Marine Attack Squadron-231 [VMA-231]
VMA-231 began as 1st Division, Squadron 1, on 8 February 1919, a unit that emerged from the Northern Bombing Group of Northern France in 1918. By the end of February, the newly activated squadron arrived in Santo Domingo for duty with the Second Brigade where, under various redesignations, it served until July 1924.
From Santo Domingo the squadron traveled to San Diego, California as aviation outfit to accompany a Marine Expeditionary Force. During the West Coast interlude, the late Major General Ross E. ROWELL, then a Major and Commanding Officer of VO-1M, and later VO-SM, concentrated on training in dive-bombing tactics. Such tactics were to prove invaluable to the squadron in Nicaragua, during July 1927, where the squadron had been ordered the previous February. On 16 July 1927, at the famous Battle of Octal, ten personnel of VO-8M came to the rescue of the beleaguered Marine garrison at Ocotal and executed the first recorded dive bombing attack against an organized enemy, dispersing the insurgents and saving the garrison. Among the first Marine Aviators ever to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross were Major ROWELL and Lieutenant Hayne BOYDEN, to whom it was awarded for their participation in the battle of Ocotal.
For ten years the squadron carried the designation VO-8M before being redesignated VMS-2, which it retained until July 1941, when it became VMSB-231. Whatever its designation, it has always been identified by the Ace of Spades which has appeared on countless aircraft types from Curtiss Jennys and DH-4B Liberty planes in 1920, to Dauntlesses and Corsairs flown in the Marshalls in 1944 as dive bombers.
On 31 August 1962, after serving in reserve status in Akron, Ohio and Grosse Isle, Michigan, VMA-231 was deactivated and its historic insignia was mothballed. VMA-231 was reactivated on 15 May 1973, and the Marine Corps' oldest squadron became the Corps' newest, flying the Corps' newest aircraft, the Hawker-Siddeley AV-8A Harrier. The AV-8A was a high performance, high speed jet aircraft that was uniquely capable of vertical and short takeoff and landing (V/STOL).
In January 1975, the squadron's first operational deployment was aboard USS INCHON for carrier qualifications. The following September, the squadron deployed five aircraft to NAS Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico-the first AV-8A Harriers to operate there.
4 October 1976 saw VMA-231 deploying to the Mediterranean aboard USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT with Carrier Air Wing Nineteen. VMA-231's journey included visits to Spain, Italy, Sicily, Kenya, and Egypt. Highlights of the cruise included a transit of the Suez Canal aboard USS GUAM and participation of VMA-231 in Kenya's Independence Day celebration by twelve AV-8A aircraft. VMA-231 rejoined the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing on 20 April 1977, as the squadron safely returned to MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. Also in 1977, VMA-231 was named V/STOL Squadron of the Year, becoming the first recipient of this award.
In February 1978, VMA-231 participated with the U.S. Army in a realistic forward site operation called "DEVIL STRIKE VII", at Ft. Bragg, NC. On 28 June 1978, the first Harrier squadron to operate on an LHA was flown aboard USS SAIPAN by a VMA-231 pilot. From 1 September to 3 October 1978, six VMA-231 AV-8s participated in Operation BOLD GUARD in Northern Europe, marking the first TRANSLANT for an AV-8 unit, the first United States AV-8 unit in European operations, and the first American AV-8 unit to cross-train with RAF HarrierSquadrons.
During August 1980, VMA-231 embarked aboard USS SAIPAN to participate in NATO exercise TEAMWORK-80 in Norway. After completion of TEAMWORK-80, the squadron cross-decked to USS IWO JIMA for transit back to CONUS. Enroute, the squadron flew to Royal Navy Air Station, Yueovilton, United Kingdom to operate with the Royal Navy Sea Harrier Squadron 899. The squadron launched from the deck of USS IWO JIMA and arrived in Cherry Point on 3 November 1980.
On 8 April 1981, VMA-231 flew aboard USS NASSAU as half of MAG 32 (Forward), the first all AV-8A Carrier Air Wing. During the 82-day deployment to the Mediterranean, the squadron participated in NATO combined exercise DAILY DOUBLE and two encounter exercises against USS FORRESTAL Battle Group. The squadron also flew simulated and practice bombing missions against targets in Italy, Sicily, Greece, Turkey, and Tunisia and joined other Sixth Fleet units as part of a contingency force in the Eastern Mediterranean. VMA-231 returned to Cherry Point on 29 June 1981. In September 1982, the squadron again participated in NATO exercise NORTHERN WEDDING/BOLD GUARD in Europe with 11 aircraft operating from USS NASSAU.
November 1982 saw the Ace of Spades aboard USS NASSAU once again. The squadron provided close air support in conjunction with exercise NORTHERN WEDDING/BOLD GUARD in Denmark.
On 2 August 1985, VMA-231 flew the AV-8A for the last time, converting the squadron to the all-new AV-8B Harrier II on September 19, 1985. Composite materials, more engine performance, new avionics, and the angle rate bombing system gave VMA-231 a new and sharper cutting edge with the AV-8B.
In September 1986, VMA-231 deployed to Europe for nearly six weeks with 12 AV-8Bs to participate in NATO Operations "NORTHERN WEDDING," "OXBOL," and "BOLD GUARD." In November 1986 a 6-plane detachment participated in Exercise "AFRICAN EAGLE," operating from USS SAIPAN in the Mediterranean. Out of 332 sorties scheduled in the exercises, not a single sortie was missed.
In May 1987, a 4-plane detachment participated in a practice assault in Honduras from aboard USS SAIPAN. VMA-231 Detachment Bravo deployed in September 1987 aboard USS NASSAU for the first six month AV-8B deployment to the Mediterranean. A successful completion of the deployment was marked with the return of the Detachment Marines and aircraft to MCAS Cherry Point on 27 March 1988.
June 1990 found VMA-231 deployed to WESTPAC as a squadron for the first time since World War II. Training continued in Iwakuni and Okinawa, Japan, as well as the Philippine Islands and Korea. Exercises included multiple air defense exercises with the Japanese Air Defense Force; VALIANT BLITZ 90, conducted in Eastern Korea during November; and BEACHCREST 90, conducted in Okinawa in December. Shortly after BEACHCREST 90, the squadron received orders extending the deployment and directing it to Southeast Asia for Operation DESERT SHIELD. The move necessitated an unprecedented around-the-world trip as the Ace of Spades flew 18,000 NM in 14 days to join MAG-13 (forward). During the trip the squadron accrued 904 flight hours in December, a record for fleet Harrier squadrons. Moreover, the jets arrived in good shape and flight operations commenced within 4 days.
On the morning of 17 January, DESERT SHIELD became DESERT STORM. Again, VMA-231 was in the forefront, flying combat missions to silence Iraqi artillery batteries, which were indiscriminately shelling the Saudi Arabian border town of Khafji.The Ace of Spades provided air operations every day of DESERT STORM, providing battlefield air interdiction, deep air support, close air support, helicopter escort, rescue combat air patrol, and reconnaissance missions against the enemy occupation forces in Kuwait. Sorties flown resulted in the destruction of enemy tanks, towed artillery pieces, command posts, armored personnel carriers and utility vehicles, ammunition storage sights, trench lines, FROGS, astro batteries, SA-2 sites, SA-6 sites, a myriad of antiaircraft artillery sights, self-propelled artillery, radar relay sites, fire-trenches, field fortifications, revetments,minefields, and enemy troops. During February 1991, when the air war intensified and the critical ground campaign began, Marine Attack Squadron 231 outflew all other Harrier squadrons in theater by accumulating 966.2 hours. The "Ace of Spades" flew a total of 987 combat sorties and 1,195.8 hours during DESERT STORM. In total, 1660 Mk-82s, 62 Mk-83s, 969 Mk-20 Rockeyes, 78 Mk-77 Firebombs, and 22,709 rounds of 25MM munitions were expended. A grand total of 1,692,000 pounds of ammunition was delivered with devastating effect against enemy positions and equipment. In September 1991, a 6-plane detachment was sent out with HMH-362 aboard USS SAIPAN where it served as part of the 22nd MEU(SOC) in the Persian Gulf. VMA-231's AV-8B safety record earned it the CNO Safety Award for 1991 and 1992.
During November 1992, the Ace of Spades embarked on an unprecedented two-site deployment by taking a squadron(-) and 14 jets to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, and leaving 6 jets at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina to support the 26th MEU aboard the USS SAIPAN. Though the squadron was separated by more than 13,000 miles, both elements of VMA-231exceeded all expectations with the squadron(-) flying an average of over 470 hours per month while posting the highest Full Mission Capable rates of any fleet squadron. Together with VMA-231 Det B, the Aces flew an average of 680 hours per month. While in Iwakuni, VMA-231(-) participated in detachments to the USS BELLEAU WOOD, Kusan AB, ROK, and Misawa AB, JA as well as supporting numerous exercises including TAE KWON DO, BEACHCREST, COPE NORTH, and TEAM SPIRIT. VMA-231(-) returned to MCAS Cherry Point in June 1993 and Det B returned from a six month deploymentin September 1993.
From July 1993 to January 1995 the Ace of Spades performed shipboard operations aboard USS SAIPAN, USS INCHON, and USS KEARSARGE; two Capabilities Exercises; a Supporting Arms Training Exercise; Combined Arms Exercises 3 and 4; Operation Agile Provider; a heavy weapons deployment in NAS Fallon, NV; Operation Iron Ace; and a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise in Fort Sill, OK. During this brisk deployment schedule, VMA-231 transitioned to the new AV-8B II+ and introducing night systems training.
From February 1995 to August 1996 the Ace of Spades would complete many successful operations, including: Overlapping Landing Force 6th Fleet (LF6F) deployments, one with the 24th MEU(SOC) aboard USS KEARSARGE participating in the TRAP mission rescuing downed Air Force pilot Captain O'Grady; the other with the 26th MEU(SOC) aboard USS WASP participating in DENY FLIGHT; PURPLE STAR aboard USS NASSAU; Air Warrior II at Barksdale AFB, and Nellis AFB, CAX 10 dropping in excess of 400,000 pounds of ordnance; El Centro; and MCCRES at NAS Fallon. The Aces also sent a detachment and pilot for Weapons and Tactics instructor qualification in Yuma, AZ, and participated in fleet week in New York and New Orleans. Outflying all AV-8B squadrons with over 11,000 flight hours and dropping in excess of 1.6 million pounds of ordnance, the Ace of Spades earned the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award for the fourth time and II MEF's nomination as Marine Attack Squadron of the Year.
In August 1996, VMA-231 Marines deployed for the first time with the Harrier II+ aboard the USS NASSAU with the 26th MEU. On this deployment VMA-231 Marines took part in operations in Albania, Bosnia, and the Republic of Zaire. The squadron (-) sent detachments to NAS Fallon for night systems training in January 1997 and to Yuma, AZ, for Weapons Tactics Instructor Course in March 1997. April and May of that year found the squadron (-) in Twentynine Palms, CA, for CAX's 5 and 6-97.
January of 1998 saw the Ace of Spades squadron(-) deployed to El Centro, CA, for training. During August of that year, the squadron(-) supported CAX 9 in Twentynine Palms, CA. The squadron also sent a six plane detachment with the 26th MEU(SOC) from February to July, supporting various exercises in the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea.
In April 1999, the Ace of Spades deployed with the 26th MEU(SOC) aboard the USS KEARSARGE. The Spades were involved in many operations, such as Operation Allied Force, bombing targets in the former Yugoslavia. They also participated in Operation Joint Guardian, Shining Hope, Avid Response, and various other exercises. The squadron(-) deployed to NAS Fallon in February of 1999 and participated in CAX 10 in Twentynine Palms, CA, in August of that year.
On Dec 15, 2003 Marine Attack Squadron 231, the Ace of Spades, flew out for the last time from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. The AV-8B Harrier II Squadron deployed to the Station six months ago and has accumulated a significant amount of experience. VMA-231 participated in a wide variety of training exercises throughout their stay at the Station and in their deployments to other areas while attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable. From June through October, the squadron took part in close air support training, air-to-air combat training in Kunsan, Korea, Amphibious Ready Group training, special operations capable exercises, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 training exercises, and deep reconnaissance platoon training exercises. Flying air-to-air defense for Air Force One was the highlight of the deployment. While attached to the MEU, the Ace of Spades reinforced HMM 265, located in Okinawa, Japan. After six months back in Cherry Point, N.C., the squadron is scheduled to deploy again next summer to the Mediterranean.
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