Sixty-seven years ago, the newly formed 312th Bomb Group was stationed at Hunter Field in Georgia. Hunter Field was a new Army post with comfortable barracks, a chapel, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and clubs for the enlisted men and officers. In the relative comfort of this base, the 312th men learned what they needed to do to function as a bomb group. Everybody from maintenance to the parachute department was kept busy fine-tuning their various skills.
An aerial view of Hunter Field in January 1943.
The Group started training on the Vultee A-35 Vengeance dive-bomber, a very troublesome aircraft for pilots and mechanics alike. The A-35 was a single-engine plane that held a pilot and rear gunner, six .50-caliber wing-mounted machine guns and a single .50-caliber machine gun in the rear. It could carry a bomb load of up to 2000 pounds, but the aiming system was terrible and caused the crews to miss their targets by as much as 100 yards.
The A-35 Vengeance dive-bomber: a troublesome but easy-to-fly aircraft.
When pilots went to land their planes, they hoped that the landing gear wouldn’t collapse on them because it was so poorly designed. As problematic as the plane was, it was easy to fly and fairly stable. The maintenance crews also benefited from the challenges of this aircraft by gaining substantial experience dealing with all the problems. The men worked on and soon perfected their navigation skills and flying in formation.
The 312th BG flew the A-35s until they received the A-36 Apache dive-bomber in late November. This plane was a version of the P-51 Mustang with lattice-type dive brakes in the wings and would not exceed 300mph with the dive brakes extended in a vertical dive. Unlike the A-35, pilots actually enjoyed flying this aircraft. Not long after they started training on these planes, the 311th Bomb Group took them to India. The 312th then flew the Douglas A-24 Dauntless dive-bomber, a slower plane that allowed the crews to train for providing closer support to Army ground forces.
(Left) The A-36 was used by the 312th for a short time. (Right) Once the 311th Bomb Group was sent to India, the 312th started flying the A-24.
November 23, 1943 was a tragic day for the Group. While returning to Hunter Field from Little Rock, Arkansas, two members of the 388th Squadron, 1/Lt. Reynolds H. Middleton and M/Sgt. David L. Dean, crashed near Macon, Georgia when they flew into a severe thunderstorm. They were the Group’s first fatalities.
The 312th rotated to Statesboro, Georgia for ten days to practice maneuvers and experience life in the field. Working and sleeping in tents at Statesboro was the first taste of Army life for many men. As the months progressed, the Group continued and finished their training at Hunter Field by the middle of February 1943. From there, they moved to De Ridder Army Air Base and later Rice and Salinas air bases in California, where they transitioned to the P-40. Salinas was the final Stateside training base for the Group.