Library Fact Sheets
23RD FIGHTER SQUADRON|
Printable Fact Sheet
The 23rd Fighter Squadron, the "Fighting Hawks," was activated Dec. 22, 1939, at Langley Field, Va., as the 23rd Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) flying the P-36 Hawk. The unit moved to Kelly Field, Texas, in January 1940, and was equipped with the YP-37. In January 1941, the squadron moved to Ponce, Puerto Rico, for training on the P-36 Aircobra and P-40 Warhawk.
After Dec. 7, 1941, the 23rd PS patrolled the islands of the Caribbean for enemy aircraft and submarines. The squadron was renamed the 23rd Fighter Squadron in 1942, and converted to the P-47 Thunderbolt in June 1943. In March 1944, the 23rd FS deployed to Royal Air Force Kingsnorth, England, and 9th Air Force's 36th Fighter Group. The squadron earned the Distinguished Unit Citation in September 1944 for missions flown from England and forward bases in France supporting the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
Between October 1944 and January 1945, while operating from airfields in Belgium, the squadron earned two citations in the Belgian Army Order of the Day as well as the Belgium Fourragerre. The unit was awarded a second Distinguished Unit Citation for action in Germany during April 1945.
Inactivated in March 1946, the squadron was reactivated in October 1946 at Howard Field, Canal Zone, Panama, flying the P-47 and P-80 Shooting Star. In July 1948, the squadron returned to Germany at Furstenfeldbruck. Here, the 23rd FS helped form the Skyblazers -- an aerial demonstration team and forerunner to today's Thunderbirds.
In November 1952, the squadron moved to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, as part of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. In September 1954, the squadron converted to the F-84 Thunderjet and was redesignated the 23rd Day Fighter Squadron. It was the first squadron in Europe to fly the F-86 Sabre (1956), the F-100C Super Sabre (1956), the F-105 Thunderchief (1961), and the F-4D Phantom II (1966). During this period, the squadron received two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.
The 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron was assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and in January 1972 became part of the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing. The 23rd converted to F-4E and F-4G Wild Weasels in 1982 and began flying defense suppression missions. In July 1987, the F-16C Fighting Falcon replaced the F-4E.
In January 1991, at the outbreak of the Gulf War, the 23rd FS deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. During Operation Proven Force, squadron F-16Cs and F-4Gs flew nearly 1,000 defense suppression, combat air patrol and interdiction missions over Iraq without a single loss. The squadron earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor for its part in driving the Iraqi army from Kuwait.
In September 1991, the squadron's remaining F-4Gs were replaced by F-16Cs. In July 1993, the 23rd FS was the first U.S. unit to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina for Operation Deny Flight. In January 1994, the squadron received the first F-16CJ Block 50 aircraft.
The squadron completed conversion to the latest version of the F-16CJ in January 1995 and became U.S. Air Forces in Europe's only defense suppression squadron. In September of that same year, members of the 23rd FS took part in Operation Deliberate Forge -- the largest air assault in NATO history. The unit flew 224 sorties during the air campaign against Bosnian Serb forces.
Pilots from the 23rd FS were the first to employ high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM) in combat. The squadron's efforts contributed to the peace process and the resulting Dayton Agreement, which ended more than four years of bloody conflict in the Balkans.
For their outstanding contributions to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe's mission, the 23rd FS was selected in May 1996 to receive the Commander's Trophy as the "Best Fighter Squadron in the Command," their third time to win this distinction.
February to June 1999, the 23rd FS deployed to Aviano AB, Italy, where it was assigned to the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing for Operation Allied Force. The squadron supported the NATO mission to degrade and damage the military and security structure that the Yugoslav President used to destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo. During Allied Force the 23rd FS flew over 1000 combat sorties and fired 191 HARM shots to silence the over 100 surface to air missile sites in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. The squadron was repeatedly noted for bravery in the face of danger while flying these combat operations in Allied Force.
From November 2000 to March 2001 the 23rd FS deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch to patrol the southern no-fly zone over Iraq. During the deployment the squadron provided suppression of enemy air defenses in both air-to-ground and air-to-air roles. In March of 2001, the 23rd provided SEAD for the largest strike in Iraq since Operation Desert Fox. During the strike to take out command and control facilities in Iraq, the 23rd ensured the safety of all allied strikers.
The squadron deployed again from April to July 2002 to Incirlik AB, Turkey, for Operation Northern Watch to patrol the northern no-fly zone. During the deployment the squadron was called on to provide SEAD for strikes against ground targets located in northern Iraq. Squadron pilots came under fire numerous times while providing SEAD for coalition aircraft, once firing two HARM shots suppressing an Iraqi surface radar site that targeted friendly aircraft.
In January 2003, elements of the squadron forward deployed to Southwest Asia in support of U.S. Central Command and flew combat missions during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The squadron played a key role during the 27-day air war by fulfilling it's mission of suppressing enemy air defenses and destroying Iraqi radar sites.