The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on 1 December 1942, at Gowen Field, Idaho. It was placed under the command of Col. Budd J. Peaslee, a veteran pilot with extensive experience flying many different aircraft types, including the B-17. Col. Peaslee, born in 1902, was older than the average group commander, yet he would lead the group into combat from the front just as the younger leaders did. Training commenced at Wendover, Utah, on 2 January 1943, and continued there through 1 April 1943. The unit then moved to Sioux City, Iowa, for final training. The ground unit left for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey on 9 May 1943, sailing on the Queen Elizabeth on 27 May 1943, and arrived in Greenock, Scotland on 2 June 1943. The aircrews left Sioux City with their new B-17Fs for Kearney, Nebraska on 3 May 1943, and then continued to Prestwick, Scotland via Presque Isle, Maine, and Goose Bay, Labrador; one contingent was routed via Gander, Newfoundland instead of Goose Bay. One B-17 ditched in the Atlantic but the crew was rescued. The first aircraft arrived in England on 25 May 1943.
The 384th established its home at Grafton Underwood Airfield, Army Air Forces Station 106, Northamptonshire, England, joining the 303rd and 379th Bomb Groups to complete what would become the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Air Division. When group recognition symbols were developed by VIII Bomber Command in mid-1943, the 384th was assigned the Triangle-P, the triangle indicating the 1st Bombardment Division (later 1st Air Division). Combat training continued through June, with the group flying its first operational mission on 22 June 1943.
Between 22 June 1943, and 25 April 1945, the 384th flew 316 missions, 9,398 sorties, and dropped 22,415 tons of bombs on targets in Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Holland, becoming one of the most heavily decorated Air Force Groups during WWII. Enemy aircraft accounted for by the 384th included 165 aircraft destroyed, another 34 probable, and 116 damaged. The 384th dropped the last bombs of the Eighth Air Force in the ETO in WWII. Interestingly, the first and last strategic bombing missions flown by the Eighth Air Force during World War II were flown from Grafton Underwood Airfield.
Combat losses were a fact of life from the very first mission. A loss on the second mission led to the Group's motto. A B-17 piloted by Major Selden L McMillin - the Group Deputy CO, known as "Major Mac" - was shot down. They managed to make a crash landing in Holland, but the crew was taken prisoner. Soon after, Colonel Peaslee received a postcard from Major Mac telling him to "KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD." The 384th adopted this as their motto, and so it remains to this day - although a photo discovered in 2014 provides evidence that the original motto may have been "VENI, VIDI, VICI."
The Group lost 241 B-17s (70% of 346) and 1,581 men (36% of 4,375 combat crewmen), of whom 425 (10%) were KIA, 880 (20%) were POW, and 62 (1.4%) remain MIA: another 214 (5%) were lost to other causes. Combat aircrews considered themselves very lucky if they survived their missions, becoming members of the "Happy Warriors Club" as a result. Sometimes a single B-17 in a formation was subjected to dozens of ME-109s or FW-190 German fighter attacks. At times the anti-aircraft FLAK was described as "so thick you could get out and walk on it", or in "meteorological" terms, "10/10ths FLAK!"
The men of the Group earned three Distinguished Service Crosses; fifteen Silver Stars; over 1,000 Distinguished Flying Crosses; hundreds of Purple Hearts; and over 5,000 Air Medals. In addition, six ground crew members were awarded the Legion of Merit, and others received the Bronze Star. For the Group's efforts they received Distinguished Unit Citations for missions flown on 11 January 1944 and on 24 April 1944.
Col. Budd John Peaslee - 18 December 1942 to 8 September 1943
Col. Julius Khan Lacey - 8 September 1943 to 23 November 1943
Col. Dale Orville Smith - 23 November 1943 to 24 October 1944
Lt. Col. Theodore Ross Milton - 24 October 1944 to 16 June 1945
Lt. Col. Robert William Fish - 17 June 1945 to 18 October 1945
VIII Bomber Command, 1st Bombardment Wing, 103rd Provisional Combat Bomb Wing: June 1943
VIII Bomber Command, 1st Bomb Division, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy): 13 Sep 1943
1st Bombardment Division, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy): 8 Jan 1944
1st Air Division, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy): 1 Jan 1945
With the cessation of hostilities in May 1945, the Group left Grafton Underwood, England, and relocated to Istres, France. Per the USAAF Combat Chronology, on 22 June 1945, HQ 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) moved from Grafton Underwood to Istres. The movement of officers, enlisted men, and material had begun on 29 May 1945 when Sgt Waide A Leighliter was the first 384th HQ personnel to transfer to Istres (on indefinite DS), accompanying a substantial group of 544th BS personnel. The final group led by LtCol Thomas D. Hutchinson moved to Istres on 26 June. During that period, 384th HQ personnel were either moved in small groups to Istres, transferred to other units, or rotated to the ZI (Per 384th HQ Morning Reports).
Their first assignment on arrival at Istres was The Green Project, an operation to transport US soldiers back to the USA as soon as possible. Later the Group continued peacetime operations shuttling building supplies, personnel, and civilians across the European continent. The 384th was inactivated in France on 28 February 1946.
Between 16 July 1947 and 27 June 1949, the group was redesignated the 384th BG (Very Heavy) at Nashville, Tennessee, and became a reserve unit. During 1954-1964, the 384th was active as a B-47 Wing at Little Rock AFB in Arkansas. On 1 December 1972 the 384th Air Refueling Wing arrived at McConnell AFB in Kansas and joined the 91st Air Refueling Squadron. McConnell also included the 381st Missile Wing "Titan II" ICBMs in the 70s and 80s. In June 1983, Air Force officials selected McConnell to be one of the future bases for the B-1B Lancer bomber. The KC-135R, a re-engined, quieter, more fuel efficient version of the "Stratotanker", was received by the 384th Air Refueling Wing in July 1984. The 384th Air Refueling Wing became the host wing on 5 June 1985. By 5 August 1985, McConnell became the only Air Force base to be equipped completely with R-model aircraft for aerial refueling operations. The 381st Strategic Missile Wing ended the Titan II operations and was inactivated on 8 August 1986.
The base took its first steps back toward bomber operations after nearly a quarter century with the redesignation of the 384th Air Refueling Wing as the 384th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) on 1 July 1987. Bombers joined the tankers of the 384th as the 28th Bomb Squadron at McConnell in 1987. The new wing became one of only four B-1B units in the Air Force with the arrival of its first B-1B Lancer aircraft on 4 January 1988.
The 384th BW(BG) was again inactivated in May 1994 and the 28th Bomb Squadron transferred to the 7th BW at Dyess AFB, Texas.