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United States Air Forces Southern Command

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United States Air Forces Southern Command

USAF Southern Command emblem
CountryUnited States of America
BranchUnited States Air Force
TypeMajor Command
  • World War II
American Campaign (1941–1945)
Hubert R. Harmon

The United States Air Forces Southern Command is an inactive Major Command of the United States Air Force. It was headquartered at Albrook Air Force Base, Canal Zone, being inactivated on 1 January 1976.

Formerly designated as Sixth Air Force, the command's mission was the defense of the Panama Canal and for USAF relations, including foreign military sales (FMS) and disaster relief assistance, with the Latin American nations. The command supported disaster relief to countries such as Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Colombia. It also assisted nations in Central and South America in purchases of United States military aircraft and trained their technicians in logistics and maintenance for the aircraft.

Established on 19 October 1940 as the Panama Canal Air Force at Albrook Air Force Station, Canal Zone. Sixth Air Force was a United States Army Air Forces combat air force in the American Theater of World War II, it was charged with the defense of the Panama Canal. It engaged in combat operations by conducting antisubmarine warfare in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific AORs. Sixth Air Force units were also active along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America.



The command was established as Panama Canal Air Force on October 19, 1940, and actually activated as a major command on November 20, 1940. It was then successively redesignated Caribbean Air Force, on August 5, 1941, 6th Air Force on September 18, 1942, and Caribbean Air Command on July 31, 1946. Through all these redesignations it was part of the Caribbean Defense Command, (10 Feb 1941-1 Nov 1947), which was the senior United States Army headquarters in the Canal Zone. The Caribbean Interceptor Command, was the Air Force component (10 Feb 1941-17 Oct 1941) of the CIC until being inactivated and replaced by VI Interceptor Command.

The command was finally redesignated United States Air Forces Southern Command on July 8, 1963, before being inactivated on January 1, 1976. It was replaced by the Southern Air Division, part of Tactical Air Command.

Units Assigned

  • Commands
VI Bomber Command, 25 Oct 1941-1 Nov 1946
VI Interceptor Command, 17 Oct 1941
Redesignated as: VI Fighter Command, May 1942-Oct 1943
XXVI Fighter Command, 6 Mar 1942-25 Aug 1946
XXXVI Fighter Command, 21 Aug 1942-30 Apr 1943
VI Air Force Service Command, Undetermined
Antilles Air Command, 11 Jul 1941-22 Jan 1949
  • Wings
6th Fighter Wing, 25 Aug 1946-28 Jul 1948
13th Composite Wing, 1 Nov 1940-25 Oct 1941
19th Composite Wing, 25 Jan 1933
Redesignated: 19 Wing on 14 Jul 1937
Redesignated: 19 Bombardment Wing on 19 Oct 1940-25 Oct 1941
23d Fighter, 25 Apr-24 Sep 1949
24th Composite, 1967-1976
36th Fighter Wing, 2 Jul 1948-13 Aug 1948
Attached to 6th Fighter Wing, 2-28 Jul 1948
5700 Composite, 1948-1949; Air Base, 24 Oct 1954-8 Nov 1967
  • Groups
25th Bombardment Group, 1 Nov 1940-25 Oct 1941
32d Pursuit Group, 1 Jan 1941-18 Sep 1942
36 Pursuit Group (Interceptor), 3 Jun-25 Oct 1941
37th Pursuit Group (Interceptor), 19 Nov 1940-18 Sep 1942
53d Fighter Group, 1 Jan-6 Mar 1942
  • Squadrons
4th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 25 Aug 1946-1 Feb 1948
20th Troop Carrier Squadron , 5 May 1945-17 Jun 1948
Attached to: 314th Troop Carrier Group [later, 314th Troop Carrier Group, Heavy; 314th Troop Carrier Group, Medium], c. Nov 1946-16 Jun 1948

Assigned Stations

  • Permanent
Albrook Air Force Station, Canal Zone, 1932-1976
France Air Force Base, Canal Zone, 1917-1949
Howard Air Force Base, Canal Zone, 1939-1976
Rio Hato Army Air Base, Panama, 1931-1948
Borinquen (later Ramey) Air Force Base, Puerto Rico, 1936-1971
(Assigned to Strategic Air Command, 26 May 1949)
  • Wartime/Lend-Lease
Coolidge Air Force Base, Antigua, 1941-1949
Dakota Army Airfield, Aruba, 1942-1944
Batista Army Airfield, Cuba, 1942-1946
Camaguey Air Base, Cuba, 1942-1944
Vernam Air Force Base, Jamaica, 1941-1949
Arecibo Field, Puerto Rico, 1941-1943
Losey Army Airfield, Puerto Rico, 1941-1944
Benedict Army Airfield, Saint Croix, 1941-1942
Beane Air Force Base, Saint Lucia, 1941-1949
Saint Thomas Airport, Saint Thomas, 1942-1943
Carlsen Air Force Base, Trinidad, 1941-1949
Piarco Airport, Trinidad, 1941-1943
Waller Air Force Base, Trinidad, 1941-1949
Aguadulce Army Airfield, Panama, 1941-1945
Anton Army Airfield, Panama, 1943
Calzada Larga Army Airfield, Panama, 1942-1944
Chame Army Airfield, Panama, 1942-1945
David Army Airfield, Panama, 1941-1945
La Chorrera Army Airfield, Panama, 1941-1944
Madden Army Airfield, Panama, 1944
Patilla Point Army Airfield, Panama, 1944
Pocri Army Airfield, Panama, 1944
Belem Army Airfield, Brazil, 1941-1945
Atkinson Air Force Base, British Guiana, 1941-1948
Zandery Army Airfield, Dutch Guiana, 1941-1946
Salinas Army Airfield, Ecuador, 1942-1943
Seymour Island Airfield, Galápagos Islands, 1942-1948
Guatemala City Air Base, Guatemala, 1941-1949
Talara Army Airfield, Peru, 1942-1947

Operational History

Sixth Air Force (1942-1946) Emblem
32d Pursuit Squadron P-36 Hawks at Ponce Field, Puerto Rico, 1941
Caribbean Air Command (1946-1963) Emblem
An A-7D of the 355 TFS/354 TFW takes off from Howard AFB in the Panama Canal Zone during a 1977 deployment.

The first United States air units arrived in the Canal Zone in February 1917, with the 7th Aero Squadron being organized on 29 March at Ancon. It was equipped with Curtiss JN-4 "Jennys" and Curtiss R-3 and R-4 floatplanes. During World War I, the 7th Aero was assigned to patrol for German U-Boats offshore of the Canal Zone under direction of Coast Defenses of Cristobal, from 1 Jun-15 Nov 1918.

The 7th Aero Squadron was assigned to several fields during 1917 and 1918, those being Corozal (16 Apr); Empire (May); Fort Sherman (29 Aug); Cristobal (Mar 1918) before finding a permanent home at Coco Walk, which became France Field in May 1918. Beginning on 1 Jul 1917, Army aviation units were assigned directly to the Panama Canal Department, which was the senior United States Army headquarters in the Canal Zone.

A second permanent army airfield, Albrook Field, opened in 1932 due to France Field becoming too small for the numbers of aircraft being assigned to the Canal Zone, as well as having a poor landing surface; offering no room for expansion, and providing little defense for the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. A third airfield, Howard Field was built on the Canal Bruja Point Military Reservation, opening on 1 Dec 1939. By 1940, a rapid increase in the number of flying squadrons in both the Canal Zone as well as in Panama as a result of the pre-World War II mobilization of the Air Corps warranted a new organization, and the Panama Canal Air Force was created as a major command. After several organizational changes and the establishment of the United States Army Air Forces in 1942, Sixth Air Force became the controlling Air Force command authority for USAAF activities in the Caribbean Sea, as well as in Central and South America.

World War II
In early 1942 the German Navy, Kriegsmarine, began anti-shipping operations using U-Boats in the Caribbean. The subs sank several tankers in the harbor at San Nicholas, Aruba and even shelled an oil refinery on the island. It's important to note that the refineries at the island of Aruba and Curacao possessed oil from wells in Venezuela and counted for one-third of the Allies supply of gasoline.

The first wartime mission of the newly created Sixth Air Force was to perform antisubmarine operations in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico areas and to cover Allied shipping convoys in the area. The Sixth Air Force expanded throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, stationing units from Cuba in the north to British and Dutch Guiana on the northern coast of South America to protect the Venezuelan oilfields. Air bases were established along the western coast of South America, in Peru, Ecuador as well as in the Galapagos Islands, Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In order to protect the vital Air Transport Command South Atlantic Air Route to Europe and North Africa, Sixth Air Force combat units were stationed in Brazil to patrol the South Atlantic air routes.

Sixth Air Force had the responsibility for tracking down "Wolfpacks". "Wolfpacks", consisted of three of more subs together in a mission now known as search and destroy, attacking Allied shipping. As most shipping in the Caribbean was not in defensive convoys, aerial surveillance of the area was crucial to their safety. However, in the fall of 1942 the Germans changed tactics and reduced their submarine activity in the Caribbean region to concentrate its activity on the North Atlantic convoy route and the approaches to northwest Africa. With the withdrawal of submarines from the Caribbean region the Sixth Air Force concentrated its efforts as a striking force on its primary function of guarding against possible attacks on the Panama Canal.

Postwar Mission
With the end of the war, most of the wartime Caribbean air bases used for antisubmarine patrols were returned to civil authorities in late 1945 or early 1946. The Lend-Lease air bases from Great Britain, which were on 99-year leases were reduced to skeleton units and used largely as MATS weather stations. They were all closed for budgetary reasons in 1949.

The postwar Sixth Air Force, redesignated Caribbean Air Command as part of the 1946 USAAF reorganization, and its successor units returned to its prewar mission, the defense of the Panama Canal; support for friendly Latin American air forces, and to provide support to Latin American nations engaged in anti-communist activities during the Cold War. Howard Air Force Base became a focus for military air support, with many surplus USAF aircraft being transferred to Latin American air forces there, as well as the establishment of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, which provided technical training and education for airmen and officers from approximately 14 Latin American countries.

In the post Vietnam War drawdown of the USAF, the United States Air Forces Southern Command was inactivated in 1976 for budgetary reasons. Most of its functions and resources passed to the Tactical Air Command, which established the USAF Southern Air Division (later 830th Air Division; Air Forces Panama) as the USAF component of the United States Armed Forces in the Panama Canal Zone.


United States Air Force portal
Military of the United States portal

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • [1] ArmyAirforces.Com
  • [2] United States Air Forces Southern Command at US Air Force Historical Research Agency

External links


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