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55th Reconnaissance Squadron,
Long Range, Weather

655 BS during training at Tinker Field
Members of the 655th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, Weather Reconnaissance
This photo was taken during training at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma

Official USAF Photo, courtesy of the Air Force Weather History Office
May not be used for commercial purposes

Our subject this month is one of the earliest US Army Air Force dedicated weather reconnaissance units.  Originally designated the 655th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, Weather Reconnaissance, the unit was activated at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma on 21 August 1944.  The squadron was assigned brand new B-24L aircraft that had been purpose built for the weather reconnaissance mission.  The forward bomb bay housed fuel tanks for extended range missions, and the aft bomb bay had accommodations for a dedicated weather officer as part of the crew.  The first commander, Capt Raymond A. Walker, headed the squadron during the few weeks until Lt Col Nicholas H. Chavasse arrived to assume command on 3 Sep 44. Colonel Chavasse led the squadron during an intensive training period.  They flew training missions gathering weather data over the Gulf of Mexico, all the while becoming familiar with their aircraft and forming strong crew bonds.  In March 1945, the squadron moved forward to Fort Lawton, Washington and then on to Harmon Field, Guam, with the first four aircraft arriving on 8 March.  They soon began flying their arduous long range missions over Japanese territory. The 655th was assigned to the 20th Air Force, under XXI Bomber Command, effective 11 April 1945. The unit provided critical meteorological data to the strategic bombing campaign planners.  

On 16 February 1945, shortly before leaving Will Rogers Field, the 655th received approval for their Emblem, seen above. The likeness of Willie Weatherbee symbolizes the squadron's readiness to carry out its assigned task under all climatic conditions.  This emblem would endure through and after the war, the only WW II weather reconnaissance emblem to do so.  It remained the symbol of the 55th WRS until 3 July 1967. The nickname "Willie" most likely came from the name of the Army Air Field where the 655th trained.

B-24L of B Flight, 55th Reconnaissance Squadron, LR, Weather
Iwo Jima
Official USAF Photo, courtesy of the Air Force Weather History Office
May not be used for commercial purposes

In May 1945, the 655th started staging missions through Iwo Jima, and by the end of May had a Flight of four aircraft, with aircrews and maintainers, stationed there.  These crews provided support to VII Fighter Command units based on Iwo.  The B-24s scouted target and enroute weather for the forward based P-47s and P-51s.

On 16 Jun 45, the unit was redesignated as the 55th Reconnaissance Squadron, Long Range, Weather.  On 24 July, the 55th sent another Flight of four planes to a forward location, this time to the newly captured Okinawa.  From here the squadron was positioned to support the upcoming invasion of the home islands of Japan.

Crew No. 5 of 55th Reconnaissance Squadron (LR) Weather

This crew consisted of:  Kenneth Krig , Pilot; Lloyd Fraley, Copilot; Einar Hendrickson,
Navigator; Robert Pruitt, Weather Officer; George Conner, Flight Engineer; Marion
Smith, Radio Operator; Pat Farris, Radar Operator; Kenneth Black, Arm. Gunner;
Philip Roewe, Nose Gunner; and Robert Hansen, Tail Gunner

Official USAF Photo,
courtesy of the Air Force Weather History Office
May not be used for commercial purposes

Unlike many Army Air Force units, the 55th's mission did not end when hostilities with Japan were over.  The 55th reconstituted back on Guam and continued to fly synoptic weather reconnaissance missions.  They also gathered peripheral data on tropical storms that threaten the western Pacific most of the year.  On 27 Nov 45, the squadron was assigned to the 311th Reconnaissance Wing.  The 55th continued their weather support until April of 1946, when the unit was essentially reduced to a "paper" squadron and Colonel Chavasse turned command over to Capt Fred M. Barricklow.

Crew of 55th RS (LR) Wea. B-24L, Beaufort Belle
Front L to R:  S/Sgt Walter S. Pula, Turret; Capt William A. Wilcox, Weather Officer; T/Sgt James F. Scouler, Radar Observer; 1st Lt Stanley W. Smith, Co-Pilot; S/Sgt William B. Shields, Tail Gunner

Rear L to R:  1st Lt. Francesco S. Rossi, Navigator; 1st Lt. Francis R. Schwend, Pilot;  T/Sgt Dale A. Lauzenheizer, Radio op.;  S/Sgt Robert A. Givens, Flt Eng.;  S/Sgt Albert J. Riley, Turret.

Photo courtesy of Helmut Eric Nimke, 55th RS Historian
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved

The members of the "original" 55th are proud of their record, and have, like many WW II veterans, stayed in contact with their wartime family.  Colonel Chavasse was one of the founding members of the Air Weather Reconnaissance Association and stayed active with our group until his death in 1993.  Other members of the 55th have gathered as a squadron group each year for the past 20 plus years.  In 2005,  7 original squadron members and about 20 family members met in San Antonio.  The 55th Reconnaissance Squadron President is Dr. Dave Brown.  Their squadron historian is Helmut Eric Nimke, who is also an active AWRA member.  If anyone would like to get in touch with the original 55th, please write to the webmaster and we'll pass your message on to Dr. Brown  and Mr. Nimke.

In June 1994, 17 members of the 55th RS, along with their wives,
attended a dedication ceremony for their squadron plaque being
added to the 20th Air Force Memorial Wall at the USAF Academy
in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  The 55th plaque is located at the
bottom right of the wall. 

The squadron members attending were:  Carlo Arrobio, Lowell Baker,
Kenneth Black, Enrique Carrera, Guy Deno, Einar Hendrickson,
Dr. Victor Herrmann, Richard Jeffords, M. R. Klinkevich,
Dr. Peter Lommen, Howard Lysaker, Helmut Eric Nimke, Wayne Salisbury,
Jim Scouler, Willie Smith, Clive Weinker and Paul Wilch.

The 20th AF wall is inscribed,

Photo courtesy of W. Wayne Salisbury, 55th RS Crew 8 Turret Gunner
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved

When the squadron took up collections to have the memorial plaque cast,
they actually received enough money to cast a duplicate as well.  This
duplicate casting was donated to the Air Force Weather Agency, and is
proudly dispalyed in a special case in the Weather History Heritage Hall.

at left courtesy of W. Wayne Salisbury, 55th RS
Photo at right courtesy Bernie Barris, AWRA Webmaster
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved

The Seven 55th members who came to San Antonio in October 2005

Front Row (left to right):  Perry Lusk, Radar Op, Crew 2;  Dr. Dave Brown,
(55th Assn President) Navigator, Crew 6; Lowell Baker, Engineer Crew 8
Back Row:  John Brown, Ammo Supply Tech; W. Wayne Salisbury, Gunner,
Crew 8; Jim Flannery, Copilot, Crew 22; Peter Lommen, Radio Op, Crew 19

Photo courtesy of W. Wayne Salisbury, 55th RS Crew 8 Turret Gunner
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved

In closing, here is a direct quote from General Order No. 5, 7 Feb 1947, awarding the 55th the Army Meritorious Unit Commendation, Quote:

1.  Under authority of Executive ORDER 9075 and pursuant to provisions of Section I, War Department Circular 54, 1946, a Meritorious Service Unit Plaque is awarded to the 55th Reconnaissance Squadron, Long Range, Weather, for superior performance, outstanding devotion to duty, and achievement and maintenance of high standards of discipline from 15 May 1945 to 1 Jan 1946.  Charged with the responsibility for providing weather information needed in planning air operations against the Japanese, the 55th Reconnaissance Squadron, LR, flew weather reconnaissance missions from widely separated bases on Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.  The personnel of this organization, flying B-24 type aircraft alone and unescorted into the heart of enemy-held territory, withheld no effort in their endeavors to provide tactical elements of the Army Air Forces with weather information vital to the success of the air offensive against Japan.  The technical skill and devotion to duty displayed by the members of this organization contributed immeasurably to the successful culmination of the war against Japan and their continuing hurricane reconnaissance operations resulted in substantial saving of life and property during the hurricane season of 1945.  The 55th Reconnaissance Squadron, Long Range, Weather, has distinguished itself and has reflected credit upon the other units of the Army Air Forces. 


Information used on this page came from several different sources.  Photographs are courtesy Air Force Weather History Office and members of the 55th.  They may not be reprinted in any form without written approval.  Information on the lineage and Commaders came from Air Weather Service:  Our Heritage 1937-1987.  Specific facts about the unit activities came from unit histories as retold in the Air Force Weather History Office pamphlet, The Roots of Army Air Forces Weather Reconnaissance in World War II, by Gerald A. White, Jr.   The citation quoted above is provided by the 55th Recon Assn historian, Helmut Eric Nimke.  AWRA would like to hear additional stories and information about the squadron's activities from any surviving members.  Please write to AWRA at:  awra038@aol.com

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