In CCT – The Eye of the Storm, the author chronicled the exploits of Air Force Combat Control Teams from their beginning in 1945 and following them into the dawning of the 21st Century. As a result of the first book, several lost stories surfaced. This chapter contains those lost stories; i.e., stories that should have been in Volume 1, but missed the printing deadline.
On military firing ranges, it is customary to expend unfired practice rounds during the so-called alibi round to get rid of the practice ammunition before the record firing begins. In Chapter 1 you will see a salvo of alibi articles.
THE DAWN OF AIR FORCE COMBAT CONTROL TEAMSby Gene Adcock
23 January 1945 – APO 133, New York City, New York - It has long been thought USAF Combat Control Teams spawned in 1953 from the U.S. Army Pathfinder model. This is partially true but the whole truth was lost in documents that surfaced after the publication of the book CCT - The Eye of the Storm, a history of USAF Combat Control Teams (CCT). The whole truth goes back to the closing months of World War II (WWII).
Varsity – Airborne Assault Across The Rhine
By late 1944, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Troop Carrier commanders had grown weary of criticism from U.S. Army Airborne commanders and mission planners who complained of poor air drop performance at Normandy and Holland. The USAAF Troop Carrier commanders had earlier concluded the poor performance was a reflection of inadequate training of U.S. Army Pathfinders in the operation of navigation aids and communications equipment in the assault zones. So for the final push in WWII Europe - the 1945 airborne invasion of Germany - USAAF commanders elected to form their own forward operating command and control teams, calling them Combat Control Teams. The USAAF trained and outfitted the teams with air traffic control skills, state-of-the-art navigational aids and modern communications gear.
On 8 March 1945, General Paul L. Williams, 9th Troop Carrier Command reported to General Lewis H. Brereton, 9th Air Force Commander that nine, five-man Glider-borne CCTs had been specially equipped and trained to perform the duties carried out by U.S. Army Pathfinders during earlier Normandy and Holland operations. Operationally, each five-man CCT could function as a completely self-sustaining unit.
General Williams ordered that two combat control teams (ten combat controllers) be assigned to each of the four American Airborne Divisions to insure reliable communications. He pointed out that in Normandy two out of four U.S. Army Pathfinder Teams were lost due to enemy action, while the Holland battle saw six out of the eight teams suffered casualties and damage with three units completely knocked out.
A further reason for employing a spare ninth-team was the fact that all combat control personnel and equipment could not be carried in a single glide; this factor necessarily caused a dispersal of team members. Under such conditions, an extra combat control team would permit reshuffling of personnel on the spot and accomplish necessary communication in a minimum of time.
In addition to basic combat skills, the combat control teams had been thoroughly trained in the use of codes, ciphers and the maintenance of their radio equipment.
Under the plan outlined by General Williams, two combat control teams were scheduled for assignment to XVIII Airborne Corps during the first phase of the Operation Varsity D-Dayscheduled for March 24, 1945. A second reinforcing phase was scheduled for the following day, March 25, 1945.
Normally two gliders would be adequate to lift the necessary personnel and equipment of each team, but for Operation Varsity’s D-Day assault an additional two gliders would be added to haul special pickup apparatus of both teams, bringing the total number of gliders to six. Every effort was being made to insure the operational success of the combat control teams, General Williams stressed.
IX TROOP CARRIER COMMAND
2 - E-HUM-6
APO 133, US Army
SUBJECT: Airborne Invasion of Germany 23 January 1945
TO: Assembled Combat Controllers
You men gathered here today have been handpicked from twenty-five hundred (2,500) glider pilots of this command to do your part in a special project for the Commanding General of the IX Troop Carrier Command.
This project is the formation and training of nine (9) Troop Carrier Combat Control Teams.
Nine (9) pilots who have a minimum of 500 hours of power time and two (2) combat missions will take a course in command and control procedures. This will complete your qualifications for assignment as operations officers in command of a combat control team. Your project officer is Captain Maurice M. Orovitz, Command Flying Control Officer.
Twenty-six (26) glider pilots will be trained in code, ciphers, maintenance, operation of 299, 183 and 522 communications sets, cryptographic and air coordination procedures. Your project officer will be Captain G. W. Powell of the Communications Section.
The ranking officers of each group will be in command and responsible for the control of all personnel in his training class.
It cannot be overemphasized at this time that all members of Combat Control Teams must devote their efforts 100% to learning all they can while they are here. It will be too late to try to learn on the battlefield. Absenteeism will not be tolerated.
All personnel will report to Billeting Officer in Building B-26 for assignment to quarters at this station.
The Troop Carrier Command Officers Club is available for your use and bus transportation is provided each night between 1800 and 2300 hours.
Mess facilities are provided on this base at the Officers’ Mess.
A combat control team and equipment are schematically shown aboard the CG-4A gliders below:
COMBAT CONTROL TEAM CG-4A WACO GLIDER LOAD PLAN
Graphically shown are two CG-4A Waco Gliders used by each Combat Control Team.
O – Glider Pilot/Operations Officer X – Glider Pilot/Radio Operator L – Enlisted Radio Operator / Maintainer
JP -- Jeep – ¼ Ton Truck RT-- Radio Trailer – Custom designed and configured radio trailer.
Glynne M. Jones
GLYNNE M. JONES, Colonel,
GCS, Asst. C/S, A-3 SECRET
A broad range of responsibility was delegated to the teams that were to establish themselves with XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters for the purpose of coordinating all outgoing messages through the Corps or Division commanders. Further coordination was to be established with Corps G-3 to arrange glider pickups from combat landing zones if medical evacuation emergencies dictated such measures. In preparation for such a contingency, necessary pickup ropes and stations would be sent in with the combat control teams. Both IX Troop Carrier Command and XVIII Airborne Corps had agreed upon the desirability of such action if permitted by the tactical situation.
In line with this procedure, sixteen gliders committed for the movement of a medical battalion also were equipped with litter straps in the event it was considered practicable to evacuate patients by glider. The decision to make such a pickup was reserved by General Williams. In case the method was to be employed, the glider pickup location would be designated by the grid coordinate system.
First USAAF Combat Control Team -Shown here, left to right are: Tech-4 Neil R. Long, F/O Lawrence E. Moyer, 1st Lt. Norman C. Wilmeth (Commander), 2nd Lt. William D. Fasking, F/O Leon V. Rounds. Wilmeth commanded the first CCT deployed in combat, launching on 24 March 1945. (Photo from Norman C. Wilmeth files) The Mission
As previously stated, the Troop Carrier command had begun in January to organize five-man combat control teams from its glider pilots and enlisted technicians on the basis of two teams for each American airborne division. In Varsity'>Operation Varsity two teams, one a spare in case of accidents or casualties, were to be landed at opposite ends of LZ N to operate several assault zones (DZ/LZ) for XVIII Airborne Corps.
(This PDF Only)
Operation Varsity invasion map shows the drop and landing zones (near Wesel, Germany) used by the Combat Controllers, the American and Canadian Airborne divisions. (From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia)
Previously, two gliders loaded with wounded had been ‘snatched’ very successfully from the Remagen bridgehead, and the troop carriers were prepared to evacuate large numbers of patients by glider in Operation Varsity under the direction of a combat control team - if conditions warranted.
For the invasion of Germany, a total of four American and one Canadian Airborne Division were scheduled in two separate airborne operations, Varsity and Arena. For these operations, the USAAF tasked two CCTs for each of the four American Airborne Divisions, with one spare. Two separate Operation Varsity drops were planned, just across the Rhine River, along with two separate drops in Operation Arena - 100+ miles deep into Germany. The three follow-on drops were cancelled by General Eisenhower citing the overwhelming success of first phase of Operation Varsity as the primary reason. The USAAF CCT contribution to the Operation Varsity was viewed as a major success and proved a dramatic improvement over previous U.S. Army Pathfinder operations. But alas, within months World War II ended and the existence of Combat Control Teams was lost in the wake of the post-war draw down.
According to Dr. John C. Warren, in his report Airborne Operations in World War II, European Theater, submitted to the USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University; “Varsity was a ‘tremendous success’ and rated it the most successful airborne operation hitherto attempted.” The September 1956 report continued, “Through the use of multiple traffic lanes, the C-46 aircraft, and double-tow glider formations, nearly 17,000 well-equipped airborne troops were poured into the area of less than 25 square miles within four hours. This concentration in time and space was decisive.”
“All concerned agreed that the air-side of the operation had gone with remarkable efficiency and that General Williams and his command deserved great praise. Of 540 planeloads of paratroops every stick had been brought to the combat area and less than 1 percent of the troops had been brought back because of sickness, accidents, wounds, or refusals. Of 908 American gliders, about two-thirds of which were in double-tow, all but 23, or 2.5%, reached the Rhine despite windy, turbulent weather.”
“Route, schedule, and tactics had proved sound. Not one pilot failed to follow the well-marked course to the IP. The 43 serials had flown from 23 bases spread over an area that was about 300 miles long and divided by the English Channel. They reached their destination in proper sequence within 10 minutes of schedule, in spite of their adherence to strictly specified air speeds, instead of scheduled arrival times.”
“The accuracy of the drops and landings in Varsity was much better than in Neptune or even in MarketGarden. Except for 1.5 sticks of paratroops dropped west of the Rhine and less than a score of gliders, all appear to have come within about two miles of their zones and most within a mile.” During Market Garden, planeloads of paratroops were dropped as far as twelve miles away from their designated drop zone.
Vastly improved Army Air Force tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) played a decisive role in the success of Operation Varsity. Among these TTPs, many were attributed directly to the aircrew and aircraft improvements. Additionally, the introduction of Combat Control Teams was credited with dramatically improving command, control, communications and flight safety. When taken together, they played a vital role in a dramatic improvement airdrop and air landing accuracy.
Birth Of The USAF
The United States Air Force (USAF) was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of 1947. Under terms of Act, the Air Force was assigned the responsibility for manning, training and equipping the forward air control teams required to support the aerial delivery of U.S. Army troops, equipment and supplies. At the time the Air Force veiled intention was to support the aerial delivery mission with automated navigation and communication systems. There were no plans for manning a pathfinder organization.
So, from 1947 through 1952, the Air Force did little to support the forward air traffic command and control responsibility and the automated systems never materialized. After several heated exchanges between General officers in the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps and the USAF’s 18th Air Force, action was reluctantly initiated to form USAF Pathfinder teams.
Activation Of The USAF Pathfinder Squadron
In anticipation of an urgent need and an influx of trained pathfinder personnel, the 18th Air Force activated a Pathfinder Squadron (Provisional) at Donaldson AFB, SC on 15 January 1953. This was the first step toward implementing Air Force responsibilities in pathfinder activities.
Members of the first U.S. Air Force Pathfinder Team; the name was changed in March 1953 to Combat Control Team. The photo was taken on the day the team was officially formed – 15 January 1953. Shown (L to R) are TSgt Alcide S. “Bull” Benini – first NCOIC, A1C Ray Litz, SSgt Robert Combs, A2C Joe Hunnicut, A2C Frank Barrett, Major General Robert W. Douglass, Jr., - 18th Air Force Commander, A3C Lonnie Walker, Captain Richard Baker, - 18th Air Force Pathfinder Project Manager, A3C Mavon Jernigan, A2C Dennis Mazakowski and A1C James McElvian. (Air Force Photo)
It was anticipated that the organization, attached to Headquarters Squadron Section, 18th Air Force for administrative and logistical support, would be the forerunner of a Table of Organization (T/O) unit as the 18th Air Force had forwarded a proposed pathfinder squadron table of organization to higher headquarters late in December 1952. Premised on this expectancy, action was initiated in January to recruit Army personnel to man the new unit. Included in those requirements was a request for one officer and 13 enlisted men from U.S. Army airborne units.
CCT Morphs In The New Millennium
From inception, Combat Control Teams prospered and expanded as skills and capabilities grew exponentially. Lessons learned during the Vietnam War; the Iranian American Embassy hostage rescue attempt and the global war on terror (GWOT) were a catalyst for services-wide acceptance and respect. Today, sister-service special operations forces often call upon USAF Special Tactics combat controllers to augment high-risk missions and covert operations.
T Combat Controllers
“Arguably they are the best-rounded and uniquely trained operators on the planet. The original training pipeline for an air force special tactics combat controller costs twice as much in time and sweat as does the journey to become a Navy SEAL or Delta operator. Before their training is complete someone brainwashes these guys into thinking they can climb like Spiderman, swim like Tarzan, and fly like Superman – and then they have to prove they can do so - if they plan to graduate. And that is just to get to a place where they can do the job for which they are already trained, calling in those deadly air strikes. The life of a combat controller is split between working with Delta and SEALs, with a little moonlighting with the 75th Ranger Regiment now and again.
They carry the motto that would be hard to look another operator in the face and say – if it weren’t true - First There! In Tora Bora, we counted ourselves lucky to have … (combat controllers) … Admiral and Spike, and their unique capability….”
Delta Force Ground Commander
Tora Bora, December 2001
“Bomb Like There Is No Tomorrow,” Kill Bin Laden
St. Martin’s Press, New York
he newly established 24th Special Operations Wing (SOW) with its 720th and 724th Special Tactics Groups (STG) is an integral part of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC); they are home-based at Hurlburt Field, FL and Pope Field, NC respectively. The Special Tactics Groups are comprised of more than 1,000 Special Tactics Squadron (STS) combat controllers (CCT); pararescuemen (PJs); special operations weathermen (SOWT); tactical air control party’s (TACPs) with joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) and scores of support personnel.
SPECIAL TACTICS STRUCTURE
In early 2012, it was announced that AFSOC’s newest wing, the 24th Special Operations Wing would be launched
A new AFSOC wing was stood up in June 2012 at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Establishment of the 24 SOW allows a single commander to lead the recruiting, training and development of Special Tactics warriors and ultimately provide combatant commanders with world-class Battlefield Airmen to accomplish their mission. Encompassing all ST units (720 STG, 724 STG, STTS and 16 recruiting locations), the 24 SOW reflects the demand for their unique capability. The leadership team for the 24 SOW is Colonel Robert Armfield, Commander, Colonel Eric Ray, Vice Commander and CMSgt Bruce Dixon, Command Chief.
The 720th Special Tactics Group has a total of six subordinate squadrons in the continental United States - the 10th Combat Weather Squadron, 23rd STS and 720th Operations Support Squadron at Hurlburt Field, FL., the 17th Air Operations Support Squadron at Ft. Benning, GA, the 21st at Pope Field, NC, and the 22nd STS at McChord Air Force Base, WA. The 720th STG is also the functional manager for AFSOC's two overseas STS': the 320th under the command of the 353rd Special Operations Group, Kadena Air Base, Japan, and the 321st under the command of the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall, England.
The 724th Special Tactics Group was officially activated at Pope Field, NC on April 29, 2011. The 724th has two subordinate squadrons the 24 STS and the 724 OSS at Pope Field.
The 123rd STS, an Air National Guard (ANG) unit based at Standiford Field, KY, augments the 720th STG in supporting national security objectives, humanitarian efforts and training. The 125th STS, also an ANG unit, is based at Portland International Airport, OR, and is the newest addition to the Special Tactics family.
NOTE: The page 2, IX Troop Carrier Command memo was reformatted for clarity and to add the glider graphics. WWII historical data, to include the USAAF CCT photograph, was provided by 1st Lt. Norman C. Wilmeth the commander of the first Combat Control Team soon after he received a complimentary copy of CCT – The Eye of the Storm. Lt. Wilmeth is seen in a photograph on page 3.
SECRET OPERATION ROAD GRADER – KASHMIR by Alcide S. (Bull) Benini, CMSgt, USAF (CCT) Retired, William A. Fitzgerald, TSgt, USAF (CCT) Retired and Red Ghormley, SSgt, USAF (CCT) Retired
18 December 1960 – Peshawar Air Base, Pakistan - At the request of the Pakistani Air Force, USAF-Europe Troop Carrier forces airlifted 600 tons of cement and 64 tons of heavy construction equipment from Peshawar Air Base and airdropped them over Chilas, Kashmir to aid a road-building project in Northern Pakistan. Six C-130s of the 322nd Air Division based at Evreux, France flew a total of 55 sorties during the project, known as Operation Road Grader. Four USAF Combat Controllers of the 5th Aerial Port Squadron were tasked to support the 10-18 December 1960 operation.
Pictured L to R: Charlie Drew, Bill Fitzgerald, Alcide Benini and Buck Evans prepare for jump into Chilas, Kashmir. (Bill Fitzgerald files)
On 10 December 1960, Capt. Buck Evans, MSgt Alcide Benini, TSgt Charlie Drew and SSgt William A. Fitzgerald jumped at Chilas, Kashmir. Buck Evans and Charlie Drew were from the 5th Aerial Port Squadron Combat Control Team at Evreux, France while Alcide Benini and William Fitzgerald were from the Detachment of the 5th at Wiesbaden, Germany.
The drop zone was a rock pile along the Indus River. There were no maps or photos of area for the team to study before the mission. Fitzgerald said: “We were a few hundred feet from landing when we got our first look at the drop zone. Christ, it was a field of rocks! We were very lucky nobody broke bones. No medics, no nothing, just a lot of rocks and a few locals.”
Drew and Evans are seen here after the jump into the Chilas rock-pile. Drew carries a WWII-era, AN/PRC-6 Handy-Talkie VHF-FM radio. The reception committee consisted of several local nationals. The Indus River is seen in the background. (Bill Fitzgerald files)
Buck Evans jumped with only personal gear, Benini jumped with a shotgun packed in a standard issue Griswold container; Drew had a Griswold container with a fishing pole; and Fitzgerald jumped with an oversize GP bag filled with shotgun shells. He later said, “You’d never believe how heavy that sucker was!” The locals, who greeted them on the drop zone, couldn't believe they had jumped from an airplane. It was beyond their primitive realm of comprehend. It was amazing how isolated they were. (Note: The team was not allowed to take military weapons and decided to use “survival gear” as a cover story for the shot gun – a rudimentary form of team protection. The fishing pole was just part of the cover story.)
Most of our mission equipment was dropped in an A-22 container (a standard heavy drop container generally the size of four 55-gallon drums placed on a square plywood skid board). We had a PRC-6 VHF-FM radio; a TRC-7B portable VHF-AM radio; a hand-cranked G-3 generator and PIBAL equipment for measuring winds aloft. Since the C-130's were briefed to fly in the valleys, below radar, they could not get a reliable Computed Air Release Point (CARP) solution, so the team provided the winds aloft for calculating a release point. The CCT used the portable VHF gear to contact the aircraft and depended on the Pakistani Combat Engineering Detachment for the long-haul communications back to Peshawar. Fitz said, “We didn't pass much information back to Peshawar because the weather was good, always cool, crisp and clear.”
At the drop zone, winds were constantly shifting so current observations and PIBAL readings were relayed to the aircraft at ten minutes before Take-Off from Peshawar. Benini said the Pakistanis used Morse code to relay the weather information back to Peshawar.
The classified mission briefing was operationally thorough, but intentionally sketchy on the political details.
(Bill Fitzgerald files) Before the mission the team was not told the name for the operation, only that they were supporting the Pakistanis in their battle against India over the disputed rights to Kashmir; and, that the mission had been tasked by the U.S. State Department. They were also briefed that the Pakistanis were going to build a runway, not a road. We didn’t know exactly what the Pakistanis built until years later because the operation was highly classified for decades.
An Air Force photographer was assigned to take pictures of the operation for historical purposes. His black and white pictures were initially classified, but were sent to Fitzgerald eight years later with the classification marking removed. The team was told the operation was classified because of the sensitivity between a US-ally (Pakistan) fighting against a US-friend (India) in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
USAF-Europe C-130s airdropped more than 600 tons of cement and other road building supplies during Operation Road Grader. Shown here is one aircraft airdropping supplies using the container delivery system (CDS). Smudges show where classification markings were removed. (Bill Fitzgerald files)
The photographer was flown into Chilas in a Pakistani light plane about five days into the mission. The pilot landed on a dirt road (the only available clear spot) discharged the photographer and then took off, telling them he wouldn't be back to pick him up since he didn't consider the road to be adequate or safe for aircraft operations. According to Fitzgerald, “later, they had to airdrop a sleeping bag and some clothing for the photographer as he was stuck with us. He said he enjoyed his stay as he had never experienced anything like it before.”
The mission area was not far from the Chinese border which was the primary reason the C-130's flew a route that kept them in the valleys and under radar contact. Every evening around five or so the team would see a plane come from the direction of China, fly over at about five thousand feet then turn around and head back towards China. They assumed he was taking pictures and checking the operation.
(This PDF Only)
Kashmir is a region claimed by both India and Pakistan for hundreds of years. It also shares a border with China, making it the epicenter of some highly contested real estate. The Road Grader mission area was near the city of Gilgit, with Peshawar approximately 100 miles to the south. Also, take note of Abbottabad – Osama Bin Laden’s – last residence. (From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia)
“While at Chilas, we stayed in an old stone building; it had only a fireplace and a dirt floor but otherwise, it was comfortable; certainly better than sleeping outside,” according to Fitzgerald. He said, “Our diet consisted of C rations and partridge; the shotgun and shells came in handy.” And, according to Fitzgerald, “The Air Attaché arranged to have booze dropped to us, every other day.”
Over a ten day period, the 322nd Air Division airdropped a road grader, a roller-compactor, a D-4 Caterpillar and associated equipment, steel rebar and a whole lot of cement. It’s reported that 600 tons of cement and 64 tons of heavy construction equipment was airlifted from Peshawar Air Base in Pakistan and airdropped over Chilas, Kashmir.
There are no photographs available of the heavy equipment drops; however this is a photo of the roller/compactor shown during pre-drop rigging at Peshawar. (Bill Fitzgerald files)