Wing revisits history of 1st SOW

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) has a rich and honored history that began in Burma and continues at Hurlburt Field.

The 1st SOW can trace its lineage back to "Project 9" which evolved into the 1st Air Commando Group during World War II.

During the Quebec Trident Conference of August 1943, it was decided to coordinate the land and air forces of Britain and the United States in Southeast Asia under one commander.

At that time, they were three separate commands, to increase the amount of supplies going over the "Hump" into China; and to launch a campaign in Burma toward the end of 1943.

During the conference British Army Brig. Gen. Orde Wingate, who successfully led large numbers of troops, known as Wingate's Raiders behind the Japanese lines in Burma, presented an elaborate plan which involved the employment of a much bigger force for his next Burma operation.

President Franklin Roosevelt ensured British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that the United States would assist the British with the campaign and appointed Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, Army Air Corps commander, to support Wingate's forces.

Gen. Arnold seized on the opportunity to use the flexibility of air power to fully support ground combat operations. He chose Lt. Cols. Philip G. Cochran and John R. Allison to develop this radically new concept and unique application of airpower, and called this top secret mission "Project 9." Gen. Arnold also chose the name Air Commando to describe the men undertaking this mission as a tribute to the Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia, British Adm. Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten had previously trained and organized the first British Commandos.

Could airpower infiltrate, supply, maintain, and exfiltrate a sizeable ground force into jungles deep behind enemy lines? In September 1943, Colonels Cochran and Allison began recruiting a 528 man all-volunteer force, and by December 1943, men and equipment were in place in India and early operations began. 

(See part II next week)