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Brief History of the Fifth Air Force

The Fifth Air Force was formed on February 5th, 1942, with Headquarters on Java in the Netherlands In dies. The Fifth was originally activated as the "Philippine Department Air Force" on September 20th, 1941, with Headquarters at Nichols Field, Luzon, and was redesignated the "Far East Air Force" on November 16th, 1941. As the Far East Air Force, the unit lost most of its men and aircraft in the defense of the Philippines after December 7th, but the Headquarters and some flying crews and aircraft reached Australia late in 1941. These elements were sent to Java to delay the Japanese advance in the Netherland Indies and did not function as an Air Force because at this time Army Air Forces organizations in the Southwest Pacific were under a joint U.S.-British-Dutch-Australian Command which later became the Allied Air Forces. The Fifth Air Force Headquarters was remanned and formally activated on September 3rd, 1942, with Headquarters at Brisbane, Australia. After fighting in delaying actions in the Philippines and Netherland East Indies, the Fifth participated in the defense of Australia before going on the offensive to establish aerial superiority in the theater. In August of 1942, elements of the Fifth supported the initial landings on Guadalcanal and then spearheaded the Allied advance north by destroying enemy aircraft and bases and by preventing a flow of supplies and reinforcements to Japanese forces. In November of 1942, the Fifth began sustained offensive operations against the Japanese on Papua (Australian New Guinea) and transported 15,000 combat troops across the rugged Owen Stanley Mountains. During the course of the fighting, the Fifth kept these troops completely supplied by air, provided fighter and close combat support, and evacuated the Allied wounded. In March of 1943, units of the Fifth along with the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) completely destroyed a large Japanese convoy of 22 ships enroute from Rabaul to Lae with reinforcements and supplies. Aircraft from the Fifth Air Force extended their operations and bombed Rabaul, supported the action in the Palau Islands and also the invasion of the Halmaheras, and bombed the Celebes and the Japanese-operated Balikpapan oil center on Borneo. Headquarters for the Fifth advanced with the Allied land gains and moved to New Guinea and then the Schouten Islands in 1944 and to Mindoro and Luzon in the Philippines in January and April of 1945. Prior to these last moves, elements of the Fifth had supported the assaults at Cape Gloucester in the New Britain fighting and had also blasted the Japanese fortress at Truk. Units from the Fifth Air Force returned to the Philippines and participated in the three campaigns that destroyed the Japanese forces in the island and gained revenge for their earlier losses there. In July of 1945, the Headquarters moved to Okinawa where units took the war to the Japanese mainland. Following the final Japanese surrender which elements of the Fifth Air Force had helped to bring about, the Fifth moved to Japan for occupation duty and became part of the Far East Air Forces after having fought in 13 campaigns. During WW11, the Fifth was credited with destroying 6,298 enemy aircraft at a cost of 2,494 aircraft lost to enemy action. In addition, it flew 415,979 combat sorties and dropped 232,496 tons of bombs on enemy targets. The shoulder patch of the Fifth Air Force was approved by the QMG on March 25th, 1943, and is in the Air Force colors. The smaller stars are in the form of the Southern Cross which is in the area where the Force received its baptism of fire. The comet design is taken from the unit's former aircraft markings, and the three tails of the comet represent bombers, fighters, and troop carriers.