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Marine Aircraft Group 14 [MAG-14]

Marine Aircraft Group 14 [MAG-14], the "Super MAG," consists of 12 squadrons. This group flies three major aircraft within its ranks: the AV-8B Harrier, the EA-6B Prowler and the KC-130 Hercules.

The MAG's history portrays intensive support in combat efforts, beginning with island campaigns during World War II and including the battles of Santa Cruz, Guadalcanal and Okinawa. It also assisted in the final elimination of the "Tokoyo Express."

The devastating attack on Pearle Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941 had decimated the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) leaving only 15 planes which were considered combat worthy. Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 223 was commissioned at the Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Oahu, Hawaii on 1 May 1942 in an effort to help restore the combat potential if the 1st MAW.

When World War II began the Marine Corps land based squadrons in the Pacific were flying the F2A, build by Brewster in the late 1930's. The Brewster was powered by a Wright R-1820-24 engine which could produce 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 revolutions per minute (rpm); the plane could attain an airspeed of 323 miles per hour and had a service ceiling of 34,000 feet. It was armed with four wing mounted .50 caliber machineguns and could carry two 100 pound bombs. As was demonstrated in the Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942, the aircraft was unable to cope with Japanese fighters and was appropriately dubbed the Brewster "Buffalo." Is soon was replaced by superior aircraft.

As early as June 1942, Admiral Chester M. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, had designated all four squadrons of MAG-23 for the defense of a beachhead on Guadalcanal. According to the plan, the forward echelon of MAG-23, consisting of VMF-223 and Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 232 and commanded by Major Richard C. Mangrum, would be flown to the airstrip on Guadalcanal from a carrier. Both squadrons lacked carrier experience; nearly all the pilots were fresh from flight school where they had logged about 275 hours apiece in SNJ trainers. The veteran Japanese naval pilots they would face averaged approximately 800 hours of flight time prior to the bombing of Pearle Harbor.

The squadrons sailed for Guadalcanal on board the escort carrier USS Long Island (CVE 1) on 2 August 1942. Prior to departure, the Buffalo was replaced with the Grumman F4F Wildcat. This plane became the standard fighter for Marine pilots during the early actions of WWII. This single-seat , carrier fighter was powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-1830-56 engine which produced 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 rpm and had a maximum airspeed of 332 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 34,300 feet. The aircraft was equipped with racks for two 250 pound bombs, one under each wing, or the bombs could be replaced with external fuel tanks. Six .50 caliber machineguns, three in each wing, and six five inch rockets completed the wildcats armament.

Prior to VMF-223's arrival at Guadalcanal, Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka, the Tokyo Expressman, had gathered a force at Rabaul, New Britain, which he mistakenly considered formidable enough to dislodge the Marines from the island. The enemy had a special naval landing force of 800 men and an Army detachment of 700 men. This time, the Japanese would support the landing with three carriers and three destroyers. American intelligence reported this movement, and the carriers USS Enterprise (CV 6), Saratoga (CV 3), and Wasp (CV 7) waited for the enemy force about 100 miles southeast of Guadalcanal. On 24 August, the Cactus Air Force**** met the enemy aircraft from the carrier Ryujo and the Battle of Eastern Solomons was underway. At 1420, the two MAG-23 squadrons augmented by five Army P-400s,***** which had arrived from New Caledonia intercepted an enemy flight of 15 bombers and 12 fighters. These Japanese aircraft never reached Henderson Field. The Marines shot down 10 bombers and half of the fighters.

From the beginning of the war and especially after Bataan and early New Guinea fighting, many American aviators regarded the Zero and its pilots as opponents of malevolent perfection. During the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the enemy gained more prowess and the U.S. fighter pilots were acquiring a distinct inferiority complex. On 24 August the Rainbow squadron and the other units at Guadalcanal destroyed the theory that the Zero was invincible.

On the 26th, as VMF-223 enjoyed continued success against enemy air raids, Captain Carl shot down two more planes becoming the second Marine Corps ace.* Aerial combat on the 29th resulted in four enemy fighters and four enemy bombers destroyed, and the following day another 14 enemy aircraft were sent flaming to earth. The score continued to favor the rainbow pilots as the air action over Guadalcanal increased.

Marines learned very early in the war not to dogfight with the more maneuverable Zero. Instead, the enemy's bombers became the primary targets. As the bombers approached, usually 26 at a time in series of "V" formations, it was possible for the wildcats to dive on the bombers and destroy just a few before the Zeros jumped the Grummans. The tactics which evolved and remained, while the Marines were flying the F4F, were primarily hit-and-run; a direct overhead or a high-side attack on the bombers (avoiding their tailguns), one quick burst at an attacking Zero, and then run. If a pilot unintentionally became entangled in a dogfight with the faster, better climbing Zero, it was necessary to rely on his wingman to shoot the enemy off his tail, which is where the Zero could usually be found. This two plane mutually protecting tactic evened the odds.

Conditions at Guadalcanal were miserable and were continually growing worse. The field was either a bowl of black dust or a quagmire of mud. Refueling had to be done by hand from 55-Gallon drums and radio communications from Henderson Field did not exist beyond 20 miles. The diet for the Marines consisted of dehydrated potatoes, Spam, cold hash, and sometimes Japanese rice. Malaria and dysentery became constant companions. Sleep in mud-floored tents was constantly interrupted by bombardments from Japanese ships and planes. Enemy cruisers, destroyers, and submarines often lay offshore lobbing shells at Henderson Field.

VMF-223 joined other elements of MAG-23 on 2 September 1942 in intercepting a 40-plane enemy raid. During the ensuing battle, the squadron downed another seven enemy aircraft. On the 12th, the island was hit with a bombardment from seven Japanese destroyers while 42 enemy planes attempted to obtain air superiority. The Cactus Air Force shot down 15 of the attacking planes, but the airfield received several hits. Meanwhile, enemy troops attacked just south of Henderson Field. The following day, while ground units were fighting the Battle of Bloody Ridge, the field was attacked three more times by aircraft. The airfield, although severely damaged, remained firmly in Marine hands.

During the months of August and September 1942, Guadalcanal was continually augmented by aircraft and pilots of various commands. The carriers USS Hornet (CV 12) and the Wasp, after receiving battle damage, sent some of their F4F's ashore until the flattops could be repaired. The growing Cactus Air Force intercepted 31 Japanese planes over Henderson field on 27 September and 11 enemy aircraft were destroyed. The next day, the Emperor's "Eagles" from Rabaul in New Britain arrived with a flight of 55 planes determined to neutralize Marine aviation on Guadalcanal. Once again, the determined American pilots met the enemy, this time sending 24 of the attacking planes to a watery grave. Of those destroyed, VMF-223 was credited with seven. The Japanese, determined to make the island a major battleground, sought air supremacy and control of the sea, but once again the enemy had underestimated the air force necessary to achieve this goal.

After less than two months of combat, MAG-23 packed its equipment, readied its aircraft, and departed Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942 bound for California. The Rainbow squadron had, during its short time at Henderson Field, written a new chapter in Marine Corps aviation. VMF-223 had been the first Marine fighter squadron to arrive in the Solomans. Major John L. Smith had led his pilots on multiple combat missions during which the squadron accounted for 83 Japanese aircraft destroyed. For his action during this period, Major Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor. Also, during the struggle for Guadalcanal, Captain Carl earned his second Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in aerial combat.

Captain Carl's first award of the Navy Cross came during the Battle of Midway. These two men, Smith and Carl, contributed greatly to the success of Marine aviation in Guadalcanal by downing a total of 37 enemy aircraft, 19 and 18 respectively. The final tally of enemy aircraft destroyed by the Cactus Air Force between 20 August and 12 October was an impressive 111 . In recognition of this achievement, those units supporting the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal and neighboring Tulagi received the Presidential Unit Citation.

Marine Fighting Squadron 223 arrived in San Francisco on 17 October 1942 and remained in MAG-23, which was also arriving from Guadalcanal. VMF-223's personnel were given leave from 16 November to 4 January 1943, then the squadron began reorganizing and training. On 26 January Major Carl became the new commanding officer of VMF-223.

On 27 May 1943, for reasons unknown, the Rainbow squadron changed its nickname and became known as the "Bulldogs." The change in nickname was followed next month by a change in squadron aircraft.

During June, VMF-223 received 18 Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsairs to augment its inventory of F4F Wildcats and North American SNJ trainers. The F4U was a single seat, low-wing monoplane powered by a single Pratt and Whitney 2,000 horsepower engine. Capable of climbing to over 35,000 feet, the Corsair was the first American fighter to reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour. The "U-birds," as they were called, became the standard fighter for Marines during the remainder of WWII. Because of the sound and effectiveness of the diving Corsair, the Japanese name for this plane meant "Whistling Death."

On 15 August 1945, official word was received that the war was over. The squadron, however, continued to fly combat air patrol in the event some of the more fanatical Japanese tried to make one last effort against the Americans.

The month of August had begun with the men of VMF-223 enthusiastically preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. When peace became a reality, the Bulldogs expected to be called upon to serve as part of the occupational forces assigned throughout Japan. As time passed and no orders were received, the officers and men of VMF-223 realized that their job was done.

The Bulldogs continued to conduct combat air patrols supporting minesweeping operations north and west of Amami O Shima. The Marines remained on alert for some attempt by the enemy to strike against the arsenal developing on Okinawa. All observations, however, indicated acceptance of the surrender and a recognition of the cessation of hostilities. The squadron gradually adopted a peacetime routine which included air shows to demonstrate U.S. air power, surveillance missions, and an active athletic program for the men. Training hops became the primary flight activity. Fighter tactics continued to be emphasized and extended navigational flights were made over Japan.

On 1 September 1965, VMA-223 departed NAS, North Island on board the helicopter carrier USS Valley Forge (LPH 8). The Bulldogs arrived at MCAS, Iwakuni, Japan on 15 September where they were assigned to MAG-13, 1st MAW. The squadron remained in Japan training until 15 December. Then, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wilson, it joined MAG-12 at Chu Lai, Vietnam, relieving VMA-311 which returned to Japan after operating in Vietnam since 1 June 1965. Before the day had ended, VMA-223 had flown its first combat mission in Vietnam.

Marine Attack Squadron 223 was involved initially with Operation HARVEST MOON which had begun on 8 December. HARVEST MOON was a coordinated USMC/Army of the Republic of Vietnem (ARVN) operation conducted midway between Da Nang and Chu Lai about 15 miles inland. For the Marines, this was the largest operation since the arrival in Vietnam. Major participating ground units were 2d Battalion, 7th Marines; 2d Battalion 1st Marines; 3d Battalion, 3d Marines; 1st Battalion, 5th ARVN regiment; 11th ARVN Ranger Battalion, and the 1st Battalion, 6th ARVN Regiment. Aviation units included fixed-wing aircraft from MAGs -11 and -12 and helicopters from MAGs -16 and -36. By the time HARVEST MOON ended on 20 December, all the Bulldog pilots had flown with MAG-12 flights and considered themselves combat veterans.

During Operation Desert Storm, MAG-14 flew night combat missions deep into Iraq and over Kuwait and provided artillery destruction of the Iraqi Republican Guard. The unit has received two Presidential Unit Citations for its impressive combat history. It is one of only two MAGs to receive this honor.

Cherry Point has been home to Harrier aircraft since 1977. Operation Desert Storm introduced the world to the elite performance of the Harrier in combat and its exceptional ability to provide close air support for expeditionary forces. Marine Attack Squadrons 231 and 542 provided more than 2,000 offensives in conjunction with delivering close to 4.5 million pounds of ordnance during January and February of 1991.

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron-2 [VMU-2], which operates the RQ-2A Pioneer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, was reassigned on November 1999 from MAG-14 to MACG-28 at the decision of the USMC Force Structure Planning Group.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:17:34 ZULU