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Marking 75 Years of 12 Air Force: Post World War II thru the Cold War Years

  • Published
  • By Jenny Crider
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) historian

This the second part of a three piece series article on the history of 12th Air Force in celebration of its 75th Anniversary.

After World War II 12th Air Force experienced the first of only two periods where the Numbered Air Force was not active during its 75 years of service.  Following just over eight months of inactivity, the Army Air Forces once again activated 12th Air Force. 

Twelfth Air Force activated at March Air Force Base near Riverside, California, May 17, 1946, assigned to the newly established Tactical Air Command.  Activated as a training command, 12th Air Force was the first United States Air Force Numbered Air Force equipped with jet aircraft, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star.

In December 1948 the U.S. Air Force moved 12th Air Force under the Continental Air Command and just a month later relocated the organization to Books AFB in San Antonio, Texas.  With the change, 12th Air Force became responsible for maintaining operational readiness for Air Force Reserve program units in five states: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. 

The U.S. Air Force discontinued 12th Air Force on July 1, 1950.

After the organizations second and final inactive period of its 75 years, this time lasting just over six months, the U.S. Air Force organized 12th Air Force Jan. 21, 1951. 

The organization’s new mission marked a return to Europe, basing 12th Air Force first at Wiesbaden, Germany, and later at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. 

Assigned to the United States Air Forces Europe, 12th Air Force became the first U.S. Air Force Numbered Air Force assigned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April 1952.  Charged with conducting the aerial missions of NATO’s Allied Air Forces Central Europe, 12th Air Force along with French and Canadian Air Force forces formed the 4th Allied Tactical Air Force.

 In this capacity, 12th Air Force stood vigil during the Cold War providing a defense against the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union.  The NAF remained in Europe until Jan. 1, 1958. 

Reassigned back the U.S. mainland, the U.S. Air Force once again placed 12th Air Force under Tactical Air Command while stationing the organizational headquarters at James Connally AFB in Waco, Texas. 

The Numbered Air Force moved without bringing personnel or equipment back from Europe and stood up absorbing the personnel and equipment of the newly inactivated 18th Air Force. James Connally AFB closed Aug. 30, 1968, and 12th Air Force moved again to Bergstrom AFB near Austin, Texas.

During the Cold War years 12th Air Force retained the primary role as a training command and force provider.  Personnel and aircraft from the Numbered Air Force supported a number of U.S. operations including the 1958 Formosa Straits Crisis, also known as the Taiwan Straits Crisis, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1965 Dominican Republic’s Civil War. 

Along with 9th Air Force, 12th Air Force, provided the majority of U.S. Air Force forces during the Southeast Asia Conflict of 1965-1973.  At the height of the Vietnam War, 12th Air Force focused almost exclusively on training combat crew replacements.

Following the end of major operation in Southeast Asia, 12th Air Force shifted its mission focus back to combat readiness and specifically on rapid reaction capabilities.  In 1983 it provided forces for Operation URGENT FURY, the invasion of the Caribbean Island of Grenada.  In addition to personnel and aircraft, 12th Air Force provided an Air Force Forces Element to the Joint Operations Staff responsible for directing tactical air operations and determining the most efficient use of available forces.

As the Cold War came to a close in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 12th Air Force mission shifted to a mission set close to its mission focus today.  This included countering transnational organized crime, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and building partner nation capability.