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History of the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron - 9th RW History Office

History of the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron - 9th RW History Office

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Published by: TDRSS on Jul 29, 2010
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09/01/2010

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BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 12
TH
TACTICALRECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON1917 – 1992Edited byCol (Ret) Wayne Pittman
Very little of this history is original. The framework of it was a paper called “A Brief History Of the 12
th
Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron” which was in the squadron files at Tan Son Nhut,Vietnam in 1969 and was apparently prepared by the USAF Historical Division at Maxwell inthe mid-50s and updated by squadron “additional duty” historians. The coverage of KoreanWar operations was expanded through inclusion of extensive sections from another USA Historical Division report, “United States Air Force Operations In the Korean Conflict: 1 July1952-27 July 1953,” published in 1956. Material from these two sources has not been footnoted. In addition, numerous other sources, were tapped for more detail, and they areappropriately cited. Much work still needs to be done, particularly in the period between thewars, on Vietnam operations, and after 1973. The work continues. Editor.
“The best squadron of its kind…” That’s the way Billy Mitchell once described the 12
th
.The general was making a speech in France at the close of World War I: “The Twelfth Squadronis known for the wonderful work accomplished by its pilots and observers who were ever readyand willing to accept the tasks assigned to them; never failing to complete their work andmissions, and always getting results of military value. Their work has never been equaled by anobservation squadron…” He concluded by asserting that the 12
th
was “undoubtedly the best…of its kind in the American Air Service.”The history of the 12
th
Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron is a long and illustriousone. It goes back to 2 June 1917, when the unit was organized from men picked from about5,000 aviation recruits being drilled in provisional training companies. Those men formed “H”Company and were selected for their mechanical ability and experience. On 2 June, the unit wasgiven its official designation, 12
th
Aero Squadron.After several weeks of classes on aircraft engines and parts, the squadron went to Wilbur Wright Field at Fairfield, Ohio. Arriving on 5 July 1917, the men began assembling Standardand Curtiss airplanes shipped direct from the factory, and they took part in the training of theflying cadets that began pouring into the field in late July. The squadron’s first flight is supposedto have been made by a Captain Christy on 17 July 1917 in a Curtiss.
 
Having been ordered to France, the unit arrived at Garden City, New York, on 2 November 1917 and made last minute preparations for overseas duty. It boarded the S. S.
 Northland 
in Philadelphia and sailed for Europe on 4 December. Arriving in England on 25December, the 12
th
was sent immediately to France.The first station in France for the 12
th
was at St. Maxient. On 14 January 1918, thesquadron moved to Chaumont, France, where its mechanics took charge of maintenance on Nieuports and SPADs. On 2 February 1918, the 12
th
moved to Amanty and began preparationsfor active operations over the front lines. By the end of April, it had its full quota of 12 French- built Dorand AR-1 aircraft. These were inferior, obsolete machines, called “Antique Rattletraps” by the pilots, which the French had retired to training duties.
1
The squadron transferred on 3May to Ourches, from which it began active operations a week later. With few exceptions, the12
th
’s pilots had never flown combat, but most of the observers had spent a number of weeksflying with French squadrons on active missions. One of these, Lieutenant Stephen W.Thompson, was at the 1
st
Squadron Gunnery School at Cazeau when he was loaned on 5February to the 123 rd French Breguet Squadron due to a shortage of observers in that unit.Returning from a bombing raid on Saarbruken, the aircraft in which Lt Thompson was operatingthe rear guns was attacked by German Albatross pursuit ships. He shot one down, becoming thefirst man in an American uniform to shoot down an enemy airplane. Later, on 28 July 1918, as amember of the Twelfth, he was credited with two more “kills.”
2
The 102th’s operations in the Toul Sector consisted primarily of artillery adjustment,though it also flew surveillance, infantry liaison, command, propaganda leaflet dropping, photographic, and protective missions. This was a seasoning period for the squadron as it gainedexperience over a relatively inactive front with almost no enemy air opposition. “On the other hand,” according to an Air Service report after the war, “the enemy antiaircraft fire in the sector was exceedingly dense, active and accurate. Pilots of the Group [to which the 12
th
was assigned]were adept at evading antiaircraft fire after a month in the sector.”
3
On 10 June 1918, the 12
th
Aero Squadron moved to the Baccarat Sector and an unfinishedairfield at Flin, from which they supported the 42
nd
American and 167
th
French Divisions. Theytraded in their AR-1s for 18 Salmson2A2s. This front, too, was considered “stabilized” or quiet, but the opposing air force, while not flying the latest types, was active and aggressive. The 12
th
felw visual and photographic reconnaissance, adjusted artillery fire, and staged “infantry-contact patrols” to locate the front lines. By 29 June, the squadron had relocated to Saints in the MarneSector to participate in the Chateau-Thierry offensive.
4
The 12
th
encountered intense oppositionin the air from a concentration of German squadrons equipped with the most advanced aircraft.Encounters with up to 20 enemy machines on a patrol was a daily occurrence.
5
On 5 July, the squadron moved again to a neighboring field at Francheville in support of the 26
th
Division, but because of its distance from the front, what would later be known as a“forward operating location,” or FOL, was established at Moras (or Morass) Farm. Two 12
th
 
Squadron aircraft and two from the 88
th
Aero Squadron were flown to it at daybreak each dayand held ready for developing requirements. The Allied counteroffensive was launched on 18July and the 12ths support was vital in photographing targets ahead of the advance according to priorities set by corps intelligence. It was during this operation that oblique photography,sometimes from as low as 400 meters, began to be used; previously all photos had been vertical.
6
The Moras Farm location was upgraded to a full base on 22 July when the squadronoccupied it to participate in the Chateau-Thierry offensive, during which it lost five officers.
7
Inthe first half of August, the unit moved three times, finally being withdrawn from the sector on12 August for a brief rest at Chailly-en-Brie. The 12
th
moved to Toul on 23 August and operatedin support of the St. Mihiel drive. During that offensive, 12-13 September, the unit wasequipped with 16 Salmsons and flew continuously to support the rapidly advancing 5
th
Division.Two aircraft, one piloted by Maj Lewis Brereton, commander of the Corps Observation Wingand former 12
th
C.O., were lost, but all four crewmembers survived after landing inside friendlylines.
8
 Immediately after the St. Mihiel salient was reduced, the squadron was assigned tosupport the 90
th
Division. On 20 September, the 12
th
was transferred to Remicourt to prepare for the Meuse-Argonne drive which began on 26 September.During the Argonne operation the 12
th
Squadron was very much in demand. Onemorning after many assignments had been made, a call came in for a photographic mission. Five planes were ordered for the flight, but only four observers were available. Eddie Foy, a radioofficer, volunteered to serve as an observer for the mission. The planes encountered a largeformation of Germans near the target and three were shot down, one carrying Eddie Foy, whohad been wounded. It is believed that he had the distinction of being the only non-flyer in theAir Service to be wounded and taken prisoner as a result of aerial combat.
9
In the last fewmonths of the war, the 12
th
was called in many times to help locate Allied troops that had beencut off from their units. On one such occasion during the Argonne offensive, the 82
nd
Divisionreported that troops near Verpell, just east of Grand Pre were out of contact with divisionheadquarters. Because of the foul weather and approaching darkness, Captain Steve N. Noyes,squadron commander of the 12
th
would not send any of his pilots on the mission, going himself instead. Flying in dense fog and rain, Captain Noyes located the troops and landed near thedivision HQ after dark. The information proved to be exact, and the squadron was highlycommended for this as well as many other missions. The 12
th
completed its World War Ioperations from Julvecourt, where it moved on 5 November in order to operate closer to the frontlines.After the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the 12
th
Aero Squadron becamea part of the Army of Occupation. The unit was located at several different places in France andGermany until 30 December, when it went to Fort Alexander at Koblenz, Germany, to take partin construction work. The squadron left Koblenz on 16 April 1919 and prepared for itsmovement back to the United States. Sailing from Brest aboard the USS
 Liberator 
on 3 June,the 12
th
arrived at Garden City, New York, on 17 June 1919.

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