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Art of the Ninth Air Force: A Soldier’s View of the Desert War

WWII

Art of the Ninth Air Force: A Soldier’s View of the Desert War

Loaded and ready the Liberator “Damfino” awaits for its next mission.

Watercolors capture life at an American air force base in the deserts of North Africa.

The Ninth Air Force began life on August 21, 1941, as the 5th Air Support Command at Bowman Field, Kentucky, and was activated on September 1, 1941. It was redesignated the Ninth Air Force on April 8, 1942, after relocating to the New Orleans Army Air Force Base in January. Previous plans to move the Ninth to China fell through when Japanese forces captured Rangoon and cut the Burma Road, making it impossible to logistically support the Ninth in China, so a new assignment was sought.

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In June 1942, victories by the German Afrika Korps in North Africa forced the British Eighth Army to pull back to Egypt, and the beleaguered British requested American support; the Ninth filled the bill perfectly. The first planes to arrive at British bases in Cairo were 23 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers under Colonel Harry A. Halverson, on June 12, 1942; 16 days later, Maj. Gen. Lewis Brereton arrived in Cairo from India with his 9th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). The Ninth submission and help liberate a continent.

The art accompanying this article, painted by Lieutenant Milton Marx of the Ninth’s Executive Liaison Section, shows the daily life of the Ninth’s pilots and air crews as they survived the desert to keep the British and Americans on the attack and rain havoc on the Germans and Italians.

Mechanics prepare a P-40 Black Scorpion for another mission. The fighter has already bested six German planes in aerial combat.
Caption
Mechanics prepare a P-40 Black Scorpion for another mission. The fighter has already bested six German planes in aerial combat.
Mechanics clean the guns and repair the engine of a P-40 in the Tunisian Desert. The fighter has chalked up six ME-109s.
Caption
Mechanics clean the guns and repair the engine of a P-40 in the Tunisian Desert. The fighter has chalked up six ME-109s.
Planes take off and land near the operations tent in Castel Benito, near Tripoli. Castel Benito was a former stronghold for the Italian forces.
Caption
Planes take off and land near the operations tent in Castel Benito, near Tripoli. Castel Benito was a former stronghold for the Italian forces.
A mechanic installs rivets into the side of a B-24 Liberator bomber before a mission over Greece, on June 28, 1943.
Caption
A mechanic installs rivets into the side of a B-24 Liberator bomber before a mission over Greece, on June 28, 1943.
An MP monitors traffic near the bombed-out Cafe Tripolitania on the Vittorio Emmanuele.
Caption
An MP monitors traffic near the bombed-out Cafe Tripolitania on the Vittorio Emmanuele.
Mechanics repair a B-24 with the help of a portable sheet metal repair shop in Benina.
Caption
Mechanics repair a B-24 with the help of a portable sheet metal repair shop in Benina.
Lead ship of the Libera- tor Group goes through a final check in Benghazi in June, 1943.
Caption
Lead ship of the Libera- tor Group goes through a final check in Benghazi in June, 1943.
While a flight of P-40s leaves for the island of Pantellaria in the distance, a pilot climbs into his P-38.
Caption
While a flight of P-40s leaves for the island of Pantellaria in the distance, a pilot climbs into his P-38.
Liberty ship Frank B. Kellogg. The captain and his staff hold a conference on the loading of 9th Air Force P-40s in Massawa.
Caption
Liberty ship Frank B. Kellogg. The captain and his staff hold a conference on the loading of 9th Air Force P-40s in Massawa.
A Mitchell B-25 that has just flown in from Brooklyn, N.Y., gets a much-needed checkup at Sfax.
Caption
A Mitchell B-25 that has just flown in from Brooklyn, N.Y., gets a much-needed checkup at Sfax.
British lorries take on supplies at Tripoli’s Lungomare Conte Volpi port, the gateway for the British Eighth Army’s supplies. The port handled 3,000 to 4,000 tons per day.
Caption
British lorries take on supplies at Tripoli’s Lungomare Conte Volpi port, the gateway for the British Eighth Army’s supplies. The port handled 3,000 to 4,000 tons per day.
The Ninth says good-bye to the Middle East as an airman in Port Said, Egypt, gazes at a statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who built the Suez Canal.
Caption
The Ninth says good-bye to the Middle East as an airman in Port Said, Egypt, gazes at a statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who built the Suez Canal.
Loaded and ready the Liberator “Damfino” awaits for its next mission.
Caption
Loaded and ready the Liberator “Damfino” awaits for its next mission.

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