Speaker Topic

The Thunderbirds Go to War

The squadron that became the original Thunderbirds started as the 34th Aero Squadron during World War I. After the war, they became the 34th Pursuit Squadron, and in 1932, the War Department approved their distinctive logo based on an American Indian design and the squadron became the Thunderbirds. At the time, they were flying Curtiss P-12s and later Boeing P-26s.

In 1934, the squadron was redesignated the 34th Attack Squadron that began a period of rapid change in the types of aircraft flown. First, it was the Northrop A-17, which quickly became obsolete. Renamed the 34th Bombardment Squadron, the squadron was equipped with the twin-engine Douglas B-18 in 1939.

The B-18s were replaced by North American B-25As in February 1941 and became the first squadron equipped with the new bomber. Later in August 1941, the A model B-25s were replaced by the B-25B.

In the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, the squadron flew anti-submarine patrols from McChord Field outside Seattle. But, after Pearl Harbor, the squadron was shifted to Columbia, South Carolina. 

By March 1942, the 34th Bombardment Squadron and its sister squadrons in the 17th Bomb Group (the 37th and the 96th), had the most experience flying the B-25. In March 1942, their knowledge about the B-25 led Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle to recruit pilots from the 34th for a secret mission which we all know now as the Doolittle Raid. Twelve of the other 16 airplanes and 70% of the aircrews came from the 34th Bombardment Squadron. The rest came from the 37th and the 96th.

To replace the B-25s, the Army Air Corps decided to equip the 34th (and the 17th Bomb Group) with a brand-new twin-engine bomber just starting to come off the production lines at the Martin Aircraft plant in Baltimore, MD – the B-26 Marauder.

This presentation is the story of the 34th and how the squadron flew to North Africa, arriving days after Operation Torch, and the missions they flew in 1942 and 1943.

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