We turn our attention to the Eighth Air Force’s little brother, the Ninth Air Force which, among other things, played a crucial role in supporting the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy.

Thomas Hughes, author of Overlord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II and our own P-47 pilot, Ed Cottrell, who turned 102 years old in January, will be special guests for the conversation.

The Ninth Air Force was born in North Africa toward the end of 1942, after the US invasion. The Ninth provided air support during the decisive Battle of El Alamein. Using B-24 Liberators, it also targeted Axis shipping and installations along the North African coast.

By January 1943, the Ninth Air Force had expanded its capabilities with the arrival of additional fighter and troop carrier groups in the Mediterranean. Equipped with P-40s, the fighter groups operated alongside British forces, while the troop carriers supported ground forces and facilitated air evacuation of casualties.

With the success in Tunisia, the Ninth Air Force turned its focus to the upcoming invasion of Sicily. B-24 groups joined Twelfth Air Force B-17s in attacks on Italian targets and airfields in Sicily. The stage was set for the Sicily campaign, with additional B-24 groups from the Eighth Air Force reinforcing IX Bomber Command.

The joint effort aimed at disrupting Axis transportation centers and reducing defenses in preparation for the invasion. In August 1943, the Ninth Air Force undertook an ambitious low-level attack on the Ploesti oil fields, facing intense enemy fire. Despite navigational errors and casualties, the mission partially succeeded.

This marked a turning point as the combined force later struck aircraft factories in Austria, showcasing the Ninth Air Force’s adaptability and expanding role in strategic operations. The Casablanca Conference in early 1943 laid the groundwork for a “combined bomber offensive” against Germany.

Ninth Air Force, initially conceived for tactical support, transitioned to England to become the American tactical air force for the Normandy landings. This shift involved the transfer of assets and the establishment of the IX Bomber, Fighter, and Service commands in England. Operational challenges arose as the Ninth Air Force initially operated under the Eighth Air Force’s control. General Spaatz’s influence created tensions, as he sought control over all U.S. air units in England, including the Ninth. Despite initial plans for an independent tactical air force, Spaatz’s authority prevailed, and the Ninth Air Force operated under the Eighth’s command.

As D-Day approached, the Ninth Air Force took center stage in supporting ground forces. Fighter and bomber groups covered the beaches, providing essential air support during the Normandy landings. General Patton relied heavily on the fighter-bombers for flank protection, solidifying the Ninth Air Force’s crucial role in ground operations.

After securing the Normandy beachhead, the Ninth Air Force, under General Vandenberg, continued supporting ground forces during breakouts. Fighter-bombers played a pivotal role in countering German counterattacks, notably during the Battle of the Bulge. The IX Troop Carrier Command also assumed an unprecedented role, providing aerial supply and reinforcement support.