Mediterranean Air Command
|Mediterranean Air Command (MAC)|
|Active||Effective February 18, 1943|
|Allegiance||Allies of World War II|
|Branch||Royal Air Force, United States Army Air Forces, and other Allied air forces|
|Role||"Reorganize the Allied air forces in the North African and Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO)"|
|Engagements||1943-02-18 North African campaign
1943-02-18 Tunisia Campaign
The Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) was an Allied air force command active during 1943. It was active in the North African and Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) between February 18 and December 10, 1943. MAC was commanded by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder whose headquarters were established next to those of Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower at Algiers, Algeria for planning the Allied campaigns in Tunisia, Pantelleria, Sicily, and the invasion of mainland Italy during World War II.
After Operation Torch in November 1942, the United States (U.S.) Army 12th Air Force established bases in Morocco and Algeria making it necessary for the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) to coordinate its operations with the Allied ground forces and the Royal Air Force (RAF) which had been fighting the Axis forces primarily in Egypt and Libya for two years. Thus, coordination and cooperation between the USAAF, the RAF, and the Allied naval and ground forces were major concerns of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, American President Franklin Roosevelt, and their staffs at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. Effective February 18, 1943, the Allied air forces in the MTO were reorganized into the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder was named Air Commander-in-Chief. The principal components of MAC are illustrated in the table below:
Mediterranean Air Command
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder
- Nearly all 12th Air Force groups were distributed throughout the various Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF) components.
- Elements of the 9th Air Force groups (57th, 79th, & 324th FGs and 12th & 340th BGs) operated under Northwest African Tactical Air Force (NATAF) in mid-1943 and the 9th's 316th Troop Carrier Group operated under Northwest African Troop Carrier Command (NATCC) at this time. The 9th's groups operating under NATAF transferred to the 12th Air Force on August 22, 1943.
For air operations, Tedder reported to Eisenhower for NAAF and to the British Chiefs of Staff for Middle East Command, Air H.Q. Malta, RAF Gibraltar, and No. 216 Group.
Squadron assignments for Air H.Q. Malta, RAF Gibraltar, and No. 216 Group depict the Order of Battle on July 10, 1943 for the Allied invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky. The Mediterranean Air Transport Service consisting of the USAAF 315th Troop Carrier Group (34th & 43rd Squadrons) from England also became a sub-command of MAC in May 1943.
To promote cooperation between the USAAF and RAF, it was intended that a unit commander from one air force would be assigned a deputy commander from the other air force. A major exception to this convention existed in MAC itself where Tedder's Deputy Commander-in-Chief was Air Vice Marshal H. E. P. Wigglesworth. MAC Chief of Staff was American Brigadier General Howard A. Craig who was schooled in desert warfare army-air operations by both Tedder and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. In keeping with the new convention, Spaatz's deputy in the Northwest African Air Forces was Air Vice Marshal James Robb who handled NAAF operations. NAAF was the principal sub-command of MAC and its substructure was based on the successful air interdiction model of the RAF pioneered and developed by Tedder as Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Command and Air Vice Marshal Arthur Coningham as Air Officer Commanding of Air H.Q. Western Desert in 1942. The primary forces used for cooperative strategic, naval, and close air support of ground forces by Tedder and Coningham in Egypt and Libya had consisted of:
- No 205 (Heavy Bomber) Group's long-range bombardment force of 5 Wings (10-11 RAF and SAAF squadrons) and American heavy bombers including Colonel Harry Halverson's B-24 squadron (HALPRO), Major General Lewis Brereton's B-17 squadron, and four B-24 squadrons of the 98th Bombardment Group.
- No 201 (Naval Co-operation) Group's anti-shipping force (10 squadrons: Greek, RAAF, SAAF, and RAF)
- Air H.Q. Western Desert's tactical fighter command including a U.S. 9th Air Force Desert Air Task Force consisting of the 12th Bombardment and 57th Fighter Groups.
Flexible coordination of RAF with the 8th Army during this period has been contrasted with the more rigid relationship between the Luftwaffe and German ground forces. One RAF tactic, the Tedder Carpet, consisted of squadrons of successive bombers dropping a rolling barrage of bombs just ahead of their own advancing forces. This influenced the nickname of the 12th Bombardment Group; namely, The Earthquakers. Another close air support tactic involved the highly mobile leap-frogging of interspersed landing fields to facilitate the performance of: 1) attack; 2) top cover; and 3) reserve (refueling) fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons.
In keeping with the RAF model above, the planners at the Casablanca Conference invested NAAF with three major combat commands:
- Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF) under former 12th AF commander Major General James Doolittle
- Northwest African Coastal Air Force (NACAF) initially under Group Captain G. G. Barrett (Acting) and soon after under Air Vice Marshal Hugh Lloyd.
- Northwest African Tactical Air Force (NATAF) under Acting Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham.
Air interdiction using strategic, coastal, and tactical air forces was further implemented, practiced, and developed by NAAF throughout the Tunisian, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns.
Lewis Brereton's 9th Air Force was assigned to Sir Sholto Douglas' RAF Middle East Command although the 9th's 57th and 79th Fighter Groups were part of No. 211 (Offensive Fighter) Group in NATAF's Western Desert Air Force under Air Vice Marshal Harry Broadhurst, its 324th Fighter Group was part of XII Air Support Command under Major General Edwin House, and its 12th & 340th Bombardment Groups became part of the Tactical Bomber Force under Air Commodore Laurence Sinclair.
The US 12th Air Force, the largest air force ever assembled following its inception several months earlier, ceased to exist in the new MAC organization. The 12th Air Force simply disappeared as its groups were distributed among the various NAAF commands listed in the table above. The sole remaining reference to the 12th Air Force among the higher tier commands was House's XII Air Support Command which along with Broadhurst's Western Desert Air Force, Sinclair's Tactical Bomber Force, and Air Commodore Sir Kenneth Cross' No. 242 Group RAF, became subordinate commands of Coningham's NATAF. Prior to the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) in July 1943, No.242 Group became part of Lloyd's NACAF.
As more groups, aircraft, and personnel entered the theater during 1943 MAC continued to grow and expand so that by September 3, 1943, its organizational structure looked like so:
At this time, the British and Americans maintained approximately 130 squadrons each and the French contributed 11 squadrons to the Mediterranean Air Command.
On December 10, 1943, MAC was disbanded and the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) were formed with Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder as Air Commander-in-Chief. In mid-January 1944, Lieutenant General Ira Eaker took over MAAF when Eisenhower chose Tedder to oversee air operations and planning for the Normandy Landings. Based on the success of the tri-force model in NAAF, it was retained in MAAF as separate Mediterranean Allied Strategic, Tactical, and Coastal Air Forces. Effective coordination of air and ground forces and cooperation with naval forces were key features of the tri-force model empowered by the command structures of NAAF, MAAF, and even today's air forces.
- Craven, Wesley F. and James L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume 2, Chicago, Illinois: Chicago University Press, 1949 (Reprinted 1983, ISBN 0-912799-03-X).
- Richards, D. and H. Saunders, The Royal Air Force 1939-1945 (Volume 2, HMSO, 1953).
- Howe, George F., Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West, Center of Military History, Washington, DC., 1991.
- Army Air Forces Historical Office Headquarters, Participation of the Ninth & Twelfth Air Forces in the Sicilian Campaign, Army Air Forces Historical Study No. 37, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, 1945.
- Royal Air Force Web
- C.J.C. Molony, F.C. Flynn, H.L. Davies, and T.P. Gleave, The Mediterranean and the Middle East, Vol. V, The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and the Campaign in Italy, 3 September 1943 to 31 March 1944, London: HMSO, 1973.