Original U.S WWII 376th Bomb Group Liberandos A-2 Flight Jacket - Order of the Winged Boot

Item Description

Original Item: One-of-a-kind. This is an over-the-top example of a 15th Air Force Capri-patch decorated United States Army Air Forces A-2 flight jacket. It is loaded with Italian made hand painted patches, and not just a few but every patch imaginable for wear by the 514th Bomb Squadron Air Crew member, including the elusive patch of the squadron itself with the Heavy Bomb tucked in between 2 pyramids on a triangular patch on the right breast of the jacket. On the left breast is the 376th Bomb Group Liberandos patch under the name & wing patch.

The right breast above the squadron patch is the walk-back Order of the Winged Boot patch. These patches are extremely rare and almost never seen on a flight jacket. Several unofficial insignia existed that were presented to aviators who survived some more of the harrowing experiences all flyers faced. These were never officially approved, but were worn by U.S. Air Force personnel. Both the Order of the Winged Boot and the Gold Fish Club originated in the Royal Air Force and were adopted by U.S. personnel in the European Theater. The Order of the Winged Boot was given to flyers who were shot down behind enemy lines and evaded capture to return to their commands. Although these insignia were titled and often awarded in a lighthearted and humorous way, the fact is that aviators were well aware of the experience that they represented.

On the epaulets are the crewman's Technical Sergeant rank patches, and on the right shoulder is the US Flag, and on the left shoulder the unofficial Italian made "XV" 15th Air Force patch with Mitch's hometown of Toledo, Ohio on top, and the ID of the Liberandos on the bottom.

On the reverse of the jacket is a rendition of a B-24 Liberator worthy of the canvas it was painted on, obviously by a full-time Italian artist. The image has worn a little over the years, but still show its vibrant color palate and mountainous background terrain.

This jacket was featured in the famous, now-iconic issue #12 of the Japanese "magazine" or book Suit Up! The Flight Jacket by Kesaharu Imai.

Size 42 (large). Approximately 21" armpit to armpit, 25" from shoulder seam to end of cuff, 18" across back shoulder to shoulder and about 24" from base of collar to hem.

Stenciled in neck lining M.R. DAVIDSON 12083843.

Overall condition is very good with moderate wear and scuffing. Nomenclature label missing, but size label (42!!) intact. Typical wear to wrist webbing as seen on gunners jackets, and a small hole in the first layer of the waist webbing at rear. But very solid and supple, and all hooks and snaps, and original Crown zipper work perfectly.

The 376th Bombardment Group has its origins in the British Mandate of Palestine, as a result of the buildup of American air power in the Middle East in January 1942.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Army Air Forces to mount retaliatory raids on the Japanese Home Islands. A task force, commanded by Colonel Harry E. Halverson and composed of 231 officers and enlisted men and 23 Consolidated B-24D Liberator bombers, was assembled at Fort Myers Army Air Field, Florida. The unit was given the code name "HALPRO" for Halverson Project. This organization, destined to be the parent unit of the 376th Bombardment Group, departed the United States on 20 May 1942 over the South Atlantic ferry route though the Caribbean and Natal, Brazil and across Central Africa and arrived at RAF Lydda in Palestine. However, before the group could depart for India and begin attacks on Japanese targets from a base located in China, the unit learned that its proposed base in China had been captured by Japanese forces.

To make matters worse, the German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel was poised to attack Allied forces in Egypt. HALPRO was quickly diverted from its original mission to a new one: interdictory raids from airfields in Egypt against shipping and North African ports supporting Axis operations as part of United States Middle East Air Forces (USMEAF) on 20 June 1942, a quickly assembled organization based in Cairo. The Halverson Project was dissolved and the organization was renamed the 1st Provisional Bombardment Group.

As early as 7 September, Ninth Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton sought to have the 1st Provisional Bomb Group assigned a tactical designation and number, and a formal table of organization and equipment to make it a permanent organization. At the same time, the U.S. and British had reached an understanding with the Soviets about establishing an Anglo-American air force in the Transcaucasus to protect its flank in the Middle East. The American contribution was to be one troop carrier group and one "highly mobile" heavy bomber group. Gen. George C. Marshall on 11 October ordered Brereton to create the 376th Bombardment Group, composed of a headquarters squadron and four tactical squadrons, the 512th, 513th, 514th and 515th Bombardment Squadrons, intended for the Transcaucasus assignment. The group was constituted on 19 October and activated at midnight 31 October from personnel and equipment of the 1st Provisional Group. The first commander was Col. George F. McGuire, who taken charge of the provisional group when Halverson returned to the United States in August 1942. After several weeks, the Soviets declared that they wanted only the aircraft and not British or American crews. None could be spared and the Anglo-American air force proposal was cancelled.

Members of the 376th adopted the nickname "Liberandos". Initially, the 376th was formed with the 23 B-24Ds which had flown from Florida, along with a detachment of Boeing B-17D Flying Fortresses from the 7th Bombardment Group and other personnel. Some of the B-17s were Pearl Harbor attack and Philippines campaign survivors, which had been assigned to the China Burma India Theater. After the Japanese capture of Burma, the Burma Road was cut so the detachment could not be logistically supported in China. By the end of 1942, all of the squadrons were equipped with B-24 Liberators as the older model B-17s were reassigned to non-combat roles.

Operating from bases in Palestine, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the 376th attacked shipping in the Mediterranean and harbor installations in Libya, Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy to cut enemy supply lines to North Africa. It struck airfields, marshalling yards, and other objectives in Sicily and Italy after the fall of Tunisia in May 1943. It received a Distinguished Unit Citation for action against the enemy in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sicily, November 1942 – August 1943. Participated in the famed Operation Tidal Wave, the low-level assault on oil refineries at Ploiești and received another DUC: nearing Ploiești on 1 August 1943 and realizing that it was off course, the group attempted to reach its assigned objective from another direction; by that time, however, enemy defenses were thoroughly alerted and intense opposition forced the 376th to divert to targets of opportunity in the general target area.

On 9 November 1958, British geologists flying over the Libyan Desert spotted an aircraft resting on the sand dunes approximately 400 statute miles (640 km) south of Benghazi, Libya. A ground party reached the site in March 1959 and discovered the plane to be the "Lady Be Good", a B-24D Liberator of the 514th Bombardment Squadron. The bomber had disappeared after a 4 April 1943 attack against Naples, Italy. In 1960, the remains of eight airmen were found; the body of the ninth crewman was never found.

With the move of Ninth Air Force to England in 1943, the 376th was reassigned to Fifteenth Air Force and moved to Manduria, Italy under the 47th Bombardment Wing. From Italian bases, the unit engaged primarily in long-range missions to targets in Italy, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans to bomb factories, marshalling yards, oil refineries, oil storage facilities, airdromes, bridges, harbors, and other objectives.

It received a third Distinguished Unit Citation for attacking the oil industry at Bratislava on 16 June 1944. Also flew support and interdiction missions, assisting Allied forces at Anzio and Monte Cassino during February–March 1944, supporting Operation Dragoon, the iInvasion of Southern France in August 1944, aiding the Russian sweep into the Balkans during the fall of 1944, and assisting Allied troops in northern Italy during April 1945.

Flying from North Africa and Italy, the Group flew 451 missions, was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations and earned 15 campaign awards. The Liberandos destroyed 220 enemy aircraft in aerial combat and suffered casualties totaling 1479 officers and enlisted personnel and 169 aircraft.

With the end of the war in Europe, the 376th moved to Harvard Army Air Field, Nebraska, on 8 May 1945, became a very heavy group and began Boeing B-29 Superfortress transition training in preparation for a move to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. However, with the end of the war in August, the training ended and the unit was inactivated at Grand Island Army Air Field, Nebraska on 10 November 1945.
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