The Curtiss P-40E was the first aircraft assigned to the newly formed 318th Fighter Squadron 


The story of the 318th "Green Dragons" began on 3 August 1942, activating at Bedford, MA gaining personnel transferred from the 85th Fighter Squadron, 79th Fighter Group. The 318th Fighter Squadron (Single Engine), and its sister squadrons, the 317th and 319th, would be aligned under the (soon to be) famed "Checkertail Clan" the 325th Fighter Group (325th FG). In October of 1942, under the command of First Lieutenant George B. Gingras, the 318th moved to Grenier Field, NH to begin the formal organization of the squadron gathering personnel from various Army Air Force (AAF) training schools and other fighter squadrons. As they arrived, the men began a period of training designed teach the new "Dragons" techniques they would need to fly, fight, and maintain their newly assigned aircraft, the Curtiss P-40E Warhawk.


After completing months of training, the members of the 318th were more than ready to join the fight. On 1 January 1943, the Boston Air Defense Wing, 1st Air Force, issued orders for the 325th Group to transfer (permanent change of station or PCS) to Langley Field, VA for overseas deployment. The Squadron would travel to their overseas assignment in two separate groups called echelons, a flight echelon (mainly pilots) a air echelon (crew chiefs and armorers)  and a ground echelon (mainly assigned to the Group, supply, clerical, cooks etc).


The pilots of the 318th interpreted their travel orders somewhat differently that the other squadrons. All travel for the Group was to be by rail, in full uniform, 318th pilots "mistook" the orders, and dressed in more comfortable flight gear, which surprised visitors at the South Boston Rain Station. During the wait, the squadron became the center of attention during an impromptu farewell ceremony thrown in their behalf. As they boarded the train, the men of the 318th were sent away with cheers, and kisses from the crowd, a traditional sendoff for men headed off to war. Being the first to board the train, the Green Dragons were treated to the more comfortable "first class" parlor car, the later arriving squadrons found themselves in the coach & baggage cars - score one for the Green Dragons!


After an overnight train ride, 1Lt. Gingras and the twenty-three pilots of the 318th arrived at Norfolk Naval Operating Base on the morning of 3 January. Among the officers, was a group of Enlisted or Sergeant Pilots who, by an Army Air Force directive, were promoted to "Flight Officer" status. This promotion, which saw most of the AAF's Sergeant Pilots elevated to the rank of flight officer (with officer privileges) or to second lieutenant before their assignment to a combat unit, was accomplished in an attempt to improve their treatment if captured by the enemy.


As they arrived, the 318th pilots checked-out in factory their fresh P-40Fs, and later, informed that they would soon on their way to combat aboard an aircraft carrier. Working with the U.S. Navy, the squadron devised a special program designed to allow the Army pilots of the 318th to make simulated takeoffs from an aircraft carrier by painting the outline of the ship on the Langley airfield.


On 6 January 1943, a "flight echelon" consisting of 7 officers, 1 flight officer and 61 enlisted men, followed 1Lt. Gingras and the pilots to the Norfolk to board the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, two days later the ship was underway heading directly to the French Morocco. After the Ranger arrived to the launch point miles off the Northern coast of Africa, all of the aircraft were readied for takeoff, and were able to launch without incident just as they practiced at Langley. All aircraft and personnel re-organized at Casablanca's Anfa Airport on January 19.


On 22 January 1943, the remainder of the squadron, an "air echelon" consisting of 6 officers and 188 enlisted men, moved to Camp Kilmer, NJ awaiting orders to enter combat. On the evening of 7 February 1943, the group boarded the Navy transport ship USS Lyon, at Staten Island, NY on their way to Algeria. After two weeks at sea, the group landed at Oran, Algeria, proceeding to Sainte-Barbe du Tlélat Airfield where they remained for a week before moving to Tafaraoui Airbase in Algeria. After many problems expected with a mass movement of an AAF's unit were conquered, the entire squadron assembled at Tafaraoui on 28 February 1943.


During their cruise to Casablanca aboard the USS Ranger, pilots of the 318th Fighter Squadron form up for this photo in front of their P-40F's.

During February, the 325th FG received orders by higher command to transfer a number of its P-40s to the 33rd Fighter Group, a combat seasoned group who, at the time, was supporting US forces in western Tunisia. With its inventory of aircraft reduced by the transfer, the 318th, alongside the 317th & 319th Fighter Squadrons, trained for combat in North Africa.


On 11 February, the 318th FS suffered the Groups first operational loss after a mid air collision between the 318th commander, Lt. Gingras, and the Squadrons Operations Officer Lt Joe Bloomer during a formation loop drill. Lt. Bloomer was able to parachute to safety, unfortunately Lt. Gingras was not as lucky, with his aircraft crashing into the ground after a 6,000-foot fall. In a formal ceremony, Lt. George Gingras was buried in an Allied cemetery in Casablanca with five 318th P-40's flying in a missing man formation overhead.  


On 13 February, the 33rd FG returned from combat with some, but not all of the P-40s, some being lost in fierce combat with German Luftwaffe. During the last weeks of February, the 318th was transferred to Oran only to return to Tafaraoui days later. While there, pilots and ground personnel spent the month of March preparing their P-40s for combat by training with combat seasoned aircrews. On 5 April, the squadron (and the 317th FS) received orders to move to Montesquieu Air Base, Algeria, the 500-mile journey, mostly accomplished by Douglas C-47 Skytrains, was a first movement by air of an AAF squadron conducted in a war zone. Two days later, twenty seven C-47's were loaded with the personnel and equipment of the 318th & 319th Squadrons and 325th Fighter Group HQ, bound for Montesquieu AB.


Pilots transferred the Squadrons P-40's to their new base of operations in flights with only one 318th P-40 flown by Lt. William M. Lott, damaged during a landing attempt crashing into a house nearby the airfield at Montesquieu. By 15 April 1943, the 325th Fighter Group (318th FS & 319th FS) along with the 320th Bomb Group were based at the field mountains near M'Daourouch, about 112 km southeast of Constantine, consisting of East – West and North-South runways surrounded by hills at an elevation of 3800 feet.

Next page: The P-40 Era (1942 - 1943)