352nd Special Operations Wing

The 352nd Special Operations Wing is an operational unit of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command currently stationed at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom. The unit's heritage dates back to 1944 as an air commando unit.[5][6]

352nd Special Operations Wing
Active1944–1945; 1959–1961; 1970–1992; 1992–present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
RoleSpecial Operations
Size972 personnel authorized[1]
  • 959 military personnel
  • 13 civilian personnel
Part ofAir Force Special Operations Command
Garrison/HQRAF Mildenhall, England, UK
Motto(s)Ready Able (1961)
EngagementsChina-Burma-India Theater
Gulf War
Kosovo War[2]
2020 Nigeria hostage rescue
DecorationsAir Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device
Gallant Unit Citation
Air Force Meritorious Unit Award
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award[2]
352nd Special Operations Wing emblem (approved 28 February 1995)[2]
352nd Special Operations Group emblem (1993)[3]
Patch with 39th Special Operations Wing emblem
702nd Strategic Missile Wing emblem (approved 15 February 1961)[4]

The 352nd Wing serves as the focal point for all U.S. Air Force special operations activities throughout the European theater for U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), as well as Africa for U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) and Southwest Asia and the Middle East for U.S. Central Command. The wing is prepared to conduct a variety of high priority, low-visibility missions supporting U.S. and allied special operations forces during peacetime, joint operations exercises, and combat operations. It trains and performs special operations primarily in the USEUCOM and USAFRICOM area of operations, including establishing air assault landing zones, controlling close air support by strike aircraft and gunships, and providing trauma care for wounded and injured personnel.

The group's origins date to 1944 as the 2nd Air Commando Group. The unit was assigned to Tenth Air Force in India, whose elements operated in Burma flying a mixture of fighters, bombers, transports, military gliders and small planes performing operations behind the Japanese lines, and providing close air support for the British Fourteenth Army in the Burma campaign.[2]


It is made up of the:[5]


The group's lineage and honors have to be traced not just through its own history, but through the history of three earlier organizations, the 2nd Air Commando Group (1944–1945); the 702nd Strategic Missile Wing (ICBM-Snark) (1959–1961) and the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery (later Special Operations) Wing (1969–1992).[2]

World War II

The Air Commando Groups were born out of a simple need. That was to support via light airplanes the evacuation and resupply requirements of British long range penetration groups, or Chindits, as they were affectionately called. Carrying the lethal firepower of both bombers and fighters combined with the logistical tentacles of a gamut of transports, gliders, and light aircraft, this organization would reach deep behind enemy lines to do battle.

Formed as the 2nd Air Commando Group at Lakeland Army Airfield, Florida on 22 April 1944 and sent to India under Colonel Arthur R. DeBolt. The group trained for operations with North American O-47s, North American P-51 Mustangs, Douglas C-47 Skytrains and Stinson L-5 Sentinel aircraft as part of Third Air Force and in addition to operations at Lakeland, also trained at the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida.[2]

The 2nd Air Commando Group moved to India during October–December 1944 where it was assigned to Tenth Air Force, the troop carrier squadron flying their C-47s to India, arriving by late October; a group advanced echelon arriving in mid-November; and the majority of the group arriving in mid-December. The unit then served in the China-Burma-India Theater of operations, with the fighter units flying missions over Bangkok, Thailand. Between November 1944 and May 1945 the group dropped supplies to Allied troops who were fighting the Japanese in the Chindwin Valley in Burma; moved Chinese troops from Burma to China; transported men, food, ammunition, and construction equipment to Burma; dropped Gurka paratroops during the assault on Rangoon; provided fighter support for Allied forces crossing the Irrawaddy River in February 1945; struck enemy airfields and transportation facilities; escorted bombers to targets in the vicinity of Rangoon; bombed targets in Thailand; and flew reconnaissance missions.[2]

After May 1945 the fighter squadrons were in training, and in June the group's C-47s were sent to Ledo to move road-building equipment. During June—July, most of its L-5s were turned over to Fourteenth Air Force. Following the collapse of the Japanese in Burma, the 2nd Air Commando Group was sent to Okinawa to prepare for the Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan, but the war ended. The unit was sent to the United States beginning in October 1945 and disbanded on 12 November 1945.[8]

702nd Strategic Missile Wing

The 702nd Strategic Missile Wing was established in July 1958 at Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine as the only SM-62 Snark missile wing in the USAF. In April, the wing was assigned the 556th Strategic Missile Squadron, which performed intercontinental missile test operations from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, through June 1959. In July, the 556th moved to Presque Isle, where it was inactivated.[9] Test operations from the Atlantic Missile Range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, were resumed by a wing detachment c. December 1959, continuing until the wing was inactivated.[10] On 27 May 1959, the wing received its first operational missile at Presque Isle. Ten months later, on 18 March 1960, the first Snark missile went on alert status.[11] Thirty are known to have been deployed.

The 702nd was not declared fully operational until 28 February 1961. Exactly one month later, in March 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared the Snark "obsolete and of marginal military value"[12] and on 25 June 1961 the 702nd was inactivated.[4]

The 702nd Wing and 2nd Group were consolidated as the 352nd Special Operations Wing in July 1985, but remained inactive, redesignating as the 352nd Special Operations Group in September 1992 and activating in December of the same year. In August 1998, the 352nd consolidated with the 39th Special Operations Wing.[2]

39th Special Operations Wing

The 39th was originally established as the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing in 1969 as an Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service unit under Military Airlift Command, to include rescue sorties during the Vietnam War from January 1970 until mid-1971, and also provided helicopter support to Strategic Air Command intercontinental ballistic missile sites in the United States. After moving to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in June 1971, the wing assumed responsibility for numerous rescue detachments in the Western Hemisphere and Europe.[2]

The 39th redesignated as the 39th Special Operations Wing at Eglin in 1989 and the unit trained and participated in special operations exercises, as well as continuing to fly rescue sorties. The wing headquarters and one squadron moved to Rhein-Main Air Base, West Germany in May 1989 and became the air component of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR). In May 1990, following the establishment of Air Force Special Operations Command, the 39th transferred from MAC to AFSOC.

In response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the majority of the 39 SOW personnel deployed to Turkey (12–17 January 1991), and operated as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Elusive Concept.[2]

The wing moved to RAF Alconbury, England effective 1 January 1992 and continued to serve as the air component for SOCEUR. In December 1992, the 39th inactivated, replaced by the 352nd Special Operations Group and consolidating activities from Rhein-Main and RAF Woodbridge.[2]

352nd Special Operations Group

The 352nd trained for and performed special operations airland and airdrop missions in the U.S. European Command area of operations, including establishing air assault landing zones, controlling close air support by strike aircraft and gunships, and providing trauma care for wounded and injured personnel. Deployed elements also participated in Operation Provide Comfort II. During the 1990s, the group supported numerous humanitarian and combat operations in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia, including Operations Provide Promise, Deny Flight, and Allied Force in Yugoslavia, and Provide Comfort and Northern Watch over northern Iraq. In February 1995, the 352nd relocated from RAF Alconbury to its current home of RAF Mildenhall.[2]

The 352nd rushed troops to Dubrovnik, Croatia, when an Air Force Boeing T-43 Bobcat carrying U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown crashed into a mountain. Arriving in a nasty rainstorm, 21st Special Operations Squadron MH-53 Pave Low helicopters inserted the first search-and-rescue teams, followed by a 67th Special Operations Squadron Lockheed MC-130P. RAF Mildenhall crews remained on scene until the last body was removed.

In 2002, the 352nd took part in Operation Autumn Return, the non-combatant evacuation of American citizens from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.[5]

Today, the 352nd develops and implements peacetime and wartime contingency plans to effectively use fixed wing, helicopter, and personnel assets to conduct infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of U.S. and allied special operations forces.

352nd Special Operations Wing

The 352nd SOG was upgraded to wing status in March 2015 with an anticipated move to Spangdahlem Air Base Germany in 2017, with the planned closure of RAF Mildenhall.[6] But as of April 2017, the closure process of RAF Mildenhall has been put on indefinite hold.[13] As of December 2018, it was planned that USAF personnel will move from RAF Mildenhall to RAF Fairford by 2024 the earliest.[14]


2nd Air Commando Group
  • Established as the 2nd Air Commando Group on 11 April 1944
Activated on 22 April 1944
Inactivated on 12 November 1945
Disestablished on 8 October 1948
  • Reestablished and consolidated with the 702nd Strategic Missile Wing as the 352nd Special Operations Wing on 31 July 1985[2]
702nd Strategic Missile Wing
  • Established as the 702nd Strategic Missile Wing (ICBM-Snark) on 17 June 1958
Activated on 1 January 1959
Discontinued and inactivated on 25 June 1961
  • Consolidated with the 2nd Air Commando Group as the 352nd Special Operations Wing on 31 July 1985[2]
39th Special Operations Wing
  • Established as the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing on 20 October 1969
Activated on 1 January 1970
Redesignated 39th Special Operations Wing on 1 March 1988
Inactivated on 1 December 1992
  • Consolidated with the 352nd Special Operations Group as the 352nd Special Operations Group on 17 August 1998[2]
352nd Special Operations Wing
  • 2nd Air Commando Group and 702nd Strategic Missile Wing consolidated as the 352nd Special Operations Wing on 31 July 1985[2]
  • Redesignated 352nd Special Operations Group on 21 September 1992
Activated on 1 December 1992
  • Consolidated with the 39th Special Operations Wing on 17 August 1998
Redesignated 352nd Special Operations Wing on 23 March 2015[2]



  • 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Group, 23 March 2015 – present
  • 752nd Special Operations Group, 23 March 2015 – present[2]


World War II

  • P-51, 1944, 1945; L-5, 1944, 1945; C-64, 1944, 1945; C-47, 1944–1945; CG-4 gliders, 1944, 1945; F-6, 1945; L-1, 1945; L-4, 1945; C-46, 1945.

Cold War

  • SM-62 Snark, 1959–1961; CH/HH-3, 1970-c.1988; CH/HH-53, 1970-c.1988; HC-130, 1970-c.1990; HH-43, 1970–1973; UH-1, 1970–1988; HH-1, 1978-c.1988; TH-1, 1978-c.1988; UH-60, 1982-c.1988

Modern era

  • MC-130P, 1987–2014
  • MH-53, 1989–2007
  • MC-130H, 1994–2015
  • MC-130J, 2013–present
  • CV-22, 2013–present

See also

  •  World War II portal


Explanatory notes

  1. Haulman incorrectly identifies the 37th through 55th Squadrons as "Air Rescue and Recovery" units.


  1. https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/671462.pdf
  2. Haulman, Daniel L. (18 May 2017). "Factsheet 352 Special Operations Wing (AFSOC)". Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  3. "Approved insignia for: 352nd Special Operations Group". National Archives Catalog. 1 January 1994. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  4. Ravenstein, p. 292
  5. "Royal Air Force Mildenhall Library: 352nd Special Operations Wing Fact Sheet". 352nd Special Operations Wing Public Affairs. 1 April 2015. Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  6. "Air Force Special Operations Command Library: 352nd Special Operations Wing Fact Sheet". Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs. 4 December 2013. Archived from the original on 5 April 2014. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  7. "SOCEUR commander, command sergeant major visit 352nd SOG". Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  8. Yancey, p.6
  9. Maurer, Combat Squadrons, p. 658
  10. SAC Missile Chronology, p. 22
  11. Narducci, p. 4
  12. SAC Missile Chronology, p. 29
  13. Reason, Matt (18 April 2017). "RAF Mildenhall USAF base closure to be reconsidered by EUCOM". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  14. "Mildenhall US air base personnel to move to Cotswolds by 2023". RAF Mildenhall. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 10 August 2019.


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

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