The roots of the 390th go back to the 40th Bomb Group in Puerto Rico and Guatemala and the 6th Bomb Group in Panama before World War II. At that time these bomb groups were engaged in training of combat crews while flying B-18s and B-18As.
In January of 1942 the B-18s were phased out with the receipt of B-17Es. Six planes from Ecuador and six from Guatemala were dispatched daily on parallel tracks to the Galapagos Islands to protect the Panama Canal. Crews flew 200 hours per month and accumulated a total of 1,500 to 2,000 hours of flying time as well as being cross-trained in all phases of a strategic bombing mission.
In October of 1942 at Geiger Field, Spokane, Washington the 34th Bomb Group became the parent group of the 390th. Personnel from the 40th, the 6th, and other organizations formed the cadre force of the 391st Bomb Squadron. Weather conditions prevented the achievement of minimal training requirements. Therefore, operations were moved to Ephrata, Washington on 25 November 1942. However, similar conditions were encountered there and on 8 December 1942 the squadron was moved to Blythe, California.
On the morning of 16 February 1943 at one end of the group headquarters building the teletype began its clacking sound. When it stopped the communications clerk tore the message off, glanced at it, walked down the corridor, knocked on a door, entered and handed the message to the commander of the 34th Bomb Group, Lt. Col. Irvine “Bo” Rendle. As the Colonel read the message a slow smile broke across his face. The message was from Headquarters 2nd Air Force; Subject: Organization of Bombardment for March 1943. It was a directive to activate the 390th Bomb Group (Heavy).
Tom Jeffrey, the Commander of the 391st Bomb Squadron of the 34th Bomb Group, remembers that day when Col. Rendle came to his office and said, “Jeff, I have secret information here that no one knows about. The next bomb group we turn out from here is going to be called the 390th and I’m going to be the commanding officer. I wonder if you would consider going along as Deputy Group Commander?”
Tom remembers saying, “Man that’s great!”
Then Col. Rendle said, “Since we will be going together, would you put together the best squadron that you can?” Tom was sure that “Bo” went to the other squadrons and said the same thing.
Joe Gemmill recalls the day that “Bo” Rendle called Bob Good, George Von Arb, Larry Gilbert and himself into his office and asked if all four of them would accept assignments as Squadron Commanders. Without hesitation they all accepted. The new assignments enabled them to select the finest personnel from each squadron to form the cadre.
Joe also remembers that, “A short time later Col. Rendle summoned us to his office and informed us that he would not be going with us, since he was being reassigned as the Commander of a B-24 group.” Col. Ed Wittan was designated as the Commander of the 390th Bomb Group. “Col. Rendle then asked us if we would consider going with him to his new B-24 command. After careful consideration Bob Good, George Von Arb and myself decided to stay with the 390th. Larry Gilbert elected to go with “Bo”. Upon his arrival Col. Wittan selected Bob Tuttle to replace Gilbert.”
On 23 February 1943 Special Order Number 54 (HQ) AAB Blythe, California arrived transferring Maj. Thomas S. Jeffrey, Jr., Deputy Group C.O., 40 officers and 83 enlisted men of the 34th Bomb Group (H) to the 390th Bomb Group (H), Geiger Field, Spokane, Washington with temporary duty orders for the School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida.
After thirty days of special training at Orlando, the cadre arrived at Geiger Field where other crews and group people were assembled. After about a month of training as a Group, the cadre was deployed in squadrons (568, 569, 570, and 571) to Great Falls, Glasgow, Cutbank and Lewistown, Montana for additional training.
By 29 June of 1943, the Group had grown to a complement of 375 officers and enlisted men. On that date, the Group was ordered to proceed to Grenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire for training exercises (Special Order 180). On 9 July the Group was directed to Presque Isle, Maine subsequent to movement overseas. Upon arriving on the other side of the Atlantic most crews were processed at either Stone or Valley, Wales, enroute to Station 153, Framlingham, England. The Air Echelon arrived at Framlingham on 17 July 1943. The Ground Echelon arrived on the 28th.
The 390th flew its first mission on 12 August 1943. Col. Fredrick W. Ott succeeded Col. Wittan as Commander on 15 May 1944 and remained in that post until 6 September 1944 when he was succeeded by Col. Joseph A. Moller. Col. Moller commanded the group through its 301st and last mission to Oranienburg, Germany on 20 April 1945 and continued to command until 21 May 1945. At that time Lt. Col. George Von Arb assumed command and subsequently returned the Group to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Air Echelon arrived in the Continental United States on 4 July 1945 and the Ground Echelon arrived on the 11th of August. The 390th Bomb Group was inactivated on 28 August 1945.
The 390th received the Presidential Unit Citation for the Schweinfurt mission on 14 October 1943. The Group also shared in the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the 3rd Bomb Division for the part it played in the mission to Regensburg on 17 August 1943. In addition, the Group established a record for enemy aircraft destroyed by any one group on any one mission by destroying sixty-two at Munster on 10 October 1943. On this same mission the crew of Cabin In The Sky, a 571st Squadron aircraft, shot down eleven enemy aircraft. In total, the 390th destroyed 377 enemy aircraft and recorded fifty-seven probables and seventy-seven damaged. And, they were never turned back by the enemy.