TUSKEGEE AIRMEN TRIBUTE

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This page is dedicated to all those airmen known as "The Tuskegee Airmen".

Michael Priester

AB_Lt_Cmd_Riker

Commanding Officer

ABSquad

 

 

The Army Air Force (AAF) began flight training for a new group of pilots on July 19th, 1941 at the Division of Aeronautics of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the famed school of learning founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881. Once primary training was completed at Tuskegee's Moton Field, they were sent to the Tuskegee Army Air Field located nearby completion of flight training and for transition to combat type aircraft. These pilots became known as the "Tuskegee Airmen". The first group of graduates formed the famous 99th Fighter Squadron, slated for combat duty in North Africa. Additional pilots were assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group which flew combat along with the 99th Fighter Squadron from bases in Italy.

It is important to note that during this time, the U.S. military, like much of the United States, was segregated. Laws were on the books that kept blacks from being able to enter many public places, such as libraries, restaurants, rest rooms and movie theatres. And although many African Americans served in that same military, they were restricted in the types of jobs that they could hold. Public Law 18, passed on April 3rd, 1939 called for a creation of various training programs located at black colleges across the United States that would prepare blacks for service in the Air Corps.

99th Pursuit Squadron Patch

From 1941 to 1946 over 2,000 African Americans completed training at Tuskegee and nearly three quarters of them qualified as pilots while the remainder were trained as navigators or support personnel.

The U.S. Army Air Corps had established the Psychological Research Unit 1 at Maxwell Army Air Field, and other units around the country for Aviation Cadet Training, which included the identification, selection, education, and training of pilots, navigators and bombardiers. Psychologists were employed in these studies and training programs using some of the first standardized tests to quantify IQ, dexterity, and leadership qualities in order to select and train the right personnel for the right role (pilot, navigator, bombardier). The Air Corps determined that the same existing programs would be used as well for all-black units. At Tuskegee, this effort would continue with the selection and training of the Tuskegee Airmen. They were put under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, a West Point graduate. Colonel Noel Parrish took over as commander. Parrish, though white, was open-minded and petitioned Washington to allow the Airmen to serve in combat.

Click on image to learn more about Captain Benjamin O. Davis

Benjamin O. Davis

Commanding Officer

THE FIRST LADY

In 1941 Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field and requested to be taken on a flight by one of the pilots there. The Secret Service was extremely unhappy with the idea, but Mrs. Roosevelt got her way and flight instructor Charles A. Anderson flew the First Lady for over an hour over the skies of Alabama. The flight was of extreme importance to the Tuskegee Airmen, as it convinced the First Lady that black pilots were as capable as their white counter parts, and from that moment she did everything in her power to see to it that the Tuskegee Airmen were given the same equal chance as any white squadron. Upon her return to Washington, she urged her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, to use the Tuskegee Airmen in the struggle against the Axis powers.

 Mrs. Roosevelt continued to correspond with both the faculty and the airmen at Tuskegee Army Air Field. One of the people she had correspondence with was Cecil Peterson, a pilot in training who was randomly chosen to correspond with the First lady. Mrs. Roosevelt had met Peterson years before while visiting a New Deal project in Quoddy, Maine (see photo below). Please visit the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Web site to view several letters between Mrs. Roosevelt and Cecil Peterson.

Cecil Peterson & Eleanor Roosevelt

New Deal Project

Quoddy, Main

ACTION

On May 31st, 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron arrived at Farjouna in Tunisia, attached to the 33rd Fighter Group, flying P-40's. Three days later, Lt. William A. Campbell, Charles B. Hall, Clarence C. Jamison and James R. Wiley, flew the squadron's first mission, a 'milk run' over Pantelleria. On June 9th, 1943, six pilots of the 99th Fighter Squadron became the first U.S. Negro pilots to engage in aerial combat. Led by Lt. Charles Dryden, Lt. Willie Ashley, Sidney P. Brooks, Lee Rayford, Leon Roberts and Spann Watson, exchanged fire with German fighter planes, with no losses to either side. The Italian garrison on Pantelleria surrendered on June 11th, 1943, in large part due to the powerful air attacks it had been subjected to. The 99th Fighter Squadron was a key part of the air assault.

SICILY

The 99th joined the 324th Fighter Group in El Haouria on June 29th, 1943. At first they flew escort missions over the Sicilian coast. Within a few days, Lt Charles B. Hall got the 99th on the scoreboard when he downed an Focke-Wulf FW-190. Sadly, this triumphant occasion was marred by the death of Lieutenants White and McCullin, victims of an operational accident. Escort missions over Sicily continued through the summer of 1943. One Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Richard Bolling, was forced to bail out and floated in the Mediterranean for a full day before he was recovered. On July 19th, 1943, the 99th moved over to Licata, on the coast.

The success of the Tuskegee Airmen played a major part in President Harry S. Truman's decision to desegregate the U.S. military in 1948.

CRITICISM

Despite their achievements and accomplishments, the 99th found continued resistance and prejudice here in the Mediterranean. The CO of the 33rd Fighter Group, Col. William Momyer, complained about the performance of the 99th Fighter Squadron, compared their combat record to White squadrons, alluded to lack of air discipline, and hinted at a lack of aggressiveness. His comparisons overlooked the fact that the 99th did not operate at the front, but was stationed hundreds of miles to the rear. Nor did he mention his exclusion of 99th Fighter Squadron pilots from briefing sessions. But in those days, blacks were easy targets, and in September of 1943, TIME magazine ran an article that repeated Momyer's accusations. About all the pilots could do was perform their jobs perfectly, and answer their critics with deeds, not words.

ITALY

The 99th was scheduled to provide air support for the September 9th, 1943 invasion of Salerno on the Italian peninsula. After the German counter-attack forced an Allied retreat, members of the 99th flew into Paestum, an airfield near Salerno, to provide air cover for the beachhead. In early October, the 99th started flying with the 79th Fighter Group based at Foggia, commanded by Col. Earl Bates, who fully involved the men of the 99th in combat missions. As the Germans retreated northward, the fliers of the 79th and 99th flew fighter-bomber missions on railroad, bridges, and communication centers to hamper their mobility. These were grinding, demanding missions; pilots often flew more than five sorties a day. This activity continued through January, 1944, culminating in a large multi-Group strike on Naples' Capodichino Airdrome. But so far, the 99th only had the one aerial victory to their credit, while the 79th has destroyed or damaged almost 20 German aircraft.

But on January 24th, 1944, the 99th Fighter Squadron broke out in a big way, downing five German planes in a morning mission led by Capt. Clarence Jamison, and three more that afternoon when Lt. Wiley's flight mixed it up with the enemy. And the next day, the 99th continued its combat success, claiming four e/a destroyed. On February 5th, 1944, Lt. Driver got another. On the 7th, they got three more; they also received an official commendation from General Hap Arnold at this time.

In April, the 99th was transferred from its partnership with the 79th Fighter Group to work with the 324th Fighter Group. As part of this Group, they participated in Operation Strangle, the aerial campaign in May, 1944 to isolate the German garrison at Monte Cassino. Operation Strangle marked the end of the 99th Fighter Squadron's independent existence.

THE 332ND

On July 4th, 1944, the 99th was joined with three other Squadrons: the 100th, 301st and the 302nd to form the 332nd Fighter Group. These were all-Negro squadrons, all trained at Tuskegee. The veterans of the 99th resented the newcomers somewhat, but those issues soon worked themselves out. The Group transitioned to Mustangs at this time, decorating them with bright red spinners and tails, thus earning their nickname, 'Redtails'.

A week later the 332nd escorted bombers on a mission against railroad yards, and Capt. Joseph Elsberry shot down three FW-190's, the first black pilot to achieve this feat. The next day, July 13th, 1944, the Group flew its first mission to Ploesti. On the 16th, they met some Italian Macchis (from Mussolini's short-lived, rump state in the North, the Italian Social Republic), and downed two of them. Two days later, July 18th, Lt. Clarence 'Lucky' Lester destroyed three German airplanes, and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for himself in recognition. This was a big day for the Group, as they claimed 11 enemy aircraft destroyed. Lee Archer scored his first that day; a credit which would later be officially changed to a shared kill. (Thus Archer left combat with an official 4.5 kills. It has been speculated that the AAF brass didn't want a Negro ace and the attendant publicity.)

Throughout July, and through October of 1944, the Redtails flew countless missions, usually bomber escorts. Sometimes they shot down German aircraft, and began to build a respectable Group tally. Less often, they lost one of their own; but they never lost a bomber. Lee Archer scored his second in late July and three on October 12th; 1944, then the first kill was retroactively changed. October was a rough month for the 332nd, losing 15 pilots.

The bomber pilots began to appreciate the Redtails...In Mustang Aces of the 9th and 15th Air Forces, one B-24 pilot recalled:

"The P-38's always stayed too far out. Some of the Mustang group stayed in too close...Other groups, we got the feeling that they just wanted to go and shoot down 109's ...The Redtails were always out there where we wanted them to be...We had no idea they were Black; it was the Army's best kept secret."

Luke Weathers' escort mission described above provided the group's only aerial victories for the month of November. They flew 22 missions in December, running the group tally to 62 confirmed air-to-air victories by year's end. Bad weather in January limited them to 11 missions, picking up to 39 in February, but without many aerial victories. On March 24th, 1945, Col. Davis led the Group on the longest escort mission ever flown by the Fifteenth Air Force, a 1,600-mile round trip to the Daimler-Benz tank works in Berlin. On this mission, Roscoe C. Brown, Jr., Charles Brantly and Earl Lane, each shot down a German ME-262 jet fighter aircraft. The Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for their achievements this day.

The Tuskegee Airmen continued flying and fighting, killing and dying, until the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945.

FACTS:

 

LINKS:

History

Tuskegee Flight School Graduates

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

Combat Statistics

Legends of Tuskegee

 

 

IL-2 AB-P-51D "Tuskegee Airmen"

IL-2 AB-P-51D "Tuskegee Airmen"

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