B-17G Fortresses of the 381st Bomb Group are escorted by a P-51B of the 354th Fighter Squadron, Summer-Fall 1944.
In June 1943 the quiet English countryside around the village of Ridgewell in northwest Essex was transformed by the arrival of the 381st Bomb Group with its B-17 Flying Fortresses. The subsequent battle in the skies over Europe witnessed the 381st, in concert with their fellow-airmen with the Mighty Eighth, striking 297 times at Hitler’s Fortress Europe and dropping over 22,000 tons of ordnance in the process. The cost to the group was 131 aircraft and over 1200 combat crew missing in action, sustained during the course of a fiercely contested struggle stretching over 1000 days.
The 381st Bombardment Group was activated on Jan. 1, 1943, with Lt. Col. Joseph J. Nazarro designated as commanding officer.
The 381st Bombardment Group began its training at Pyote, Texas. The core for the new organization was virtually hand-picked from the 39th and 302nd Bombardment Groups by the lieutenant colonel. They would be based out of Ridgewell, England.
Soldiers made up the four squadrons arrived in Pyote, Texas, for phase training. The station had only been in existence about four months and living conditions were somewhat primitive. Training aids and air supplies were practically nonexistent.
Beginning from scratch, they built up a system of training that eventually produced the hottest outfit to reach the European Theatre of Operations, an organization noted particularly for its ability to fly formation.
April 2, 1943 was the final training flight, a monster sea search mission from the West Coast. The operation was the most ambitious air-sea maneuver attempted in the United States.
There were 100 bombers plus escorting fighters over San Francisco at one time, a display of air power that set newspaper front pages on fire.
Constituted as the 381st Bombardment Group (Heavy) on 28 October 1942. Activated on 3 November 1942. Used B-17's in preparing for duty overseas. Moved to RAF Ridgewell England, May–June 1943, and assigned to Eighth Air Force. The 381st was assigned to the 1st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Bombardment Division.
The 381st Bomb Group operated chiefly against strategic objectives on the Continent. Specific targets included an aircraft assembly plant at Vélizy-Villacoublay, an airdrome at Amiens, locks at St Nazaire, an aircraft engine factory at Le Mans, nitrate works in Norway, aircraft plants in Brussels, industrial areas of Münster, U-boat yards at Kiel, marshalling yards at Offenberg, aircraft factories at Kassel, aircraft assembly plants at Leipzig, oil refineries at Gelsenkirchen, and ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt.
The Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for performance on 8 October 1943 when shipyards at Bremen were bombed accurately in spite of persistent enemy fighter attacks and heavy flak, and received a second DUC for similar action on 11 January 1944 during a mission against aircraft factories in central Germany.
Aircraft from the 381st participated in the intensive campaign of heavy bombers against enemy aircraft factories during Big Week, 20–25 February 1944, and the Group often supported ground troops and attacked targets of interdiction when not engaged in strategic bombardment.
The Group supported the Normandy invasion in June 1944 by bombing bridges and airfields near the beachhead. Attacked enemy positions in advance of ground forces at Saint-Lô in July 1944. Assisted the airborne assault on Holland in September. Struck airfields and communications near the battle zone during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 – January 1945. Supported the Allied crossing of the Rhine in March 1945 and then operated against communications and transportation in the final push through Germany.
After V-E Day, the 381st Bomb Group returned to Sioux Falls AAF, South Dakota in July 1945 and was inactivated on 28 August.