texas...

 flew B-45 Tornado
B-45 Tornado
The North American B-45 Tornado was the United States Air Force's first operational jet bomber, and the first jet aircraft to be refueled in the air. The B-45 was an important part of the United States's nuclear deterrent for several years in the early 1950s, but was rapidly succeeded by the Boeing...

 and B-66 Destroyer
B-66 Destroyer
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Baugher, Joe. USAAC/USAAF/USAF Bomber Aircraft: Third Series of USAAC/USAAF/USAF Bombers, 2001. Retrieved: 27 July 2006....

 tactical bombers from RAF Sculthorpe
RAF Sculthorpe
RAF Sculthorpe is a military training facility for the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence, situated about west of Fakenham in Norfolk, England...

 and 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....

.

Initially the 49th Air Division
49th Air Division
The 49th Air Division is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the United States Air Forces in Europe, based at RAF Sculthorpe, England. It was inactivated on 1 July 1956.-History:...

 functioned as the intermediate-level command authority for USAFE's wings in the UK, no operational combat groups were attached. The division supervised and participated in numerous training missions such as Quick Shot, Kingpin, and Bear Claw. it was inactivated on 1 July 1956

During the 1960s, Third Air Force has four to five combat wings and major changes occurred in the types of aircraft deployed in the United Kingdom. North American F-100 Super Sabres
F-100 Super Sabre
The North American F-100 Super Sabre was a supersonic jet fighter aircraft that served with the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1971 and with the Air National Guard until 1979. The first of the Century Series collection of USAF jet fighters, it was the first USAF fighter capable of...

, McDonnell F-101 Voodoos
F-101 Voodoo
The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was a supersonic military jet fighter which served the United States Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force...

, and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs
F-4 Phantom II
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a tandem two-seat, twin-engined, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber originally developed for the United States Navy by McDonnell Aircraft. It first entered service in 1960 with the U.S. Navy. Proving highly adaptable,...

 replaced older fighter aircraft. Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers
KC-135 Stratotanker
The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is an aerial refueling military aircraft. It and the Boeing 707 airliner were developed from the Boeing 367-80 prototype. The KC-135 was the US Air Force's first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97 Stratotanker...

 replaced older refueling aircraft.

In June 1972, daily operational control of tactical units in the United Kingdom was transferred to Headquarters USAFE at Wiesbaden Air Base, West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

. Third Air Force still retained command of the units, but as a result of the change, the headquarters was reorganized, reduced in personnel strength, and moved to RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall is a Royal Air Force station located at Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. Despite its status as an RAF station, it primarily supports United States Air Force operations and is currently the home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing...

, United Kingdom.

In 1979, NATO ministers decided to deploy BGM-109G Gryphon Ground Launched Cruise
Ground Launched Cruise Missile
The Ground Launched Cruise Missile, or GLCM, was a ground-launched cruise missile developed by the United States Air Force in the last decade of the Cold War.-Overview:...

 and Pershing II
Pershing missile
Pershing was a family of solid-fueled two-stage medium-range ballistic missiles designed and built by Martin Marietta to replace the PGM-11 Redstone missile as the United States Army's primary nuclear-capable theater-level weapon. The Pershing systems lasted over 30 years from the first test...

 IRBM missiles to counter the growing Soviet SS-20 intermediate range ballistic missile threat. RAF Greenham Common
RAF Greenham Common
RAF Station Greenham Common is a former military airfield in Berkshire, England. The airfield is located approximately south-southwest of Thatcham; about west of London....

 and RAF Molesworth
RAF Molesworth
RAF Molesworth is a Royal Air Force station located near Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom with a history dating back to 1917.Its runway and flight line facilities were closed in 1973 and demolished to support ground-launched cruise missile operations in the early 1980s...

 were selected as the beddown sites for the GLCM. The 501st Tactical Missile Wing (TMW) was activated at RAF Greenham Common in July 1982 and the 303d Tactical Missile Wing at RAF Molesworth in December 1986. In June 1987, Headquarters USAFE delegated tactical control of Third Air Force units to the Third Air Force commander.

On 15 April 1986, General Dynamics F-111
General Dynamics F-111
The General Dynamics F-111 "Aardvark" was a medium-range interdictor and tactical strike aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic bomber, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare in its various versions. Developed in the 1960s by General Dynamics, it first entered service in 1967 with the...

 aircraft based at RAF Lakenheath
RAF Lakenheath
RAF Lakenheath, is a Royal Air Force military airbase near Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. Although an RAF station, it hosts United States Air Force units and personnel...

 and RAF Upper Heyford
RAF Upper Heyford
RAF Upper Heyford was a Royal Air Force station located north-west of Bicester near the village of Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England. The base was brought into use for flying in July 1918 by the Royal Flying Corps. During World War II it was used by many units of the RAF, mainly as a training...

 were launched against suspected terrorist targets in Libya, as part of Operation Eldorado Canyon.

With the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is a 1987 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. Signed in Washington, D.C. by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on December 8, 1987, it was ratified by the United States Senate on May 27, 1988 and...

 in December 1987, GLCMs deployed to RAF Molesworth were removed to the U.S. and the 303rd TMW inactivated 30 January 1989. The last GLCMs at RAF Greenham Common were removed in March 1991, and the 501st TMW inactivated 4 June 1991.

When Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

 invaded Kuwait
Kuwait
The State of Kuwait is a sovereign Arab state situated in the north-east of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south at Khafji, and Iraq to the north at Basra. It lies on the north-western shore of the Persian Gulf. The name Kuwait is derived from the...

 in August 1990, Third Air Force, like many other U.S. military units, received their trial by fire. However, for Third Air Force, the scenario was not similar to any which had been practiced in the past. Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...

 were not classic East-West confrontations in Europe that Third Air Force had been trained for. Thousands of miles removed from the Kuwait theater of operations, Third Air Force played a major support role, deploying half its combat aircraft, several thousand vehicles, approximately 50,000 tons of munitions, and many more tons of supplies and material. Third Air Force also provided 2,250 hospital beds by activating three of its contingency hospitals and was ready in the event of a large number of casualties were received.

Post Cold War


The end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 with the former Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 left in its wake many new military challenges, tensions and emerging conflicts. It also drew attention to the need for American military forces to operate in ways and locations outside the traditional NATO construct. The shift in East-West relations and the increasing focus toward Eastern Europe, the southern region and the Middle East led to a changing of the focus of Third Air Force as well.

Recognizing that the threat to NATO was significantly reduced with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Congress mandated large reductions in the American military budget and American military troop strength based in Europe. From a Cold War high of 450,000 in the late 1980s, American troop strength in Europe was reduced to 100,000 by the mid-1990s.

During the 1990s the USAF restructured itself to meet the emerging needs of the new world order. Several Third Air Force units returned to the U.S., and several more were inactivated. Third Air Force returned many of its bases to the British Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

, and scaled down operations at other places.

In March 1996, Headquarters USAFE announced a major reorganization of its numbered air forces. The announcement included news of the inactivation of Seventeenth Air Force
Seventeenth Air Force
Seventeenth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force located at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The command served the United States Air Forces in Europe during its years of active service...

 at Sembach Air Base Germany, transferring its responsibility for overseeing all U.S. Air Force units north of the Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

 to Third Air Force. As a result of the changes, Third Air Force grew substantially, taking on two main operating bases, Ramstein Air Base
Ramstein Air Base
Ramstein Air Base is a United States Air Force base in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. It serves as headquarters for the United States Air Forces in Europe and is also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization installation...

 and Spangdahlem Air Base
Spangdahlem Air Base
Spangdahlem Air Base is a United States Air Force base located near the small German town of Spangdahlem, approximately 30 km NNE of the city of Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate.-Units:...

, both in Germany, and five geographically separated units.

With this 1996 reorganization, Third Air Force was composed of more than 25,000 military people, and more than 35,000 family members. In terms of numbers of aircraft, Third Air Force had more than 200, including KC-135 and F-15 aircraft at bases in England, and A-10, F-16, C-9, C-20, C-21 and C-130E aircraft in Germany.

In addition to a larger area of responsibility, the command reorganization also brought about a subtle change in the mission of the Third Air Force headquarters element. Third Air Force was tasked to take a more active role in the leadership of operational contingencies, and provide trained staff to lead or augment joint and combined task force headquarters elements.

In 2005, USAFE once again realigned its numbered air forces. Sixteenth Air Force
Sixteenth Air Force
The 16th Air Expeditionary Task Force is a provisional United States Air Force unit assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe...

 was aligned as the command's new Warfighting Headquarters. Third Air Force was inactivated on 1 November, ending the unit's prestigious 50-plus year legacy in the UK.

Current Status


Just over a year after inactivation, Third Air Force was reactivated on 1 December 2006, at Ramstein AB, Germany, as USAFE's Air and Space Operations supporting U.S. European Command. Its new mission was to support the EUCOM commander's strategic objectives across the full range of military operations. When a joint task force is created in EUCOM, the Third Air Force commander is ready to assume the roles of Joint Forces Air Component Commander and Commander Air Force Forces, or lead the JTF as a Joint Force Commander.

External links