Operational Training Units in World War II

During the period just before World War Two, newly trained pilots were assigned to fill vacancies in existing combat units, or sent to newly formed units. There they were trained to the proficiency required by Air Corps standards. The total authorized combat groups in the Air Corps were expanded from twenty-five to eighty-four in 1939. It took many months to reach that number, but a sharp decline in the number of experienced pilots was immediately experienced. The beginning of World War Two and future demand of combat also threatened to reduce those numbers further.

American observers in Great Britain had reported on the “Operation Training Unit” system used by the Royal Air Force. After completion of individual training, pilots were given eight to twelve weeks of training as a team using the same aircraft they would use in combat. This program inspired the implementation of Operational Training Units (OTUs) in the USAAF.

The plan created “parent” groups that were authorized additional personnel in order to provide cadres for newly formed “satellite” groups. Newly trained enlisted and officer personnel would be sent to the new group, where the experienced cadre would give them proficiency training. Other newly trained personnel were also sent to the parent group for training, where they would become the experienced cadre for a future satellite unit to be formed, completing the cycle.

The first American OTUs began in early 1942, but were immediately plagued with problems. The demands of the combat units had to be met at the expense of the training programs and shortages of personnel, aircraft, equipment, and supplies slowed and reduced the effectiveness of the training. Many of the training fields throughout the county were inadequate or under construction. The inconsistent proficiency level of personnel reporting from the training schools further slowed progress. Schedules were interrupted and training was often inadequate. By the beginning of 1943, most of these problems were resolved and OTUs were turning out combat units in all four continental air forces.

The first OTU in the Millville area was the 33rd Pursuit Group at Philadelphia Airport. Originally sent to provide air defense of the region, it became the parent group which contributed cadre to the 324th Fighter Group and the Philadelphia Air Defense Wing.

Through the OTU system the USAAF had created all of new combat units required by the end of 1943, but a constant flow of new pilots was needed to replace those captured, killed in action, or rotated back to United States. Most of the training bases in the United States discontinued OTU training and switched their training emphasis to Replacement Training Units (RTUs).