Eighth Air Force

USAFE traces its lineage to the Eighth Air Force. When the War Department (WD) activated 8th Air Force headquarters at Savannah, Georgia, on 28 January 1942 , it intended the new organization to act as the air component of a task force to invade northwest Africa. After the combined Chiefs of Staff postponed that operation in early March, the WD designated 8th AF as headquarters (HQ) for the air portion of "Bolero," the US buildup in the United Kingdom.

"Bolero," the US buildup in the United Kingdom

As plans matured, Bolero’s momentum began to build. An advanced echelon of the 8th arrived in London in May; the HQ itself, commanded by Major General Carl A. Spaatz, followed in June. The first aircraft, a B-17 arrived in Britain on 1 July 1942. This was the modest beginnings, because the 8th lacked the strength to strike the enemy’s "vital centers" until well into 1943. As the buildup continued, the Army Air Force (AAF) reorganized its forces. To provide centralized control of bomber operations against the European Axis, the WD on 22 February 1944 redesignated 8th AF as "United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe" (USSTAF). Gen. Spaatz was commanding general.

The European war's end

The European war's end came at a schoolhouse in Reims, France, where the German surrender was accepted on 7 May 1945. Fittingly, General Spaatz was there. It had taken 994 bitter, hard-fought days since the first raid the 8th had mounted on 17 August 1942 on Rouen-Sotteville, France to bring down Hitler’s vaunted 1000-year Reich. Victory had come at a high cost: 280,000 Americans killed and 670,000 wounded, captured, or missing. The totals included 35,000 AAF officers and airmen killed, 13,700 wounded, and 39,000 missing, captured, or interned. Twenty-five aviators in the European and Mediterranean theaters won the Medal of Honor (sixteen of them posthumously). Following Germany’s unconditional surrender, USSTAF’s mission became disarming the Luftwaffe, enforcing the surrender terms, transferring American air power to the Pacific, and desposing of surplus war materiel. Because the command was no longer engaged in strategic bombing, the WD on 7 August 1945 deleted the word "strategic" from its title, which became the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). On 13 August 1945, Lt Gen. John K. Cannon became the first commanding general of USAFE.

USAFE has changed

USAFE has changed in many ways since its creation in 1942. Despite changes, its mission has remained constant: to defend freedom and democracy in Europe. Political and economic ties with the US make Europe an area vital to American national security. Twice in this century, Americans went to war to restore the European balance of power; later, they helped Western Europe preserve free institutions against a new challenge. As the 1990s began, European peace and stability still required hard work and dedicated effort, and USAFE stood ready to make its contribution. As the command looks toward the 21st century, it builds on the achievements of thousands of people who served in its ranks.


The War Department approved a USAFE shoulder sleeve insigne on 24 July 1947; and the USAFE Commanding General authorized it for wear from 20 April 1948 to 30 June 1952. Description: On an ultramarine blue disc, 2 5/8 inches in diameter, a white star 1 inch in diameter charged with a red disc in the center and with golden orange stylized wings; issuant behind upper point of star, a sword erect proper flamant red. The sword was copied from the insigne of the United States Forces in the European Theater (USAFET), USAFE's parent command in 1947. Its use with the insigne of the Army Air Forces indicated USAFE's relationship to USFET and the AAF. The upright position of the flaming sword symbolized readiness to strike in the nation's defense. Although the Air Force later deleted shoulder patches from its uniforms, the USAFE insigne continued to be the official emblem of record at Headquarters USAF. The background color changed to blue applique and the size of the star increased in a version adapted to the organizational flag on 22 April 1954. USAFE MOTTO: Headquarters USAF approved "Vigilance for Freedom" as the command motto on 15 June 1965. It is not part of the insigne.