397th Bombardment Squadron



The 7th Reconnaissance Squadron is a squadron of the
United States Air Force The United States Air Force (USAF) is the Aerial warfare, air military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces, and is one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. Originally created on 1 August 1907, as a part ...
. It is assigned to the 69th Reconnaissance Group and is stationed at Naval Air Station Sigonella,
Sicily (man) it, Siciliana (woman) , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = Ethnicity , demographics1_footnotes = , demographi ...
, Italy. The squadron was first established in the
Panama Canal Zone The Panama Canal Zone ( es, Zona del Canal de Panamá), also simply known as the Canal Zone, was an Territories of the United States, unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the Isthmus of Panama, that existed from 1903 to 197 ...
as the 7th Aero Squadron in 1917 and served as a
reconnaissance In military operations, reconnaissance or scouting is the exploration of an area by military forces to obtain information about enemy forces, terrain, and other activities. Examples of reconnaissance include patrolling by troops (skirmishers, ...
unit until 1942, when it was redesignated as the 397th Bombardment Squadron. It served as a
bomber A bomber is a military combat aircraft designed to attack ground and naval targets by dropping air-to-ground weaponry (such as bombs), launching aerial torpedo, torpedoes, or deploying air-launched cruise missiles. The first use of bombs dropped ...
unit through
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
and was inactivated at Rio Hato Army Air Base, Panama on 1 November 1946. The squadron was reactivated in 2015, returning to its earlier reconnaissance mission.


The squadron's mission from its inception in 1917 to its inactivation in 1946 was the defense of the
Panama Canal The Panama Canal ( es, Canal de Panamá, link=no) is an artificial waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's five oceans, with an area of about . It covers approximatel ...
. During the 1920s and 1930s it participated in a number of goodwill missions to nations in Central and South America. From its origins in 1917 until 1942, the unit was designated a variation of the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron.

World War I

With the entry of the United States into
World War I World War I (28 July 1914 11 November 1918), often abbreviated as WWI, was List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll, one of the deadliest global conflicts in history. Belligerents included much of Europe, the Russian Empire, ...
, the War Department believed it was necessary to establish an air presence along the Atlantic terminus of the
Panama Canal The Panama Canal ( es, Canal de Panamá, link=no) is an artificial waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's five oceans, with an area of about . It covers approximatel ...
as a defensive measure against an enemy seaborne attack. In advancing its plans for the defense of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, the joint Army-Navy board recommended the establishment of eight aeronautic stations which, with a strength of two
dirigible An airship or dirigible balloon is a type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air Powered aircraft, under its own power. Aerostats gain their lift from a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding a ...
s and six or eight
seaplane A seaplane is a powered fixed-wing aircraft capable of takeoff, taking off and water landing, landing (alighting) on water.Gunston, "The Cambridge Aerospace Dictionary", 2009. Seaplanes are usually divided into two categories based on their tec ...
s each, could immediately conduct patrol work. Significantly, the only site definitely advanced as vital in the overall plan was that at the
Coco Solo Coco Solo was a United States Navy submarine base and naval air station, active from 1918 to the 1960s. History The submarine base at Coco Solo was established May 6, 1918. The site corresponds with modern-day Cativá in Panama. It was on the ...
United States Navy The United States Navy (USN) is the maritime military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most powerful navy in the world, with the es ...
submarine base near Colón in the Canal Zone. The Army selected Captain Henry H. Arnold, then in training at the Army Aviation School at
Rockwell Field Rockwell Field is a former United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) military airfield, located northwest of the city of Coronado, California, on the northern part of the Coronado Peninsula across the bay from San Diego, California. This airfield ...
, near San Diego, to proceed immediately to the Canal Zone and form and command an aviation squadron there. This unit was designated the 7th Aero Squadron and was organized on 29 March 1917. Captain Arnold did not remain long with the 7th Aero Squadron, however, as he returned to the United States in April 1917. The squadron personnel arrived for duty in the Canal Zone with 51 officers and enlisted men. Initially garrisoned at Ancón, Canal Zone at the end of March 1917, the unit moved to Corozal by 16 April. They then moved to the large temporary camp at Empire, Canal Zone in May, all on the Pacific side of the isthmus – not making the move to
Fort Sherman Fort Sherman is a former United States Army The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare, land military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the eight Uniformed services of the United States, U.S. unif ...
's parade field until around 29 August 1917, on the Atlantic side. The unit did not receive its first aircraft until about 10 December 1917, when two Curtiss R-4's were tested at Fort Sherman. These were followed by Curtiss R-6's on 12 February 1918 which were supplied by the Navy. Besides its Curtiss R-4's and R-6's, the unit also had two Curtiss R-3's which, oddly, had arrived after the R-4's, in late December 1917. With the end of World War I most of the 7th Aero Squadron's personnel were transferred back to the United States for demobilization.

Between the wars

After the war, the squadron evolved into the 7th Squadron (14 March 1921), 7th Observation Squadron (25 January 1925), 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (1 September 1937), 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium Range) (6 December 1939) and 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) (20 November 1940) before being finally redesignated as the 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on 22 April 1942. The squadron was assigned to the 6th Composite Group. After World War I, the squadron is credited with having operated numerous aircraft types between 1919 and 1931. These included, the venerable U.S.-built Dayton-Wright DH-4 series of light bomber/general purpose aircraft; the
Curtiss JN-4 The Curtiss JN "Jenny" was a series of biplanes built by the Curtiss Aeroplane Company of Hammondsport, New York, later the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. Although the Curtiss JN series was originally produced as a training aircraft for th ...
"Jenny" family of trainers; the Loening OA-1 amphibians, these being uniquely suited to conditions in Panama, Douglas O-2 observation aircraft and, surprisingly, Curtiss HS-1 and HS-2L flying boats. Of the DH-4's, the first six postwar examples, all virtually stock DH-4B's, arrived for duty with the 7th in February 1920, replacing the well-worn Curtiss R-6's and other earlier DH-4's. By 16 February 1922, the squadron had seven "war-built" DH-4's, four DH-4B's, the solitary Curtiss JN-4H, three Curtiss JN-6's. By August, all but one of the "war-built" DH-4's had been scrapped and one of the DH-4B's had been converted to DH-4BP-1 (photographic) configuration. By June 1927, the squadron, now in a very lean peacetime stance, had but eight aircraft. These consisted of four DH-4M's, a solitary DH-4B, a Loening OA-l and two Loening OA-1As. In 1937, the 6th Group, which had been a composite unit since its establishment in 1919, became the 6th Bombardment Group.Maurer, ''Combat Units'', pp. 41–43 The squadron was equipped with
Douglas B-18 Bolo The Douglas B-18 Bolo is an American heavy bomber which served with the United States Army Air Corps and the Royal Canadian Air Force (as the Digby) during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The Bolo was developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company f ...
s, although a single Northrop A-17 Nomad was also assigned for a period, together with a Sikorsky OA-8. By 1 February 1940, the assignment to the 6th Bombardment Group was changed to an attachment, as the unit was reassigned to the 19th Composite Wing and placed under the control of the Caribbean Air Force staff as one of the dedicated reconnaissance elements reporting to that headquarters. On 4 June 1941, it was assigned one
Boeing B-17B Flying Fortress The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Relatively fast and high-flying for a bomber of its era, the B-17 was used primarily in the European Theater ...
, the first production version of the Flying Fortress, which had been transferred to the command. Obsolete as a bomber, the mission of the B-17B was long-range reconnaissance in the Canal Zone, although the aircraft retained its defensive machine guns for defense against any enemy aircraft it may encounter On 8 October 1941, it was once again assigned to the 6th Bombardment Group and, on 27 November, the unit moved from France Field to the newly constructed Howard Field on the Pacific side, where it received four additional B-17Bs.

World War II

After the Japanese
Attack on Pearl Harbor The attack on Pearl HarborAlso known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as t ...
the Squadron was almost immediately deployed to David Field, Panama. The Squadron's B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft deployed elsewhere (mainly to Guatemala City Airport) to begin the Pacific patrols in early January 1942. The squadron was redesignated as the 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) effective 22 April 1942. The return to David Field came just in time for deployment of the unit as a whole from David to Talara Airfield, Peru, where it arrived on 18 August. From there the squadron undertook the Pacific patrol arc out to Seymour Airport in the
Galápagos Islands The Galápagos Islands (Spanish language, Spanish: , , ) are an archipelago of High island, volcanic islands. They are distributed on each side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, surrounding the centre of the Western Hemisphere, and are par ...
and, sometimes, on to Guatemala City Airport. These flights continued, almost non-stop, through May 1943, when the unit was relieved and returned to Río Hato Field in Panama. The LB-30s retained their original British serial numbers throughout their service with the squadron. Upon its return to Rio Hato on 4 May 1943, the 397th was transformed, as an entirely new cadre of personnel replaced the veterans of the Galapagos and earlier tours there. Three days later, the Squadron moved to Howard Field in the Canal Zone, although this was apparently a mere paper move of its headquarters, as the unit's aircraft and personnel actually remained at Rio Hato. On 1 January 1944, the squadron received orders to deploy four of its LB-30s to France Field to participate in the search for several marauding German
U-boats U-boats were Submarine#Military, naval submarines operated by Germany, particularly in the World War I, First and Second World War, Second World Wars. Although at times they were efficient fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, they were ...
which were causing considerable alarm in the Caribbean. While at France Field, the aircraft also flew navigational and bombing exercises. All of this was preparatory to the unit's deployment to the Galapagos Islands and, starting 7 April 1944, the ground echelon started movement to Balboa, Canal Zone, via truck for the transfer. The air element got four more B-24J's on 8 April and, with these, flew with the earlier two B-24J's and two B-24D's to Seymour Field in the Galapagos. Other missions, besides the normal long-distance patrols, saw 397th aircraft operating to
Salinas Airport Salinas Municipal Airport is an airport in Monterey County, California, Monterey County, California, United States, three miles (4.8 km) southeast of Downtown Salinas, California, Salinas. It is included in the 2017–21 National Plan of I ...
, Ecuador; Havana Airport, Cuba; Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico; Managua Airport, Nicaragua; Cartagena airport, Colombia and elsewhere throughout Central and South America. In February 1945, the unit was relieved from duty in the Galapagos and returned to Rio Hato, where the unit ended the war, on 1 November 1946 when it was inactivated.

Reactivation in 2015

On 1 May 2015, the unit was redesignated 7th Reconnaissance Squadron. It was reactivated at Naval Air Station Sigonella,
Sicily (man) it, Siciliana (woman) , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = Ethnicity , demographics1_footnotes = , demographi ...
, Italy on 15 May, where it replaced Detachment 1, 69th Reconnaissance Group. It is assigned to the 69th Group at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota.


* Organized as 7th Aero Squadron on 29 March 1917 : Redesignated: 7th Squadron on 14 March 1921 : Redesignated: 7th Observation Squadron on 25 January 1925 : Redesignated: 7th Reconnaissance Squadron on 1 September 1937 : Redesignated: 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium Range) on 6 December 1939 : Redesignated: 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) on 20 November 1940 : Redesignated: 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on 11 May 1942 : Redesignated: 397th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy c. 1944 : Inactivated on 1 November 1946 * Redesignated 7th Reconnaissance Squadron on 1 May 2015 : Activated on 15 May 2015


* Panama Canal Department, 29 March 1917 * 3d Observation Group (later 6th Observation Group, 6th Composite Group, 6th Bombardment Group), 30 September 1919 * 19th Composite Wing, 1 February 1940 (attached to 6th Bombardment Group) * 6th Bombardment Group, 25 February 1942 * VI Bomber Command, 1 November 1943 – 1 November 1946 * 69th Reconnaissance Group, 15 May 2015 – present


* Ancon,
Panama Canal Zone The Panama Canal Zone ( es, Zona del Canal de Panamá), also simply known as the Canal Zone, was an Territories of the United States, unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the Isthmus of Panama, that existed from 1903 to 197 ...
, 29 March 1917 * Corozal, Panama Canal Zone, 16 April 1917 * Empire, Panama Canal Zone, May 1917 * Fort Sherman, Panama Canal Zone, c. 29 August 1917 * Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone, March 1918 * Coco Walk (later France Field), Panama Canal Zone, May 1918 * Howard Field, Panama Canal Zone, 26 November 1941 * David Field, Panama, 11 December 1941 * Talara Airfield, Peru, 18 August 1942 * Rio Hato Army Air Base, Panama, c. 4 May 1943 * Seymour Island Army Airfield, Baltra, Galapagos Islands, c. 7 April 1944 * Rio Hato Army Air Base, Panama, c. 6 February 1945 – 1 November 1946 * Naval Air Station Sigonella, 15 May 2015 – present


* Curtiss R-4, 1917–1919 * Curtiss R-3, 1917–1919 * Curtiss R-6, 1918–1919 * Curtiss R-9, 1918–1919 * Curtiss JN-4, 1918–1919, 1919–1920 * Curtiss JN-6, 1919–1920 * Dayton-Wright DH-4, 1919–1931 * Curtiss HS-2L, 1919–1931 * Loening 0A-1, 1927–1931 * Douglas 0–2, 1919–1931 * Thomas Morse 0–19, 1930–1937 * Douglas OA-4 Dolphin, 1930–1936 * Martin B-10, 1936–1939 * Douglas B-18 Bolo, 1938–1942 * Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, 1941–1942 * Consolidated LB-30 Liberator, 1942–1944 * Northrop A-17A Nomad, 1943 * Consolidated B-24 Liberator, 1943–1946 * Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, 2015–present

See also

* List of American aero squadrons


; Notes ; Citations


* * ; Further reading * Hagdedorn, Dan (1995), Alae Supra Canalem: Wings Over the Canal, Turner Publishing, *

External links

AFHRA Document 00202312 6th Bomber Command 1912-1941

AFHRA Document 00899478 USAF Southern Command History, 1920–1975

AFHRA Document 00046226 397th Bombardment Squadron History, 1939–1941

AFHRA Document 00046227 397th Bombardment Squadron History, 1941–1942
{{USAAF 6th Air Force World War II Military units and formations established in 1917 Bombardment squadrons of the United States Army Air Forces