Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-531 [VMFA-531]
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 531, VMFA-531 'Grey Ghosts' was decommissioned on 27 March 1992.
It was originally activated at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, on November 16, 1942 as the Marine Night Fighter Squadron 531, VMF(N)-531. It was the first of such Marine squadrons. Under the authority of Fleet Marine Force from 9 January 1943, the squadron was soon abosrbed into the newly-commissioned Marine Aircraft Group 53.
Unit strength was initially composed of two North American SNJ-4 Texans, later augmented by reclaimed Dutch dive bombers SB2A-4 Brewster Buccaneers. These were operated until delivery of the night-fighter modified version of the twin-engine Lockheed Ventura PV-l; the first of which was delivered February, 15 1943.
As MAG-53 reported to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, FMF, on 16 April 1943, VMF(N)-531 was soon deployed during the summer to the South Pacific. Air patrols began on 16 September 1943, as a member of MAG-21, 1st MAW. As a result of this, VMF(N)-531 became both the first Naval Aviation night fighter squadron to operate in the South Pacific and the first U.S. squadron to participate in combat as a radar equipped night fighter squadron.
Working with its Ground Control Intercept (GCI) personnel, a unit responsible for directing a large portion of the fighter at night in the Central Soloman Islands, the squadron operated from fields in the Russell Islands, Vella Lavella, and Bougainville. From there, it actively took part in the New Georgia, Bougainville, Bismark Archipelago, and Northern Solomon's Campaigns and covering the landings at Treasury Island and Choissul. The squadron's South Pacific tour was completed with a deployment on Green Island, northwest of Bougainville, working with patrols of naval surface crafts.
Upon return to MCAS Cherry Point on 1 September 1944, VMF(N)-531 was deactivated 2 days later, on 3 September. It was then reactivated on 13 October 1944 at MCAAF Kinston, North CarolnaC, and reassigned to MAG-53, 9th MAW. Following MAG-53's 29th of November 1944 relocation to MCAS Eagle Lake, TX, near Ft. Worth, the squadron operated as a training unit, providing training for replacement pilots and airborne intercept operators for overseas assignment. In February 1946,VMF(N)-531 relocated MAG-53 to MCAS Cherry Point before being assigned to the 2nd MAW.
In November 1946, the squadron was assigned twelve F7F-3N Tigercat's and operated training flights. In June 1948, the squadron was assigned to MAG-14 and redesignated as VMF(AW)-531, Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 531 on 14 October 1948. In September 1949, the squadron was reassigned to MAG-24.
with the start of the Korean War, VMF(AW)-531 continued its mission of training pilots and airborne intercept operators specifically for the Korean replacement drafts as well as fulfilling FMF commitments flying the Douglas F-3D Skyknight. Beginning in February 1959. the Douglas F4D Skyray, an 'all weather' single seat, delta wing, jet interceptor, began replacing the unit's F3D's. By April 1959, the squadron was deployed to MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi, Japan, for a routine tour of overseas duty. In July 1960, the 'Grey Ghosts' returned to MAG-24 at MCAS Cherry Point. A year later, the squadron again deployed to MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi from July 1961 until July 1962.
Once back at MCAS Cherry Point in MAG-24, the 'Grey Ghosts' began transition to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Transition training started in July 1962, at NAS Oceana, VA, with the Navy Replacement Air Group and by late September enough aircraft had been received for the squadron to commence training operations.
VMF(AW)-531 was the first Marine Fighter Squadron to join NORAD, reporting to NAS Key West, FL, in early 1963. While there, it played a significant role in the air defense commitment during the Cuban Missile crisis before returning to MCAS Cherry Point in June.
Redesignated as VMFA-531, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 531, in August of 1963. the squadron started preparation for another WestPac deployment. On 16 June 1964, the squadron was again deployed to MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi.
On 10 April 1965, the first division of Phantoms left NAS Atsugi on the 2,500 mile flight to DaNang, Republic of Vietnam, utilizing in-flight refueling. This proved to be a number of 'firsts' for the 'Grey Ghosts' as they became the first Marine jet squadron to see combat since Korea, the first fixed wing unit to provide integrated enroute escort and landing support for helicopters in tactical combat operations, and the first F-4 Phantom squadron to base and operate in Vietnam. Upon return to MCAS Cherry Point in MAG-24 in July 1965, the squadron was assigned to training combat crews for duty in Vietnam.
In April 1968, VMFA-531 was relocated to MAG-33, 3rd MAW, MCAS El Toro, CA. Then, in December 1970, VMFA-531 was assigned to MAG-13 and then reassigned to MAG-11 in September 1971. One year later, VMFA-531 was deployed aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) for a Mediterranean cruise. During the carrier based deployment, it performed as a member of Attack Carrier Air Wing 17. In July 1973, the squadron was once again relocated to MCAS El Toro, CA, in MAG-11.
In the spring of 1975, VMFA-531 was selected to become the second Marine Corps F-14 Tomcat squadron, resulting in the squadron's administrative transfer to MCAS Beaufort, SC. until cancellation of Marine participation in the F-14 program resulted in the return of the 'Grey Ghosts' to El Toro on 29 August 1975 and its oufitting with F4-N Phantom II aircraft.
Beginning on November 1979, the squadron was deployed in the Indian Ocean onboard the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier (CV-43), as a member of Carrier Air Wing 14. This proved to be the first time in history that an entire Carrier Battle Group's maritime superiority was provided exclusively by Marine Corps fighters units, namely VMFA-531 and VMFA-323. It was also during the build-up phase that the 'Grey Ghosts' fired the first AIM-7F Sparrow missile from an F-4N. This deployment included 102 consecutive days at sea in support of the Iranian Crisis. Upon completion of its tour of duty, VMFA-531 returned to El Toro in June 1980.
On 24 November 1982, the last of the squadron's F-4N Phantom aircraft was retired after over 20 years of service. To replace it was the McDonnell/Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Training for this aircraft commenced in January of 1983 at NAS Lemoore, CA. On 29 May 1983, the 'Grey Ghosts' became the third fleet squadron, following the Black Knight's of VMFA-314 and the Death Rattler's of VMFA-323, to receive the Hornet. By August, the full complement of twelve aircraft was received.
From 10 September through 24 September 1983, VMFA-531 wase deployed to Canadian Forces Base at Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, as part of the Canadian Maple Flag XII exercise. This was the first deployment for a Fleet F/A-18 squadron outside of CONUS. The first F/A-18 TRANSPAC took place on 22 March 1984 when the 'Grey Ghosts' launched four Hornets to MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in conjunction with a ten day deployment. Prior to landing a Kaneohe Bay, the Hornets successfully fired two AIM-7F Sparrow and two AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles against BQM-74C airborne drones at the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility northwest of the island of Kauai. Additionally, the 81/2 flight was the longest ever recorded by the F/A-18A, reconfirming its tactical flexibility and reliability. VMFA squadron completed its first F/A-18 combat readiness evaluation (MCCRES) on 7 June 1984.
In August 1985, the squadron deployed to Inshas Air Base, Egypt, as a participant in Exercise Bright Star-85 where it supported an amphibious landing of Marines, provided air cover for air strikes against Egyptian bases and fought the entire fighter inventory of host nation aircraft. During the remainder of 1985 and through the fall of 1986, the squadron conducted training operrations at a number of locations in the U.S. from Key West, FL, to Adak, AK.
In June of 1987 the 'Grey Ghosts'of VMFA-531 became the first F/A-18 squadron to work with U.S. Army helicopters on coordinated night low altitude infrared laser designated ordnance deliveries at Robert Gray AAF at Fitbody, TX. Following this, the squadron participated in Red Flag-87-5. After Red Flag, VMFA-531 became the first fleet F/A-18 squadron to drop MK-20 Rockeye bombs.
On 19 April 1988, twelve F/A-18's of VMFA-531 departed to Yechon Air Base, Republic of Korea to participate as the first West Coast F/A-18 squadron in the Unit Deployment Program, as part of the first leg of the TRANSPAC, the largest and longest expeditionary Marine Aircraft Group deployment since the Vietnam War. While there, the squadron conducted one major deployment to U-Tapao Air Base, Kingdom of Thailand to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold 88. It was the first Marine aviation deployment to Southeast Asia since the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
VMFA-531 returned to MCAS El Toro on 6 October 1988.
During the Gulf War, VMFA-531 remained at El Toro as many of its planes and personnel fought with other Marine squadrons stationed in Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries.
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