The 449th Bomb Group: A Brief Historical Overview
The 449th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was initially formed in May 1943. The 449th consisted of four squadrons: 716th, 717th, 718th and 719th. From May 1943 until December 1943, the 449th was located stateside as the Group was organized, equipped and trained. In October 1943, the 449th — having completed its training at Bruning, Nebraska — was declared ready for combat. The air echelon departed in late November 1943 enroute to the 449th’s wartime operating base in Grottaglie, Italy. The ground echelon, consisting of the maintenance and service personnel, moved by rail to Hampton, Virginia and then traveled overseas in merchant ship convoys. The air echelon’s movement overseas took place by the southern route, which gave the crews real experience in long range, over water and flight. Three B-24s crashed enroute to Grottaglie with a significant loss of life including the 719th Squadron Commander. Upon arrival at Grottaglie, the 449th was assigned to the 47th Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force.
The 449th flew its first combat mission on 8 January 1944. Between January 1944 and its last mission on April 26, 1945, the 449th flew a total of 254 combat missions against axis targets in central and Eastern Europe. Many of the 449th missions were to the most heavily defended targets in Europe: e.g., Bucharest, Vienna and Ploesti. (The 449th bombed Ploesti eleven times between April 5 and August 18, 1944). As planes and crews were lost, they were replaced by new crews and new aircraft sent directly from the States or by transfer from other Bomb Groups. From the time they arrived in Grottaglie until they departed at the end of the war, the 449th lost a total of 135 aircraft. Of those, 111 were lost in combat and 24 were non-combat related losses. Personnel losses of the 449th included 393 crew members killed in action, 359 shot down and captured (POW) and 186 who were shot down but evaded capture until they reached friendly territory. The 449th was credited with shooting down 199 enemy fighters. The Group received two Presidential Unit Citations (Bucharest and Ploesti) and 449th members were awarded hundreds of medals including the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Bronze Star and others. Unquestionably, the 449th was one of the most distinguished and decorated combat units of World War II. The 449th Bomb Group was disestablished as an organization shortly after the end of the war.
We must emphasize here the fantastic contribution made by the 449th ground crews and support personnel. Quietly, behind the scene, they — administrators, armament specialists, cooks, engineers, intelligence and photo specialists, weathermen and more — kept the Group support systems running and the airplanes flying. Without the advanced diagnostic and repair facilities that exist today, the aircraft ground-support personnel performed miracles in making ready for the next mission airplanes, which the day before had suffered major combat damage or mechanical failure. These were truly capable and dedicated men who, just as much as the aircrews, were responsible for the successes of the 449th. They can never be thanked sufficiently for the great work they did.
The 449th Bomb Group Association was formed by veterans of the 449th Bomb Group in 1983. Lt. Col. (Ret) Richard Downey, 719th Squadron (Bombardier), spearheaded the search for former 449th Members and more than anyone else deserves credit for the Association’s beginnings. The first Reunion of the Association, with a few hundred members and guests attending, was held at Tucson, Arizona. Since then twenty more Reunions have been held, alternating between locations “East and West of the Mississippi”. The 21th Reunion was held at Dayton, Ohio in August 2014. We can only be aware of the stark statistic that more than 1,500 World War II veterans die daily.
Until recently, maintaining, planning and implementation of activities of the 449th BGA were performed by 449th Veterans. Now, the sons and daughters of the members, the 2ND Generation, have organized and are taking on some of the heavy duties under the watchful eyes of the 449 Seniors. Thanks to these young people, the 449th organization lives on!
— Floyd H. Trogdon, President 449th BGA