Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 224 was commissioned on 1 May 1942 at Barbers Point, Hawaii. Flying Grumman F4F Wildcats, the Bengals entered WWII as part of the vaunted Cactus Air Force stationed on Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. Led by Medal of Honor recipient Maj Robert Galer, the squadron accounted for over sixty Japanese aircraft being destroyed in less than two months. The squadron also conducted infantry support missions while under constant attack from Japanese Naval, Air, and Ground Forces. VMF-224’s superb performance contributed significantly to the American victory at Guadalcanal, which in turn, helped stem the tide of the Japanese advance across the Southern Pacific and secured a crucial foothold in the long island-hopping campaign to Japan.
After Guadalcanal, the squadron was refitted with the Vought F4U Corsair and participated in the Marshall Islands Campaign. The spring of 1945 found VMF-224 participating in the last great battle of the Pacific Campaign. Arriving on Okinawa one week after the battle had begun, the squadron operated for the duration of the campaign from the newly captured airfield at Yomitan. Throughout the desperate struggle for Okinawa, the Bengals flew infantry support and counter air missions accounting for an additional fifty-five enemy aircraft being destroyed.
Following the surrender of Japan, the squadron served in various capacities in the States and overseas. The squadron entered the jet era in 1951 with the acceptance of the F2H-2 Banshee. In 1952, after completing a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the USS Roosevelt, the squadron accepted the Grumman F9F-5 Panther, and was re-designated Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 224.
In July 1956, the squadron became the first Marine unit to field the A4D-1 Skyhawk aircraft. In 1965, after two cruises, a year deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, and numerous other training deployments, the Bengals entered the Vietnam conflict. For nearly a year the Bengals operated their “Scooters” from the expeditionary field at Chu Lai. On 1 November 1966, the squadron acquired the Grumman A-6A Intruder and was re-designated as Marine All Weather Attack Squadron (VMA(AW)) 224. In 1971, the Bengals deployed to the South China Sea aboard the USS Coral Sea. As part of Carrier Air Wing 15, the squadron completed six line periods on Yankee Station and participated in numerous operations including the historic mining of Hai Phong Harbor.
During the period following the end of US involvement in Vietnam, the Bengals made numerous deployments to Europe and the Pacific where they participated in joint and combined exercises. The squadron received the upgraded A-6E TRAM (Target Recognition and Multi-Sensor) aircraft in 1974. The squadron was busily preparing for yet another deployment as part of the Unit Deployment Program (UDP) in the summer of 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
The Bengals deployed to the middle east, arriving on 28 August 1990. Operating from Shaikh-Isa Air Base, Bahrain the squadron conducted deterrent and training sorties as part of Operation DESERT SHIELD. From 16 January to 28 February 1991, the Bengals led the way in night combat operations in support of Operation DESERT STORM, expending more than 2.3 million pounds of ordnance during 422 combat sorties.
Following the capitulation of Iraq, the squadron had little time back in the states before they were once again in Iwakuni, Japan as part of the UDP. This deployment marked the final involvement of Marine A-6 aircraft in the Western Pacific Theater.
Shortly after their return to Cherry Point, NC, VMA(AW)-224 achieved a milestone in Marine Corps Aviation History. On 24 May 1992 the Bengals celebrated their 50th anniversary. For 224, it had been an exciting and rewarding half-century.
As their first fifty years came to an end, the Bengals began their next fifty with yet another new aircraft. On 6 March 1993, the squadron was re-designated VMFA(AW)-224 and moved to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina where the Bengals received the multi-mission F/A-18D Hornet.
From April to September 1994 the Bengals deployed to Aviano, Italy, as part of the United Nations force for OPERATIONS DENY FLIGHT and PROVIDE PROMISE in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The squadron flew 1150 sorties for 3485 flight hours including 1150 night hours. The Marines of VMFA(AW)-224 again deployed to Aviano, Italy in September 1995, as part of NATO Operations DENY FLIGHT, DELIBERATE FORCE and JOINT ENDEAVOR. On 16 February 1997 the Fighting Bengals returned to Aviano, Italy for the last time. The squadron participated in Operation DELIBERATE GUARD and Operation SILVER WAKE. During this time the Bengals flew Dissimilar Air Combat Training sorties with MiG-29 "Fulcrums" from the re-united German Air Force.
In January 1998 the squadron deployed to MCAGCC Twenty-nine Palms to support CAX 3-98. The squadron also participated in numerous training exercises to include Urban Warrior, a missile shoot in NAS Roosevelt Roads, PR, Supporting Arms Training Exercise (SATEX), Hornets Nest and Capabilities Exercise (CAPEX) in preparation for another UDP deployment to Japan.
In January of 1999, the Bengals returned to Iwakuni as part of the UDP cycle, participating in several joint and combined exercises. The Squadron also participated in several Capability Exercises (CAPEX), and two Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) Exercises.
July 2001 brought yet another UDP to Japan, this time with the Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS), marking the return of the Corps' organic tactical reconnaissance to the Pacific theater after an absence of over a decade. For a majority of this deployment, the squadron was split into two detachments. The detachments flew in support of both the 31st MEU and 15th MEU, conducted ATARS reconnaissance missions, normal squadron training, and other such operations as deemed necessary by 1 MAW and MAG-12. During the course of the UDP, the Bengals operated out of Guam, Okinawa, Australia, Trukk Island, Papua New Guinea, the Philippine Islands, South Korea and mainland Japan.
In July 2003, the Bengals deployed again to the Western Pacific for another UDP. The squadron changed locations five times during the deployment, training with international forces to include the Royal Australian Air Force (F/A-18s) and Japanese Air Self Defense Force (F-4s). Furthermore, the squadron achieved over 20,000 mishap free hours, dropped over 350,000 lbs of ordnance and flew over 2100 flight hours in exercises over Japan, Guam and Australia.
Shortly after the squadron returned from the Western Pacific, the Squadron was placed on a 96-hour Prepare to Deploy Order (PTDO) in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Bengals turned to and focused exclusively on Air-to-Ground training.
In July 2004, the squadron modified 75% of its aircraft for the LITENING AT Targeting Pod. The squadron participated in DAWEX at Camp Lejeune, showcasing both the squadron’s FAC(A) and Advance Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) capabilities. The imagery exploitation process was exercised, allowing II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) to use the ATARS imagery for convoy route planning.
In December 2004, the Squadron fell under MAG-26’s OPCON and was immersed in the MAWTS-sponsored Exercise DESERT TALON 1-05 aboard MCAS Yuma, AZ. The exercise focused on the complete integration of fixed-wing, rotary-wing, convoy units and ground FACs in order to prepare the units for combat operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF).
On 11 January 2005, VMFA(AW)-224 deployed to Al Asad Airbase, Iraq in support of OIF. The Bengals brought to the Iraqi theater a plethora of capabilities unique to the F/A-18D. The two-seat hornet provided the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) and II MEF Commanding General Forward Air Controller Airborne (FAC(A)) and Tactical Air Coordinator Airborne (TAC(A)) capabilities. Also, the addition of the Pioneer and Predator data link capability to the LITENING AT pod, combined with the two seat hornet, provided the CFACC’s and II MEF’s JTACs the ability to positively identify the enemy in real time, minimizing the time to prosecute known hostile targets.
While in support of OIF, the Bengals participated in Operations RIVER BLITZ, MATADOR, RAGING BULL, BARTER TOWN, NEW MARKET, SPEAR, DAGGER, SWORD and SCIMITAR in support of Regimental Combat Team 2, Regimental Combat Team 8, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines, 2nd Brigade Combat Team and many other Army and Air Force units. Furthermore, the Bengals employed 65,225 lbs of ordnance and flew over 2500 sorties and 7000 hours in direct support of Marine, Army and Coalition ground units.
One of the most important highlights for the squadron while flying in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was providing over watch and air support during the Iraqi elections held on the 28th of January 2005. Over 70% of the voting population participated in the democratic process, making the elections a resounding success. The Iraqi people embraced their new democracy and the Bengals, flying over the skies of a free Iraq, helped in the continuation and preservation of Iraq’s newfound freedom.
The Bengals returned from OIF in August 2005 to their home station of MCAS Beaufort for normal peacetime training and workups. In February 2006, the squadron participated in Red Flag at Nellis AFB. The Bengals also conducted month-long training detachments to Yuma, AZ in June 2006 and San Diego, CA in October 2006.
In March 2007, the squadron deployed to Iwakuni, Japan for another UDP. The Bengals participated in various exercises including Foal Eagle, Cobra Gold, and Commando Sling, while executing a wide variety of missions such as ATARS reconnaissance missions, air-to-air training against dissimilar adversaries, Close Air Support (CAS), Forward Air Controller Airborne (FACA), and live air-to-ground ordnance delivery. Additionally, the squadron trained four new Air Combat Tactics Instructors (ACTIs).
The Bengals began 2009 with a Unit Deployment to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. From January to June, the squadron supported various exercises in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, and Alaska. Bengal aircrew were able to train with their allied counterparts in various areas to include: FAC(A), Maritime Interdiction and Dissimilar Air Combat Training. The squadron returned to MCAS Beaufort in July 2009 and continued training aircrew involved in TOPGUN and WTI workups.
VMFA(AW)-224 kicked off 2010 Operation Red Flag and a new software upgrade to their aircraft. In July, the squadron deployed again to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan in support of the Unit Deployment Program. While on deployment, the squadron participated in Rim of the Pacific Exercise, Exercise Southern Frontier, Amphibious Landing Exercise, and Exercise Wolmi-Do Fury. The Bengals were able to work closely with their counterparts from Japan and Australia while gaining valuable experience in various tactical areas. The squadron returned from Japan in January 2011 and are currently preparing for their next deployment.