Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-312 [VMFA-312]
Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) was commissioned on 1 June 1943 at Page Field, Parris Island, South Carolina. Commanded by Major Richard M. Day, the squadron began flight operations with 10 North American SNJ-4 Texans and one F4U-1D Corsair. Transitioning within one year to 11 F4U-1D's and one SNJ-4, the squadron began combat training due to the urgency of the war effort. At this time, the "Checkerboards" emblem began to appear on both the cowling and rudder of the aircraft. Sporting six .50 caliber machine guns, the design continues to adorn the identifier of VMFA-312.
Departing Parris Island on 2 January 1944, the squadron prepared to begin combat operations in the Pacific theater. Embarked upon USS Hornet (CV-12), the squadron was initially assigned to defend the Hawaiian Islands under the operational control of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier Command.
Reassigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 on 25 June 1944, the squadron was transported to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, where they received 24 Goodyear FG-1 Corsairs. With newly installed 3.5 and 5 inch rocket launchers, the squadron prepared for its first combat action from the recently captured Kadena airstrip. VMF-312's first taste of blood occurred on 12 April 1945, when four squadron aircraft intercepted 20 Japanese Zero's and achieved eight kills without loss. VMF-312 continued to operate from Kadena Air Base until the cessation of hostilities. By war's end the squadron had accounted for 60 and one half air combat kills in the Pacific Theater.
Returning to the United States in February 1946, the squadron began operations at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro as part of Marine Aircraft Group 33, where the transition to the Grumman F7F-3 Tigercats, a single seat day fighter variant of the two seat F7F night fighter, was accomplished. Although the F7F night fighter continued in service for several years, the day fighter version proved unsuitable and VMF-312 transitioned back to Corsairs, this time the F4U-4, an upgraded, higher performance model.
Following several years of peacetime operations in support of Marine Training Operations, the squadron transferred to Marine Aircraft Group 12, MCAS El Toro in July 1950 and was alerted for deployment and service in the Korean Conflict. The first VMF-312 aircraft flew in Korea on 19 September 1950. Flying out of Wonson Air Base, the "Checkerboards" flew missions in support of the 1st Marine Division near the Chosin Reservoir. Redeployed in March 1951 aboard the light carrier USS BATTAN (CVL-29), the "Checkerboards" were assigned escort and blockade missions. Leaving the ship in June 1951, the squadron amassed 4,945 accident-free hours of carrier operations while logging 1,920 carrier landings. After a short period of ground based close air support operations, the squadron returned to sea, first with USS BAIROKU (CVE-11), then with USS BATAAN (CVL-29), and later with USS SICILY (CVE-118).
While aboard USS BATAAN, the "Checkerboards" became the first piston engine squadron to shoot down a jet aircraft, when Captain Jesse Folmar shot down a MIG-15 jet fighter with 20mm cannon fire. On June 8 1953, the "Checkerboards" were relieved by VMFA-332, and returned to the United States in anticipation of transitioning to the Grumman F9F Panther Jet Fighter at Marine Corps Air Station, Miami, Florida.
Within a year, the "Checkerboards" found themselves transitioning to FJ-2 Fury fighters and later in 1956, to the FJ-3 Fury, an improved version. Carrier qualifications preceded the squadron's reassignment to the newly opened MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina and MAG-32. During the Cuban rebellion, the squadron deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where normal operations were conducted until the squadron received their new F8U-1 Corsairs. Following the transition, the squadron carrier qualified and relieved VMF-251 at Atsugi, Japan on 1 January 1961. Joining Carrier Air Group 2 onboard USS MIDWAY (CVA-41), the Southeast Asia Theater began to intensify. Reassigned to MCAS El Toro, the squadron designation was changed to Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron, VMF(AW)-312. Normal training operations continued until assignment to the Southeast Asian combat area. Arriving in Da Nang Air Base in December 1965, the squadron flew helicopter escort, close air support, and TPQ-10 bombing missions in the I and II Corps areas. By January 1966, when assigned to Beaufort, the "Checkerboards" had flown 718 combat missions.
Concurrent with the reassignment to Beaufort was the transition to yet another aircraft, the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II and redesignation as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-312). Crewed with a pilot and Radar Intercept Officer, and capable of speeds of up to mach 2, the Phantom served as a formidable combat weapon of the "Checkerboards" for over 20 years.
During the Vietnam conflict, the "Checkerboards" performed the vital mission of training combat aircrews prior to their deployment to Southeast Asia. In 1973, the squadron received the newer F-4J aircraft, with its much improved radar and avionics, as well as improved aerodynamic design. In 1979, the "Checkerboards" became the first Second Marine Aircraft Wing Fighter Squadron to deploy to WESTPAC under the Unit Deployment six-month rotation program. Since joining UDP cycle, VMFA-312 has made five six-month deployments to the Western Pacific as well as participated in numerous training deployments around the United States. Upon completion of the first six-month UDP rotation, the "Checkerboards" became the first squadron to receive the F-4S variant of the Phantom, which incorporated leading edge slats as well as advanced radar. In July 1987, VMFA-312 retired its F-4 aircraft and transitioned to the F/A-18A Hornet.
The "Checkerboards" returned to WESTPAC in the summer of 1990. The deployment was extended to nine months as Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM interrupted the UDP cycle. In April 1991, VMFA-312 returned to Beaufort and in August transitioned to the F/A-18C Night Attack Hornet. The summer of 1992 saw VMFA-312 attached to CVW-8 aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71). After an extensive nine-month work-up, the "Checkerboards" were once again underway in March 1993. During this six-month carrier deployment, VMFA-312 participated in Operations PROVIDE PROMISE and DENY FLIGHT over war torn Yugoslavia. They also flew missions over Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH while operating from the Red Sea. While at sea, VMFA-312 was presented the 1993 Marine Corps Aviation Association's Robert M. Hanson Award as Fighter Squadron of the Year, the first time the squadron had received the award in its fifty year history. In 1994, VMFA-312 won the Robert M. Hanson Award for the second consecutive year.
After returning to Beaufort, VMFA-312 participated in CAX during January 1994. In June 1994, the "Checkerboards" began another rigorous work-up cycle for carrier operations. They deployed to Tucson, Arizona for air-to-air training and then on the NAS Fallon, Nevada in August 1994 for integrated air wing strike training. In November 1994, the "Checkerboards" deployed aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71) for COMPTUEX and again in January 1995 FLEETEX for training exercises.
In March 1995, the squadron deployed once again with Carrier Air Wing 8 aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71) for its second consecutive Mediterranean deployment. During the cruise, VMFA-312 participated in Operations SOUTHERN WATCH from the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, then Operations SHARP GUARD and DENY FLIGHT from the Adriatic Sea.
In late August and September 1995, the "Checkerboards" conducted their first direct combat sorties since Vietnam in support of the United Nations resolutions in Operation DELIBERATE FORGE. NATO's decision to conduct immediate air strikes against Bosnian-Serb ammunition bunkers, communication and control facilities, and logistical storage buildings heavily tasked both the air wing and the "Checkerboards". The squadron employed laser guided bombs, HARM, and SLAM throughout the course of operation in both daytime operations and its preferred nighttime lights out attacks. During this period the squadron expended 3 AGM-84's (SLAM), 13 AGM 88's (HARM), 13 GBU-10's (2000 lb LGB), 2 GBU-12's (500 lb LGB), and 14 GBU-16's (1000 lb LGB). In all, 51,902 pounds of ordnance was delivered in Operation DELIBERATE FORGE. At the conclusion of this short, but intense campaign, the "Checkerboards" proved again that they could deliver swift and lethal attacks on ground targets in combat, and emerge without losses.
The Squadron returned to Beaufort on 21 September 1995. The Marines quickly began getting ready for their third Mediterranean cruise, completing the turnaround and work-up cycle in only 13 months. Included in their training was a February 1996 air to ground detachment to Yuma, detachments to WTI and TOPGUN, and in March 1996 the first carrier qualification detachment aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71).
The squadron returned to the ship in mid April 1996 for its first deployment in the air wing work-up cycle. Throughout the remainder of 1996, VMFA-312 became familiar with their new air wing, CVW-3. The "Checkerboards" began another six-month Mediterranean cruise at the end of November 1996. The deployment offered many unique training opportunities, while operating anywhere from Spain to the Arabian Gulf. CVW-3 and VMFA-312 participated in Operation DELIBERATE GUARD over Bosnia-Herzegovina in January 1997, insuring the peaceful turnover of power from the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) to the new Stabilization Force (SFOR).
On 22 August 1997, LtCol S.M. Pomeroy took command of the "Checkerboards" from LtCol R.D. Alles. September 1997, VMFA-312 was again presented with the Robert M. Hanson Award as the Marine Corps top fighter squadron. The "Checkerboards" then began CQ work-ups and detachments in preparation for the upcoming UDP cycle with Carrier Air Wing Three aboard USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) on 6 November 1998.
The operational tempo would increase three weeks after sail and the "Checkerboards" along with CVW-3 would begin missions in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, 27 November 1998. The mission would change as the order came down to commence Operations DESERT FOX, 16 December 1998. The conflict lasted four nights and would end with the following: (1) 100% sortie completion rate, (2) 44 combat night sorties, (3) 120.2 combat hours, (4) 74% of assigned targets destroyed, (5) 27 HARM fired and 53 LGB's dropped, and (6) over 95,500 lbs of ordnance loaded. In the four night conflict, the "Checkerboards" reported zero injuries or casualties.
After the stand down order, USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) departed the Persian Gulf Theater, to do missions in support of Operation DELIBERATE FORGE in January and February 1999. While focus was on the Yugoslavian conflict, the "Checkerboards" and CVW-3 aboard USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) were ordered back to the Persian Gulf Theater to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH from 20 March to 13 April 1999.
During this particular OSW time frame, VMFA-312 became the first U. S. Marine Corps Aviation unit to employ the JSOW (Joint Stand-off Weapon) in combat. After the last OSW mission on 13 April 1999, USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) set sail for home, arriving 3 May 1999. During the UDP cycle from 27 November 1998 to 13 April 1999, the "Checkerboards" flew a total of 286 combat sorties and 676.7 combat hours in support of Operation's SOUTHERN WATCH, DESERT FOX and DELIBERATE FORGE.
During the period of October 2nd through October 5th, 2001, Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) from Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3) qualified pilots from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron One-Fifteen (VMFA-115) onboard the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN-73). VMFA-115, the Silver Eagles, replace VMFA-312 and join CVW-3's other squadrons which include HS-7, VS-22, VF-32, VFA-37, VFA-105, VAW-126, and VAQ-130.
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