A Tale of Two Units: the Maryland Air Guard in World War II

  • Published
  • By Capt. Wayde Minami
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
Ever heard of the 489th Fighter Squadron? How about the 104th Reconnaissance Squadron?

Odds are you haven't, but if you're a member of Maryland's 104th Fighter Squadron those units are part of your unit's military heritage - even though neither of them were ever part of the Maryland National Guard.

The year was 1942. The 104th Observation Squadron, forerunner of today's 104th Fighter Squadron, had been mobilized the previous February and was flying antisubmarine patrols out of Atlantic City, N.J. At the time, the 104th, which had been assigned to the 29th Infantry Division until shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack, fell under the 59th Observation Group.

But on Oct. 18, 1942, the 104th was inactivated and its members transferred to the 517th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 377th Bombardment Group.

It was at this point that the history of the 104th diverged from that of the personnel of the Maryland National Guard, although to unit members at the time the transition was largely transparent. The 517th continued to patrol the coast from Atlantic City Municipal Airport in the same O-46 and O-47 aircraft, and unofficial unit histories have incorrectly indicated that the 104th was redesignated as the 517th.

On Nov. 29, 1942, the 517th was redesignated the 12th Antisubmarine Squadron (Heavy) as part of a major reorganization of U.S. Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command. The 12th, along with the rest of the 377th Bombardment Group, now fell under the 25th Antisubmarine Wing, which had been activated on Nov. 20. Ten days later the 377th Bombardment Group was deactivated and the 12th began reporting directly to the wing.

With the change in unit came a change in aircraft. The unit continued to fly the O-46 and O-47 for a period, but then converted to the B-18B Bolo, a maritime reconnaissance version of the B-18A bomber that featured a nose-mounted radar set where the bombardier's glassed area had been. The B-18 was superceded in 1943 by the B-25 Mitchell and B-24 Liberator in the antisubmarine role.

The 12th, along with the Maryland Guardsmen who manned it, transferred to Langley Field, Va., where it continued to fly coastal patrol missions. On Aug. 24, 1943, USAAF Antisubmarine Command was redesignated I Bomber Command, and in September the 12th ceased flying antisubmarine patrols and was transferred to Blythe Army Airfield, Calif.

According to the official USAAF combat chronology, the 12th was flying B-24s at the time it transferred to Blythe, although local unit histories indicate it was flying the B-25.

On Jan. 1, 1944, the unit was redesignated as the 859th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) and transferred to England. While the 859th would go on to rack up a distinguished combat record, first flying conventional bombing missions and later "Carpetbagger" resupply missions supporting resistance fighters in occupied Europe, it would do so without most the Marylanders who had manned the unit stateside. Instead most of the remaining Maryland Guardsmen were split up and sent to other units as replacements, with only a handful remaining with the 859th or its higher headquarters, the 492nd Bombardment Group.

The 104th, meanwhile, had been reactivated at Fort Myers, Fla. in March of 1943 and redesignated as the 104th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter). The unit, still part of the also-redesignated 59th Reconnaissance Group, was now manned by regular USAAF troops and was soon relocated to Thomasville Army Airfield, Ga.

In August, the 104th was again redesignated as the 489th Fighter Squadron. While stationed at Thomasville, the 489th flew P-39 Airacobra fighters and conducted flight training. On May 1, 1944, the 489th, along with the rest of the 59th Fighter Group, was disbanded and its personnel sent overseas as replacements.

The unit was reestablished as part of the Maryland National Guard in 1946, when the 104th Fighter Squadron stood up at Baltimore Municipal Airport. Today, the 104th Fighter Squadron remains an integral part of the Maryland Air National Guard, falling under the 175th Wing.

The 59th Fighter Group, which commanded the 104th/489th throughout its World War II service, is now the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Tex. Blythe Army Airfield, Atlantic City Municipal Airport and Langley Field remain active airfields, the former two as civilian airports and the latter as Langley Air Force Base.