An Annual Celebration of Black History in New Jersey
Black History Research
A SALUTE TO THE TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN
A FOCUS ON THE TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN
Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?
Tuskeegee Airmen is the term used to describe
the black fighter pilots of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, later incorporated into the 332nd Fighter Group, who fought during
World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps that were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Tuskegee, Alabama.
A Look At
The History and Accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen
Students of history interested in learning about World War
II often miss an unparalleled feat of patriotism and the untold bravery usually ignored in most history textbooks.
the exploits of Americans of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. Army during World War II, the combat achievements of the Black
pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, a.k.a. the Tuskeegee Airmen, is another shining example of men overcoming prejudice and
discrimination in the 1940's to make their mark in history.
About 1,000 Americans of African ancestry completed their
flight training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Despite initial obstacles, 445 went oversees as combat pilots in the European
Theater of Operations, North Africa and the Mediterranean.
Flying "bomber escort" and ground attack on
15,533 sorties between May, 1943 and June 9, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen compiled an enviable Tuskegee Record None of the bombers
they escorted was lost to enemy fighters, they destroyed 251 enemy aircraft and won more than 850 medals. Their record was
not without losses, however, with sixty-six (66) Tuskegee Airmen killed in action.
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen
was the eventual desegregation of the USSAF, the recognition that black pilots were equal to white pilots and the respect
and admiration earned by former Tuskegee pilots like General Benjamin Davis, Jr. and General Daniel "Chappie" James.
TUSKEEGEE COMBAT RECORD
The following is a summary of the combat record of the pilots in the four squadrons
which comprised the 332nd Fighter Group. The list is broken down by squadron with each pilot's name and official credit for
enemy aircraft destroyed.
THE 99th FIGHTER SQUADRON
Clarence W. Allen, .50
Willie Ashley, Jr.,
Charles P. Bailey, 1.0
Howard L. Baugh, 1.0
Thomas P. Braswell, 1.0
John W. Davis, 1.0
Lemuel L. Curtis, 1.0
Robert W. Dier, 2.0
Wilson V. Eagleson, 2.0
Charles B. Hall, 3.0
James L. Hall, 1.0
M. Jackson, 3.0
Clinton B. Mills, 1.0
Daniel L. Rich, 1.0
Leon C. Roberts, 1.0
Edward L. Toppins, 4.0
Hugh J. White, 1.0
THE 100th FIGHTER SQUADRON
W. Bell, 1.0
Charles V. Brantley, 1.0
John F. Briggs, 1.0
Roscoe C. Browne, 2.0
W. Hall, 1.0
Jack D. Hosclaw, 2.0
Carl E. Johnson, 1.0
Langdon E. Johnson, 1.0
Clarance D. Lester, 2.0
John H. Lyle, 1.0
Walter J.A. Palmer, 1.0
Rhodes, Jr., 1.0
Robert W. Williams, 2.0
Bertram W. Wilson, Jr. 1.0
THE 301st FIGHTER SQUADRON
Carl E. Corey, 2.0
John E. Edwards, 2.0
Joseph D. Elsberry, 1.0
James H. Fischer, 1.0
Frederick D. Funderburg, 2.0
Alfred M. Gorham, 2.0
Claude Govan, 1.0
Thomas W. Jefferson,
Jimmy Lanham, 2.0
Armour G. McDaniel, 1.0
Walter P. Manning, 1.0
Harold M. Morris,
William S. Price, III, 1.0
Harold E. Sawyer, 1.0
Harry T. Stewart, 2.0
THE 302nd FIGHTER SQUADRON
Lee A. Archer, 4.0
Milton P. Brooks, 1.0
W. Bussey, 1.0
Edward C. Gleed, 2.0
William W. Green, Jr., 2.0
Weldon K. Groves, 1.0
L. Hill, 1.0
Freddie F. Hutchins, 1.0
Melvin T. Jackson, 1.0
Felix J. Kirkpatrick, 1.0
E. McGee, 1.0
Wendell O. Pruitt, 3.0
Roger Romaine, 3.0
Luther H. Smith, Jr., `15662.0
H. Smith, 2.0
William H. Thomas, 1.0
Hugh S. Warner, 1.0
Luke J. Weather, Jr., 2.0
D. Wilkins, 1.0
TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN: Lonely Eagles to Red Tail Angels
The Men and Their Airplanes: The Trainers
Airmen trained on four main types of aircraft, which were similar to training aircraft flown by pilot trainees at other Army
Air Corps training facilities. Among the aircraft flown by the pilots were the:
*AT-6 Texan and the
*P-40 War Hawk.
The PT-17 was a bi-plane with fixed landing gear. The
BT-13 and AT-6 were monoplanes.
When the flying cadets mastered the skills learned in basic training they graduated
to the P-40, a fighter that the graduates of the 99th would eventually use as their standard equipment.
class graduated from Tuskegee on March 7, 1942 and earned their wings. They were:
*George S. "Spanky" Roberts, and
*Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
classes soon followed and the Tuskegee Airmen flew into their place in history.
In the above picture, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr. of the 322nd Fighter Group leads a mission agains German trains in Austria.
For this mission Col. Davis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
THE MEN AND THEIR AIRPLANES: The Fighters
When the Tuskegee Airmen in the 99th Fighter Squadron arrived in North
Africa, they flew the Curtiss P-40L War Hawk. The War Hawk was a familiar aircraft because they had flown it during their
final training. The P-40 was an updated version of the fighter that the famed Flying Tigers flew in China against the Japanese
prior to Pearl Harbor.
The P-40L had a top speed of 350 miles per hour and range of about 1,000 miles. It was armed
with six fifty caliber Browning machine guns and could carry bombs and an external fuel tank. The P-40 was outclassed by some
of the first line German fighters, notably the Me-109 and FW-190, which were faster and more manueverable. However, the P-40
was a rugged aircraft and pilots learned to utilize the strengths of their airplane.
When the men of the 332nd Fighter
Group arrived in Taranto, Italy, they were initially assigned the task of coastal patrol flying an obsolete aircraft the Bell
P-39 Airacobra. The Airacobra was slow compared to first line German and Italian fighters. Its main claim to fame was the
37mm cannon that fired through the propeller spinner. The P-39 was flown by other Allied pilots, especially the Russians who
liked the cannon for ground attack missions.
The men of the 332nd were fighter pilots and felt betrayed and frustrated.
This feeling was underscored on March 17, 1944 Lieutenant Laurance D. Wilkins and Weldon K. Groves tried to intercept a German
Ju-88 reconnaisance aircraft, which escaped with damage to its wing.
In May, 1944 the 332nd Fighter Group under the
command of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis were assigned to fly escort missions with the 306th Wing of the 15th Fighter Command.
They were given the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, affectionately called "The Jug" because of its shape, but also because
of its firepower and its ability to absorb damage which would have disabled or destroyed other fighters. P-47's were well
armed and could perform well at high altitude in the escort role as well as ground attack aircraft. The pilots of the 332nd
Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47's red, thus their nickname "Red Tails". Their reputation for protecting
bombers would slowly grow and later bomber crews would affectionately call them Red-Tail Angels.
The main fighter
flown by the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group from 1944 until the end of the war was the North American P-51 Mustang fighter.
The P-51 was the best all around fighter produced by the United States during World War II and was flown in both the European
and Pacific Theaters. It was the first Allied fighter capable of escorting bombers to and from targets deep into Germany with
enough fuel to engage the enemy and attack "targets of opportunity". The British Royal Air Force (RAF) flew early
models of the P-51 aircraft.
There were several modifications to the P-51 which improved its performance and effectiveness.
The P-51 models "A" and "B" was initially powered by an 1,150 hp Allison engine, but its performance was
significantly improved when the British designed 1,590 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was introduced in the "D" model
making it one of the fastest American fighters capable of achieving the speed of 437 miles per hour. A bubble canopy, which
allowed greater all around vision for the pilots, was introduced in the P-51D version. The early P-51's were armed with four
fifty caliber Browning machine guns, however the P-51D and later variants were armed with six fifty caliber Browning MG53-2
machine guns. The Mustangs could be configured to carry bomb, rockets and external fuel tanks on external wing hardpoints.
Range was increased from 450 miles (724 km) in the "A" model to 1,300 miles (2,092 km) in the "D" model
when equipped with external fuel tanks.
The men of the 332nd Group flew the P-51 with the following color scheme
on their Mustang: Every airplane had red propeller spinners and red wing bands with all-red tail surfaces. Variations for
each squadron included: the 99th had white trim tabs, the 100th used back on their trim tabs, the 301st used blue and the
302nd painted their yellow. In addition, the area aft of the propeller was painted with squadron colors: the 99th used a dark
blue and white checkerboard, the 100th used solid red, the 301st painted theirs red and blue, while the 302nd used alternate
red and yellow horizontal stripes. Each pilot painted slogans, names, pictures, caricatures, etc. based on his own preference.
THE MEN AND THEIR AIRPLANES: The Bombers
Stanley Sandler on page 119 of his book,Segregated Skies: All-Black
Combat Squadrons of WWII, "The 477th Bombardment Group was conceived solely in response to black pressure, rather than
to any perception that black Americans in the Army Air Forces could make any great contribution to the war effort. And it
remained a paper outfit from its activation in June 1943 until January 1944."
Note: Some sources call the 477th
Bombardment Group the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium) and some sources list them as the 477th Bombardment Group (Negro).
By late 1944 the 477th was able to conduct combat training missions, but winter conditions reduced flying time. When
not fighting weather and equipment, the men also faced racism from white officers and men. Promotions went mainly to the white
officers and enlisted staff while black promotions were limited.
In March, 1945 the 477th was moved to Freeman Field,
Indiana. Tension between white and black personnel increased. Part of the problem of the 477th lay in its white base commander,
Colonel Robert Selway whose strict segregationist policies hurt morale and led to the Freeman Field incident on April 5, 1944.
The 477th's contribution was not in its combat record. Ultimately the Freeman Field incident opened the door to the
eventual desegregation of the USAAF. As Sandler notes on page 131, "The 477th, although lingering on as a unit until
1947, never saw combat. It scored no "kills", blasted no enemy positions, bombed no alien cities. But it had its
The 477th Bombardment Group became the 477th Composite Group with B-25's and P-47's and trained
for a possible role in the Pacific Theater. The war ended, however, before the 477th could be deployed overseas in a combat
The aircraft the 477th flew in training was the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. This workhorse was used in both
the European and Pacific Theaters. Variations of it included models with up to thirteen fifty caliber machine guns or a seventy-five
(75 mm) cannon for anti-ship missions in the Pacific.
THE ENEMY AND THEIR AIRCRAFT
The main German fighters
faced by the Tuskegee pilots were the Messerschmidt Me-109 Models "F" and "G".
The Me-109G was
powered by a 1,475 hp Daimler-Benz engine. It had a range of 435 miles (700 km) and a top speed of 400 miles per hour (640
km). It was armed with one 30mm MG FF cannon firing through the nose and two 13mm MG 131 machine guns firing through the propeller
arc and two more 20mm MG151 cannons in the wings.
The Focke Wulf FW-190 was powered with a 1,700 hp BMW 801D eighteen
cylinder radial engine. It was armed with two 13mm MG131 machine guns in the upper engine cowling and two 20mm MG151 cannons
in the wings. It had a maximum speed of 419 miles per hour (675 km) and a range of 560 miles (900 km).
fighters that defended German skies included:
Messerschmidt Bf110, a twin engine fighter bomber that became a deadly
radar equipped night fighter. It was armed with four 20mm MG FF cannon in the nose and one 7.9mm MG 15 firing from a rear
cockpit mount. It was capable of 349 miles per hour (562 km) and had a range of 680 miles (1,100 km)
Me-262A, a twin jet powered fighter/fighter-bomber with a maximum speed of 540 miles per hour (870 km) and a range of 525
miles (845 km). It was armed with four 30mm MK 108 cannon in the nose.
The Me-262 appeared in late 1944. No Allied
fighter had the speed to meet the Me262 head-to-head although Allied pilots did down some of these early jet fighters.
A Timeline History of the History of the Tuskegee Airmen 1941-1945
The following is a general chronology of the major
events which led to the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen through their on going efforts today to teach young Americans the
value of "Excellence in Education" and "Accurate Historical facts omitted from U.S. history books."
May, 1939--Two pilots of The National Airman's Association, an organization comprised of black pilots, meet with Senator
Harry S. Truman from Missouri. Truman helps sponsor a bill to allow black pilots to serve in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.
December, 1940--The Army Air Corps submits a plan to the War Department for an "experiment" forming an
all black fighter squadron with thirty-three pilots.
January 16, 1941--The 99th Pursuit Squadron is formed by the
War Department to be trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama.
July 19, 1941 Tuskegee Army Air Field
March 1, 1942--Captain Benjamin Davis, Jr. is promoted to Lt. Colonel.
March 7, 1942--the
first class of Tuskegee pilots graduates and earn their wings.
August 24, 1942--Lt. Colonel Benjamin Davis, Jr. takes
command of the 99th Fighter Squadron.
April 15, 1943--The 99th (The Lonely Eagles) heads for North Africa.
2, 1943--Captain Charles B. Hall is the first Tuskegee pilot to down an enemy aircraft. He shoots down a FW-190 and damges
1943--Lt. Colonel Benjamin Davis, Jr. leaves the 99th to return home to command the 332nd Fighter Group.
The 332nd is comprised of the all black 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons.
October 7, 1943 the 99th is attached
to the 79th Fighter Group of the 12th Air Force.
January, 1944--Lt. Colonel Benjamin Davis, Jr. and the 332nd arrive
in Taranto, Italy and attached to the 12th Air Force.
June 25, 1944--pilots of the 302nd Fighter Squadron sink a
German destroyer with machine gun fire from their P-47's.
June,1944--The 332nd is attached to the 15th Air Force.
The 99th Fighter Squadron is added to the 332nd Fighter Group as its fourth squadron.
August, 1944--The 332nd participates
in the invasion of southern France by escorting bombers and on ground attack missions in Rumania and Czechoslovakia.
September 10, 1944--Four pilots of the 332nd are awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
March 15, 1945--The
all black 477th Bombardment Group is moved from Godman Field, Kentucky to Freeman Field, Indiana.
April 1, 1945--The
men of the 477th protest the strict segregationist policies ordered by base commander Colonel Robert Selway in a document
called Regulation 85-2.
April 5, 1945--The some black pilots led by 2nd Lt. Roger C. Terry and Lt. Marsden Thompson
try to enter the segregated officer's club.
April 9, 1945--Base commander Colonel Robert Selway orders the black
officers to sign a statement that they have read and accept Regulation 85-2. The 101 officers refuse in what was called the
Freeman Field Incident. [Note: For more information, see the book "The Tuskegee Airmen Mutiny at Freeman Field"
by Lt. Col. James C. Warren.]
June, 1945--Colonel Benjamin Davis, Jr. is named commander of the 477th Composite Group,
which includes the 99th and 100th Fighter Squadrons. They begin training for combat in the Pacific Theater.
14, 1945--World War II ends with the surrender of Japan.
August 12, 1995--The Air Force clears the service records
of Tuskegee Airmen involved in the so called "Freeman Field Mutiny" vindicating their stand for equality.
Note: Recently, an e-mail was received from a Mr. Tom Croley whose friend, Lt. Ray Stanford, a B-24 pilot
in World War II, was saved by a Tuskegee Airman.
Lt. Stanford wrote this testimony in the form of an open letter
to the unknown Tuskgee pilot who saved his life. This is Lt. Stanford's story:
A B-24 BOMBER PILOT
B-24 bomber pilot on a bombing raid at an oil refinery near Vienna, Austria was badly hit.With an engine shot out and set
on fire he was sent peeling out of formation.
The pilot shut off the fuel and by side slipping he extinguished the
flames, but could not get the propeller feathered.
The B-24 could hold altitude.
Now all alone as a "wounded
duck" with no formation for added protection, he called for fighter support.
A single P-51 pilot at great risk
to himself came and flew cover. Just one P-51 and one B-24 would be "easy pickins" for a few enemy fighters.
After they reached the Adriatic Sea, there was no further danger from enemy fighters.
The fighter pilot running
low on fuel himself radioed the B-24 pilot to see if he could make it back OK.
The answer was affirmative with a
request to know his name and if they could meet.
He wanted to thank him and buy him a drink.
The P-51 now
came in close formation and with a change in voice said, "You wouldn't want to do that "boss." He was as black
as the ace of spades. The B-24 pilot answered, "I will greet you with a bottle of the best in both hands."
The B-24 landed safely and taxied to its revetment. Later when the mechanics examined the B-24 they were amzed to discover
all the fuel tanks were empty.
A true miracle of God, I know. I was the B-24 pilot.
If the pilots ever meet,
the offer still stands and with a clear witness for Jesus Christ.
1st Lieutenant A. Ray Stanford 15th Air Force, 48th Bomb Group, 824th Squadron
TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN IN ACTION
Faced with the realities of war, the federal government reluctantly established The 66th
Air Force Flying School at the Tuskegee Institute. Blacks considered this a flawed compromise but welcomed the opportunity
to prove their ability and commitment to the war efforts.
On May 31, 1943, the 99th Squadron, the first group of
men trained at the Tuskegee Institute, arrived in North Africa. These combat pioneers began their journey towards redefining
America's relationship with Black men in the Air Force.
In Sicily the squadron registered their first victory against
an enemy aircraft and went on to more impressive strategic strikes against the German forces throughout Italy. Though often
handicapped, when given a chance to fully participate, the record of the 99th in action is extremely impressive.
Afro-American's correspondents documented the successes and frustrations of the Black military personnel. Their reports from
1941-1944 were complied by then publisher, Carl Murphy, in the book This is Our War. Their writing is treasured not only for
its historical value, but also for the excellence of the writing. Along with an important historical record, these writers
returned from Europe, Africa, the North and the Southwest Pacific with taut, engaging prose that still stands as a literary
gem. Reports by Art Carter focused on the men of the 99th; he joined the group in Italy in December 1943, seven months after
their initial arrival from Tuskegee.
However, the triumphs of the Tuskegee Airmen did not appease those who refused
to accept their presence. Harsh criticisms were levied against them, adding to their frustrations. The men of the 99th had
set high standards for themselves because they realized that every move was being scrutinized and that their success or failure
would directly impact the future of Blacks in the military.
Their success was particularly evident when the 99th
was paired with the 79th Fighter Group on October 9, 1943. The 79th was an all-White Squadron led by Col Earl Bates. For the
first time they were integrated in the missions to eliminate their German opponents. They were no longer restricted to escort
duties, but instead were assigned to bombing key German strongholds.
Operation Strangle, the last assignment of
the team of the 79th and the 99th, marked the end of the 99th Squadron unit. On July 4, 1944, the 99th was joined into three
other Squadrons: the 100th, 301st and the 302 to form the 332nd Fighter Group. All three groups were new to the combat zone,
and like the 99th, had been trained at the Tuskegee institute. While their initial union was strained, the new group continued
to demonstrate that they had the commitment, the drive and the technical ability to carry out successful military assignments.
Consequently, when the war ended, the War Department and the federal government were forced to reassess their segregated
After several committee reports, President Truman was forced to issue two executive orders that
effectively paved the way for the integration of the Air Force.