United States Army Air Force

Missing image
USAAF recruitment poster.
Missing image
USAAF recruitment poster.

The United States Army Air Forces, or USAAF, was a part of the U.S. military during World War II. The direct precursor to the U.S. Air Force, the USAAF formally existed between 1941 and 1947.



Prior to the start of World War II, the USAAF was known as the U.S. Army Air Corps, or USAAC. The USAAC was a corps-level, subsidiary organization within the U.S. Army, and had little autonomy. Due to the efforts of several key USAAC officers and the changing political times, the Air Corps obtained greater organizational independence in 1941. Renamed the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) and considered a separate arm of the Army, the new USAAF had an equal "voice" with the Army and Navy.

The sixteen Air Forces

By the end of World War II, the USAAF was divided into sixteen numbered Air Forces (First-Fifteenth and the Twentieth) distributed across all theaters of war, plus the Zone of the Interior general air force stationed in the continental United States. To these were attached an additional eight Air Divisions which were sometimes detached and served as independent units when the need arose. These Air Forces and Divisions grew out of earlier Air Corps commands; for example, the Eigth Air Force was originally called VIII Bomber Command. Several Air Forces were created de novo as the service expanded during the war. The Air Forces and Divisions were divided into a total of 91 Wings, called Bombardment, Tactical Reconnaisance, Training or Composite depending on whether their primary intended role was strategic bombing, pursuit, air support etc.. The Air Forces also had jurisdiction over a number of logistical units like the Air Transport Command, successor to the pre-war Air Corps Ferrying Command

After the war, the Eighth Air Force was merged with several other units to become the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAAFE). In 1947, the USAAFE became a component of the newly-created United States Air Force. From 1948-48, the unit was responsible for the Berlin Airlift.

The official name for the organization was the United States Army Air Forces. In colloquial speech, the old Air Corps name persisted among veteran soldiers; in addition, the singular "Air Force" often crept into popular use, possibly by analogy to the Allied Royal Air Force. This misnomer even crept onto official recruiting posters (see image on right).

List of air forces

Air Force independence

Following the immense buildup in aviation infrastructure and personnel during the war, and in recognition of the tremendous new importance and strength of airpower, then-President Harry S. Truman created the United States Department of the Air Force in 1947. This legislation renamed the aviation military group again to the United States Air Force, elevating it to a truly separate branch of the U.S. military.

Notable people who served in the USAAF

Badges of the Army Air Forces

To denote the special training and qualifications required for membership in USAAF, the following military badges were authorized for wear by members of the Army Air Forces:


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